Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Year in review


2014 was a big year for us with lots of ups and downs....


This year was definitely the year of traveling, as we went on many vacations, big and small. We traveled to Seattle twice, to Italy, the Okanagan, and ended the year by spending a month in India (pictures coming soon). And ALL of our trips were joint-family vacations! It was really fun to spend time together as a group, away from home. I can't believe I was even questioning whether or not we should travel with a toddler - OF COURSE we should and why the hell not?!?!


Last year at this time I was just finishing a 6 week recovery from surviving meningitis, and I was trying to set new goals for myself and my newly recovered energy. However, in retrospect, I set too many goals too soon and just ended up stressing myself out. It wasn't until mid-year that I realized that I don't have to do everything ALL at once.


Another thing I did this year was that I tried to let go of my perfectionist tendencies. This idea in my head that I have to be the perfect wife, mother, and person is setting myself up for failure. Once I relaxed my expectations of myself by genuinely believing that I AM good enough, I was a lot happier.


This year I also finally buckled down with getting a good babysitter who I can call so that husband-ji and I can go out on date nights. It took me yet another Summer breakdown to finally jump in and trust someone else with my child. And after I did it, I felt silly for waiting so long! I am currently getting the babysitter to come one evening per week so husband-ji and I can go out for dinner and a movie - and it feels so great. Like a teenager in love, I look forward to our date night all week!


I also experimented in the kitchen quite a bit by perfecting new recipes, which have now become my regulars.


We finished the year with finally getting Maya potty trained, which took me an entire year to do because I wasn't consistent with it. When we were in India, she told me every single time she peed, so when we got back home I just decided to jump in and take the diapers off. What other mothers say about just taking the diapers off - it really does work!


Of course, I had my failures too, like I didn't really lose any weight, which I am kind of okay with. But there's always next year, right?


Dear readers, have a Happy New Year and a fabulous 2015!


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Tuesday, December 30, 2014

The double life

Last week we celebrated Christmas with my dad's side of the family, hosted by my dad's sister who has zero knowledge of India and Indian culture. They have never been to India, have very few interactions with Indians (outside of husband-ji) and my aunt's husband hates Indian food (although I doubt he has ever tried REAL Indian food because the majority of Indian restaurants in North America are crap!)

Coming back from a month in India, it feels weird to be in an environment where people have literally no idea about our life in India. It almost makes me feel like we are leading this double secret life, like some undercover CIA agent who goes on missions in foreign countries while their family has no idea. The crazy life we live in India is beyond their wildest dreams.

Sometimes I want to explain it to them, but unless they visit India or enjoy cultural things like Indian food, movies or books by Indian authors - I don't think they'll ever get it. They live in such a white world. I mean, at Thanksgiving, my aunt's husband asked us if there were still arranged marriages in India. That's how little they know. 


For Christmas, I wanted to wear my new red Salwar Kameez. After being in India for so long, I got dressed almost automatically with my 3 red piece suit, full jewelry, and sindoor. Then I looked at myself in the mirror and I looked perfect - by Indian standards - all matchy matchy. But then I remembered where I was going. I was going to my aunt's house and she wouldn't know what sindoor was, or the Goddess Lakshmi on my necklace. And I didn't really feel like explaining it to people who wouldn't comprehend it anyway. Everyone would most likely be wearing jeans and sweaters. So I rubbed off my sindoor, and took off my red Salwar pants and put on black leggings instead, to tone it down. I still wore my beautiful tunic though.

When I arrived and took off my coat, the first thing my aunt said was that she loved my tunic. And I mean LOVED. Her jaw dropped open and she thought it was so beautiful. Then, I felt silly. I said, "well actually this comes as part of a 3 piece suit..." and I totally should've worn it. Part of me realized that it was my fault too - maybe they would have more of a connection to Indian culture if I just took the time to explain things properly, rather than automatically assuming they would have no interest. If I feel like I'm living a double life - it's because of me - because I am making a choice to leave them out of it. And maybe I shouldn't...

After dinner, my other aunt (who loves Indian food) gave husband-ji a gift of his favorite Indian sweets like Kaju Katli and Besan Ladoos. We passed the box around. My aunt's husband hates nuts so of course he couldn't eat any of them, since almost every Indian sweet has nuts. Then I asked my aunt if she wanted to try and if she liked cashews. She tried my favorite Kaju Katli and as she was eating it, her expression changed with the explosion of sweet foreign goodness. It was almost as if - very faintly - she realized that their was this whole other world out there, that compromises so much of our own daily life. She gasped as she ate, "Oh this is good....this is so rich tasting!" she said. 

I smiled to myself, as if I was slowly cracking open the door to our "secret" Indian life...slowly but surely.

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Sunday, December 28, 2014

Reverse culture shock


Coming back from a month in India and a 22 hour flight that left me completely disoriented and jet lagged, I experienced a reverse culture shock quite badly this time. It was almost as if I was coming home for the very first time.

Am I really from here? Am I really from this cold, dark, forest-y land? It was like landing on a different planet. I felt like Matthew McConaughey in Interstellar.

The airplane landed over the dark green misty forest, and we were blasted with cool damp air as we got off the plane. My feet and my neck and my nose were freezing. The fresh air smelled like pine cones that were soaked in saltwater. 

We drove back to the house in what was supposed to be the start of rush hour traffic - you call THIS traffic?!?! No horns, everyone calmly waiting in the queue, nobody running red lights, and no need to keep an eye out for wandering buffalos roaming about. Darkness descended like a sudden blue cloak, already pitch black at 4:30pm. I was starving. I was looking for Pani Puri stalls on the road. The only "roadside" food we passed was McCrappy McGrossy McDonalds. Oh Hyderabad....how you have spoiled me!

We arrived back to our cold apartment and I had to turn on the heat in all of the rooms. It was so freezing and dark. It took nearly an hour for it to get warm and livable. Where is the cook? I wondered. A harsh reality that we actually had to cook our own food! 

Maya was asking for her favorite "rice and bindi" so I drove to the grocery store, only to find that okra was out of season. It occurred to me then just how far we were from our other home. Even our produce is completely different! While everyone was picking up their broccoli and winter squash, I was trying to look for something remotely Indian.

The neighbours didn't even realize that we were gone this whole time. I looked out of my window to what was supposed to be one of the busiest streets in town, only to see a few cars driving by. Where IS everybody?!?! Vancouver's 600,000 population felt like peanuts compared to Hyderabad's 7.75 million.

I missed my relatives. Even though I was left out of conversations, at least somebody was chatting away. I missed the constant warmth and the sunshine. I missed the smell of red onions and chai, with my chat stalls on every corner, open 24/7. 

At my family's Christmas dinner, I almost wanted to eat on the floor with a banana leaf, like I had just done for so many weeks. Everyone was eating quietly with their silver utensils clanging against the plates in an orderly fashion. My college-aged cousins were eating their own food and not being hand-fed like our college-aged cousins in India. I kind of missed that.


Living between two countries has me in a constant state of feeling like a piece of driftwood. Where IS home for me??? Is it India or Canada? Our life is so blended that sometimes I forget which place I was even born in. Did this country really produce me? How come such a quiet place can produce a girl who feels so comfortable in eccentric chaos? Was I born in the wrong country...?

Of course, husband-ji was relieved to be back home in "quiet and serene Canada" as he likes to call it. But I felt a little homesick for India - like I left a piece of my heart some place else... 

It is times like these when I experience culture shock - coming back to my own country - that makes me understand how husband-ji must have felt coming to the U.S. for the first time, for college. How he must have wondered where everyone was, why it was so dark and quiet. That too, he arrived in the U.S. on Christmas Eve when everything was closed for the holidays. How strange he must have felt it was, how homesick he must have been....and how brave he was to have fly to a far away foreign country where he didn't know a soul...to risk everything for a dream...


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Saturday, December 27, 2014

Our last-minute Christmas



Last week, I was totally freaked out because we just returned from a huge trip to India only 10 days before Christmas, only to get seriously sick with the most epic flu....with hardly any Christmas prep done. I was even considering celebrating Christmas on Indian Standard Time!


Luckily, my prayers were answered....about two days before Christmas, my antibiotics finally kicked in and I did some last minute Christmas preparations - using my excellent multitasking mom skills like an absolute pro! And guess what? It turned out perfectly. This year, Christmas was simple - but it was enough. And it made me think that (minus the last minute late-lathi stress) I could do it like this every year. You see, the more time you think about Christmas...the more you tend to go overboard. 


In the days before Christmas, we set up our tree - which looked gorgeous. Maya loved helping us hang the decorations, and she was like an air traffic controller telling us where to hang the ornaments. She also added her unique touches around the house, by adding her stuffed animals to the display.


And we also made it to the mall to take Maya's annual picture with Santa on Christmas Eve. Of course, we had to wait in line for nearly an hour, but it was worth it. I made husband-ji wait in line for us while we shopped around and got a secret gift for him. When it came time to take the picture, I was surprised that Maya didn't cry at all like last year. She is such a big girl now.....and Santa thought she was about 5 years old because of her height!


On Christmas Day, I invited my parents over to our house to see Maya open her toys. Maya's favorite toy this year was her little wooden train set, which she played with nearly all day. Both my parents were down with the flu, so they didn't feel like eating anything. My mother wanted to do Christmas dinner but she was too sick, so we shifted the venue to my aunt's house. Knowing that husband-ji would only be getting boiled vegetables for dinner at my aunt's place, I decided to cook him a big Indian style Christmas brunch. I made Roti, Garlic Dal, Punjabi Beetroot, and Aloo Masala Capsicum.


In the evening, I wore one of my new Salwar Kameez that I got made in India. Everyone loved my new dress.


We went to my aunt's house and had Christmas dinner with my dad's side of the family. It was great to see my younger cousins as well, who have really grown up...

Of course, Christmas is bittersweet for us, since it always brings back memories of my grandparents who are no longer with us. Christmas Day was my grandmother's birthday. Our family used to be so close but since my grandparents died, we have all gone our separate ways as we live completely different lives. But getting together on big holidays like Christmas brings us all back together and reminds us of the family gatherings at my grandmother's house when we were all growing up.

Another thing I also missed was this is the first Christmas that my inlaws did not spend with us. My MIL is in India, and my FIL is going there soon to do thatha's 1 year death anniversary ceremony, so it was not possible for them to come here this year.


After spending a month in India with my husband's family, it was really wonderful to come back and spend Christmas with my family. This past month was really the best of both worlds!

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See how we celebrated Christmas in 2012 & 2013...

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Dear readers, how did you spend Christmas this year?

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Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Canadian citizenship for Christmas


One of the reasons why we had to return back from India is because husband-ji got assigned a Canadian citizenship test date and time, right before Christmas.

We were a little shocked because we had only just submitted his Canadian citizenship application this Summer, and were prepared to wait for up to 2 years for it. So, when we got a letter in the mail with the test date, we were quite surprised and thrilled.

For those of you who don't know, it is extremely difficult to travel with an Indian passport. Because husband-ji has an Indian passport, he requires visas for every-friggin'-where, not to mention he is constantly being stopped or questioned for having an Indian passport. It is a huge hassle when you have to travel for business, and also because we enjoy traveling for tourism as well. So, for traveling conveniences, he wanted to get a Canadian passport like the two of us have. It is easier to travel with a Canadian passport, but have a PIO or an OCI in your back pocket. Husband-ji has been eligible for citizenship for a while, but we kinda forgot about it because we are brain-dead new parents (well, not so much "new" anymore...) So this Summer, we finally buckled down and just submitted the citizenship application, and by the grace of God, it went through very swiftly!

Then, the government sent us the Citizenship test study guide, which was quite serious. The stuff about Canada were things that I didn't even know! I was a bit nervous for husband-ji because I had never seen him study before. Like, ever. Even though we went to college together, it was all Arts courses. Although, one time he did have an Art History test that he cheated on! Being in India and on holiday, I thought it would be the perfect opportunity for him to study - especially with being stuck in so much traffic every day. He refused, as much as I kept pestering him.

Finally when we got back, he pulled out the study guide and he crammed the night before the test. I stayed up with him and quizzed him, giving him little word-play tricks to remember the answers.

And the next day, he passed - with a perfect 100% score! I was so proud of him and what a great job he did. They said he will be having his citizenship ceremony within the next 3-5 months. It's the beginning of a new era!!! And next time, with his new Canadian passport - we can fly to India through the U.K. - the fastest and most convenient way to get there, rather than going on all these crazy routes to get there. 

Hallelujah! Citizenship....just in time for Christmas!


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Sunday, December 21, 2014

A yuletide mess!

This morning I woke up and nearly had a heart attack that it was December 21st already - with only 4 days until Christmas.

Usually around this time of year, we already have the house decorated, Christmas tree up, gifts nicely wrapped, and maybe a few minor things still to get - but everything mostly done because we don't want to be one of those annoying last minute celebrators (oh the horror...) So we are just sitting around, enjoying the twinkles on the Christmas tree, sipping hot chocolate, entirely satisfied with being so organized, and taking in the bliss of the season.

This year, we are an absolute mess! We returned from India a little under a week ago and almost immediately fell sick with an awful chest infection - thanks to the idiot in front of us on the Emirates flight who was coughing for the entire 15 hour flight! Instead of doing any Christmas things, we were in and out of the doctor's office and the pharmacists. The days wasted away as we all lay sick in bed with severe fevers and body aches, blowing our noses off into kleenexes. The 8 suitcases we brought back crowded our tiny apartment, each with a day's worth of laundry anticipating their opening. Then I turn on TV and they've already got the Home Alone marathons playing....and what day is it again? Nevermind...I don't even know what time it is! I can't help but feel like I'm stuck on some Indian Standard Time-warp vortex...

And here we are....three and a half days before Christmas....with no Christmas tree, decorations, nothing wrapped, suitcases still sealed, waking up at 3am with horrible jet lag, minimal food in the fridge, and oh yes - the oven is now broken...

Then I start to feel frantic - on top of that, there is all the Christmas events that I like to do with Maya - like her picture with Santa or the Christmas Train ride. Some of these things thankfully go on until New Year's, but some stop on Christmas Eve.

My dilemma - do we skip Christmas or do we just postpone it? I would feel like such a lousy mum if I skipped it altogether. We may just end up celebrating Christmas on December 31st or January 1st.....then just keep the tree up until February! Maya knows it is Christmas season and is asking me about the Christmas tree - but luckily she doesn't know what DAY it falls on. I mean, it's not like it has to be celebrated at an astrologer-selected auspicious time like an Indian wedding does - it's all about the thought, right? Plus, I can't just skip it entirely - skip an excuse to celebrate? No way Jose!

We can celebrate Christmas on Indian Standard Time......right?!?!

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Monday, December 15, 2014

Quick update


I have just spent the last month in India and have had a completely different experience than my last visit. It is quite incredible really, how India is such a place that you can discover differently every single time - and come back transformed as an individual. This was my fifth time, and Maya's first ever trip. We also made it another joint-family vacation, like we did earlier this year to Venice.

Now we have a jam-packed Christmas season coming up, but I can't wait to tell you about all my adventures from India after the New Year begins....And I have SO MANY photos to go through!

Stay tuned....
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Wednesday, December 10, 2014

The true intimacy of postpartum recovery

(Maya at 3 days old)

In the first few months of having a newborn, you kind of let it all hang out - literally and figuratively...

Seriously, I don't think husband-ji had ever seen me in such a vulnerable state and had seen ALL of me. And boy, do I mean ALL. There is something about having a baby with your spouse that just brings your relationship to a whole new level of intimacy...


By intimacy, I mean....

Watching me give birth - front row seat.

Inspecting the placenta and cutting the umbilical cord.

Helping me on the toilet and seeing my postpartum menstruation pad.

Boiling the herbs for my perineal lotion.

Watching milk literally squirt out of my boobs.

Running errands to get me maxi-pads, nursing bras, breast pumps and nipple shields.


Yes, it has definitely taken our relationship to another level!

I remember after I had Maya and was unable to leave the house. I asked husband-ji to run some specific errands for me - get me maxi-pads, nursing bras, and larger stretchy underwear. That too, and my FIL went along with him. Can you imagine those two clueless guys going on a mission for feminine hygiene?! Seriously - we are talking about two men who prefer not to be seen in the women's underwear section in the department store. They will literally hide in the house furnishings, rather than be around the pink lacy thongs!

The first step of the mission was to go to the drugstore to get me maxi-pads. Husband-ji was utterly confused. They were all different colors and some had wings and others did not. They also had flow size. He was utterly confused and so embarrassed that he had to spend more than 2 seconds in the aisle.

The next mission was to go and get me nursing bras. This was pretty easy since I told him the brand, color and size, and they were all in these little packets. Easy to grab and go!

The third mission was to go get me larger, stretchier underwear. They both had to go to the dreaded department store lingerie section that they avoided like the plague. They were so confused. They found the size, but they didn't understand why there were so many variations of the same underwear - high cut, bikini, hipster, french cut....And nearly everything was stretchy, but they were all different fabrics. Some had elastic and others did not. For that mission, they had to wing it!

They came back with the items like they were looting a maxi-pad Black Friday sale, and I was quite impressed. They got most of the right items with minimal mistakes.

They could totally be on an episode of The Amazing Race: Postpartum Dads run Feminine Errands edition!


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Monday, December 8, 2014

Ask Firangi Bahu: My Indian MIL is driving me crazy and we are not even married yet!


Sharing a letter from a reader....

"Hi Madh Mama,

I need your help. I am in an unconventional situation. I am currently living with my Marathi Mother in law BEFORE marriage. Actually, we are not even engaged yet. I am a 24 year old girl and I moved in with my desi boyfriend last year. At first, his parents were totally cool.... I had heard so many horror stories so I thought I'd really lucked out. They had me over for dinner all the time and we even went on a big trip to India together which was AMAZING.....After our trip, I decided to move in with him because my lease was up. So we lived in the basement apartment of his parents' house. Everything was going on well except now his parents decided to renovate the basement so we had to move upstairs into their house. And since then it has been absolute hell. Ever since I moved upstairs, my mother in law has continually picked me apart and complained about me, to the point where I feel SO insecure. She tried to teach me how to cook, yet spent the entire time snapping at me when SHE wasn't explaining it properly to me in the first place. I felt so dumb. I refused to learn to cook from her since then cuz she was so mean. She also criticizes my hair, makeup and outfits. She has even gone so far as to control where I am going. I have told my boyfriend and he doesn't understand what I have to deal with when he is at work. When he comes home she is all nice like she gets to see her prized son. My boyfriend and I fight a lot about it. Then he tells me that eventually they will be living with us anyway since he is the only son! I feel like he is not on my side and it's like he just expects me to cope with all this and figure it out by myself. I guess it is made worse that I am home a lot since I finished University and have been looking for jobs. I am already stressed out and financially tapped. I feel like if this keeps going, then I may fall out of love with him and re-think getting married. He has not even proposed yet and we have been together for three years now. Honestly, I feel like I was forced into a marriage with my mother in law. I feel like I am married to her, not him!!! Any advice you or your readers can give would really help me out."


What advice can we give to our fellow masala reader?
How do you cope with living with your inlaws when you don't get along?
Did your inlaws drive you crazy before marriage?

Please comment below...
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Sunday, December 7, 2014

The Surrey stand-off

A few months ago, on our way to Seattle, we decided to try this new South Indian restaurant that was on the way to the U.S. border. We tried the food previously, as the restaurant had catered the Tamil Puthandu celebration that we attended earlier this year. Husband-ji also met the owner at this party and he was very nice - also from Hyderabad.

We hadn't got an opportunity to go to this restaurant because it was too far away from the city. It is located in Surrey, which is hugely populated by Punjabi's. 

We had no idea what we were getting into as we approached this area. In my naive mind, I was so happy to be going to an Indian area and having South Indian cuisine. Being an Indian at heart, I am always happy to be surrounded by fellow Indians as it is more natural to me. As we drove to the restaurant, we noticed it was in a weird area. It was holed in between gold shops and truck depots, with immigration attorney offices filling the top. How strange, we thought.

We arrived at the restaurant in a happy-go-lucky mood, excited that this was the first leg of our trip across the border. As we entered, the ENTIRE restaurant (about 20 people) turned around and gave us a look as if we were a piece of rotten trash being dragged in the door. I felt embarrassed, and I looked down, and my daughter who is usually outgoing, went into my tunic and hid. My poor baby, I thought. They are scaring her...

The Telugu waiter seated us at a table, while the diners continued to stare at us and pick us apart. It was an extremely awkward meal. We tried to laugh it off, but it really put a bad taste in my mouth. I couldn't even enjoy my Hyderabadi Vegetable Biryani that I was so excited to try.

(This dish was delicious but I lost my appetite...)

The thing I really didn't like is how they stared at my daughter with a look of disgust. She is just a child, I thought. She doesn't deserve this... And now she is more aware of the world - how am I supposed to tell her when she gets older that sometimes people will think we are disgusting, just for being who we are?

As a mixed couple, we receive many looks on a daily basis by passerby's in public. Sometimes it is a surprised look. Sometimes it is a kind look. Sometimes it is a curious look. But that day, the look we received was one of disgust - that we were these people's worst dreams come true. It was an awful thing to experience - and we hadn't had to deal with that type of look in a long time. It hurt my soul a bit. It reminded me that some parts of the world are still like this.

I don't know what they hated more - that husband-ji was a South Indian, that I was Canadian, or that we had a family together...

These people don't even know us, I thought. They don't know our story, how much we love each other, and what great parents we are...how can they judge us and look at us with disgust?

Clearly, just us existing had destroyed their sentiments and poked a hole in the minuscule world that they live in. Yes we are a mixed couple. This is a reality of the next generation! Get over it!


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Dear readers, if you are a mixed couple, have you been in uncomfortable situations like this?

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Thursday, December 4, 2014

The secret society of motherhood


A few months ago, I attended a friend's baby shower who was to be a first time parent. The event was lovely and it was full of hope and excitement, as it was less than a month before she would become a mother. Or rather, enter the biggest roller coaster ride of her life!

At the baby shower, there was a clear divide between the women who were not mothers and those who were mothers. And then another divide between the elder women. The childless women were coo-cooing over monogrammed onesies, and discussing how they would parent (a.k.a. only feeding their child organic food, and never being one of those women who would looked disheveled). The women with young children were slyly looking at the childless women like "you have no idea what you're in for"....and the elder women were knowingly looking at the women with young children like "you have no idea what you're in for"....ahhhh the cycle of life...and disillusionment!

In North America, the leading book for pregnancy is called "What To Expect When You're Expecting". It is so popular that even a movie was made out of it a few years ago. It is like the pregnant woman's bible... In the book, it specifically tells mothers to not "scare" pregnant women with what it's really like horror stores. Which I find kind of dishonest. 

When I was pregnant, I was completely clueless as to what parenthood would really be like. I had zero experience with children, I never changed a diaper or cared for a child in any way before I gave birth to my own. For many Western women, young women have an idealized view of parenting and child-rearing, but very little experience. In the West, children are kept so secluded from other parts of society. People with children have to go to "child friendly" cafes, or avoid certain public places for fear of stares from equally clueless adults. Mothers with strollers are treated like lepers. Not like in India, and even Italy - where children are everywhere, rejoiced, and a part of society in every way. Sometimes I wish I had seen a few more public meltdowns in order to prepare myself for toddler-hood, or even just someone telling me truthfully that it is hard - and that's normal. It's all shrouded in mystery, like those fairy-tales that say "happily ever after" when the prince and princess get married. And then what? Nobody knows...

So, I was at this baby shower. The childless women conversed excitedly, while I made my way over to my "clan" - tired mothers of children under 5. The women were talking about how they can't wait to hand the baby over to their husband as soon as they come in the door, how they can't believe they have no time to have a shower, how their back hurts, how they're trying to decide when to have another child but they're exhausted already, and how working is way easier than staying home with an infant 13 hours a day. Yep. That's my clan!

The weird part was that everyone was whispering. We were all whispering as to not upset the expectant mother of the realities of parenthood. She cannot know that we only got "x" amount of sleep last night...shhhhh...it will upset her! And over our shoulders, the elder women were all whispering about their older children who: can't find a job, can't settle down, etc.

I feel bad that certain realities are shrouded in secrecy, but would it do any good for people to know anyway? The last thing a pregnant woman wants to hear is about how hard it is, or the last thing a mother of a young child wants to hear is that it gets even harder. Let's face it, we are all living in our little bubble. I often think things would be better if fellow mothers were open and honest with each other. But sometimes I do wonder if there's a reason that these things are kept secret...

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Monday, December 1, 2014

Book review: Parenting Without Borders

(Img via)

I am always interested in parenting around the world, so I recently picked up a copy of the book "Parenting Without Borders", by Christine Gross-Loh. It was a really interesting and informative read at how different parents around the globe raise their children. Using examples from Asia, Europe and Africa, the book focuses on cultural parenting techniques with positive impacts on children. The book discussed everything from sleeping, eating, behavioral problems, school, and the concept of "free play" and "community parenting". It really was a great read.


Here are some things that I found valuable from this book:

"Overscheduled and stressed out, children seem to lack initiative and self-reliance."

"Parents [shouldn't] struggle to control everything, and a community raises kids in an enfolding, embracing way, ignoring (or even celebrating) their bumps and scrapes as part of an utterly ordinary, yet healthy, childhood"

"Children seemed to feel more belonging, happiness, and security from seeing themselves as part of a community of people, rather than as individuals with individual needs that urgently had to be met."

"For many of us, parenting has become an individualized experience, especially since we - not society, not other parents, friends, family, or teachers, but parents alone - feel so responsible for our children's entire lives."

"Parenting is so much easier if raising children is not up to an individual parent or family, but is considered a community mandate that everyone shares."

"Advertising coaxes us into believing that what we own defines the kind of parents we are (and the kind of kids we're raising), whether that's urban and hip, healthy and athletic, nature-loving and organic, worldly and adventurous, artsy and eclectic, or sports-loving and down-to-earth."

"[Parents] are surrounded by parents who cultivate their children's unique selves through classes, activities, and the right material goods."

"having less [material possessions] made kids more patient. Handmade concoctions were more thrilling and gratifying than having brand new store-bought equipment Scarcity fostered creative solutions."

"In France, there is an idea that 'frustrating' children is good for them. [They] deny their children things or make them wait for things they may want. If you don't teach a child to wait, or that they can't have everything, 'they will never understand the satisfaction that comes from waiting'. If you give a child what he desires right away, then the child is at risk of always needing to have more, more, more."

"We don't need the best car, the latest iPod, or the fanciest dinnerware to be happy. And neither do our children. Although modern American culture tries to convince us that through buying stuff we can perfect our kids' performance, happiness, and overall self-esteem, we can be smarter than the corporations who care most about their profits. The best way to make our kids happy is by providing them with less."

"In Japan, the thinking is to introduce young kids to a wide variety of tastes and textures, teach them to appreciate food, teach them never to waste, and get them used to structured mealtimes and mealtime behavior"

" Random grazing and snacking, overall, was frowned upon as bad manners - as it is in many countries throughout the world - because of the general societal insistence on eating etiquette: not eating while standing or walking; not grabbing food, but waiting to be served; and eating without comment or complaint what was put in front of you."

"Overall, [Japanese schools] have fewer hours of actual academic instruction than American kids do. The longer school days mean that there is room for extras in the schedule that many U.S. schools have cut back on. All Japanese schools, whether public or private, can afford the time to nurture skills they believe are important for the whole child - such as physical education, art, music, and self-reliance skills such as cooking, how to do laundry, and how to sew."

"French parents believe that teaching your child to eat is as important as teaching them to read."

"[Many countries] continue to draw on cultural traditions that promote eating a variety of fresh whole foods, cooking from scratch with seasonal ingredients, and taking the time to enjoy eating together"

"Telling our kids how great they are or how wonderfully they are doing can deter them from experiencing the challenges that help build resilience. An overinflated sense of self isn't what leads to happier, more competent, more confident children. Instead, it deprives children of the chance to build up the genuine reserves of self-confidence they'd get through mastering difficult tasks on their own."

"Parents who allow children freedom and independence within clearly set guidelines, while treating children with respect and love who tend to raise confident adults."

"People with high self-esteem don't always make good leaders; humility is more of a key trait than self-esteem."

"When parents and educators send children the message that their needs and their individual happiness and dreams are more important than other things, like being compassionate, ethical, hard-working person, it makes them unhappy. People who have been told to put their needs first may feel empty and disconnected, and dissatisfied with themselves because they feel they deserve to be special rather than accepting and understanding the ways that our ordinariness connects us to other human beings. There's a fine line between feeling good about yourself, and being narcissistic or entitled; between finding your own path through life, and trampling on others."

"The underlying message kids get in Japan is that they are stronger than we think. Instead of striving to make sure their kids get individualized attention, Japanese parents praise their kids for trying hard, guide their children toward their own personal best, and have faith in their strengths and abilities."

"Perseverance is one of the most important keys to success and achievement."

"A good parent doesn't undermine her child's motivation through empty praise and encouragement. She scaffolds her child's ability to face challenges and even accept failure as something that anyone can grow from."

"Children need to be able to engage with other children and entertain themselves. There is tremendous value in giving children more space."

"Growth and change is the only thing we can be certain of with young children. They are always, always changing."

"If the people around us trust that we will grow and mature in time, we feel less pressure than if we believe that we need to hurry up and change because we're not acceptable right now as we are."

"Risk-taking fosters qualities we as a culture value highly, such as adventurousness and an entrepreneurial can-do spirit."

"We disrupt our children's brain development when we interrupt, proscribe, or deprive them of open-ended free play."

"Children everywhere like to make up their own games and rules, it's important for them to be able to do this."

"Parenting and education are closely entwined, and learning isn't just for the purpose of becoming smart and informed - it's a form of self-cultivation."

"Mistakes were often a sign you were taking on too much at once and should reduce your goals to mastering only two or three new skills at a time."

"Cultivating awareness of someone else's perspective makes it second nature to consider others as well as yourself, to look at things from a nuanced, multifaceted point of view, and to be more understanding."

"When we ignore our children's eagerness to participate when they are younger, they internalize the idea that contributing is unimportant and that they are helpless."

"The act of caring for others literally becomes a pathway to responsible and nurturing behaviour."

"If you look at the range of human societies across the globe and throughout time, it is unusual for a mother and her partner to take sole responsibility for pregnancy, birth, and the rearing of an infant. Child-rearing in most societies has always involved not just two parents and a baby, but a network of people."

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Dear readers, what do you think? Which quotes speak to you?

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Friday, November 28, 2014

Picking out our Christmas Card

One of my favorite activities for Christmas season is picking out our annual Christmas card. I usually like to do a special photoshoot (since Maya grows so fast, I want her picture to be recent), but this year we were lazy we had way too much going on.

I decided to use some of the pictures from our Venice trip, since they were just so fabulous. My dad was secretly thrilled to be the photographer!

My top sites for Christmas cards are Minted, Tiny Prints, and Pinhole Press - they have gorgeous layouts. I picked three different ones, but we ended up going with this one:


This year, I ordered 100 cards and completely ran out. I could have used 125! I like to send my Christmas card to every friggin' body...LOL...

These ones were also nice but they didn't make the cut:

(from Tiny Prints)


(from Tiny prints)


With an active toddler, it is so hard to get a picture where everyone is looking at the camera!

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Monday, November 24, 2014

Recipe: Spicy Masala Chai


My day isn't complete without a nice spicy cup of Masala Chai in the afternoon. I literally look forward to it ALL day! This type of Masala Chai is only served in the Northern Indian region. The Southern Indian Chai is typically simpler. I like to make this with whole milk to give it more of a rich taste, but it can also be done with half milk, half water. In Ayurvedic studies, drinking a daily cup of Masala Chai has many known health benefits. It helps fight fatigue, boosts metabolism, and is good for digestion. In fact, it is said that many Olympic athletes have a cup after a grueling training session (Quick...somebody open a chai stall at the next Olympics!)

Madh Mama's Spicy Masala Chai

(Serves 1)


Ingredients:

- 1.5 cups of whole milk
- 1.5 tbsp loose Indian tea powder (I like Taj Mahal brand)
- 2 cardamom (crushed)
- 2 peppercorn (crushed)
- 1 inch ginger (crushed)
- 1 cinnamon stick
- 2 cloves
- sugar to taste (usually 1 tsp/person)


Tools:

- small pot
- mortar & pestle
- tea strainer


Directions:

Measure out the milk in the mugs that you will use.

Turn the heat on high in the pan and pour in the milk.


Crush the cardamom, peppercorns, and ginger in a mortar & pestle.

Add ALL the ingredients & crushed spices to the milk.


Watch the milk boil and brown until the milk turns a medium beige color.


Strain the tea into your cup....and voila!

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Friday, November 21, 2014

Being the "invisibly visible" Bahu


Being married into an Indian family & being married to the culture has lots of ups and downs. Part of the dichotomy that many foreign women experience is being extremely VISIBLE and extremely INVISIBLE, simultaneously. There is no in between.

At times, it is nice to be the foreigner. You have the added perspective of seeing things from the outside in. You learn so much about a different country and it's many cultures within. An added bonus is that you get to opt out of certain traditions as well as ridiculous family drama by playing "the foreigner card".

At other times, it is harder. When you don't understand certain things and there is a lot that is not properly explained to you, when there is SO much expected of you. It is hard when nobody speaks directly to you, instead they speak to the Indian who brought you into the family. It is hard when people constantly pick you apart and talk about you when you're right in front of them. When they comment on your dress, appearance, your movements, what you're eating, and your facial expressions. At times, I feel as if I'm the lone fish in an aquarium. Sometimes I wish I could shed my skin color completely, because so many people can't see past it. Either I am haggled, exoticised, or treated like a breakable porcelain doll.

In my experience with my husband's family & the process of attempting to blend into such a strong and dominant culture, I often find myself feeling either very visible or completely invisible. (In true Indian fashion, it is either/or!)

Sometimes, I stick out like a sore thumb. Sometimes every move I make or every freckle on my face is dissected or put under a microscope. The younger women in the family are very aware of this and make it worse by teasing me or openly criticizing me.

Other times, I am completely invisible. I am not spoken to for hours at a time. I am left out of conversations. Nobody bothers to translate anything for me, so I am left to eavesdrop and many of the conversations are about me. My opinion (because I'm foreign I am apparently not allowed to have any insights) does not matter. Not only being a woman, but a foreign woman. 

What would she know about anything? 

In India itself, it is more noticeable and extreme. Every eye is following my every move, yet I am not spoken to. Any question is asked about me to my husband, who is practically my gatekeeper. What would SHE like to drink? How is SHE doing?

Being simultaneously visible and invisible creates a strange isolating experience that acts like a glass shell around you. It can take years to break out of this shell with no opening.


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Wednesday, November 19, 2014

The mixed Indian husband


One of the things that my readers may not know about us is that husband-ji has a mixed Indian heritage. Although my tagline for this blog is about being a Tamil Iyengar wife (based on the religious customs that we do) - husband-ji is actually Tamil AND Telugu.

Even now in India, inter-caste and inter-state marriages are a rarity. It is starting to happen more and more nowadays, but it is still a minority. The majority of Indians prefer that their children marry people from the same region and caste, since each are all wildly different in their customs. So, back in the 1970s when my inlaws met, it was still very much taboo.

It all started when a young handsome Tamil man moved to Guntur, Andhra Pradesh for work. He lived next to a big house in which the family had 4 daughters. The eldest of those daughters was a gorgeous and smart girl - my MIL - who surely caught his eye...

In true Indian fashion, everything is STILL shrouded in secrecy. When I ask my MIL how she fell in love, she barks "no details!!!!", and "I can't remember!!!", although she has told me the story - more or less - in fragments...

From what I gather they dated for about 6 months before deciding to get married. My FIL then went to ask for her hand in marriage and her parents threw all kinds of typical emotional blackmail. Her mother threatened to kill herself. Her father told her never to come back to their house. Meanwhile, her grandmother (clearly being the wise woman) loved my FIL. However, her family refused to attend the wedding and pretended she was dead. Later, they came around, but always kept their distance. Then, my Telugu MIL had to go and stay with her new inlaws after marriage, who were Tamil and she couldn't understand their language or any of their customs. She was under enormous pressure to make her inlaws like her because she was not the DIL they had wanted, to which they constantly reminded her of. She was told she was "too dark" constantly. There are people on both sides of their respective families who STILL don't approve of their match, who whisper and gossip about how others should never do what they did. 35 years later, still...

(My inlaws on their wedding day)

Husband-ji grew up caught in the middle of two families, being a true symbol of two South Indian states united, yet found comfort in neither. He was too Telugu for the Tamilians; too Tamil for the Telugus. And of course, husband-ji chose to marry completely outside of his culture by marrying me...a Firangi. And again, my inlaws were blamed for what they did, how they started "the cycle" (of freedom??) while all the others were kept on an even tighter leash, as if we were tigers devouring each one of them with our "bad influence".

Hence, husband-ji is a mixed Indian man. He is both Tamil and Telugu. Although he was raised in a Tamil house, he was raised by a Telugu mother. I have often assumed that husband-ji identifies as Tamil more, but he says he is both equally, not one more than the other.

One of the things I am truly confident about in raising a mixed child is that my husband is also of mixed heritage. Just like we celebrate Christmas and Diwali, he celebrated Ugadi and Puthandu growing up. With him being a mixed Indian, he obtained a social freedom wherein he mingled with many different groups of people. Not just Tamils or Telugus; but Punjabi's, Pakistanis, Malayalees, Bengalis, Gujarati's....etc. He has so many friends from different states that he is able to speak 7 different Indian languages. He fits in wherever he goes...

And that is exactly what I hope for our daughter. I hope that just like him, she can be friends with all kinds of people....

-------

Dear readers, do you know people who are mixed Indian with the heritage of 2 states?

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Sunday, November 16, 2014

Ask Firangi Bahu: "Will moving in with my Indian boyfriend hurt my chances of being accepted?"



Sharing a letter from a reader...


"Hi,

I stumbled on your blog as a westerner dating a Muslim Desi man. We are both late 20's. We have been in a long distance relationship for nearly a year. Marriage has been brought up. We are both very much in love. 

His parents have no idea that he's dating anyone. This slightly bothers me because it does make me feel like he's ashamed of me but I know from your blog and elsewhere, that it's mostly cultural. He does not have a stable job yet. I know it would not go over well. He's trying to better himself and I'm trying to move passed the secrecy and am not pressuring him to announce me (even though it does make me sad). I am trying to think long term. 

This said, he has asked me to move in with him. I would love to. My question is this though: how much do you think this will hurt my future chances to be an accepted DIL? I'd prefer not to hide anytime they come to visit, which is not often currently but still. I am thinking to tell him that I will relocate to his city but out of respect for his family that I will live alone until he is ready to tell them. Or does that sound like an ultimatum, which I am truly not trying to impose upon him. Monetarily it would make most sense for me to live with him but I really don't want to start off on the wrong foot if it would be irreparable..."


What advice can we give to our fellow masala reader?
Did you live with your Indian partner before marriage?
 Did it help/hurt your relationship with your future inlaws?

Please comment below....


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Friday, November 14, 2014

My artwork - Hindu God series

In my early days of discovering husband-ji's culture and getting to know more of Hinduism, I was heavily influenced by (Hindu) religious art work. I love to read the epic myths of the Mahabharata & the Upanishads, but even more than that - I love the visual depictions of these tales.

During this time of in between trips to India, I had developed an obsession for Hindu iconography, which I did a series of in one of my final painting classes. One of the things I was inspired by was husband-ji's thatha painted one of these every single day. So, I in turn was inspired.... 

I explored doing miniature portraits of Hindu Gods, which turned out to be quite a difficult project. I had never done something so incredibly detailed before and it made me have an even greater respect for such artists.

As always, seeing Maya do her artwork has been a big inspiration for me, so much so that I hope to continue to do more illustrations after the New Year.

Here is some from my series:

Ganesh

Kali

Maharaja

Krishna & the Snake

Prayer to Shiva

These are currently available for sale on my Society6 page as art prints, stationary cards, and smartphone covers.

-----

Dear readers, which one is your favorite?

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Thursday, November 13, 2014

Thoughts about the "Kiss of love" protest

Recently there has been a campaign in India called "The Kiss of Love" that has triggered a mass conversation about the freedom of kissing. In India, you can be arrested if you are an unmarried couple kissing, and it is even frowned upon if you are married and kissing. Basically, there is no kissing in public, whatsoever. But of course, you can whip out your penis and piss anywhere you want, or pull down your pants and crap in someone's doorstep, abuse your wife and legally rape her, punch each other on the road.....but no kissing. Because apparently that's "against Indian culture" all of a sudden.

(Except in the Kama Sutra - written in India, by an Indian, and is an innately sacred Hindu text - there are over 30 types of kissing and was it was recognized as a physical way to express feelings, emotions, and passions....)

Anti-activists have been blaming "Western culture", as usual....of course I am unsure which of the 60+ Western countries they are talking about who clearly have more personal freedom than them. And that's really what it comes down to, I feel - a protest for freedom, and a protest against moral policing. Because really, what's so bad about a kiss? What's so bad about love? What's so bad about uncontrolled love? Is the mere concept of uncontrolled love threatening? A kiss is a sweet, romantic gesture between two consenting adults that is utterly innocent. Personally, I love seeing couples kiss in public. I always think "awwww what a sweet couple" and wish them the best for their lives.

To many conservative Indians, kissing is seen as a vulgarity. They prefer that people do it behind closed doors. They view kissing and even hugging as very sexual, as borderline pornography. Basically, it is a deeply conservative mindset.


This meme, shared by Dr. Subramaniam Swamy, blames public kissing on "Teenage pregnancies, rampant divorces, dysfunctional families, general depression & suicides." As if kissing is something that is not done by 1.252 of the world's biggest population (in India). The difference is the lack of freedom - in the West it is done in public, and in India is shrouded in secrecy in private. Much like many other innocent personal freedoms like: dating before marriage and being openly gay, which are of course not allowed. Publicly, of course. I find it quite funny how people can come to such conclusions about the causes of "depression" since there has been numerous research about the health benefits of kissing. Not to mention, completely rewriting "Indian culture" to suit conservative standards, by pretending the Kama Sutra doesn't exist. Or to say that kissing "is so vulgar", yet every single person does it behind closed doors. What is really vulgar - to me - is the absolute hypocrisy of such statements. 

"The Kiss of Love" started as a peaceful protest, yet in the fall out, the protesters have been arrested, threatened by rape, and the rape of the protesters female relatives. The protesters being consensual adults who dared to have a peck on the lips in public. Again, the threat of rape being used as a means of control and silencing. 

Clearly, there is something a little threatening about young people expressing themselves and exerting their own life choices - which hurt no one - and is nobody's business. If conservative people don't like what two consenting adults are doing, then they can surely look away. Nobody is forcing them to watch or partake in it. Or is that too much to ask? Is it too much to ask that two young people can fall in love and make their own decisions? That young people can be in charge of their own sexuality and whom to love, and not ask 5,783 relatives what to do first.


“The truest test of a democracy is in the ability of anyone to act as he likes, so long as he does not injure the life or property of anyone else.” - Mahatma Gandhi


Follow "The Kiss of Love" campaign HERE.

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Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Tips for traveling with a toddler on an airplane


Every parent wants to be able to travel to exotic destinations with their child to show them the world - but many times it is not so easy. Traveling with a child, no matter how small or big, means you'll be on alert for the entire ride. You'll have more baggage, and more stress since you're on the child's schedule. And if the child has a tough flight, so will you! If the child has jet lag, so will you! As a parent, air travel can be extremely stressful because you have no idea how it will go. 

This Summer, we got a chance to travel with Maya for a long stretch of time (12-14 hours) on our trip to Venice, Italy. This was our first big trip in a whole year, since our previous trip to Italy when Maya was 11 months old (which was an absolute nightmare). This year she was much easier to travel with because she is using the toilet, had her own seat, eating our food, and is addicted to cartoons (thank god!!!) Plus, she was more aware of everything and speaks kiddie English now!

Here are some helpful tips to make your air travel with toddlers stress free:


iPad
What would parents do without it? Load a variety of cartoons and games on it to keep your little one occupied. My daughter was thrilled to finally be able to watch a Dora marathon for 6 hours! (Note: bring an extra battery charger)

Extra diapers and wipes
Wipes are handy for everything - washing hands on the go, wiping mouths, cleaning spills - bring extra. Also bring extra of diapers, since you usually can't get them at the gate. Better to be safe than sorry!

Plastic/paper bag
On one of the flights, Maya vomited after eating too many french fries. Good thing I had packed a small all-purpose bag! 

Snacks at the gate
One of the things we did was purchased snacks she likes at a convenience store in front of the gate, so that way we just brought it on the flight in a plastic bag and didn't have to lug it through security.

A few small books
I am always searching for travel size books, and the Ant & Bee series' is perfect for that. They are miniature but the stories are quite long. If you do story time before bed, it is a good bet.

Attachment item
Maya is very attached to her stuffed animals, so I made sure to bring two miniature sized animals for my bag (just in case one got lost). I also put another in my suitcase so she had something from home.


Concentration Toy
It is very difficult to get toddlers to concentrate - they totally have ADD! I like to pack a small complicated toy that they can work hard at figuring out - it bides you time when you need it! I love these Melissa & Doug Lace & Trace Pets. (Note: Don't bring too many toys!)

(Img via)

Sticker book
If the concentration toy fails, you need a back up for those tricky take-off and landing times. I love sticker/coloring books from Usborne Publishing. I whip it out any time I need to keep my daughter occupied for 45 minutes, and a break from screen time.

A scarf/blanket
For overnight flights I like to bring a extra large cashmere shawl that can double as a scarf or a child's blanket. They are just so warm!

BUY THE SEAT
Usually flights will give your child under age 2 a free ticket if they sit on your lap. This is not a good idea, since there is literally no room beside you and the front seat. Airlines will sell you a separate seat for a reduced fare - and trust me, it is worth it!

Bring the stroller
Airports have A LOT of walking and long halls - which is great for when your child is awake and you can tire them out. But if they're sleeping, it is absolute torture for you to carry them as well as your bags. At toddler age, they are not exactly little anymore! Forget the baby carrier and bring the stroller! 30lbs + is way too much to carry...


So many parents avoid traveling with their children, but it really is worth a try - at least for adventure's sake! And the memories you bring back will be really fun, and so worth it!


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