Sunday, June 30, 2013

Things a mom can do to keep her sanity


We all know that motherhood is a full time job, 24/7, for the rest of your life, with no breaks!! There is no such thing as "alone time" anymore!
It's easy to get  exhausted & run-down because it's so constant. It's like you're an Energizer Bunny, and your batteries die. To avoid getting crabby, a mom must take her "breaks" - this involves doing anything that relaxes her... far, far away from children of any kind.

Here are some ideas to avoid the mom burnout:

- Take a nap. Seriously. If the baby is deep asleep, get your ass into the bedroom and lie down! If you don't fall asleep, that's fine. Stop doing the dishes. Stop puttering around. Just rest. This can be done daily, and it is an instant refresher. 

- Go for a mom's night out. Just to have some adult conversation, without loading the baby in the car seat or high chair, and gulping down your food. Slowly eat your food, socialize with your friends, like a normal person. Do it even if you're tired. You will have fun.

- Get a massage or facial. 60-90 mins of meditative silence? Yes, please!!! Moms, I already know your back is sore. Your neck is sore. You're overtired. I recently treated myself to a massage and I came out so relaxed that I looked like I was 18 years old again! 

- Go for a quick mani/pedi. It'll only take an hour or so, and you can catch up on reading magazines. It'll make you feel good every time you look down at your pretty hands/feet. Because some days, you don't even have time to brush your hair! At least your nails are done.

- Do yoga - in your home or at a class. It relaxes you, you get to meditate, it strengthens your core (after having kids, what core?) and it is a form of exercise. Because as a mom, you have to be really flexible - like getting that toy from way under the couch!

- Go to bed early and wake up early. My best friend who has 2 tot's swears by this - she wakes up before the house gets up and she gets some alone time. She has her breakfast leisurely, exercises, does some writing. I tried this for a week while my husband was out of town and it was really relaxing - and I'm not a morning person!

- Go out on a date with your husband. Remember your husband? It's a win-win situation - you get some alone time together and some much needed baby-proofing to your relationship.

- Go for a movie. There's nothing like going into a fictional world to take your mind off of diaper changes, feeding, household chores, etc.

- Do some writing. Journal writing, blogging, anything that jots down your thoughts. Mommy brain is a real thing...there are so many things on your mind at all times, that writing really helps focus your energy AND vent emotions that you may not be able to express in front of your child.

- Enjoy nature. Getting outside gives you fresh air, vitamin D, exercise, and makes you concentrate on the present. Seeing nature, window shopping, or people watching is a great pick me up. You can even do this when the baby's sleeping in the stroller for a little pick-me up.

- Take a hot bath. This is a great way to relax at the end of the night if your mind is running and you can't get to bed. Put some lavender sea salts in, light a candle... I take a bath with my daughter and put her to bed, and then after she's asleep, I take my relaxing bath!!!


Saturday, June 29, 2013

Indian customs: arranged marriage vs. love marriage

The first time I heard the term "Love marriage" was when I was hanging out with some Indian friends from college and they were talking about one of their friends who had "a love marriage". I said, "What do you mean by love marriage? Aren't all marriages love marriages?" The girls laughed. "No," they said, "in India, they believe that love comes after marriage". Of course, I knew about arranged marriages, but I assumed they got to meet each other and fall deeply in love before they got married. It was news to me that you are expected to fall in love after you get married. I thought, but what if you don't? In India, "love marriage" literally means "love before marriage".

In Western marriages, love is the only reason for marriage. The "I love you so much - I can't live without you - I want to wake up next to you every morning and stare at you - I want to marry you in front of everyone and live happily ever after".

In Indian marriages, the reason for marriage is to have children and hopefully there's a love story that develops somewhere in there. Indians are very conservative about sex and affection, so being in a marriage with the intent to produce children is the only safe way to explore one's sexuality with the opposite sex. 

(Famous Indian arranged marriage - Vivek Oberoi & Priyanka Alva)
(Image via)

So, how does one arrange a marriage? The first thing is that Indian parents are heavily involved. They decide when their child is ready to get married. Their son has to have a job that makes enough money, and they have to be mature enough to have a wife. If it is a daughter, the only requirement is that she has to be able to cook. Even though, most of the time, the child will still be living at home until they are married. It really is in the Indian mother's control - she decides when she is ready to pass the baton - to have someone else take care of her son/daughter. This also depends on whether the child is a boy or a girl. For an Indian son, most likely he will continue to live at home after marriage along with the new wife. The new wife is expected to "take care of her husband AND inlaws", sadly, kind of like a servant. If the son is living in a foreign country, then they are picking out a wife to take care of him abroad. If it is an Indian daughter, they are picking out a boy for her to go live with. As soon as Indian daughters are married, they are considered the other family's responsibility and property. She has to ask their permission to even visit her parents. The only time when she is allowed to go visit her parents for a longer time is when she is about to give birth - 3 months before the baby arrives, and 3 months after. This is because she cannot be a servant to her in-laws during this time.

The first way they will try to find a match is through family (I think this is totally gross). Through cousins, uncles, etc. Especially for a girl, since they will be more protective over her. And in India, it is custom that the girl's family will pay for the wedding. All the gold they buy for her & for her dowry, becomes her husband's property. Gold is not cheap. And in India, gold is considered to be an investment. So, they think that it is better to at least keep all this money within the family, even if it is a distant cousin.

If there is no one in the family who are of a marriageable age (For men, it is usually age 28-45; for women, it is 18-30) they will look at close friends and acquaintances, because then at least you know who these people are. Not just any close friends - they must be the same caste, same language speaking (Tamil, Telugu, Kannada). Even within India, they are hesitant to mix cultures. A Tamil brahmin marrying a Telugu brahmin would face just as much opposition as if they were marrying a foreigner, since even in each state the customs are different - and also there might be a language barrier.

( Indian matrimony site)
(Image via)

If they can't find anyone at all, then they will go online. This has become quite popular in India, especially with Indian parents. They have sites like or, where you can narrow down all the suitable matches by age, height, body weight, number of brothers/sisters, income, caste, culture, religion, city, vegetarian/non-vegetarian, and most importantly - if you are astrologically compatible. Unlike Westerners with, on the majority of Indian marriage websites, the parents are the ones behind it. The parents are the ones writing the profiles and picking out the matches. For example, the profile will probably go something like this: "My daughter is a simple, hand-working girl who has a engineering Master's degree and is looking for a Tamil Brahmin Iyer husband who lives in the U.S." The about me section is usually referred to as "a resume" - kind of like they are applying for a job! We knew many Indian girls who we went to college with, who were just obtaining a degree so that their parents could put it on their "resume" to find a suitable husband. My husband would complain about these girls - he used to say "what is the point of getting a higher education if they are just going to throw it away when they get married?" For Indian girls, it is a chance to get out in the world, and away from their parents, before they have to settle down and be "a wife". And for Indians, a wife is a heavy job - taking care of husband, in-laws, cooking, cleaning, caring for children - the wife comes last.

These sites have made it easier to find matches, but it is very common that once there is a possible match, to hire a private investigator to check the person out. Indian parents are known to fib about their children on these sites - say they're making a bit more than they actually are, say they're traditional when they're not, say that they haven't been divorced, or even say that they have a green card when they are really on a contract job. Sometimes I find this a bit problematic, because what if your parents don't really know you? There's a lot of things I don't tell my parents, and Indians are even more private than that. Also, do parents know best? Or do they know best for themselves?

It is also very common for parents to round up matches, AFTER their child has said that they are going to have a love marriage of their own picking. From the Indian parents' mentality, they are just trying to give their child some selection - kind of like the old saying, "don't put all your eggs in one basket". While this is highly offensive, they are just trying to show some other options, and also assert their control. Indian parents' usually have a view of love marriages as lustful. They think their child is all caught up in romantic love, that they are not considering compatibility, such as if the person is financially secure, if they come from a "bad" family, and so on.

After an arranged match has been declared suitable, it is really up to the modernity of the parents as to how much these two people are allowed to get to know each other. Usually it will be supervised, or at least take place in public places. The first meeting will almost always be with both the two families, wherein the groom will dramatically walk in and the girl will serve him tea - this process is called "seeing the girl". The couple will be able to chat by themselves in viewing distance of the parents, and if they don't like each other they can refuse the match.

(Famous Indian love marriages - Shammi Kapoor and Geeta Bali - met on a movie set and married in secret)
(Image via)

The main difference though, in Indian marriages vs. the Western style of "love marriage" is that Indians believe that everything has to be all perfectly set up before you are to get married and (maybe) fall in love with your spouse. Men have to have a job and a steady income, enough to support himself, his wife, future children, and in-laws if they are elder. They have to already have their degree and be a few years into working. But usually, Indian parents will start casually looking for a match they second they step into the office - because god forbid, they fall in love with someone at work! That is actually quite common - 90% of the "love marriages" in India come from meeting someone at work and falling in love with them. Usually, it is a large company that has been outsourced to India, such as HP, Deloitte, American Express, HSBC, Thomson Reuters, Microsoft, Dell...(click HERE for a full list)...and they suddenly can interact with LOTS of men/women away from home who are all of a marriageable age, and whose parents are probably looking for matches. These offices are totally like a giant arena for speed dating!

In Western marriages & "love marriages" we believe in the struggle - falling in love before you have your life set up. Sometimes you don't have a job, sometimes you're just a student in college with loans. We believe in struggling together before marriage - we believe that's what prepares you for marriage - because sometimes, in the great journey of life, you go through tough times, especially financially. You don't always have a job. You're struggling to make ends meet and paying rent. You don't own a home yet. Sometimes one partner has to get two jobs to support the other partner while he's going to school. We also believe in the importance of living together before marriage, (and for the non-religious types) sleeping together before marriage. What if the other person snores like a water buffalo? What if he has a revolting kissing style? What if he doesn't help doing the dishes? When you live with someone, you really get to know them. You know if they are faithful. You know when they take their bowel movements. You get to know everything about them. And this is what Westerners feel prepare them for marriage - is essentially living as a married couple before marriage - to see if this is the person that you like to be around 24/7 - the person that you will spend the next 70+ years of your life with. You also have the daunting task of introducing them to each others' families, and defending your match to all who don't approve.

The main difference is that Indians don't really date, openly that is. There is no concept of dating. No girlfriend/boyfriend. Now there is, in the more modern types, in large cities, but it is still taboo - you wouldn't go up to your mother and say "I'll be back tomorrow, I'm just gonna go visit my girlfriend" - not even in Mumbai. It is only after an engagement date is set up (publicly) that they are allowed to "date" their future spouse.

Arranged marriages can go extremely well or horribly wrong. But the same can be said about love marriages. There is no right or wrong answer - it depends on the person. Do you trust your parents to know what is best for you? Do you want romantic love & a marriage-like relationship before marriage? It depends. Either way, marriage is marriage. It's easy and it's hard, no matter how you got together. You have to learn to compromise, and think as a team, and consider someone else first.


(My in-laws had a love marriage in the 70's - the first in the family to do so)

Our love story was a little different. My in-laws had a love marriage and that is how I believe they learned to accept me. When Maddy brought me to India, after just a year of dating, I was his "girlfriend". I had 6 years to get to know my husband's family & for them to get used to the idea of me - before we were officially married. I don't think that any of his family expected us to stay together long enough to get married, so they referred to me as "his school friend" until we were married, which was hurtful to me, at times, especially after we had got engaged. 

(My first trip to India I was considered to be my husband's "school friend", even though we were secretly engaged, in the Western sense)

Sometimes we didn't have jobs at the same time. We moved cities together - three cities! My husband had a terrible accident and was hospitalized, and I had to drop everything and nurse him back to health. We went through so much together before we were married. By the time we actually got married, it was a breeze. Although it was only after we got married that I felt I finally had the permission from his family, to get pregnant and start a family.

In hindsight, I'm glad he told his family about me from the first day. They had time to get used to me. They had time to get to know me. I had time to learn all the customs and culture. Even though I used to get frustrated that nobody took me seriously enough, I'm glad I was patient with them. It made the transition of accepting me easier, for the entire family.

(At our wedding reception, me being welcomed as an official member of the family, 6 years later)


Friday, June 28, 2013

"Before Midnight" movie review & long term marriage

I recently went out on a mom's night out, with my mom & 2 favorite aunties, and saw the movie Before Midnight. It is the last in the love story trilogy - precluded by Before Sunrise & Before Sunset.
At first I didn't like the movie...I thought it was really boring with long takes, and too talk-y. But then it got really interesting.

In the Before Sunrise, two people board a train and fall in love. In Before Sunset, they reconnect and have another love affair. After each movie, the audience was always wondering - "Did they stay together?"

Before Midnight depicts them 9 years into their marriage, and 19 years after their first meeting. It gives an honest look at serious topics such as kids, custody, divorce, money, careers, sex, aging, and resentment. It really gave an honest look at all the complexities of long term marriage that are layered on with every year that passes.

I thought it was very interesting to watch psychologically because the dialogue was accurate to what a man/woman would say who are in a long term union. There was a great fight scene at the end, in which no topic was spared.

It brought to mind a lot of questions that I have about long term marriage and life.

During one part of the movie, the couple asks each other, "If you met me on a train today, would you get off with me?" and I'm not sure they would. There is something to be said about timing. What makes us commit to someone and go off into the sunset for life? And would we still do that if we met in present day? Both characters had changed since their first meeting. They are more mature, weathered down by the environmental stresses of life, kids and career. Both are tired. 

When two people are changing and evolving in a relationship, can they stay on the same page? In one point in the movie, Celine says to Jesse, "Sometimes I look at you and I don't even recognize you anymore. You're so different." They have different priorities - Celine, with her career, and Jesse has slowed down a bit and wants to be more involved with the family.

The movie also addresses the different way each person reminisces about their first meeting. For Jesse, Celine was the only woman he ever loved. For Celine, he was not. For Jesse, he connected to Celine physically, and for Celine it was more intellectual.

Does the constant compromises that you have to make in a marriage make you sacrifice the things you really want? Celine harbors so much resentment against Jesse "while he was doing book tours, she was pushing the double stroller". And he has so much guilt that he missed out on his first son's childhood. Why do parents have so much guilt? Even if we are 100% there, there's always something that we feel like we are missing. Where does the guilt come from? Celine has guilt that she stayed home when the girls were little, and now she has guilt that she's career driven, and of course she blames it all on Jesse. Can you have your own personal guilt without blaming your partner?

Another question the movie asked was "Are they together just for the kids?" Celine got knocked up with twins right after Before Sunset, so they really didn't get to build their relationship as a couple before children came into the picture. This, I think, is crucial. Children add many sleepless nights & tit-for-tat'ing, and you need to be able to function as an equal team. I feel like the relationship you build together before children is a truly solid foundation, that makes a marriage baby-proof.

It also talked about the traditional roles that men & women play in relationships - with the man being the provider, and the woman being the nurturer. The man being the rational one, the woman being the emotional one.

The couple had been through some tough times - environmental life stresses - such as careers, being able to make money, career vs. passions, career vs. hobbies, Jesse having an ex-wife who wouldn't give custody, parenting the children, being physically/intellectually attracted to each other, making time for each other. They had a lot of things to deal with in those short 9 years together as a married couple. At another point of the movie, Celine asked, "Look what all we have been through. Can we survive another 50 years?" 

And that is the question. 
When you're in a long term marriage, you're in it for life. Sometimes for 60 years. You fall in and out of love with each other, over and over again. You get angry, you fight, you get let down, you have to sacrifice & compromise - all for the marriage as a whole to survive, kind of like it's own separate entity.

It brings to mind a quote about marriage I read a while ago: 

"When you're married, there is a place for you to land. There is a place for you in the nest. It is two against the world, not just one, and one more makes all the difference; the winds don't howl in the same way. There is another vote, another point of view, a 24-hour reality check; there is somebody to talk to, even in the middle of the night if you have to. A sense of safety."
- Elizabeth Berg

After the movie, us moms went out for tea & a dessert, and I asked them a question. All have been married long term, ranging from 29 years to over 40 years. I asked them, "Have your husbands changed since you met them? Have they changed for the better, or for the worse?"
They all laughed. Auntie Sophie said, "You'll have to wait and see!"


Thursday, June 27, 2013

Best infant books (0-2yrs)

Click HERE to see my pinterest list.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Our Hindu-style Wedding

(Our garlands - my mom had them shipped from India and surprised us)

The Summers are always so special for me because we celebrate our wedding anniversaries (yes, there are two!) and also our daughter's birthday.

(Me and my parents)

Our 2 year wedding anniversary was on June 11th and I want to dedicate this post to reminiscing about our Hindu wedding.

(My mangalsutra - or as they call it in Tamil, a "thaali" - like a wedding ring, a woman is to never take this necklace off. Each family has a different symbol.)

We had already set the date for our Western wedding and mailed the invitations, when my MIL told me she wanted to do a Hindu wedding too. We had our astrology/star signs mapped out - Indian style (you need the place, date and time of birth) and then they pick out the exact date and exact time that the sacred knot is to be tied (even if it's 4am!) Luckily, ours was on June 11th, 2011 at 10-something A.M.

(My MIL, auntie #1, me, my mom, auntie #2)

We wanted to have a small private ceremony, so we just invited our parents and my favorite aunties. 

(Us before the ceremony)

My SIL sent a saree for me to wear which was a beautiful orange/blue color. We were supposed to wear something brand new, as per the superstitions. Maddy looked the most Indian he has ever looked - in a button down blouse and pant!

The ceremony started with my dad alone, and he loved being in the centre of attention! Then he had to take Maddy outside and wash Maddy's feet! My dad's flexibility isn't that great, so you can imagine how funny this was!

(Tying the thaali)

The ceremony went on for a while with the priest doing all the devotional chanting, and then the knot was tied at the precise time. It felt so great to finally get my thaali, after 6 years of being together - getting something that was so sacred and passed down through generations in his family - it was really special for me. Not only did I feel like I finally got upgraded to the wife status, but I really felt a part of his family then. It was very meaningful to me. In Tamil Brahmin tradition, there is to be 3 knots tied - each symbolising the unity of mind, body and spirit.

(Maddy looking at me after he put the Sindoor on my forehead)

Another thing I loved was getting the Sindoor put on my forehead. I prefer the sindoor rather than a bindi - but you're supposed to wear them both together. It's really beautiful to have that small wash of color right at your hairline.

(Lighting the holy fire - "Agni")

After that, we had to light the flame for the holy fire.

(Circling the fire)

Then, we had to tie my saree to Maddy's scarf, and lead each other around the holy fire. He went first, and then I lead after. I liked how they did it both ways (I'm a boss in this relationship too!) Each circle represents:  nourishment, strength, prosperity, happiness, progeny, long life and harmony/understanding. The seven principles of an Indian marriage.

(It`s done! The dads congratulate each other)

(Last prayer)

After that, we prayed to the altar, and my MIL sang a song to the Gods. Then, we fed each other some fruit - which is supposed to be how the couple can openly express love and affection (what, no kissing? Hahaha...)

(Arriving home as a married couple)

I was really glad we did the Hindu marriage, as it made me feel even more connected to his culture. It was very meaningful and sentimental to me that his family wanted us to do this. It made me feel very important and really (officially) welcomed me into their family.

And a year later, June 11th was my original due date for our daughter!

Monday, June 24, 2013

Advice for other intercultural couples

(Our 2nd wedding - indo-western style)

7.5 years & 1 kid later...looking back, what advice would I give to other intercultural couples?

If you think you've found your soulmate on this earth...and he just happens to be from a completely different culture - with different customs and a language barrier?

Guess what...IT'S NO BIG DEAL!!! 
Every marriage takes work, compromise and commitment. But intercultural relationships are on another level.


Here's some advice for people who are just starting on this wild ride:

1) It's never boring!!! That's the good news. There's always something to learn about. It's such a flavorful way to live life.

(visiting Washington, DC, 2007)

2) There will be lots of misunderstandings. Get over it. Accept it. Keep communicating.

(Me in Salwar Kameez - I would never wear this color combination in Canada, but in India - it works!)

3) Immerse yourself in your spouse's culture (and have fun doing it). Learn about everything. Read books. Watch movies. Listen to them as they conversate. Visit their homeland at least a handful of times. Observe the customs. Watch closely. Ask questions (my mother-in-law thinks I'm the biggest question-asker!)
Examples -
"Why do you touch the elder's feet?"
"Why do you not call an elder by their given name?"
"Why do you not openly say boyfriend/girlfriend?"
To make an effort to understand their culture is to respect it.

4) Their culture's way of dating is probably completely different than yours. Plus, a couple will have their own pace of dating based on that mixture of the individuals.

(Us in Venice...note the Indian staring at us in the background!)

5) Get used to people staring. It gets worse when you have kids!

(Valentine's day 2011 - I cooked mirchi bhaji, aloo fry, and kheer)

6) Focus on strengthening your relationship so it is unbreakable. Everyone else will come around.

(our feet, wedding day 2011)

7) If your spouse's family doesn't approve of you - be patient. You're not going anywhere. Don't let it stress you out. They probably just don't approve of the idea of you. Your spouse's family is not your problem - let your spouse handle them.

(visiting cousins in Seattle, 2011)

8) Don't let your cultural differences define you. Accept and admire each others differences.
There are some fights that are mostly about differences in culture, but then there are some that are about goals, jobs, priorities, families, money, sex, personalities - know the difference.

(With my husband & his two best friends, our biggest supporters)

9) Have a support system. Everybody in your life should be rooting for your relationship. And find new friends who are in intercultural relationships who can really get it.

(Us and our perfect little daughter)

10) Fact: you're a foreigner. You will always be seen as a foreigner. Accept it and use it to your advantage. Any effort you make to understand their culture will be appreciated & raved about (example: Indian cooking or Indian dress). But you can play the "foreigner" card in situations that are unpleasant and you want to be left out of (example: family melodrama)

The one thing to beware of is that an intercultural relationship will not work if you care too much what other people think. You have to have balls to be in an intercultural relationship. Balls to deal with the stares and comments. Even from your own family members, if worse comes to worse. 
If you have the balls to stay in it, be committed to it & show it off proudly - then you'll be in it for life!

Only worry about you and your partner. Anybody else you cannot control. Don't waste one single fight over external influences such as your MIL, SIL, husbands family, friends or strangers on the street. It's not worth it. Don't give them the satisfaction. Some people will try to break you up, create drama, and make you upset. Only you will get satisfaction from the fact that whatever others do, can never affect your relationship.

Many (ignorant) people will assume that you will get a divorce, just because you're of different cultures. Every time anybody doubted our relationship, I said inside to myself, "I'll show you"..
When "old school" Indians think of westerners they think of a flashing billboard that says "divorce" just because the divorce rate is high in western countries. And I do know a lot of westerners who come from divorced families. But nobody in my family is divorced. I don't believe in divorce. My MIL still says to me "Marriage should be forever!" And I'm like, "duh! Of course!"

The cultural thing IS a valid excuse for a lot of miscommunications. There are deep cultural mannerisms that are deeply ingrained in the psyche. Those things you cannot change. No matter how frustrating it is, you have to say "it is what it is" and leave it at that.

(Our daughter's 21st day punyajanam)

It's not as hard as it seems. You don't have to choose one side or the other. A blended family is a wonderful family to have. Christmas does not fall on the same day as Diwali - do both! Have 2's more fun!

(Maya in Indian lehenga on her 1st birthday with Pati/Thatha)

Click HERE to read my article about the best marriage advice people have given me. This goes for all the intercultural peeps too!
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