When I was a boy, I used to love to visit my mother’s workplace.
As a teenager and a man in my twenties, that love changed into wariness. Now, as a forty something son to a retired mother, I find myself thinking back fondly of the place where she spent thirty plus years of her life.
As the youngest child of the newest member of the faculty of the Botany department of an all-women’s college, I was the star of every visit to her classroom.
Her colleagues thought me the funniest and smartest boy they knew but that was only to be expected because I was the first boy child born in the department after a sequence of four girls.
We would order food from the cafeteria — usually samosas — those hot, deep-fried triangles filled with potatoes and future high-blood pressure. Her students usually ignored me while I roamed the back of the class where leaf, shoot, and root samples sat in some sort of yellow solution in big glass mason jars with thick lids topped with glass knobs.
I got to write on the greenboard between classes only to have to quickly erase it as students filed in for the next lecture. In a tropical country with two seasons — hot and rainy — I especially loved the dappled shadows cast by the massive gulmohar trees on the balcony which ran outside the classroom door. Those days were truly some of the fondest memories of my childhood.
As a teenager and a young man, my trips to my mother’s workplace grew infrequent.
What teenager wants to hang out with her parents!?!
But more than the usual teenage rebellion, I was also growing self-conscious about being one among a handful of men on campus teeming with women.
To my raging hormones, visits to my mother’s college were an exquisite torture.
Women, dressed impeccably, everywhere. And I, hyper-aware of my maleness and also of my mother’s omnipresence on the same campus through her spy network of colleagues, not knowing where to look without eliciting disapproval.