Wednesday, April 29, 2015

From a Stay-at-home to a working parent

(Motherhood 2015: more confident and purposeful!)

As a first-time parent, I feel like I am like a baby bird learning how to fly from my nest. I am constantly trying to balance the demands of motherhood and my own ambitions.

When Maya was first born, I decided I wanted to be a stay-at-home parent. First, because I thought motherhood should be my sole job. Part of this is because my mother worked full-time when I was growing up. I also wanted to bond with my child and I didn't want anyone else taking care of her - she's my responsibility, right? It took me 26 months and several emotional breakdowns to get a babysitter to help just so that we could go out on a date. I felt like motherhood was my sole job and that to ask for help meant I was a failure. It was an extreme thought pattern, to say the least.

There's no doubt that it is one of my most important roles to raise a thoughtful, caring citizen of the world - but it is not my only job. Looking back, I think I was unhappy because I viewed motherhood as so one-dimensional and I went into it with such a naivete. I felt guilty about absolutely everything. I experienced a lot of joy being at home with my daughter, but I also experienced a lot of loneliness. I tried to meet up for mommy play dates, and it became all about the kids. I tried to meet up with my pre-baby friends, and they didn't understand me. I felt a loss of self of sorts, because let's face it - motherhood is not at all valued in society. Taking out the trash, running an errand, or working "a real [paying] job" is much more valued than taking care of a little human who is completely and utterly dependent on you. That's the sad reality. I wish it was more valued, but it just isn't.

Before having my own baby, I thought motherhood would be a piece of cake. I didn't realize it would be filled with sleepless nights, permanent worry, and relentless isolation. I became a woman who counted down the hours until my husband got home from work just so I could get two minutes of time to breathe. Inside, I died a little bit, knowing that I was waiting all day for a man to get home - my worst nightmare.

I became someone that I didn't really recognize. By trying to be the best mother I could be, I lost myself. I let motherhood completely consume every ounce of my being. Which is easy to do, as it is 24/7 non-stop. I didn't dress up anymore, I didn't do my art, and I didn't do much of anything outside being a mother. Every time I wanted to do something for myself, I immediately dismissed it because I felt selfish. It was an internal battle.

I started to realize that by trying to be the "best" mother - and subsequently forgetting about my self, my goals, and my needs - was not exactly a positive role model for my daughter. In fact, it was making me into the worst, most grumpiest, short-tempered, resentful person. But the truth is - I just didn't want my daughter to hate me for working. But then one day, I thought to myself, "Well her dad works full-time and she doesn't hate him - she loves him!" Then I realized that all this guilt was in my head - and it had nothing to do with her.

Slowly and surely, I started to do things for myself - essentially liberating myself from my own rigid mentality - and my daughter was fascinated by me. She loves it when I dress up for the day and even helps me get ready. I don't feel bad anymore if I need some time to myself - I just set it up for husband-ji or my mum to watch her - and guess what? The guilt doesn't come along with me! Sometimes when I need to run in to the office, I just bring her with me and she has a wonderful time playing in our work space. If I'm working on something from home, she tries to imitate me, and it gives me the opportunity to teach her too.

It is a strange thing, being the mother of a daughter who is so innately empowered. She is fearless, she is confident, and at the mere age of "almost" 3, she has already taught me so much about the woman I want to be. Or maybe, that woman is who I am - and she is helping me meet my self. Either way, I feel empowered just being around her. I feel like she wants me to empower myself.

(I brought Maya to work one morning and she had so much fun!)

In many ways, I'm still a stay-at-home parent. I still only work at the office 1-2 days a week. Now that my daughter is in preschool, I have more time to focus on my work and all the things that I want to do. Sometimes I go into the office and sometimes I work from home. It feels good to be doing something for myself again, and having a purpose, outside of being a parent. And that it doesn't take away from my time with my daughter - whatsoever. I feel more focused - on all fronts. In fact, I feel like it makes me a better mother.

Now I don't feel bad to tell her that mummy works. And I think she kinda likes it!

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Dear readers, have you switched roles from a SAHP to working parent? Does having your own personal goals enhance your life, outside of parenthood? Do you think society has a one-dimensional view of motherhood? Did you feel pressure being a new mother?

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Monday, April 27, 2015

Now featured in: Complete Wellbeing magazine (April 2015 issue)


I'm so excited to announce (yet again! woo hoo!) that Complete Wellbeing magazine has published another article written by yours truly in their April 2015 issue. I love this magazine because it covers a variety of well-being topics, and not to mention - being published a second time by them shows that I'm not a one-hit wonder!

The article is on page 34-35 and it is titled "Living my storybook romance". It is about how to reconnect with your spouse when you're in a long-term partnership. Please do check it out!


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Saturday, April 25, 2015

My Intercultural Love: Jennifer & Prateek


Jennifer & Prateek are an marvelous and wise couple who live in New York together...

Introduction....
I’m Jennifer, and my husband is Prateek. Our friends call us Ging and Mowg! I was born and raised in Cincinnati, Ohio and Prateek is from Bhopal, Madhya Pradesh, India.

Three words that describe you...
Unconventional, loyal, and playful!

Favorite childhood memory...
I went through an Elvis phase in grade school. My grandma surprised me with a trip to Graceland on my 10th birthday. It was nice spending a week traveling around, just the two of us. 

Where/how do you feel most inspired? 
A long drive with the windows down and the radio up!

Where/how did you meet your spouse? 
We met online. Prateek and I both attended college in Ohio, at universities about an hour apart. He was finishing a summer internship in Buffalo, NY and I was home in Cincinnati with my parents for the summer when we started to get to know each other. 

How long have you been together? 
We have been together for 4 years now. We dated for a year before we left Ohio and for another two years here in New York before we got married. 

What qualities do you admire in your spouse?
Prateek is an awesome blend of wit, snark, and brutal honesty! These things combined with his willingness to push himself outside his comfort zone are the qualities I admire most about him.

Favorite memory together as a couple...
Jim Gaffigan says, “Now there are adults without children who go to Disney, and they are called weirdos. Very nice people. Absolutely crazy.

It was February and there was 5ft of snow in our front yard, and we were huddled in the living room complaining about the cold. We agreed we needed to spend a week someplace warm and someplace fun. We agreed on Disney World because Prateek had never been and I would never pass up an opportunity to relive my childhood. We didn't go on a honeymoon after we got married so going to Disney became our honeymoon!

What did you know about your spouse's culture prior to your relationship? 
I knew the things about Prateek’s culture that one can learn in a geography course or from watching a BBC documentary. I had no idea how complex Indian culture really is, and 4 years later I am still learning.

How did you tell your friends/family about your intercultural relationship? 
We kind of just jumped into the deep end to see if we could swim, and for the most part everyone has been supportive. There were questions from both sides of the family in the beginning, but never any attempts to sway our opinions of one another. Some of the more traditional members of our extended families have objections to our relationship, but they are not a part of our everyday lives, so it is never a constant problem. 

How has your relationship enlightened your life? How has it changed you & your outlook on life?
I am a true Midwestern girl, born and raised. I've spent my entire life with people just like me. I never imagined when I found love it would be with a man from the other side of the world. While we have many differences, there is SO much we have in common. The things we share have enlightened my life and changed how I view the world. I feel like society focuses on the differences between people i.e. skin color, language, and religion. Loving Prateek has taught me that all of us have a lot more in common than we might think, and by embracing these things someday there might be a little less of the "us vs. them" mentality in the world.

Who proposed and how?
We had been in New York for about a month and finally finished unpacking and getting settled. It was the first weekend that we didn't have housework to do so we planned to get up, go out and have breakfast, and visit the Top of the Rockefeller Center. Hurricane Sandy had other plans, so Prateek surprised me with breakfast in bed. The ring was on the tray next to the pancakes! 


Describe your wedding...
We weren't having much luck planning our wedding! The details kept getting in the way of the fact that we just wanted to be married. We planned to spend Christmas in Cincinnati with my family that year, so we loaded the car and made the 12-hour trip back to Ohio. There was a “we're here, let’s do this” moment so on Christmas Eve the Mayor of Cincinnati married us with my parents, sisters, and grandparents watching. Afterward we went to our favorite Mexican restaurant for dinner. 

We also plan to have a traditional Indian wedding when we visit Prateek’s family in India, this coming year. 

What does being married mean to you?
To me, being married means we've decided to become a team and to navigate life together. Marriage is a promise to place value on the success of our team, a promise to support, love, and encourage each other, a promise to make sacrifices for the good of our team should the need arise, and a promise to help each other accomplish whatever goals we set out to reach. 

What are your dreams for your future together as a married couple?
We travel as much as possible, and we plan to continue that tradition. We also hope to add new member to the family soon!

What's the best marital advice that you received from elder family/friends? 
A friend once said “surround yourself with friends who will strengthen your marriage and remove yourself from people who may tempt you to compromise your character.

What positive cultural values do you bring to your relationship?
I think personal independence and living life in the moment are positive cultural values I bring to our relationship.


What do you do to keep your relationship alive? What kinds of things do you do to connect with your spouse? 
We set aside time every week where the responsibilities of life are left behind and we just have fun together. 

In what ways have you adopted aspects of your spouse's culture?
It’s a running joke at our house that I've stopped clipping my fingernails after dusk and I no longer blow candles out! In all honesty though, we don't really have individual cultures anymore. We have a family culture that’s a little unconventional. We've picked aspects of each other’s culture that we love and appreciate and we've adapted them to fit our lifestyle. 

Has your family adopted aspects of your spouse's culture? 
My family goes to great lengths to make sure there is always vegetarian food no matter the holiday or occasion.

What aspects of your spouse's culture do you find difficult to embrace? 
I struggle with the notion that showing physical affection is frowned upon. I understand the reasons why, but I forget sometimes and I don't think my in-laws appreciate it. 

Name some cultural faux-pas that you have unknowingly committed... 
I became friends with my brother and sisters-in-law and a few aunts and uncles on Facebook. There have been a few instances where I have posted photos of Prateek and I standing a bit to close together, and it caused a stir!

What was the most challenging time in your intercultural relationship? 
The uncertainty of Prateek’s parents’ reaction when it came to telling them about our relationship was the most challenging time in our relationship. I didn't really understand why dating an American girl was such a big deal because I didn't understand his culture and so I took his hesitation personally. 

What's the best and the worst part of being in an intercultural relationship?
Best: Adding new perspectives - and cuisine to the routine. Teaching by example, our relationship is just like everyone else’s. Sometimes it’s hard work, but it’s so worth it.
Worst: Managing societies expectations/misconceptions.

What do you think are the biggest misconceptions that people have about intercultural relationships?
That people in intercultural/interracial relationships are not desired by singles in their own race or they are dissatisfied by their own culture/race.

What are the biggest misconceptions about American women? 
From an Indian in-law perspective, American women are party girls with loose morals and no commitment to family or culture.


Have you come across people who disapprove of your intercultural union? If so, how do you deal with them? 
There have been a few occasions when traveling together in other parts of the country where we have been met with the uncomfortable stare. We live in our own world and most of the time we don’t notice the things going on around us. If I happen to notice, I make eye contact and a smile helps.

Take-away advice for other intercultural couples...
Be yourself and love each other. Let NOTHING get in the way of that. Those who mind don’t matter, and those who matter won't mind!


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Wednesday, April 22, 2015

A custom of criticism


One of the things that irritates me being married into an Indian family is that there's never any shortage of criticisms. Talk to any Firangi Bahu and she will have a mental inventory of harsh things her Indian family has said to her - usually regarding appearance, lifestyle, cooking - you name it!

For example, when I was in India, some rude Aunty told me that I "got fat after delivery". Just an observation, of course. Out loud!!! Another time, husband-ji's friend's brother told me that I "would look perfect if I lost 5 kgs". As if I am remotely interested in fitting into his notion of a perfect woman! 

Seriously. If I gain weight, someone will remark that I "put on weight". If I lose weight, someone will remark that I "look tired". Criticisms are plentiful, and compliments are scarce. This is expected when you marry into an Indian family - that you will be constantly criticized. You kinda learn to tune it out...eventually!


One of the things that surprised me when Maya was born was that my MIL and husband-ji would NOT let me gush over my baby. Still - to this day. They both turn their nose up if I say one good thing about her, like "she had such a big lunch today", "she's such a smart girl", "she ate so well", "she's growing so tall". They will literally give me the stare of death if I say ANYTHING good about my daughter. Of course, that doesn't stop me from saying it - but every time I do they "shhhh" me as if I am saying some kind of profanity!

Why? Because of the evil eye - or a jinx of sorts. They believe that if I praise my daughter, she will regress. The moment I say that she's a good eater, they fear that she will stop eating for days. They think that even a well-intentioned compliment or praise could invite in the curse of the evil eye. I know, I know...it is absolutely absurd.

For me, it is so automatic. If I think she's cute, I will just say it. To me, showing love means showing it verbally. To them, showing love means criticizing. Totally a cultural thing.

A while ago, I had to reference something in the book Hindu Manners, Customs and Ceremonies (Abbe J A. Dubois), and it said:

"A Hindu, on the contrary, when he meets a friend, no matter how strong and well he might be looking, never fails to offer him the following greeting: 'How sadly you have altered since last I saw you! I fear you must be very ill,' and other equally consoling remarks. It would offend a Hindu deeply if you were to say he was well when you were first meeting him. Anyone who was so ill-advised as to make so indiscreet a remark would certainly be suspected of feeling jealous, envious, and regretful at the signs of health which were the theme of his unfortunate compliments.

In the same way, you must never congratulate a Hindu on his good luck; you must not say that he has pretty children, a lovely house, beautiful gardens, or that everything that he undertakes turns out well, or that he is happy or lucky; he would be sure to think that envy prompted the compliments of this kind."

After reading this, I had a big "Aha!" moment. Is this why I've been criticized so much? Not because I consistently do EVERY thing wrong (as I assumed), but because people actually wish me well? And here I thought people were actually thinking badly of me, all this time. And me feeling like I may never measure up. Rather than casting a protective web of criticisms to shield me from drishti. It is definitely food for thought!

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Dear readers, is your Indian family overtly critical? Do you notice that criticism and praise is actually related to the evil eye/superstitions?


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Monday, April 20, 2015

The sometimes-thaali wife


"A good Tamil wife will always wear a thaali until the day her husband dies", said an old Aunty to me once. 

In Tamil Nadu, the thaali is the most important symbol of marriage that is never taken off, not even for a shower. In fact, it is one of the many symbols of marriage that identify a Hindu wife. In the Northern regions, they may wear a Mangalsutra. In Sikh families, it is virtually unheard of. 


I recently read this article online about women in Chennai removing their thaali's in protest against a TV channel that portrays women wearing thaali's. Traditionally, a thaali should only be removed when your husband dies - so it caused quite a stir. Some people say removing the thaali will shorten your husband's life or bring him bad luck.

If my inlaws read the article, I'm sure they would deem it as "blasphemy". I was unsure of how husband-ji would react, so I asked his opinion about the article. He really surprised me (he is way more free-thinking than I assume!). He said, "that's good for them....it IS a symbol of oppression. Why should women wear it when we men wear nothing?

SWOON!!!!

As a newlywed, I used to wear ALL of my symbols of marriage. I used to wear sindoor, mangalsutra, thaali, wedding ring, bangles, toe ring....you name it! Somewhere along after having a baby and becoming lazy, I just felt it was too much effort for me. Husband-ji wears no symbols of marriage, so why should I? Does our marriage have to be reduced to a material symbol to mean something? No. Do I have to prove to other people that we're married? No. Nowadays, I view my daughter as a symbol of our marriage and lifelong commitment to each other, much more than a thaali. Sometimes I still do wear it, but now I only wear it when I feel like it.

For a newlywed, the thaali is a coveted piece. We waited for more than 5 years to get married, so when I finally got to wear the thaali - I wore it with pride - as a way to shout my love from the rooftops. After listening to other people doubt our commitment for over 5 years, I was thrilled to wear the bling and prove everybody wrong. I felt connected to my husband's culture by wearing it. I felt a sense of acceptance into his iron-clad family. An acceptance which I was not sure that I'd ever get. Wearing the thaali made me that much closer to be an "ideal Indian DIL", which I would never measure up to. 


You see, by wearing the thaali (or any other symbol of marriage) you get more respect. Both from the Indian community within India - and abroad. For a Firangi, I noticed that wearing a thaali made me valid. I was no longer the "Western whore" as I was once called. By wearing the thaali, I was promoted to "wife status" - which is the highest status a woman can get in Indian culture.

In my journey of wearing the thaali, it became less as a symbol of love for me - but rather for mere protection. My love and lifelong commitment for my husband existed long before the thaali came along. It was protection from disrespect. Protection from random strangers doubting our union. Protection from people saying out loud, "he's not gonna marry her". My thaali became a symbol of my middle finger to the world.

And that's exactly why I stopped wearing it. 

My love for my husband weighs more than a thaali. 


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Friday, April 17, 2015

Book review: Misconceptions, by Naomi Wolf

Many people know Naomi Wolf from her wildly famous feminist novel, The Beauty Myth. Looking for books on the experience of motherhood last year, I stumbled across this book and was thrilled to read more about Naomi's personal observations of becoming a mother. 

This book had some really remarkable reflections that I could really relate to, as a modern woman and mother. It talked about the general misinformation given to pregnant women, the tricky way to break gender roles within a marriage regarding child-rearing, the work/life balance, and hiring babysitters.


Here are some quotes from the novel that really spoke to me:


"As miraculous and fulfilling as [motherhood] is, it is also under-supported, sentimentalized, and even manipulated at women's expense."

"Not only are we inadequately informed about what pregnancy, birth, and new motherhood really involve, we also lack freedom to describe what we have seen for ourselves along the way. The culture often insists on our keeping the full range of our feelings and discoveries a secret."

"Becoming a mother requires a kind of supreme focus, a profound discipline, and even a kind of warrior spirit. Yet our culture prefers to give women doggerel: it often suggests that motherhood is something effortless."

"Many women feel permitted to ask a few questions; we too often blame ourselves, or turn our anger inwards, into depression, when our experience is at odds with the ideal."

"Giving birth is natural - but "becoming a mother" in its deepest sense is NOT exclusively natural. It is a far greater work of stoicism, discipline, patience, and will than the ideology of 'motherhood' allows for"

"[In the West], we deny the many symbolic deaths a contemporary pregnant woman undergoes: from the end of her solitary self-hood, to the loss of her pre-maternal shape, to the eclipse of her psychologically carefree identity, to the transformation of her marriage, to the decline of her status as a professional or worker."

"The greatest loss for many new mothers is a kind of loss of self."

"[Motherhood] is especially hard for women who have struggled to be independent and self-reliant. At the birth of a first child, the expectations of our generation can collide with what is too often a radical social demotion in a culture dismissive of mothers and babies."

"It began to become clear to me that babies were part of a currency system. And I began to wonder: What is this baby for? That is: What is its meaning, its value? I thought we were just having a baby, but it seemed that fetuses and babies stood in for so many other things, many of them abstract: freedom, wealth, values, lifestyle, identity."

"[Being pregnant] was the most solitary journey I'd ever undertaken."

"My life as a mother had become just what I'd feared. My delight in our child was absolute. At the same time, I experienced a tightening of the world's circumference; I was chained to the couch, nursing; I was stunned with fatigue; I was a vast primate of flesh - none of the weight gained in pregnancy had 'melted away'. I had become all the things I was afraid I would be."

"Every day I was getting the message that the work [mothers] do had little value."

"I received one tough lesson after another in my sharp demotion of status. So many new mothers I spoke to felt, as I did, a sense of acute social demotion that came with motherhood. From both men and women, from young babysitters to plumbers to cable installers, I noticed a new flippancy in relation to my time: it was newly valueless. People who would never take for granted that my husband should sit around waiting for them seemed to assume that I had nowhere to go or nothing important to do."

"An American woman's main source of postpartum support, her husband, typically returns to work in a culture without mandated paid or parental leave, two weeks postpartum - exactly when the new mother is supposed to be feeling a lift from the 'blues'. But the combination of the husband returning to work, the sleepless nights, the lingering effects of hormonal plunge, the aching body, and a demand to single-handedly care for a new baby, can send many women into a downward spiral."

"One primary cause of the high rate of postpartum grief in our society is a social isolation. Though the women I knew in Washington gathered in the playgrounds, there was still plenty of time every day when we were alone in our homes with our babies; and during the day, most of the baby work was usually done by two hands - ours."

"Most other non-Western cultures believe that the healthiest mother-baby bond depends on the community of women doing everything possible to mother the new mother, so that she herself can focus on becoming a mother to her newborn."

"Add them up: the low status we assign to mothering; the high value our culture places on a girlish figure; the isolation of today's nuclear family; the workplace pressure that sends husbands away from home when their partners need them the most; the absence of ritual that would allow the mother to mourn her lost self....and the overall censorious whitewash of the whole experience - the surprise should not be how many new mothers are depressed postpartum in our society, but rather how many, in spite of all this, do well."

"I was starting to notice in men in similar situations: an unconsciousness that was also deeply useful. I noticed a kind of 'default mode' that many of the supposedly 'new men' we knew fell into. With the arrival of the baby, in spite of their best intentions, perhaps, they were slipping back into the cultural roles with which they had grown up."

“I thought of how many women told me dispiritedly about how their husbands waited for them to ask—or to make a list—and how demoralizing that was for them. I could not help thinking that there was some element of passive aggression in this recurrent theme of nice men, good, playful dads, full of initiative and motivation at work, who “waited to be asked” to do the more tedious baby-related work at home, until the asking was finally scaled back or stopped.”

"I had wanted us to be a mother and father raising children side by side, the man moving into the world of children, the woman into the world of work, in equitable balance, maybe each working flexibly from home, the two making the same world and sharing the same experiences and values. The extra shift, a part-time shift, I had thought dreamily when I was young, would be taken up by some kind of additional, nurturing, community-based care, one that I had - deliberately? - never peered closely enough into the future to try to realistically assess or even really imagine."

"I was loving the moment and my baby with all my heart. I did indeed melt with joy in her. Yet in that joy was exhaustion, and frustration, too, about the life I found I was living, that I had both chosen and not chosen."

"If men released one another to put fatherhood first and eased up on their rigid workplace judgments of themselves and their peers; then surely fatherhood, as well as family life as a whole, would be strengthened."

“It is not biology alone but heroism too that drives women to find the will and grit and creativity to put one’s own impulses aside to serve the needs of a tiny creature around the clock—especially in an environment in which that heroic choice is only casually acknowledged, much less honored, cherished, or assisted. I believe the myth about the ease and naturalness of mothering—the ideal of the effortlessly ever-giving mother—is propped up, polished, and promoted as a way to keep women from thinking clearly and negotiating forcefully about what they need from their partners and from society at large in order to mother well, without having to sacrifice themselves in the process.” 

"We need to ask the question: What do mothers deserve if they are to mother well? We need to answer: Everything."


Click on the link above to purchase the book or add it to a wish list.

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Dear readers, which quotes speak to you? Can you relate?

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Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Easter celebrations (2015)


This year, our Easter holiday was the busiest it ever has been! We had a 4 day long weekend, but we just stayed in town because we had so many things going on....


Before the long weekend, Maya celebrated her first Easter at school where they did some crafts, and then had an Easter egg hunt in the classroom for hidden chocolate eggs. She came home with two eggs, which unfortunately melted in her hand on the way home because she refused to let go of them. They also gave her a baby chick toy, which she plucked all the hair off of, and then we ended up throwing it out.


On Easter Sunday, we met up with friends and took the kids out for a special Easter egg hunt at Van Dusen Botanical Gardens. Maya saw the Easter bunny and said, "trick or treat"!

(Maya making buttermilk pancakes on Easter)

I thought about going to church or visiting my grandmother's grave, but I didn't feel like doing either. The church would have been packed, and the gravestone is so far from the city. The past few weeks have been extremely stressful, with my parents both coming down with health problems at once. My mum's was curable; but my dad's was not, and I'm trying to figure out how to deal with it emotionally and what the future means. My mind feels like scrambled eggs. The only thing that has been helping my stress relief is doing my art work and retreating into my books.


We also attended a family friend's birthday party which was so much fun. All of her friends are having kids, so it was great to get together and have all the kids play together and the parents chit chat. They cooked a beautiful buffet after their restaurant was closed and we had the whole place to ourselves.





The next day, my mum cooked a beautiful Easter dinner and my auntie bought an Easter egg carrot cake, which Maya was totally obsessed with!

(Dad's office - "after" pic)

We also helped my dad clean up his office so that he can work from home, like a regular elderly person. His office could have been featured on A&E's Hoarders - it was piled up to the sky with print outs and dust. My dad is still pretty old-school in the fact that he insists on printing everything out, when nowadays we all keep digital files of everything. So much that poor husband-ji has to buy printer ink for my dad like every single week. Everything had a sentimental value so he needed a lot of help deciding what to get rid of and what to keep. It also inspired me to do some Spring cleaning at our place too - because becoming a Hoarder is like my worst nightmare! The great thing that came out of it was that we found so many of my school projects - lots of Art and writing. It was hilarious to find it and re-read it. I was a writer way back then...before I even realized I was one!


The following weekend, we were invited to my godmother's house to celebrate Greek Easter with them. Greek Easter is usually celebrated on a different day than regular Easter, and it is more grand. But unfortunately, we couldn't attend because Maya & I came down with the flu (AGAIN!!!)


 It was really wonderful to have a celebratory weekend! 

Spring is here....hallelujah!

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Dear readers, did you celebrate Easter? If so, what did you do?

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Monday, April 13, 2015

Hyderabad - portrait of a city

While we were in Hyderabad, we got a chance to do a lot of street photography, both by exploring around the city and being constantly stuck in traffic. This was our first time bringing Maya to India, so everyone wanted to see us (a.k.a. we were being summoned to each end of the city).

Looking back at these photos, Hyderabad is much more eccentric than I already thought! India really is a photographer's paradise...everyone you come across is like a character out of a novel!

Chappal stall

Uh....refund?

Lovers

Artist

Lorry

Charminar

Rajasthani street chef

Boys on a hill talking

Future guru?

Street dog playing in garbage

Female rickshaw driver

Sunrise

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Dear readers, which picture speaks to you?


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Saturday, April 11, 2015

My Intercultural Love: Cyn & Sid


Cynthia has been an "expat" for over ten years, writing about her experiences on her blog - Home Cyn Home - while living in India with her lovely husband Sid, and beautiful daughter, Ishita...

Introduction....
My name is Cynthia, I'm a Swiss citizen and my husband is Indian, from Lucknow. I'm originally from Geneva, but I have been living in India since November 2003. We currently live in Mumbai, but relocated quite a few times over the years. We have a daughter, Ishita; and a cat and a dog, respectively named Mittens and Jasmine. I write a blog called Home Cyn Home (previously known as Cyn's Adventure in India) and have been writing it for over a decade.

Three words that describe you...
Creative, Introvert and Loyal

Favorite childhood memory...
My father is a sailboat fanatic, so I spent all of my Summer vacations sailing with him. My most vivid memories involve staying up late in the middle of the mediterranean sea watching the stars in the sky. My dad had that special guide book with star maps to know which star was were at any given time on any given latitude. I also remember watching dolphins in the wild, but more important was that I learned about geography, travelling and different cultures - thanks to my dad's passion for exploring the world's unknown corners. 

Where/how do you feel most inspired?
I feel most inspired by nature. I crave nature and quietness, which is rather ironic considering I live in a crowded urban city at the moment. I still make a point to go on a walk to my local park every day, and I get to think, imagine and converse with myself then. 

Where/how did you meet your spouse?
I met him online. We were two geeks from worlds apart discovering the joy of early Internet in 2001. He was randomly looking for chat buddies on ICQ, I decided to reply to his "Hi how are you?" and the rest is history. It was an instant connection from thousands of miles away.

How long have you been together?
We met online in 2001, and got a chance to meet in 2002 when we were in London, thanks to a twist of fate. Then we spent nearly 2 years in a long distance relationship. I moved to India in late 2003, and we were together in 2004 for good. We have known each other for 14 years and been together for 11. 

What qualities do you admire in your spouse?
I admire his ability to keep his cool in all situations. I am an anxious planner with mood swings; I overthink everything and am quite emotional. My husband has that amazing ability to stay grounded no matter what. He really completes me there. 

Favorite memory together as a couple...
Well, you can't beat giving birth to our daughter together! I don't think anything can beat that as far as memories go. And there was nothing crazy involving to the birth of Ishita. You know, it is just that moment when we just see our lives changing forever as a couple, as a family and as an individual - sharing that moment without any words to describe it. 

What did you know about your spouse's culture prior to your relationship?
Nothing! I knew where India was geographically, and that he was Hindu. The only thing I knew about India then was that it was where yoga originated from. A land that had spicy food and sarees!

How did you tell your friends/family about your intercultural relationship? 
My family knew from very early on because we didn't keep secret. They didn't think it would last - not because he was Indian, but because we met online and spend a lot of time in a long distance relationship. To them, online dating was stupid, ridiculous and not solid, so they assumed it was a fling and a general moment of young love. My few friends were supportive though, but I was generally very private about my relationship in my social circles outside the family. 

When I decided to move to India for love, the reactions became a bit more passionate. I faced some racist comments from some of my family members. I had to put my foot down and tell people to stop being so crass, only to be told they were apparently reacting that way for "my own good". Sad but true. 

How has your relationship enlightened your life? How has it changed you & your outlook on life?
It is difficult to say how it enlightened my life as such. My husband compliments me in every way, and I do the same for him. We were a perfect match even without knowing it. 

Living in India has changed my life more than I think my husband did. But it is hard to really explain what changed. I have become a bit more flexible, and less prone to become catatonic if things don't go as planned. You need to be super flexible and adaptable to merely survive India. I was already flexible, but it really taught me that I was quite adaptable - much more than I thought I was!

Who proposed and how?
Nobody did. It might sound totally crazy, but we both knew that the logical next step would be to get married. We wanted to be together and build a future together. Besides, with our future being in India and me being a Swiss, the only way it could happen was through marriage. It was only logical. Both my husband and I aren't really the mushy romantic type!


Describe your wedding...
We let my in-laws plan the whole thing. They wanted it to happen in Lucknow because that is where all the family is, and it was their last son getting married. To us it was a bit of a formality. We chose our outfits and rings, and just showed up for the big day! I remember it being a ceremony neither my husband nor I grasped in detail. We just really enjoyed our families being happy and having fun together. In India, the couple usually just sits on chairs and wait for the guests to come for pictures. By the end of the reception we were both really tired, and I that was the ONLY time I saw my husband lose his cool! He wanted to go and eat while his mom wanted him to wait on the chairs for a few more guests and he started shouting at her in a high speed Hindi! It ended up with him getting his way and us finally getting dinner at nearly midnight. We were starving!

What does being married mean to you?
Frankly speaking, marriage is just a paper that legalises a union. We needed it, but we had no doubt about our future was together. I would prefer saying that being a couple, it means being on the same page and guiding the boat on the sea of life together. It requires common values and ideas to do so. Being married just really means our relationship is acknowledged by the authorities. We love each other, and function very well as a unit - to me this is what is the most important thing. 

What are your dreams for your future together as a married couple?
Continuing to be who we really are. But it wouldn't hurt to have a house of our own one day! Possibly one more child. I want to see us growing old with each other, raising our daughter, and enjoying life as we go along....


What's the best marital advice that you received from elder family/friends?
Don't try or expect your partner to change once you're married - or even while you're dating! You must love someone for who they really are without any high expectations for change.

What positive cultural values do you bring to your relationship?
I brought the idea of being in charge of your life to my relationship. For my husband, the idea that one can actually do something for themselves was a bit alien! He also admired my do-it-yourself attitude. Swiss people are generally hard-working, self-made individuals who only rely on external help when needed. Kids are learned to be very independant at an early age. He absolutely loves that I teach these values to our daughter. 

What do you do to keep your relationship alive? What kinds of things do you do to connect with your spouse?
We give each other space, and plenty of it. We are both introverts and really enjoy evenings doing nothing in particular, but reading or just being with our own selves. We connect when we talk about things in our daily lives and topics that interest us. But the greatest bond we have is our mutual need for "me time" and quietness. 

In what ways have you adopted aspects of your spouse's culture?
I live in India, so there is a lot that I adopted. I wear kurti often, though not full salwaar suits - you won't find a lot of young ladies wearing the full regalia in a city like Mumbai. I have no problem having dal and roti for dinner. A few hindi words found their way in my English. I do the head wobble, add "na" at the end of sentences, and "ha" has replaced "yeah" a lot! I also eat a lot more with my hands than I ever did in Switzerland. 

Has your family adopted aspects of your spouse's culture?
Not really, other than the fact they bought salwaar suits in India and enjoy wearing them when they come. 

What aspects of your spouse's culture do you find difficult to embrace?
The evil eye superstitions. I dont believe in them AT ALL, and luckily my husband doesn't either! We really dismiss it all superstitious beliefs. But it is still there...all around us. I'll never embrace it. Not my cup of chai!

Name some cultural faux-pas that you have unknowingly committed...
None, even though might sound arrogant! I always ask beforehand of what to do when I feel in doubt. I travelled throughout my childhood, so I knew not to take anything for granted. I am also a very good observer, I watch the world around me a lot...all the time!

What was the most challenging time in your intercultural relationship?
In the early days it was definitely meal time! My husband likes to eat lunch right in the middle of the day, and dinner late at night. We also had a few clashes over cooking, but then these would probably be similar to challenges in non-intercultural relationships. What relationship has none anyways? It is just that for us, it involved being irked at calling fruits or paratha with ghee for breakfast. Or whether dinner shall be a 7pm meal or a 11pm one!

The next big challenge was facing adversity from those who have issues with our intercultural relationship. We learned to ignore it, and we still do. We are good at it!

What's the best and the worst part of being in an intercultural relationship?
The best part is that you get to create an entirely new culture, by blending everything. It is like getting a pot of red paint and a pot of yellow and creating this magnificent orange out of it! You gain so much in diversity and perspective. 

The worst part? All these judgemental people who feel you are committing a sacrilege in mixing cultures. The world is going global, people...deal with it!!!

What do you think are the biggest misconceptions that people have about intercultural relationships?
They think kids growing in such relationship will be confused and have no identity. I can assure you that my daughter isn't confused. Specialists even tend to agree - kids that grow up with parents who are clear about themselves are not at all confused. Besides, what defines "normal" to begin with? Our normal is eating Indian food, continental food and celebrating both Diwali and Christmas with oomph!

What are the biggest misconceptions about Swiss women? 
That we are apparently made of money, and have it so easy in life. Like life itself fell cooked on our plate without any challenges! I wish that was even remotely true!!!

As a foreign woman (without necessarily being Swiss - many just see me as "foreign") I am apparently lazy, can't cook, love divorce, have no family values and am promiscuous. I would be a millionaire today if I got a rupee for every time someone uttered on of these stereotypes at one point or another!!!

Have you come across people who disapprove of your intercultural union? If so, how do you deal with them?
Yes, and I usually just walk away and ignore it. The worst instance was when a total stranger came up to me and asked me if my daughter was mine. And then, tried to extort my husband's caste out of me. And then, worriedly asked me if my daughter was Indian "at least" (as if her not being Indian would have been the most horrible thing!!!). When I told her that my husband was Indian, she breathed a sigh of relief and then addressed my toddler saying, "Yay! You are Indian, just like me! We are the best!". I was absolutely speechless. I just gave her a stare and left because there was nothing I could have said that would have made it right. 

I also had to put a few of my own family members back in their place too, but that was when I was just dating. 

Take-away advice for other intercultural couples...
You need to stand as a strong unit with your partner. Tolerate no abuse from your family toward your spouse and always stand up for them. Remember that intercultural relationships aren't different from any other relationship. It is just that sometimes the challenges and clashes are a bit more obvious. Don't think you have to do anything special that you wouldn't do in a same culture/same faith relationship. With every couple, you need to have common values, mutual respect, and a will to stand up for the other in hard times.


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Friday, April 10, 2015

Ask Firangi Bahu: "My Indian mother told me I dishonored and shamed my family for having a white boyfriend"

(Img via Chris Sardegna)

Sharing a letter from a reader...


"Hi Alexandra, Over the past few weeks I've been greatly invested in your blog and the help you provide to so many. I know this is a lot to ask for but if you are able to, can you provide me with some advice for my current situation?

I was born and raised in New Zealand. Although I identify as an Indian girl, some would say I'm as a western as a white girl. I'm 20 years old, finished university and about to enter into full time work. I'm lucky because my parents are very modern in most things. I've been allowed to go out drinking with friends, hang out with boys, travel alone, and pursue my own career choices. This is something I am greatly thankful for. In the past I have dated boys who are not Indian but being an Indian girl, I know that I had to keep it on the down low. Also, I knew I had no future with these boys. Six months ago I met the most amazing man and thought to myself this is someone I could have a very long future with and believed my parents would love him. He is not Indian.

I told my parents about my relationship with him and my mother asked me if we were sexually active, and I didn't want to lie to her so I said yes. For the past few weeks I have endured verbal abuse, emotional blackmail and threats making me break up with him. I have been told I have sinned, I am disgusting and they can never look at me the same. It's as if something has been taken away from me. According to my mother, this will kill my grandparents (as they are very traditional) and I would be responsible for their deaths. My family can never hold their heads up and I have dishonored and shamed them. I did not expect this sort of backlash from them. As I no longer live with my parents (they live in a different country than me), I told them I'd break up with him but I haven't. I told him what has been going on and he has been supportive, as his mother went through the same thing with her parents and she understands how upsetting this is for me. Him and his family have been amazing. I thought maybe I could sneak behind their backs and be with them but now I've realized I don't want to do that.

The issue doesn't come down to my boyfriend. It comes down to the fact that there is a difference in values and beliefs and that is something I don't know how to overcome. They won't accept my choice of living and I don't want to resent them for making me have to lead the life they want me to. Other than this, they have been so proud of me and used to tell me everyday. This one thing has made me so disgusting to them. How could a parent do that to their child? I don't think I will ever change my views because I don't believe love is defined by ethnicity. I'm not naive to think my boyfriend and I will be together forever, but I don't want my parents to have such a hold on such a personal part of my life. I'm not asking for their support or acceptance. I know you cannot give me a definitive answer as to whether it is worth the risk. I just need to know if I'm being selfish or I'm asking too much from them? I have a large group of friends who have supporting me throughout the whole process so I know I will be safe. If I just tell them how I feel and say that's that, is it horrible to make them pick up the pieces? I want to compromise, but it's their way or the highway and my brother and sister have both chosen to go my parents way. I have never felt so alone in my life."

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Dear readers, what advice would you give to this young woman?
Do you think some Indian parents are more "modern" when it comes to other life choices - except when it comes to dating?
Do you think your parents should have a say about your personal romantic life?
How do you find a way to co-exist with desi parents when your core values and beliefs are different than theirs?

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Thursday, April 9, 2015

Why do people think being pregnant is "gross"?



The other day, I got a chance to watch a local newscast here in Vancouver, where they did a special segment that was quite shocking. Apparently, the meteorologist was receiving a lot of hate mail because she is pregnant on air.

CAN YOU BELIEVE THAT?!?!? How ridiculous!

In the newscast they addressed the hate mail on air and they had a good time poking fun about it. Later on, the meteorologist said, "I am definitely not [covering up or taking time off work]. I love my job and I’m going to keep doing it as long as I can—and I’m not spending any more money on maternity clothes … especially muumuus."

I mean, really - what are women supposed to do? Hide inside the house, for godsakes?!?! Some people actually have to/want to work, you know!!! Plus, pregnancy is a totally natural part of life, not to mention - miraculous. If anything, it should be celebrated. Just another example of random people taking it upon themselves to police women's lives.

The thing is, most of the hate mail was about body-shaming. Well, guess what - women's bodies change!!! Especially when they are pregnant!!! DEAL WITH IT!!!

I noticed during my own pregnancy that everyone has an opinion about your body. If you're not big enough, people will question the health of your baby. If you're showing too much, people will warn you not to gain more weight. If you're feeling sick, people will force you to eat. If you eat a doughnut, people will reprimand you. You basically can't do anything without getting critiqued! It's a lose-lose situation! As if we women simply don't know what's best for us and our baby....

When I was about 8 months pregnant with Maya, I went to a local take-out place to pick up lunch for myself. The man who was standing in front of me looked me up and down, and said to my belly: "gross". Maybe it was the same troll! Ha!

With my pregnancy hormones, I left the place in tears and sobbed over my falafel. But then I thought, who is he to tell me that I am gross? I am growing a human life inside me, what the hell is he doing? This simple, stupid man couldn't even fathom what it takes to produce a human life!!!

I am glad that they featured this segment because it just goes to show the rude things people will say to public figures - women especially. I know I've certainly got a thick "troll" file folder! Haters gon' hate!!!

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Dear readers, can you recall any instances of body shaming? What about body shaming while pregnant? Do you think women public figures get policed more than men?

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Wednesday, April 8, 2015

New things in the Shop


After re-starting my online shop, my mum had suggested that I use Maya as a model and take pictures of her in my kids' t-shirts that I designed - which was a really great idea! 


So, I had Maya come down to my office and run back and forth, and it was so much fun! She is just the best model ever! Kinda comes in handy to have a global supermodel daughter! Ha ha!


I started my t-shirt series thinking that it would be just for kids, but then I got a bunch of requests from masala couple friends to make them for adults too. So I thought, what the heck, why not? Luckily, husband-ji was a really good sport and came down to model it for me. Along with Maya, they looked fabulous in their outfits! The shirt also complemented his massive super-hot tattoos!


Seeing my daughter and husband wearing my designs made me feel such a sense of pride and accomplishment. I never thought a simple painting could be made into so many different things. Now I understand my mum's pride when she sees people wearing the clothing she designs (she is in the fashion industry). Really, the possibilities are endless!


I also made these fabulous 18"x18" cushion covers, which is what I'm most excited about. We made the Ganesh design into two different colors - hot pink and peach. These are perfect for the home, or in the pooja room.


Husband-ji also helped me design this beautiful packaging to go with it - custom Madh Mama tags and stickers. He also designed a card with a description of the respective God inside, in case my customers are unfamiliar with Hinduism. Kinda handy to have a husband who is versed in Graphic Design!


This whole project has really fell into my lap. A few weeks ago, I would have never imagined that my personal artwork could be made into things that people would actually buy. When husband-ji came up with the idea, I was surprised at how great it turned out...and the rest is history! With my daughter modeling for me, and husband-ji helping out with the production, and me designing - it is thoroughly a family affair!

Click HERE to see my Etsy shop!

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Dear readers, which are your favorites?

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Monday, April 6, 2015

Spring break in Tofino


To celebrate husband-ji's citizenship, and to do a quick getaway as Maya was off for Spring Break holiday, we decided to do a road trip up to Tofino, BC. I have always wanted to take husband-ji there but we never got around to it. It has been about 15 years since I last visited there.


From Vancouver, you have to take a 1 hour ferry to Nanaimo, and then drive north through the wilderness for 3.5 hours. It is so deep in the forest, that there is hardly any rest stops. Several times, we had to get out of the car and get Maya to pee on a tree, "just like Ziggy" she said!


Maya was very excited to go on the ferry, or "the boat ride" as she called it. The ferry was so large that she had lots of space to run around on the decks. It was very windy, so she would pretend that the wind was "catching" her. There was a nice children's play area on the ferry, as well as a cafeteria which served french fries in a pirate ship boat - it was all very exciting for her.



The drive was a bit tough, with all the windy roads. Several times I felt like I would be car sick. The natural landscape was so beautiful that we stopped several times to take photographs.


We arrived in Tofino and stayed at the cozy Wickaninnish Inn, which is supposed to be one of the best hotels in the entire world. We had an excellent view of the beach, and the crashing waves which people surfed on every day.


We had such a relaxing time. It was so wonderful to be surrounded by nature. Every day, we would get up and walk down the beach and collect sea shells. Then we would come back and read & relax by the fireplace in our room. Then we would go out for a walk in the forest on a trail. We did that for 4 days... and it was better than going to a spa!


I would really like to bring my inlaws next time and rent a cabin by the beach...




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