The Door

You’ve been taunting me for 10+ years now. I have longed for you to be open sometimes, closed some others. I was raised with the open kind the first 20 years. A decade has gone by since my first days behind the closed kind. I used to wonder why no one ever knocked on my door. I used to wonder if my neighbors even knew I existed. I never met them in the one and something years that I lived in Portland. I never met them in the 5 years I lived in 4 homes in California. I never met them in the 2+ years I lived in Pittsburgh. The list goes on. Moving out of my first gradschool home away from my close friends was definitely one of the scariest things I’ve done. I used to obsess about emergencies when I first lived by myself. But the closed doors hid things so unbelievably well. So well that I was scared no one would even notice if something happened to me especially in the homes where I lived by myself. It took a little getting used to. But then over the years, life happened. Daddy A and I moved in together, we traveled, I traveled by myself a lot as well, enjoyed my few years of ‘husband only’ time (a stark contrast to the nomadic jing bang I’d had around me till then) and eventually had my little girl. Suddenly these closed doors started protecting me. They helped conceal the weariness of long nights, gave me the space to make mistakes as a new mom without prying judgmental eyes, allowed my child to grow and explore without hearing NO all the time and without overbearing absolutes and opinions, brought daddy A and I closer than we’d ever been in the thirteen years we’d known each other. Those closed doors made us stronger than any family we knew. We were proud of that. We visited parks, beaches, deserts, friends, family and many many other places but we always came back to nestle behind those closed doors. Our castle. Our fort. I owe a lot to your closed kind.

But things changed as little A found her legs and became more and more active. She needed more. I could tell. More than her strong proud parents, their small circle of friends, and Skype sessions with cousins and grandparents. The frustration grew. We started yearning for the doors to crack open a little without being forced open. Where are the neighbors? Who lives around here? Who’s that kid little A keeps talking about? We started getting more interested in the world around us. And the inevitable happened. I had gone a full circle. I asked that very question again, ten years later.

Why doesn’t anyone ever knock the door?!

Daddy A and my professional lives were intersecting. Who knew neuroscience and user experience could find such an exciting home together. As work got more interesting and absorbing, we found ourselves wishing we had the time and energy to widen little A’s social space even more. It was too late. Hitting 30s, caring for the child, the house and the career pretty much left nothing else for the social life. I started yearning for one. For my little girl. For her sake. I knew I had to get out there and show her a life outside of her mom and dad’s world then. I wanted the door to open up. Let more people in … not as many as I’d lived and roamed with back home. Not so many. That would be too many. Just a handful more than the close close ones I already had. Maybe mommy friends I asked?! Maybe mommy friends. When it started getting harder to open that door ourselves .. we cracked and caved. We decided it was best we moved back ‘home’. ‘Home’ … where the doors would always be open. Where people came in and out. Where little A would learn masterfully, to negotiate space and learn about relationships. And we would have help. All the help and the village needed to raise this child. And the startup would flourish. Yes it’s ok to open them up wide .. if that’s the only way .. then so be it.

Such fools we were!! Such fools. We completely underestimated the power of the open door. We got everything we asked for. We got everything we thought we wanted. And I still want most of it. But you … you my dear are playing games with me. You’re testing me. I thought it would be a breeze. On one hand it’s so lovely how many people stop by to say hello, for coffee, to check on my little A … on the other, it’s bloody annoying how everyone always wants to know what’s cooking, which piece of decor I put up today, why little A was screaming last evening, who’s the guest that just walked in. It’s even worse when little A runs out no matter what state she’s in .. nangu, a total streaker in the community once a week. This open door thingy is so new to her … she just shoots out the moment you’re opened for any reason and I don’t need to give you reasons in this place. There’s someone at the door every 5 mins anyway. And she runs right into any other open door she sees. I’ve been trying to explain the concept of space to her. You can’t walk into their bathroom asking for your friend. You can’t walk out the door without clothes. You have to knock on the door. The lessons in space are endless. But at least she’s responding. She doesn’t dart out of the house like she’s been trapped in jail or something anymore. She’s loving her new home with every passing day. And she’s loving the bonding time with mommy. It’s getting better. As in progress in the right direction, not fixed yet, but progressing. But how am I supposed to negotiate space with neighbors when you’re open all the time now?! And even if you’re closed, you somehow seem to open to them. They just knock and ring the bell till someone opens the door. Or listen from outside anyway. The lady upstairs always tells me she can tell what’s going on at our place. I swear we’re not that loud. We’re very aware of sound. But the lady insists she can hear little A all the time and our conversations with her. So clearly they listen anyway. Some say it’s just a phase. I mean I’m playing stay at home mommy for 3 months helping my girl transition. The door will be shut when you’re away at work anyway. Whatever, some say. Another friend who showed up last night said she’ll teach me how to shooo them all away.

But why are there just two states I ask? Why only closed or wide open? Why not subtly negotiable states? What about the states in between open and closed? You’ve put me in an awkward position. I’m still learning to say No around here. It’s really hard. I’m beginning to feel like a door mat. Being walked over by everyone around me. Being dragged out in the open for judgment, unsolicited advice and nosy business. I realize these games you’ve played .. they’ve been to help me learn how to say No and to deal with the new world I’m in. I guess it was well intentioned. It’s just really sad that I don’t have the time or energy to teach all these other people about space. It’s not an easy thing to teach anyone. It’s only learnt when one experiences that. I had to learn it the hard way back there. But I’m trying to find middle ground now. And it’s soooooo evasive. It’s so hard to find. It’s so hard to set boundaries, negotiate and move them contextually when people don’t get the meaning of space. I am not saying I don’t want anyone in my life. I’m not being snooty here … I’d just like you to not follow my every step and be so shameless declaring it so loudly. It’s much much easier with my little girl in comparison. And I’ve kind of figured out how to manage this with family over the years. But an entire community at once. This feels like a bit much. I seem to be a magnet for these kinds of people. A total magnet. And you’re not really helping with middle ground. You’re either closed or open. I might start brainstorming weird solutions to redesign you. Really. If that’s all I have left, then that’s what I’ll do.

Why not design doors like modern day status messages? Why not make negotiating space as simple as Facebook and status messages have made them (albeit dumbed down .. but it’s a start). Maybe I should talk about that to daddy A now and see how to make this a reality. Maybe a few months from now .. my door will have different states. At least I can have a few foolish moments of experimenting with signs that say “Nope … she’s not screaming tonight, let’s find something else to talk about tomorrow” .. or “Grumpy morning .. knock at your own risk” .. or “You can come in .. if you have no questions”. I am doing so bad with boundary setting right now, this might be all I have left if the next few months are as bad as the previous two. No one seems to get subtle, polite statements about where I want them to be … that language ain’t working. Maybe they can speak to the door instead. These door messages might just be the answer. It’s growing on me, the idea. Really.


P.S It’s sooooooo freaky what just happened. As I finished typing here and looked up at my door to take a picture, I realized I had two doors in the living room. I’ve owned this screen divider which I’ve always put up next to the door in my house as another door. One real one and another fake one. I carry this red door everywhere I go. It must be some kind of subconscious representation of all this. Every time this house door opens, can I walk into this red door and disappear? Anyone have an app for that?!


6 responses to “The Door

  1. A thought provoking post.
    In the US, I remember so well that feeling – where’s everyone? Why is it so quiet? Why doesn’t anyone come by? It took me a while to understand that social life in the US happens in circles you create – you go to a book club, you volunteer, you get involved at your child’s school, you hang out with friends after work, etc. So people create their own circles of friends composed of either colleagues or fellow students or people you’ve met at the gym, etc. If you have kids, it’s people at playgroups, parks, classes, school, etc. We may or may not have much in common with our neighbors. Americans are terrified of forming relationships within confined spaces – very rarely people date a co-worker. They feel that if you don’t get along with a neighbor or need to break up with your gf/bf, it is much harder and awkward to face each other everyday, so they avoid these ‘thrust in your face’ kind of friendships.

  2. I can relate to wanting my kids to have friends but not having their whole family over. What I’ve started doing is – my kids have their own friends and I have my own friends. I’m not close friends with my kid’s moms. But we are pleasant to each, exchange relevant info (regarding schools, etc.), chit chat if we run into each other at a store, etc.
    But I know how hard that is to do in India! It goes back to ‘teaching the concept of space to a whole community’ like you said. They can’t just drop their kids and leave. A kid’s play date can turn into a tea session, followed by lunch, followed by the exchanging of life stories, and so on. And of course, the interrogation.

  3. It’s kind of so cliche that I feel pretty silly blogging about it actually. I’m sure it’s not like this everywhere. Surely people should have moved on from this kind of stuff. My community is filled with people my age so I’m not getting this. I really thought we’d moved on as a people when it came to social, behavioral intelligence. At least our generation. For now I’ll hold onto the point that I’m a magnet for these types and have landed in such a community. 🙂

  4. Love it 🙂 It must be such a battle finding a balance between being social and maintaining your privacy, esp with the kid. Makes you wonder how you went about your childhood. It wasn’t this complicated surely! Or maybe we just didn’t care 🙂

    • I’m pretty sure we started caring around 14/15. All those nosy mamis I remember most of them! But yes younger years were much easier. And little A absolutely loves the open door so she can run out all the time.

  5. I have actually never had this problem in India, despite living in 6 different apartment settings (except in one case, where the opposite house mami tried to be too friendly and I had to be extra vague and taciturn with her so that she eventually got the point!) Not sure what kind of environment you live in… but esp in Blore when I lived in a huge residential complex, I actually thought it was the best case scenario because there were a bunch of people to socialize with when I felt like it, and otherwise, I could shut myself/ my family behind closed doors. My neighbors came by occasionally (1-2 times a week) but never more often and we’d chat for 5-10 minutes maybe. Maybe it was because I established myself as relatively quiet and reserved and didn’t ask too many questions (once you ask someone 2 questions, they want to ask 5 more in return!) But people have always been most respectful of privacy, even in my current space where it’s quite a few elderly retired families.
    India is an in-your-face environment but I’ve realized that I can do better if I don’t focus on the differences between “here and there” because they just make you feel more despondent and hopeless. I don’t think too much about the long term… just focus on the short term because it’s easier to control and manage… and I tell myself that the grass is always greener on the other side (though with Chennai heat, even artificial grass won’t survive!)

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