About Priya

Freedom is my friend, fear is my foe.

Woman: Whose Slave Are You?

In Kelemo’s Woman, Nigerian author Molara Wood tells the tale of a woman in love with an idealist, a freedom fighter in a time of military coup and the subsequent downslide of the country.  It is a short story – succinct, pungent, and leaves you with a question about Iriola: who’s woman is she now?

Kelemo is caught up in his zeal of resisting the forces of suppression.  He comes from a family where sacrifice for the country is ingrained.  It is a noble cause, but Iriola is tired of following him around, from one rebellion to another, risking her life.  Why should his cause be hers?  Because she is a woman?  What if a woman did not support her man and his ideals?  What if she thought of her own survival?  Is that such a bad thing?

Iriola decides to leave.  She takes her dying mother’s advice and focuses on her own needs.

Because, as her mother says:

Iriola, allow yourself to be pulled down by no one.  Don’t be like me, slaving all my life to stand by men and for what?  To die of a wasting disease before my time?  Now you will have no mother.  The person to watch over you, is you.

How many mothers tell their daughters this?  Take care of yourself, your life is important. You matter.

Iriola decides to offer favors to the men in the system to get herself a job (she is educated and trained in nursing).  They think they are using her, but perhaps she is using them?

Why should women take on wars started by men?  Were women given a choice before starting any war?  Did their opinions matter?  So, if they join the fight, they need to ask themselves: Whose fight is it?  What are we fighting for?  If it’s freedom and democracy, then yes.  If it’s a power driven agenda or an endless loop of regimes, why should we risk our lives for someone’s thirst for control?  A game in which we become glorified pawns, who have no role to play after the dust settles.  (And these questions apply to men too – the ones who fight on the front lines.)

Iriola’s decision to break away from this “noble cause” makes you think about choices.

But the last line leaves you wondering: And I always obeyed my mother.

My friends and I were discussing this in our book club.

Tina is the one who brought up these last lines:

I pray Kelemo survives.  I suppose he will wonder why, when he learns about the choices I have made.  But Kelemo was not in the hospital room when Mother breathed her last.  And I always obeyed my mother.

Tina asked, “Do you think she’s being an obedient daughter?  Like generations of daughters?  Or thinking for herself?  Is Iriola really a free woman or is she now following in someone else’s footsteps?  What if a future situation arises?  Who will she turn to for advice?  Will she find her inner voice?”

But, Sajel, my other friend, thought the opposite of it.  She reasoned, “For a change, a mother advices her daughter to focus on her own needs.  For a change, a mother’s words are an inspiration to her daughter. We are so tired of hearing stories of men being inspired by their fathers, their captains, and their kings. This is very much about Iriola shaping her own destiny.”

Did the author intend for us to debate this – hence the provocative last line?  Is Iriola free?

Judging someone’s looks

Last week, I was at an Upanayanam ceremony for one of my nephews. Lots of relatives gathered, there was talk of an upcoming wedding, and an album was being passed around. Some of my aunts were sitting and looking at pictures of someone’s engagement.

“Her mouth is a bit wide,” remarked one of my aunts.

“I kept telling the boy’s mother to not rush – to keep looking for a more beautiful girl – but they ended up settling for this one,” replied another.

The person in question (on whom the rude comment was made) was sitting with another group of people in the same room. I noticed her flinching, then quickly recovering and pretending not to have heard.

It is hard to describe how I felt. On the one hand, I wasn’t surprised – I have grown up around similar conversations all my life. Passing judgment on someone’s looks is done openly, shamelessly. In many cases, the person passing judgment is very far from being an Adonis or a Cleopatra. Yet, I can never get used to this routinely blatant putting down of another person. No one else in the room felt anything was wrong with this conversation.

After the ceremony, we sat watching a TV show based on singing talent. One by one, the participants came and sang beautifully. For every participant, comments were made about someone being “too dark” or “too fat” or “having terrible teeth”.

“Wait, I thought this was a singing contest,” I said, “I didn’t realize it’s a beauty contest.”

The sarcasm was understood, laughed at, and quickly dismissed. The rude comments continued.

I’ve noticed that this particularly happens in certain situations –

  • When people get married, their looks are relentlessly dissected. A woman’s looks are dissected way more than a man’s, but at the time of marriage, many men do not escape some level of scrutiny either.
  • A daughter-in-law’s looks continue to be the subject of discussion for the first 10 years of her married life – how they should have looked more, found someone better, how the parents should have listened to better advice, why the children are darker because of her, etc, etc. After the first decade, for some reason, people move on (perhaps to make time to criticize other newly wed women?) A daughter-in-law is seen as a trophy perhaps, not as someone’s life partner, and a trophy must, above all else, shine.
  • If most people in the family are lighter skinned, the fewer people who are darker skinned suffer a lot of insults. If most people are darker skinned, this does not become much of an issue. Relative differences in skin color seem to determine the extent of the problem. God forbid if a person is born with darker skin in a relatively lighter skinned family – she becomes the subject of lifelong regrets.
  • There is intense staring in public places. Looks (of complete strangers) are once again being meticulously evaluated for reasons unknown. There is the general staring which I find harmless and dismiss it as idle curiosity.  There is a certain type of staring directed at women – especially women walking or traveling alone make prime targets for this x-ray type staring.  If the starer feels bold enough (depending on the situation), he passes rude comments on the looks of the person being stared at – both negative and “positive” comments are demeaning.

Questions that come to mind –

  • In a country that is defined by racial diversity, you’d think we would be used to a wide range of skin tones and facial features by now. Also, racial mixture in our country has happened to the point of complete lack of clear delineation. Most people look mixed race. So, why this obsession with skin color and race based features?
  • Let’s say we accept that someone happens to have these regressive attitudes. Still, how has it become acceptable to communicate in such a rude, insulting fashion?  Where is the social filter?
  • Why do people at the receiving end of such remarks not protest? Why do they meekly accept these remarks as if they did something wrong?
  • Can we stop the staring? It’s rude and makes people uncomfortable and makes public spaces uncomfortable. If you are a woman and walking or traveling alone, you will get the worst of it. I tried saying an unsmiling ‘hello’ or ‘can I help you’ to ward off staring and it did work many times. Maybe if more and more people object to it, it will reduce.
  • Is there hope for change with regard to these attitudes regarding skin color and rigid definitions of beauty? When will we start accepting that it takes many diverse faces, body types, and skin tones to make up the world? When we learn to embrace diversity?

When will we learn to look a little beyond the surface? Because if we tried, we might notice someone’s genuine smile, someone’s warmth, the mischief in someone’s eyes, or the iron will in someone’s purposeful stride.  We might notice someone’s natural grace or someone’s thirst for freedom or their intrinsic kindness.  It is all there – in their faces, in their bodies – in their fleeting expressions, in their evanescent gestures – those qualities that uniquely define them – if we care to look a little beyond the surface.

Related Posts:

“I am perfectly alright with being ‘unattractive’ to a majority of boys – love is not some job interview where you try tailor yourself to someone’s needs.”

How would life be different if you never had to give a thought to how you looked?

What makes a woman look beautiful?

Does beauty really lie in the eyes of the beholder?

Learning To Say No

‘No’ is the most powerful word in the English language. Due to social conditioning, many women and some men have difficulty saying this simple word.  That’s because our brain has been trained to operate in pathways that tend to avoid the word ‘no’. It can be intensely stressful to ignore a well reinforced pathway and forge a new one.  Saying ‘no’ to the things we don’t want (for people who tend to have difficulty with it) is a habit that must be worked at consistently, until it becomes second nature.
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I was not born assertive.  But I was always curious about how the world works.  And that includes me, who I am, and how I respond to various situations.  As my self awareness grew, so did my ability to say ‘no’ to things I did not like.  If we do not know who we are, it’s hard to assess what we want.  Knowing what we want can help us turn down the offers we don’t want.
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However, self awareness takes us only so far.  The ‘yes’ response is so primeval that we may say it even when we don’t want to and are aware of what we dislike.  Saying ‘yes’ to things we dislike or are uncomfortable with can build a lot of stress – in some cases, this can even lead to severe anxiety or other psychological illnesses.  It is therefore crucial to understand the subtleties surrounding this ‘yes’ inducing behavior and keep those in mind to counter it.  On my road to becoming increasingly assertive, I’ve tried to observe myself and understand what makes me say ‘yes’ when I don’t want to.  Based on these observations, I’ve tried to come up with certain strategies that would help me counter this illogical urge to say an unwilling ‘yes’.  I hope you find these strategies useful.
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Know your rights
In many Eastern cultures, a sense of entitlement and the need for conformity can create relationships driven by control.  Unsolicited advice (with intentions ranging from well meaning to downright evil) is given in the name of caring for the other person. Resistance is often greeted with a range of negative emotions.  In all cultures (including Western), there is at least some degree of societal pressure to do things that someone else sees as appropriate.
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Know that other people cannot tell you what to wear (except for reasonable professional requirements in a workplace ), what to eat, how to schedule your day (when to wake up, shower, etc).  As an adult, you get to decide when to go out, who should or need not accompany you, where to go, and whom you’d like to hang out with, and how you get to spend the money you earn.  You alone have the right and responsibility for ensuring your well being, safety, and financial upkeep.
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Many of us know these rights but conditioning keeps kicking in – so reminding ourselves of our rights is a good idea.
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Recognize signs of boundary crossing
If the in-laws or neighbors are giving unsolicited advice, it is easy to recognize that a boundary is being crossed.  It is much harder to recognize this when it happens between spouses or partners.  There is so much common territory and lots of room for error.
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A spouse can make positive, relevant suggestions regarding children, finances, or house work because those are all joint responsibilities.  It is best for a spouse to stay away from advice regarding choice of friends or activities (unless these are directly impacting his or her rights in some way).
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A good way to recognize right from wrong is to ask what the impact of the actions of one are on the other.  If there is no impact, then there should be no criticism/suggestions for improvement.  My husband’s tendency to while away his free time following a certain baseball team (incomprehensible to me) is really none of my business.  If he does that when it’s his turn to cook, then it impacts me, and I have the right to bring it up.  My tendency to be OCD about house cleaning is none of his business unless my extreme cleaning has a cost to the family’s well being.
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Recognize coercive speech
When you finally muster the courage to say ‘no’, it can be greeted with resistance.  You will be told things that are meant to change your mind. Coercive speech looks like this –
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“I thought you were better than this.”
“You always ……”
“You never ……”
“My mom would’ve done this for me.”
“I’m not sure I can love you the same way if you do this.”
“Where in the world did you get this crazy idea??”
“Is this your crazy side talking.”
“Did your friend give you this advice?”
“Do you want to end up like him?”
“You are beginning to turn into your dad.”
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Recognize coercive behavior
Your ‘no’ can be greeted with coercive behavior.  Coercive behavior is harder to recognize than words because it is less concrete and attacks our vulnerabilities (someone social is more easily weakened by being shut down, by being refused conversation).  Coercive behavior can look like this
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– not talking, sulking
– not eating
– giving disappointed looks or mean looks
– avoiding interaction
– appearing sad, depressed
– banging doors, put objects down with force
– long periods of silence with deep sighs
– making indirect negative/mocking remarks about you while talking to someone else
– doing things that annoy you, being petty, getting back at you, making simple things harder.
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Buy time
If you are struggling to say ‘no’, buy some time with responses like –
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“Let me think about that and get back to you.”
“I have to go now, let’s talk about this later.”
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Giving yourself space and time to understand what you might me getting yourself into can be helpful.  You can mull over things, understand the consequences of giving in to pressure, reaffirm your dislike or discomfort with the offer, and come back with a much more confident ‘no’. A confident ‘no’ is important because a weak ‘no’ is just an uncomfortable ‘yes’ waiting to happen.
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Turn it back on them
Some well meaning people give advice when they think that the whole world thinks like them – therefore what they like, others must like, what works for them must work for others.  In such cases you can turn the advice back to them –
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Consider this suggestion: “You should wake up early.  You can get a great, non-stressful start to the day that way.”
You could respond, “Are you an early riser?”
And if they respond yes and rave about this habit of theirs, you could say “Good for you!  I’m glad you’ve found a way to get in your exercise!”
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To: “You should dress up more, you look so pretty with jewelry!”
You could respond: “Do you like jewelry? What kind do you like to wear?”
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Of course, the straightforward way is to simply say things like –
“I will wake up when I want to.  What’s your problem?”
Or “I don’t like wearing jewelry”
Or “I feel pretty being myself”
Or “I don’t care if you think I’m pretty or not.”
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But it may not be so simple for some people.  Dismissing unassertive behavior as “getting what they deserve” is unhelpful.  Human behavior can’t be easily explained.  We don’t always do what’s logical – that is what’s good and healthy for us.
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Therefore the above suggestions (turning it back on the person giving advice, etc.) are for people who struggle with making such assertive statements – or for people who live in such a strong culture of hierarchy or conformity that a ‘no’ to advice invites a distinctly negative reaction.
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State the problem
If you stay away from the ‘no’ word for fear of hurting someone’s feelings, you can spotlight your own discomfort, thus taking the focus away from “criticizing” them
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“I don’t like being told what to wear. I prefer deciding for myself.”
“I feel uncomfortable being asked to go to this party.”
“I don’t enjoy being forced to make a decision on this.”
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No matter how you say it, learning to say ‘no’ is one of the most important things we can teach our kids.  And as for us adults, it can be extremely liberating.
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If you’ve always been assertive, good for you!  If you are working on it, what do you do and what has worked for you?  If you struggle with it more than the average person, what could be getting in the way?  Please share your thoughts and experiences.
Related Posts:

Slowing Down

Guest Post by wordssetmefreee

Do you feel you are “always on the go”?  As soon as you finish one list, another one appears?  I feel like I’m running all the time these days and I need to stop.  It’s not that I don’t prioritize.  I do the most important things on any list and let many things go.  The problem is that there are too many lists.  I don’t know which one to let go.  There’s lists of things to do for work, home, kids – all the necessities to make a living and run a home and get basic meals on the table.  The dishes keep coming and coming – they seem to take a life of their own when you have 2 teenage boys with voracious appetites.  There’s all the fun lists – books I want to read, hills I want to hike up, pictures I want to paint.  There are kids’ lists that are partly fun (cheering them from the sidelines) and partly work (the endless driving, the immature phases).

There are good friends.  Not giving time to friendship makes it wither away.  Since the people I can genuinely connect with are fewer, I feel like I must treasure those relationships, give them time and interest.  There is writing – which  sometimes feels like a fundamental need – it’s this need to express myself and explore my feelings until I come face to face with who I really am or who I’m becoming.  And yet, I’ve been neglecting it lately.  There is the support group.  I want to help, I really do, I find it immensely rewarding to help someone get over a hump or watch them take control.  But I must also learn to draw the line and say, look I need my space and time, I can only give so much, I can’t get drained.  There is Ryan’s autism.  A journey that is both challenging and rewarding, frustrating and exhilarating.  And then there is marriage – with all it’s complications and nuances.  Even when both people are decent human beings, they must work at their relationship, because they are evolving/growing and must either grow together or grow apart.

And so, I’ve been thinking about slowing down lately.  I’ve been thinking about it a lot.  I was not sure how to.  I love all my activities.  I’m wired to be active.  I take on a lot willingly.  Pretty soon, I end up biting off way more than I can chew.  Lately, I’ve been longing for a break – empty space, if you will.

I started thinking about walking.  I’m a runner and I thought – why not try to literally slow down.  What is it like to just walk?  With no destination in mind?  Where I can pretend to be, if only for a few minutes, a child, free of responsibilities and ambitions, free of accomplishments and setbacks, free of history and introspection, full of lazy curiosity, aimlessly going whereever my legs take me?

Long before people consciously exercised, they walked.  From one village to another to sell their produce.  To the river to fetch water.  To buy groceries at the corner store down the street. I wonder if these people ever enjoyed their walks in the way we do in modern times.  Did they notice the blue sky above and take grateful breaths of the fresh air?

My father often told us many anecdotes from his childhood (he had a most interesting one) and one of them was about him and his brother once deciding to walk to the next town in search of a girl.  She had come to their village for a festival and they were enamored of her. They decided to go to her house and say hello and pretend they were “just passing by”. They set out early one morning, when their mother was out of town, skipped school, and loaded their pockets with some rare coins to impress her.

I don’t quite remember how that story ended.  Just imagine the freedom of simply dropping everything (school/job/kids) and deciding to go walking to the next town. They probably sweated in the sun and got dusty and tired. Maybe they did not realize that this simple freedom to follow a whim was a luxury in itself.

I tried to bring up the subject of walking with my hiking friends and they launched into a discussion of which app is the best for tracking miles and setting goals.

Most people I now know take their fitness seriously. I have friends who work long hours and still hit the gym at 9 pm. Perhaps we take fitness too seriously, in modern times? Or perhaps it is the physical part of fitness that draws most of our interest and energy.  I wonder sometimes. In a recent conversation at my book club, one woman was talking about taking up mountain biking. Others joined in sharing their own “pushing yourself to the limit” adventures. The women in the group range from those in their 30s through their 50s.

I think it’s wonderful that older women are more into fitness and strength training now. Physical fitness does translate to more confidence and self-reliance.  It is also a positive thing that many of us (women 30s and beyond who in the past dedicated themselves to the needs of others) now set aside time to focus on ourselves.

Although I agreed with most things that were being said, there was this nagging thought at the back of my head. What about the forgotten habit of walking – something people took for granted in the past, and something most people don’t seem to have the time for these days. Maybe I should call it strolling. It is not exercise. It has a gentle pace. It is simply going from one place to another using your legs.

Remember my thought about LITERALLY slowing down?  So one day, in the evening, after all the work was done, (and especially the dishes done, so the kitchen’s clean and welcoming for making coffee the next morning!), my work email cleaned up, and the kids’ homework was done, I went for a walk at this small lake (a large pond really) in my neighborhood.

And all of summer, I’ve been going for this lovely aimless walk.

I don’t take my phone and have no way of telling the time. I do not count the miles or the rounds. I just …. walk.

There is something different about walking in the evening. I usually go running early in the morning when the weather is cooler and I can enjoy nature’s beauty and silence.

But in these summer turning to fall evenings, I notice the people more. I see people winding up their dinner, chatting with each other at kitchen windows, the smell of their cooking still in the air, even after they’d eaten it.

From a little corner house, there are always the sounds of piano at a certain time – beautiful notes floating out of the window and drifting away into the trees and beyond. I love passing by the piano house. After a few walks I realize who it is that’s playing so beautifully. It is Leanne, a girl in my older son’s class from kindergarten – she is gifted in music and has given many performances at school. I remember coming here and talking to her mom about some PTA meeting. Leanne also has a singing voice that would make your eyes moist with pure joy. Oh, she must be a teenager now, I think, passing her house.

There is an old Chinese man, probably in his 80s who walks determinedly everyday, his back slightly bent, but his chin up, looking straight ahead. He has a slight limp and uses a walking stick. The interesting thing about him is – he is both determined and relaxed, at once, both purposeful and calm.  And somehow I can’t help feeling inspired when I see him. I too should toss aside all my aches and pains, my sciatica and my RLS, my troubles at work and home, push my chin up and just walk, I tell myself.

There is a teenage couple who usually stroll, completely absorbed in each other. One day, as they walk even more aimlessly than me, or rather glide, looking into each other’s eyes, they go straight into a hedge and fall rather awkwardly. I try to stop laughing but can’t. They sheepishly join in my laughter without getting up. I try to think what it is like to be 16 again and your whole life awaits you – an uneven bundle of hopes, promises, adventures, experiences, mistakes, learning, friendships, possibilities, all tied together clumsily with the impatient hands of youth ……. But wait, I tell myself, that is still possible. At any age. Even if my adventures are a little time bound, and they happen around ponds rather than lakes, I can still try new things, still enjoy the unexpected.

I run into my irritable, opinionated neighbor Patrick who somehow manages to have a hearty wave for me when we pass each other while walking. Patrick is so handy, he cleans his own roof, repairs the plumbing, fixes his car, and messes with his lawn mower – all this at age 75 or so. He often gives me advice – how I should’ve bought the other car, the one with the better gas mileage, or we should’ve opted for a different sprinkler system, or why our fence needs fixing before it comes crashing down on him. I would wonder if Patrick could ever talk to me without giving advice. But after living next to him for over a decade, I know that this is just how he talks. It is part of him. I nod and let it go. He’s been a helpful neighbor in many ways. Why is Patrick smiling on his walk, I wonder. He seems transformed. And I think of all his helpfulness over the years, as I wave back to him, saluting our up-and-down-but-overall-pleasant neighborly relationship.

I run into Indian parents visiting their children here and nod or smile to them. I run into people with dogs, especially the blonde lady with the golden retriever. Oh what fun it is to watch her toss a ball and see the dog leap into the air to catch it! They have a strange resemblance – the lady and the dog – longish, pleasant faces, golden wavy hair, warm energetic personalities. Another strangely similar human dog couple is a quiet bulldog and a short, squarish man who walks him with a tight expression.

And finally, as I round the corner leading back to my house, I hear the familiar thump. The thump of basketball from the lone player who comes after dark, after all the teenagers have left. She practices alone. I watch her wield the ball expertly and toss it in one smooth motion into the hoop – in that instant it feels as if the ball and her are indistinguishable, flowing as a single wave of energy.

I come home with a lightness. A subtle glow.  I haven’t really talked to a single person on my walk but why do I feel so connected? I no longer have a clue what I need to be worried about for the next day, what problems need solving, which people are depending on me to deliver, and who needs which report ASAP. The entire walk feels like one long deep breath, a huge letting go of a lot of things building up, weighing me down, crowding my mind.  It’s a wonderful feeling of just being. I know it’s temporary but it’s all I’ve got.

How about you? Have you tried to slow down? Have you gone for a stroll lately? What do you see? What do you hear? How does the walking make you feel? If not walking, what new slowing down experience(s) have you been up to lately? Please share how it’s going.

(P.S. This post was written about a month ago when we had the last of those long summer evenings with late sunsets.  Now in October, it gets darker earlier and I don’t see as many neighbors any more.  Soon, the wind will pick up, temperatures will drop, and most people will stay indoors at this time of the day. But I think I’ll continue walking.  The stars will keep me company.)

Identity

I got this email from J1289, a regular reader and commenter here and sharing this with her permission:

(In context of something someone said to her) “…… I feel there are only two options for all of us, be part of the herd and get all the joy sucked out of us where we are miserable, or be happy and do what you love to do and get rejected/ignored by others since your actions don’t fit their mold. It’s never a win-win situation IMO.

Indian culture (or perhaps most Asian cultures) can be very beautiful. There are certain aspects I love about it, however being pressured to be this ideal “Indian girl”, get married, have kids, live in servitude and act like a doormat where toxicity takes over, sucks all the positive vibes about being Indian and makes you have a strong disdain towards it.

Especially the fact that in Indian culture, non-Indians are inferior to Indians, we must “stick” with people of our caste and people from our state only (I HATE THAT!) so that we keep the “culture” alive where it will not lose its “purity”. (Emphasis mine)

I hear this all the time, and it makes you think, can we still keep a homogeneous culture? How come people from conservative places, despite living abroad and exploring the world will not look at any other perspective?

Also lack of equal respect is another factor I dislike about being Indian. I would never show I am superior or treat someone ill because I’m much older than them.  I made it a point for myself that I’ll take a blend of cultures because I have equal respect for all,  (not only Indian) and incorporate into my life. Sure I’ll keep some “Indianness”, but I will also make sure to get rid of some of the toxic aspects (arranged marriages, being a slave to in laws, and be firm when I have to). I will make sure my life is full of diversity and not just one sided.”

My reply to her:

“I think you have the right approach when you say you take a blend of cultures and incorporate them into your life.  No culture is perfect; each one has strengths and failures.  I agree with you on all those unpleasant aspects of Indian culture.  I think we can reject those parts and take the parts we like.  I think that makes logical sense – why should it be all or nothing?  We take what makes sense, what feels right, what makes us comfortable.  We reject regressive thinking and practices.”

But then, when I thought about it more, I was intrigued by this idea of “cultural purity” and “protecting one’s culture”. I could relate to so many parts of J1289’s email because I’ve been in her place many times.

I have often been accused of “becoming too American”.

Because I let my children disagree with me.

Because I let them make choices and decisions that impact their lives.

Because I don’t fall on elders’ feet at weddings.

Because I don’t cook up a feast in the kitchen while the men discuss “important things” in the living room.

Because I sit next to my husband on the couch.

Because I hold his hand when we walk.

Because I wear what I want.

Because I don’t fast or pray.

Because I like to run/hike in my shorts.

Because I read and write and express opinions.

Because I don’t need permission for a host of things.

Because I make choices.

Because I laugh aloud when I’m happy.

Because recently, I told my husband’s aunt who came to the US to visit her daughter, “No this is not a good time to visit. The children have exams. We will come and see you.”

Instead of “Yes, you are always welcome in our home.”

And with the predictability of sunrise, she pulled an Athidi Devo Bhava on me.

We are constantly told that this kind of behavior goes against Indian culture. That it is a betrayal of Indian culture. But then, what exactly is Indian culture? Allowing your elders to control your life – until it’s your turn to control your children’s lives?

More precisely, WHO gets to define Indian culture? Who ARE these dreaded guardians of Indian culture? Why should they be in charge of defining Indian culture and identity? Because what they are defining happens to suit them? Because “tradition” can be a great way to avoid the tough questions and accountability?

I’ve seen other Indian American families struggle with identity. Some (if not all) first generation immigrants keep a little nostalgic piece of India in their hearts. It is a soft-focus, rose tinted picture that ignores the negative aspects of our culture.

But not seeing the truth is unhelpful. This holding on to an “ideal Indian culture” never allows you to take a rational standpoint. It never allows changes. It is stifling, both for them, and for their children, whom they have chosen to raise in a different country.

It is a disservice both to their birth country (to hinder truth, learning and progress) as well as the country they’ve immigrated to (to reap the benefits of another culture while condemning it). It keeps them in a time capsule. India and many Indians living in India have moved on with the times in many respects, but some Indian immigrants still hold on to the past, afraid to let go.

To some extent, I can understand this love for one’s country of birth.  It has a sort of magical pull.

I recently visited India for my niece’s wedding. I delighted in dressing up in kancheevarams and donning jhumkas. I re-watched 3 Idiots and laughed like one in some scenes. I sat on my brother’s balcony, watching the vendors below, as the evening darkened, cups of chai in hand, discussing Indian politics with fervor, knowing very well that governance in India is still a distant dream. I listened to my sister practice her Veena, her hands now faintly aging, but the music flowing strong and confident as ever.

I smelled coconut water and Aarti in the Ganesh temple my mother makes me go to, on every trip. My mother still sticks bits of turmeric to the new clothes she gifts to my children. I visited my childhood tailor, Arif, who must be in his 70s and can’t see well anymore but still seems to be turning out beautiful dresses with his old hands through sheer habit.

On my last evening there, I went to the Old Town – the most neglected part of my hometown and hiked up the highest peak (now I realize it is a small hill) that overlooks a rocky shore. At the foot of the hill sits my old convent school.  I visited the strict nuns of my elementary school, now softened with age, their disapproving looks replaced with welcoming smiles. I sat peacefully in my school’s worn down church as they conducted their Catholic service, not really understanding their rituals, but calmed by the angelic singing.

To me, all of these things are uniquely Indian, or define the part of India I was raised in. Who can take away this Indianness from me?  This “love” is about  people and places and memories.

BUT, why does being Indian have to mean giving up the right to think, analyze, question, discuss, disagree, and express?

You don’t have to feel like you are betraying Indian culture when you think for yourself. Rabindranath Tagore thought for himself. So did Sarojini Naidu. And so did Gandhi. And those 3 eminent thinkers spoke and wrote their original, independent, rebellious thoughts eloquently in Indian languages as well as in English. They looked and sounded and felt Indian, but they were far from being subservient. They were certainly not part of the “log kya kahenge” crowd. So, let’s stop defining Indianness as conformity and fear. It isn’t nor does it have to be.

I love my country of birth – it is colorful, vibrant, unique, energetic, evolving, boundless. I love America too – my adopted country – it is a place of equality and respect for the individual and immense personal freedom. Neither country is perfect, and both have numerous problems. And I love them both.

No one has the right to tell us what parts of which culture we adopt. One’s identity is a complex combination of one’s background, nature, experiences, and influences. It is ever changing, growing, and developing as we undergo new experiences. It is not to be determined by one’s aunt, mother-in-law, neighbor, pastor, or politician. It is up to us to determine who we want to be and how we choose to define ourselves.

And perhaps the same thing goes for India too. Indians should stop defining their country in terms of their Vedic past, the colonial legacy, the Islamic influence, traditions and customs, and other hang ups – these burdens only serve to limit us. While our rich past undoubtedly makes a fascinating study and understanding it is crucial, dwelling there forever is a sad mistake. Maybe if we start looking forward, India can be as beautiful and boundless as she wants to be.

Related Posts:

If our love for our people and our country needs being ‘proud of them’ then, here’s what we should be proud of.

When married Indian women (travelling or living outside India) strive to look unmarried.

Why do Indian women like to wear western clothes?

Why do some women see western clothes and being able to flaunt their bodies, without fearing being called sluts, as empowerment?

Mommy Guilt: A Western Influence.

Proud to be an Indian today…

I am Proud of India Today. Not India of Yesteryears.

Indians invented planes 7,000 years ago — and other startling claims at the Science Congress

The sari is the best way of showing global companies that these are Indian women managers?

Adarsh Bhartiya Nari – Ideal Indian Woman… !!!

Letting an outsider see or comment upon our imperfections is washing dirty linen in public?

“This is reply to BBC for making video on rape cases in other countries…”

“If we have people of your ilk in Bharat we do not need external enemies at all!”

“I am trying to make a list of soooooooo many advantages a girl can have if she is born in a Western family as compared to being born in india.”

Relationships – Making Someone Happy

Guest Post by wordssetmefreee

There are times when we do things hoping to make someone else happy. I’ve made my children’s favorite dishes countless times over the years. I’ve recalled that a certain teacher likes the Chai Latte at Pete’s Coffee and Tea. I had bought her a bag of this tea when I wanted to appreciate her for her dedication. When my best friend turned 40, I looked everywhere for a copy of Tagore’s Fireflies to get her a birthday present that would mean something to her.

And then, there are times when we try to make someone happy and it takes us down a very self-defeating path. I remember this friend who was not quite committed to our friendship. I mistook her last minute cancellations for genuine personal problems and felt protective toward her. I would listen intensely to her problems, and think about them, and offer helpful suggestions. I did not realize that she very rarely listened to me or cared about what was going on in my life. I mistook her flakiness for innocence and an inability to defend herself. A little late into the friendship, I realized that she would show up only when nothing else was going on in her life. While I would put our meetings on the calendar and fit things around them. Once I began to see her for who she really was (not evil, and nothing personal about her callousness, but just an inability to be someone solid, reliable, and committed to anything), I put an end to our friendship without a fight. I simply told her it wasn’t working.

The above situation is inevitable in relationships – we trust people sometimes, assume they are true to their word and when we learn otherwise, we distance and protect ourselves.  A relationship is like a dance – sometimes it’s smooth and comes together beautifully.  Sometimes it’s awkward.  Sometimes, we start stepping on each other’s toes – and then it’s time to stop and assess what’s happening.

So what happens when we don’t protect ourselves? What happens when we try to mend the relationship by doing more and more while getting back less and less? We are setting ourselves up for manipulation and abuse. In these instances, the more we try to make the other person happy, the less happy we ourselves become. Because their happiness comes at a cost of ours.

This is what I was thinking of when reading some recent emails on this blog. Women in our culture are taught at a very early age to put others’ happiness ahead of theirs. This makes them easy targets for manipulation and abuse.

But it doesn’t just have to happen in abusive relationships or just with women. It can happen at the workplace or with friendships – with both men and women – trying to make someone else happy or trying to make someone proud of us comes at a cost to our own happiness and is invariably detrimental to our relationships and our emotional health.

Yet this self-damaging behavior (varying in intensity) is exceedingly common. Students compete hard to get into the best colleges rather than to pursue something they find interesting in a less than top-notch college. Employees try hard to please their bosses and become disheartened at their criticism. People try to impress their neighbors and friends with better cars, better houses, and better clothes. People have multiple surgeries to stretch their skin free of wrinkles. Some people earn so much money but it is never enough. They are still working on landing a better deal, a better job, a better yacht, and a better life.

It almost seems as if it is human nature to try to win the approval of others, and in doing so, we set ourselves up for misery. No one can claim that they haven’t tried to win someone’s approval somewhere in the teeniest possible way.

Where does this begin, this need for approval?

Survival Instincts

It probably starts with trying to please our parents. When we are little, our parents provide us with every need. We depend on them for our survival. We feel secure when we see them, the guardians of our world, happy. Bringing a smile to their faces seems to trigger the pleasure centers in our brain.

I remember how I would fear my parent’s disappointment more than my own, when I received a bad grade on a test. I also remember a particular day when I went on stage to receive a trophy in a debate tournament. I did not think much of my trophy because I felt the topic was predictable. The event felt special because my father, who had to travel a lot, was in town and was able to attend. As soon as I took it, I searched the audience for my father’s face. I found him smiling and clapping. Even though there were many people in the room, they all just blanked out for me. All I saw was my father’s proud face. Why was his approval more important to me that my own reaction?

Our parents have been given something precious – this tiny bit of power – to mold a life – and power can be intoxicating. They begin to teach us, influence us, shape us. Much of this happens with good hearts and intentions. (I’m referring here to non-toxic parenting.)  And yet some part of parenting begins to create certain expectations that don’t necessarily value the individual at hand.

A Habit That’s Hard to Break

And thus, our parents have naturally set the stage for seeking approval. When we ace a test, we see tour parents smile, and we want to keep acing tests so badly. When we do badly on a test, we get heart broken. And this sets in motion a pattern of earning approval and being rewarded for it.

Earning approval suppresses the self because the rewards are external. – a pattern that some of us eventually break out of, when we realize that setting our own goals, self-assessing our own efforts, and asserting our individuality is the more genuine way to happiness.

Some people, however, continue this pattern and extend it to other authority figures (after they outgrow their parental home). They must gain approval from their neighbors, their friends, their in-laws. They must keep others happy. It’s now a habit that’s hard to break.

It takes them on a path where they’ve forgotten who they are and what they want. Even though the approval they get feels good in the short run, the conditions for approval keep changing, and it’s a hard game to keep up with. Human beings are insatiable creatures – give them control and they keep wanting more. The person seeking approval gets caught in a web of someone else’s greed and insecurities.

The Need to Belong

Human beings are mostly social creatures and thrive in groups.  Sometimes we seek approval because we want to belong in a group. The group gives us warmth, affection, camaraderie, fun, and in return, we give the group back conformity. In college, I belonged to a group of girls who wore mostly Western clothes. (I didn’t think deeply about my clothing choices, I just wore what I liked and my parents didn’t have strong opinions on the matter.) And being similar in other ways made us gravitate toward each other. We also spoke comfortably in English and belonging to different states made the English speaking a necessity.   There were 2 girls in my group that spoke condescendingly about other girls who appeared more traditional in their dressing choices. They also made fun of other people’s (English) accents. This wasn’t good-natured fun, this was clearly ‘I’m better than you’ kind of talk. I felt uncomfortable with this talk but never protested.

I was not assertive enough in my 20s to say, “She has the right to wear what she wants. Stop judging her.” Or “If you think her English is so funny, let’s hear you talk in French.” Or “The gist of what she’s saying in imperfect English has far more depth than your superficial Gibberish.”

This is not to say the group was all bad.  We had a great time discussing books, watching old B&W movies, solving made-up mysteries, dancing to “Raindrops Keep Falling on my Head”, making fun of each other, falling in love with Mr. Darcy, and singing “I have Confidence in Me” at the top of our voices until the neighbors protested.

I was afraid of losing their friendship. I was going against my beliefs (that we respect other people’s choices and abilities) and ‘blending in’ to preserve the relationship. A lot had changed for me over the next 20 years – as I gradually learnt to speak my mind and openly advocate for my values and beliefs, without losing valuable friendships. But it took time and effort. It didn’t just happen.

Dependence and Fear

If a woman is financially dependent on her husband and in-laws, she may do things that go against her value system, to keep them happy. This is not just a matter of survival. This is also something that is driven by fear. Although survival is an issue here, there are solutions. There are means and ways to garner supports, get skills/education, find a job, file for divorce, and free oneself from this prison. It is not an easy path and it is strewn with hardship, but it’s not impossible. What is much harder to overcome is the fear – a fear that is induced my sheer numbers – parents and in-laws, neighbors, extended family, and friends acting against one person. It feels like the whole world is telling you that you need to adjust, you should know your place, you have to earn your basic rights, and to please quit complaining.

Fear makes people try hard to win hearts, a venture that is bound to fail, because people who need to be “won over” are never worth it.

Nature

Some of us hate conflict.  Others take it head on.  Some of us worry about how others feel.  Others don’t.  When my brother and I used to fight in our teens, we would sometimes stop talking.  I would cry all night and analyze my every word and action and try to look for something I did wrong and look at the situation from both his side and mine.  He would sleep through the night blissfully.  It’s not that he didn’t (or doesn’t) love me.  But I think I worked much harder at our relationship than he did.  Even now, I work harder at my other relationships than he does with the people in his life.  I can’t just sleep through the night when I fight with someone.  This makes me vulnerable to some degree.

Can We Break Out of This?

So, what can we do to watch out for this behavior? Some people seem to have a natural ability to resist it. They may have been born assertive, outspoken, and seem to always be able to prioritize their wishes, desires, and happiness. What can we do if this is not our first instinct? How can we protect ourselves and safeguard our personal happiness?

Make a conscious decision to love yourself.

In many cultures, children are taught that loving oneself is selfishness. This is such a mistaken notion. If we are unable to love ourselves, we can’t truly love others. If we judge ourselves harshly, we are more likely to judge others. If we disrespect ourselves, we become insecure and resentful of other people.  If we despair over every mistake of ours, we are more likely to see other’s mistakes as permanent failures.  If we see our mistakes as growth, we tend to be more forgiving of others’ faults.  Therefore understanding that it all begins with us is the first step.

Get to know yourself.

What do you like and dislike? What makes you uncomfortable? What do you fear? What gets you excited? How do you typically react in a given situation? Many of us have never been asked these questions, growing up. We’ve often been TOLD how to feel. As adults, we may continue to fumble when presented with various situations.   We wonder – How should I react? How am I supposed to react? “Maybe, it’s not okay to get angry when someone tells me to wake up earlier. Maybe, I’m the one being unreasonable.” When we don’t know ourselves, we don’t know what we want. Then we don’t know what to fight for.

Understand boundaries.

This is something we don’t learn, growing up in India, and other similar cultures. I grew up in a house full of aunts, uncles, and cousins. Everyone used everyone’s things. This wasn’t ‘sharing’ or ‘generosity’. It was mostly inconsiderate behavior. Those who were pushy got more, the nicer ones got less, as a result of this no-boundaries environment.

My parents bought me a scooter when I turned 16. I took good care of it and used it responsibly. My older cousin began ‘borrowing’ it and I was expected to ‘share and be nice’ and I did. Then he would use it roughly and it began needing more and more repairs. Sometimes he would bring it home with not a drop of gas left in it. Sometimes I didn’t have it on hand when I really needed it (when I went for tutoring). When I questioned him on these things, he told me that since he’s a boy, he should have more access to it because, he can go out late and run errands and help the family. My parents didn’t want to fight with his parents over it. The result was someone getting away with inconsiderate, irresponsible, selfish behavior.

Keep track of the cost to yourself.

When you deny yourself your rights – the right to ownership (in my scooter example), the right to respect for one’s own time (in the example of my friend who stood me up often) – then we are entering the area of unfairness and unhappiness. This crossing over often goes unnoticed. Being aware of this boundary alerts us to someone impinging on our rights and taking advantage of us.

Understand that being nice is still okay.

You don’t have to be rude or loud or mean to stand up for yourself. But you do have to be firm. And you have to be unequivocal with your communication.

Don’t say, “Can you please not use my computer?” to your children, especially after you told them it’s off limits. Instead say, “Don’t use my computer. It’s not okay to use other people’s devices without their permission.” If you see something as a violation of a boundary, say it in no uncertain terms. And say it like you mean it. You are not asking or requesting. You are telling someone what you think and that you intend to stand by it.

Assess your relationships from time to time.

Stepping on each other’s toes?  Frequently unhappy?  More and more conversations leaving a bad taste in your mouth?  Take a step back and try to be objective. As yourself, “Am I getting something valuable out of this relationship? Is there give and take? Am I being listened to? Do my thoughts and feelings count? Do I take the lead at least half the time? Do I get to make my own decisions about personal things that affect no one else? Do I feel supported and affirmed by the other person?

Answer the above questions honestly. Be willing to look at the truth. Do you feel you could’ve stopped some people from manipulating you sooner? Did you badly want to believe they were good? Did you try too hard to make things work? If the truth is undesirable, that’s okay. That’s what we humans do – we make mistakes. You can always change course and begin to work on reclaiming your happiness.

——————————————————————————————————–

Not everyone is naturally assertive. But we can all work on it. Our relationships teach us many things about ourselves. There is this inner commentary that our brain engages in – a sort of an objective, truthful, and meaningful analysis of our experiences. It’s up to us to listen and pay attention.

Are you naturally assertive? Or did you have to work at it? Which experiences shaped you? Did you try to make a relationship work, only to realize later that it wasn’t worth it? Do you prioritize your happiness? Do other people’s opinions have a strong influence on you? Do you struggle with trying not to seek approval? Please share your experiences in these situations.

I’m most interested in the growth aspect of this.  What did you learn? What would you want to work toward?

Related Posts:

An email from a Newly Wed Wife. “Now they don’t like me.”

But how do we go about accepting ourselves just the way we are?

Does loving someone mean we should ‘improve’ them?

“I think most problems in life are when we look for approval and validation outside of ourselves.”

What are we generally thinking of when we say ‘Respect Women’?

Display of respect to those in power, in Indian culture.

When you offer her respect,

What do ‘Modest’ women have that their ‘Immodest’ sisters don’t…

“I have met a lot of Indian guys who say their parents have done a lot for them so they can’t leave them now…”

“What is it in a ceremony of a few hours, that makes women fight tooth and nail to preserve the marriage, however unhappy they may be…?”

‘My parents will be ignored and ridiculed. No one will let them forget my so called shameful behaviour.’

An email: Is it okay to make someone give up something they love to do, because we want them around?

“You can listen to your parents and be unhappy or you can go against them and feel guilty – those are your choices?”

Eating Healthy

Guest Post by wordssetmefreee

Developing a healthy relationship with your food means eating for nutrition, sustenance, and with gratitude. Instead, in the modern age, we eat while we are standing or driving, as we rush through our day trying to meet obligations and deadlines. We eat out of stress or boredom, we over-focus on taste, and health goes out the window. The result of this unmindful eating is the feeling of being perpetually tired and health issues occurring at an increasingly younger age.

On the one hand, we have seen wonderful advancements in modern medicine that have increased longevity and help us manage many conditions while remaining active and functional, despite the effects of aging.

On the other, we live in increasingly toxic environments where we are exposed to harmful metals like lead, mercury, aluminum, and harmful chemicals in our air, food, and water.  The only way to counter the inevitable intake of these toxins is to build up our body’s natural defenses and supply it with the right kind of fuel.  A silent revolution has been taking place with our food.  Many of us haven’t noticed that the food we consume in current times is several fold more processed, and combined with harmful additives, compared to the foods consumed a generation ago.  We need to start saying no to this invasion of chemicals on our bodies.  We need to start treating our bodies with care and respect.  Not an easy task, since everywhere you look, you are surrounded by harmful additives.  We need to begin the process of choosing what we eat deliberately, rationally, meticulously.

I’m not a nutritionist but I’ve always been interested in pursuing a healthy lifestyle. And healthy eating is a big part of it. I haven’t met all my eating goals yet and I’m somewhere in the middle of the ladder to a balanced, healthful diet. I will share here what I’ve read on the subject. If anyone would like to add or correct the info included here, please do so.

Know Your Foods

1. Whole Grains – What’s The Big Deal?

Why eat Whole Grains? Whole grains contain all three parts of the kernel. Refining normally removes the bran and the germ, leaving only the endosperm. Without the bran and germ, about 25% of a grain’s protein is lost, along with at least seventeen key nutrients. Whole grains are healthier, providing more protein, more fiber and many important vitamins and minerals.

Some whole grains to try (in place of white rice) are quinoa, brown rice, amaranth, millet (ragi, jowar), buckwheat, bulgur, and wild rice. All these alternative grains are great for maintaining balanced sugar levels. Quinoa has the highest protein content, so it’s perfect for vegetarians and vegans. It provides all 9 essential amino acids, making it a complete protein.

2. The Argument for going Vegetarian

Meat contains dense protein, which is difficult to digest. Protein needs to be absorbed slowly, in order to have health benefits. Also, meat is highly acidic, leaching alkaline minerals like calcium from bones. Meat can be toxic with all of the antibiotics and artificial hormones fed to animals to make them grow faster and bigger and can exhaust the liver and kidneys having to work overtime to detoxify the body of these toxic and harmful substances. It also takes quite a lot more energy from our body to digest and break down meat, sapping our bodies of our vital life force. Meat contains high amounts of fat and cholesterol, leading to cardiovascular problems including heart disease, atherosclerosis and stroke.

Plant protein comes not just from beans and lentils, but also from whole grains. Eating a variety of whole grains and legumes provides the optimal amount of protein the human body needs, at a rate at which it can be easily digested.

And of course, going vegetarian is good for the planet! Meat production is a huge contributor to pollution due the use of fossil fuels. In developed countries, it is the largest source of greenhouse gases and in developing countries, one of the major causes of water pollution.

For those who do eat meat, leaner (chicken, turkey) meats are better than red meats (beef, pork) and grilled is better than fried obviously.

Note: There are others who take a different stance. For instance, advocates of the Paleo diet argue in favor of a heavily meat based diet.

3. Colorful Veggies – the fashion designers of the food world

Veggies are an important part of a healthy diet. They contain dozens of essential nutrients and have loads of dietary fiber. And just by getting your daily quota of five servings, you help build your body’s immunity to illnesses like cancer, heart disease and diabetes. One of the new trends with veggies is juicing – why – because it saves time and you can get in veggies you don’t normally like eating plus it’s more water. Whether you like to juice them, steam them, or eat them raw, veggies are great for you. Remember, no frying and no cooking with oil showing up all over your plate. With veggies, think bright colors plus white. Red, dark green, and bright yellow – all of these are packed with nutrients. White veggies like cauliflower, radish and cabbage are also excellent for you.

Here’s a suggested list of to include into your diet:

Dark Green Leaves – Spinach, Kale, Swiss chard, Methi, Romaine, Bok Choy, and Collards.

Green veggies – broccoli, green pepper, zucchini, cucumber

Red veggies – carrots, beets, red pepper, red cabbage, red potatoes

Yellow veggies – squash, yellow pepper, sweet potatoes

White – cauliflower, cabbage, radish

4. Fruit are cute, but too much is moot.

Fruit are tasty and nutritious, but watch out for the high-sugar ones. Berries are the healthiest kind of fruit. Most fruit contain fructose, a healthier form of sugar than glucose, except for grapes, which contain glucose. Even if it’s fructose, sugar is sugar. Bananas, apples, mangoes, and grapes are the sweetest fruit. Pineapple, kiwis, and strawberries are medium sweet. Pears, blackberries, raspberries are low in sugar. Cranberries are one of the lowest in sugar. Treat fruit as dessert, keep it to 1 to 2 servings a day max.

5. Dairy: No need for Milk Mustache!

For the longest time, milk was thought to be super healthy. Now, many nutritionists are questioning and debunking this long held myth. In general, it is better to keep dairy products a small part of your diet. We’ve been lead to believe in the myth that you absolutely need milk to get Calcium – mostly clever marketing from milk manufacturers (remember the famous milk mustache?). The truth is that there are many other, healthier sources of calcium in your diet – including all green leafy vegetables, also broccoli, and baked beans. Exercise is another excellent way to build and maintain strong bones.

Milk also has the disadvantage of making us feel full with no room for lean foods such as veggies and fruit. The more dairy we consume, the less lean, fibrous foods we eat. Milk can also lead to lactose intolerance in some people – bloating and constipation.

If you are a milk drinker, try substituting cow’s milk with alternative milks – almond, rice, or hemp milk. Many people are becoming intolerant to cow’s milk in the US because of the way it is being processed.  If you MUST drink cow’s milk, then at least stick to organic milk and avoid brands that come from cows treated with hormones.

Organic, plain, non-fat yogurt is the better form of dairy. It contains probiotics needed to protect your intestinal tract against bad bacteria. There are also non-dairy yogurts available now – based on coconut milk, etc. Goat milk yogurt is considered healthy but I’ve never tried it.

6. Healthy Fats

Healthy fats include nuts, seeds, olive oil, and avocado. I also use sunflower and safflower oils, which are more suitable to Indian cooking. Avoid processed fats like margarine and butter.

7. Drinks: Live it up! Party! Get drunk! (on water, I mean)

Soda – One of the worst things of the typical American diet is the consumption of sodas like Coke and Sprite – sodas can contain strong acids, tons of sugar and caffeine, artificial sweeteners like Aspartame, harmful colors and flavors. Coke contains Phosphoric acid – leave a nail in a cup of coke and it dissolves in 4 days. Imagine what it does to your body. Not to mention the 10 spoons of sugar that go into a regular sized Coke can. Avoid all sodas.

Diet coke is much worse. It contains Aspartame (an artificial sweetener present in many brands such as NutraSweet, Equal, and Spoonsful) which is linked to many devastating illnesses. Avoid all artificial sweeteners. Either reduce sugar, give up sugar (if you are pre-diabetic), or try Stevia, a plant based sweetener.

Store bought fruit juices (such as Tropicana) are not healthy – they contain high levels of sugar, some contain high fructose corn syrup, a sweetener that has been linked to many illnesses. They also contain artificial colors, flavors and extracts. If you like fruit juice, please make it at home.

The best beverages to drink are –

Water – the 6 to 8 glasses rule is great if you can, but if you can’t, then drink as much as you can. Drink after every meal to aid digestion and hydrate. Avoid drinking from plastic bottles. Use a stainless steel bottle or cup, or one made from glass.

Coconut water – Make sure you buy a “clean” brand that contains no sugar or additives. The ingredients list should read: coconut water. Nothing else. And it shouldn’t say, “extracted from concentrate” or “sugar added”, etc.

Veg juices made at home with carrots, beets, etc. are awesome. Fruit juices made at home – orange, pineapple, mango, etc. Don’t add sugar please.

Fruit smoothies – Combine almond milk with your favorite fruit to make a healthy, filling drink.

Tea (hot water with tea bag – Burdock, Tulsi, Green Tea, etc.) Green tea helps you detox . Too much tea is not good as many teas also contain caffeine. Chamomile tea helps you calm down, mint tea helps you feel refreshed. Also look out for Teevana (now under Starbucks) – they have some interesting flavors like Samurai Chai. (Note on Indian tea – too much full fat milk, too much sugar, too much boiling – not good!)

Coffee – the jury’s out on this one. Some studies show that limited amounts of coffee (1 cup/day) are linked to a lower risk of diabetes. Others recommend giving up this artificial waker-upper altogether.

8. Snacks – what’s healthy, what’s not?

The short answer: the best snacks are mostly what nature offers – fruit, veggies, nuts. (And plain white, non-fat, organic yogurt.) Keep tons of these raw foods ready on hand. Everything else is unhealthy. Do not store your kitchen shelves with junk food.

The long answer (for those who love detail 🙂

Remember, it is BEST to eat food in its original form or lightly cooked. The more processed the food gets, the lower it’s nutritional value and the more harmful it becomes due to additives. This is why store bought snacks are among the unhealthiest of foods.

Many store bought snacks contain harmful ingredients such as colors, flavors, and flavor enhancers such as MSG. In the olden days, people used safe, natural coloring like turmeric to make the food yellow or beets to make it red. But artificial colors are based on chemicals and have harmful health effects.

Examples of healthy snacks:

Check out a health food store such as Whole Foods for some of these and choose snacks with less sugar (less than 5g per serving):

Fruit and Nut bars (with no harmful additives, like Kind bar or Lara bar)

Trail Mix – nuts and dried fruit mix (don’t pick those with added salt and sugar)

Baked chips (Lentil Chips, Kale chips, Sweet potato chips, Vegetable chips like beets and radish chips again without additives)

Organic dark chocolate (small amounts)

Whole grain crackers with no additives, plain or dipped in hummus

Examples of Unhealthy Snacks:

Protein bars (usually contain high levels of sugar and additives)

All snacks from the Indian store (cookies, crackers) contain additives

All packaged, ready to eat, instant foods

Anything deep fried (potato chips, corn chips)

All cookies, brownies, muffins, and sugary snacks

Many brands of nachos contain high levels of artificial colors and flavors

Anything with “bbq” or cheesy flavors or trans fats or GMOs

The biggest rule with snacks – READ THE LABEL! Read Ingredients carefully. A general rule of ingredients – the fewer the better, the more easily you can pronounce them, the better.  A bottle of ketchup should read: ‘organic tomatoes, salt, water, organic paprika, organic red pepper’. Baked potato chips should read: ‘potatoes, salt, sunflower oil’. That’s it. Say no to brands with long lists of ingredients (many of which are harmful additives).

EATING/COOKING HABITS – The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

Cooking Veggies/Curry – when making curry, use no more than ½ tsp of oil to fry seasoning and spices, then add veggies, cover and lightly cook. Veggies must remain crisp to retain nutrients. Oil should not be sticking to plate when you serve curry. Avoid rich curry sauces that contain cream, etc. Avoid store bought sauces, they contain harmful additives such as flavor enhancers. Avoid bottled ginger garlic paste or anything ‘ready-to-use’. Grate your own ginger and garlic and if you lack time, skip it.

Vegetables like eggplant and capsicum do not taste good, when boiled/steamed. So the tendency is to fry them. To avoid frying, try grilling them. You can add grilled eggplant, zucchini, or squash to your sandwiches. You can add grilled bell peppers to almost anything – pasta, salad, sandwich, mixed grain dish, etc.

Eating Raw – There are many advocates for raw food but my personal preference is for lightly cooked foods. I feel the body spends too much energy breaking down raw foods – energy which should be used for other activities. The only veggies I can eat raw are tomatoes, cucumbers, lettuce and onions. I lightly steam carrots, beets, cawliflower, and all the other harder to break down (for my body) veggies.

Attitude – Sit down, chew well, and eat slowly. Savor your meals. Meals should not be eaten rushed, or while standing up. If you have little kids and meal times are chaotic, then let the kids eat first, then sit down to a peaceful meal with your spouse. As your kids get older, and you have family meals together, make it a social experience and catch-up time for the whole family. You can discuss something interesting you’ve been reading about or news from work (making sure it’s child appropriate). The dinner table can be the place for some great conversations.

Involve your children in the making of food. Children can accompany you to the farmer’s market, select veggies and fruit, and help out during meal prep, help set the table. Help your children develop a healthy relationship with food. Stocks your kitchen with tons of healthy snacks that kids can grab between meals. When kids watch you eat healthy, they are more likely to follow suit. Food battles are inevitable, especially during the teen years. Do the best you can – stick to cooking healthy at home, provide them with the right information, and when they eat out, let them make their own choices.

One of the best things you can do if you have some time is to grow a vegetable garden and get your kids involved with the planting and growing of veggies – this doesn’t have to be ambitious – even growing tomatoes is fine. This teaches children to have a healthy relationship to food and to be thankful to our planet and take good care of it. It is a therapeutic, stress busting activity and is quality time for you and your child. You can also teach them about generosity by distributing some of your home-grown veggies to neighbors and friends.

Buy seasonal, local, non-sprayed or organic produce. Don’t eat imported out-of season fruit, for instance. Support the local economy and the environment.

Eating Schedule – It is good to have a routine – that is you eat at consistent times everyday. The end goal of good eating is to be kind to your body – so your body can give you energy and focus.

Avoid negative eating habits – eating to fix boredom, to fix stress, starving to lose weight, over-eating something that is tasty, being excessively focused on taste rather than nutrition, using large helpings, craving excessive variety, random/unplanned eating or fixating on certain foods.

But, what about those darn cravings??

We all have them – chocolate, cheese, samosas, ice cream, pizza – we crave foods that are unhealthy. So should we kill our cravings instantly? The answer is NO! What happens when you suddenly eliminate these foods is – your craving intensifies. You do not feel good about eating good foods.

Instead, reduce bad foods gradually, with the goal of minimizing them. There are 2 ways you can do this – either by reducing the quantity of bad food OR by improving the quality of the bad food.

Say, you like eating pizza every month.

To cut down on the QUANTITY/FREQUENCY – You can try to cut down to a pizza every 2 months, then make it every 3 months.

You could also reduce your serving size (say from 3 to 2 slices to 1 slice), and supplement your meal with a salad.

Or to improve the QUALITY of the pizza – you can try going for thin crust pizza, with less cheese on it.

Thus you have not entirely eliminated the pizza or whatever it is you crave in one shot, but your consumption of it has been modified to be less unhealthy.

If you feel you are drinking too much coffee or tea, first try eliminating sugar in your coffee/tea without entirely giving up your ‘energy booster’ drink. Now, you don’t have to worry as much about your habit because it’s not as unhealthy. Next try eliminating milky tea and go for hot water and tea bag.

If you love ice cream, save it for special occasions or eat it with a fruit salad.

If you decide to eliminate a food, do it gradually by reducing your consumption over a period of time. In the end, you must be able to give up the food in peace, without feeling bitter about it or aching for it so much that you just gorge on it after a long gap.

POTS AND PANS – is it time to go shopping?

Avoid non-stick pots and pans.

Minimize the use of microwave ovens. Microwave ovens use radiation, which alters the chemical composition of your food.

Use glass containers and avoid plastic, for storing food. Glass is inert so nothing leaks into your food. Plastic is bad enough when cold but downright toxic when heated. Even BPA free plastic contains harmful chemicals. Glass and high quality stainless steel containers are healthier. Avoid zip-lock bags as much as possible.

Baking with glass (Pyrex) is way better than using metal pans to avoid leakage of metals into your food.

Pressure cooker versus slow cooking – slow cooking is healthier, soak grains (rice, quinoa, etc.) for an hour and cook on medium to low heat on stove top. Cook all veggies on stove top on low to medium heat.

Cooking pots – this is where most experts disagree – obviously non-stick cooking pots are unhealthy due to Teflon. Some people recommend glass cookware, and even though glass is inert and strong enough to be heat resistant, I still don’t feel comfortable using glass cookware. I currently use stainless steel cooking pots. My favorite brand is Cusine Art – the pots are heavy stainless steel. All stainless steel pots do have a bit of nickel and other metals in them – but they won’t seep into your food unless they’re scratched. So don’t scrape the bottom of stainless steel pots and pans. Use enough water to keep the curry or rice moist, to avoid scraping.

NEXT STEPS

Eating better is a process and it takes time to get there. An at-a-glance way to assess where you are in this process:

Level 1 – you eat lots of sugary and oily snacks, don’t pay attention to labels, and eat out a lot

  • You need to reduce sugar and unhealthy fats.
  • Trash the junk food from your kitchen shelves and stock your fridge with cut up veggies and fruit to meet your in-between-meals hunger pangs.  Also keep small quantities of raw nuts on hand when the munching urge strikes.
  • Cook some simple, wholesome meals at home.

Level 2 – you cook simple, wholesome meals at home pretty regularly, avoid sweets and oily snacks, stick to some basic health rules like avoiding MSG and packaged foods. You eat some vegetables and fruit but you could do better. You also rely more on grains and less on fiber on hectic days. You may also be eating some refined grains.  You may sit down and have a peaceful meal for dinner, but breakfast and lunch, you eat on the run because you are pulled in many different directions – the needs of work, home, kids, self. (Level 2 is sort of where I fall.)

  • Include more fibre in your diet by adding more fresh veggies and fruit.
  • Move closer toward whole grains.  Aim for grain rotation (quinoa, millet, Amaranth, brown rice, whole wheat – try to eat a different grain everyday and keep rotating).
  • Re-org your day (wake up earlier if needed) so you can set aside time to sit down and eat mindfully. Create a pocket of time to chop veggies and fruit to be used for next day.

Level 3 – you eat whole grains, lots of fresh veggies and fruit that are seasonal and local, you get optimal amounts of protein and healthy fats, you avoid colors and flavors, GMOs, avoid packaged foods, and eat at home as much as possible by cooking simple meals with fresh, organic ingredients.

  • Find ways to maintain this.
  • Keep reminding yourself of the benefits – you have optimal levels of energy, you are calm and focused, and better able to handle stressful situations.
  • Get everyone in your family to join you, if possible.

References

Healthy Eating Info websites

http://www.wholefoodsmarket.com/healthy-eating

http://www.ayurveda-holistic-medicine.com/ayurvedic-diet.html

https://unblindmymind.org

Whole Grains –

http://wholegrainscouncil.org/whole-grains-101/whole-grains-a-to-z

Vegetarian Protein –

http://sacredsourcenutrition.com/plant-vs-animal-proteins/

http://kindrednutrition.blogspot.com/2011/06/plant-vs-animal-protein.html

Leafy Greens –

http://www.webmd.com/diet/healthy-kitchen-11/leafy-greens-rated

Fruit Sugar

http://www.thehealthyeatingguide.com/sugar-content-of-fruit/

http://www.sugarstacks.com/fruits.htm

http://healthyeating.sfgate.com/fruits-vegtables-good-low-sugar-intake-2148.html

http://lowcarbdiets.about.com/od/whattoeat/a/whatfruit.htm

Milk overrated – http://www.mercola.com/article/milk/no-milk.htm

The ugly effects of coke – http://uk.answers.yahoo.com/question/index?qid=20060823150145AAUrVMa

The danger of artificial sweeteners

http://articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2011/11/06/aspartame-most-dangerous-substance-added-to-food.aspx

Is Coffee Good For You? – http://www.webmd.com/food-recipes/features/coffee-new-health-food

http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/coffee-and-health/AN01354

Artificial colors in snacks – http://www.naturalnews.com/032512_artificial_colors_food.html

Going Organic http://www.care2.com/greenliving/15-reasons-to-eat-organic-food.html?page=3

Harmful ingredients to avoid –

http://www.naturalnews.com/033162_food_ingredients_chemicals.html

Dark Chocolate –

http://www.fitday.com/fitness-articles/nutrition/healthy-eating/6-health-benefits-of-dark-chocolate.html#b

Quality of Food goes down with processing

http://www.prevention.com/food/healthy-eating-tips/23-ways-eat-clean/11-soup

The Changing Role of Dads

Guest Post by wordssetmefreee

When I was a homemaker (when my kids were little), I was in this playgroup of 5 kids and their parents. 4 of them were moms and there was one dad. It was my first time meeting a full time stay-at-home dad. He was completely capable and handled tantrums, diaper leaks, eating disasters, and slushy mud puddles with ease and a great sense of humor. This was about 10 years ago.

Now I meet stay-at-home dads everywhere – in my neighborhood, at work, at my kids’ school, in my support group. Some of them work from home. Some of them run businesses from home.  Others take care of their little kids and the house full time.

In the last post, Chaiwallah brought up the point about a man being discriminated for being a homemaker. I do not see this discrimination as something separate (men’s suffering versus women’s suffering in patriarchy) but as connected. The more we encourage gentleness and caring in boys, the more nurturing and helpful they will be at home when they become parents. Dads doing their fair share at home supports moms’ empowerment. If men are free of stereotypes, then women are free to make more choices. If men can choose to stay at home more, then women can choose to be more career focused (in families that prefer to have this division of labor). If both parents choose to work outside the home, then both can share the housework and childcare fairly without attaching gender labels to these duties.

Here’s a sampling of some recent ads about dads. Of course, for every one of these ads, there are a 1000 others that show women in traditional roles.  In reality, (if we look at stats worldwide) men have a long way to go in terms of doing their fair share at home. But, look around you. Things are changing, little by little. The fact that businesses want to spend millions of dollars positioning their products around this cultural shift means that the shift is happening. It means we are beginning to lean toward the following notions:

  • gentleness, warmth, and caring don’t make a man any less of a human being
  • the ability to demonstrate emotions makes a human being stronger, not weaker
  • dads are not clueless at home, they can be relied on to do their part at home and keep the family running smoothly, and they can multi-task as well as moms
  • housework, cooking, and cleaning are not “inferior” jobs assigned to “less capable” people (read women), they are simply – jobs that need to get done -and every person (man or woman) has to learn to do them.

Swiffer Ad – dads cleaning the house, watching kids jumping in puddles. Dad complains, “no such thing as deep couch sitting” 🙂

Dove Ad –Dads kissing, hugging, playing with their children. Dads helping kids out of stuck shirts, cleaning them after toilet use, ready to help when they’re stuck on a road, when they’re afraid of water, when they have a bad dream, when they’re distressed.

Tide – Child napping with dad.

Cheerios – A funny ad about a capable, confident dad – it’s called “How to dad” 🙂

Extra gum Origami – Dad is there with daughter through all the stages of growing.

Johnson’s – Dads comfortable conveying their love through touch, caring for their babies, being delighted in them.

And here’s a dad who’s better at cleaning than mom – because cleaning is just like any other skill – it isn’t gender specific – some people are great at it, others not so great 🙂 Some people enjoy it, others don’t.

 

Watching these ads, I am reminded of my childhood. My father would practice volleyball with me to help me win the matches at school. The ball would keep going over the fence and he would quickly scale the fence and get it back in a jiffy. Bonus points for teaching me as well how to scale the fence 🙂 He was also a great cook and could make the best eggplant bhajjis. He would slice them so thinly and dip them in such light batter that they would just melt in the mouth.

Please share if you had fun experiences with your dads at home doing things that break stereotypes. Also, if you have seen other nice dad ads, please share.

Do you agree that things are changing in this regard? Or do you feel they are predominantly the same?  What has been your experience with your father/husband/siblings/friends/coworkers?  If you’re a guy, please add how you feel about all this.  Do you want to change things?  Do you want to be a different kind of dad from your own (assuming your own played a traditional father’s role)?

Related Posts:

I Want To Be A Dad. – Radhika Vaz

“My problem is my wife doesn’t like me hanging out with friends.”

Aishwarya Rai Bachchan’s body and Willow Smith’s hair.

An email from an Indian father: I want to place on record my own story as a warning to anyone…

Workplace Equality requires Equality at Home

The Men in Our Lives

Why are these dads such a threat to patriarchal social structures?

Dad wears short shorts to teach daughter what she wears is everybody’s business and everybody’s approval proves her great worth.

“My dad tells me not to wear skimpy outfit when he is around”

“I know my dad is short tempered but he was never this aggressive until my relatives started making him over think about my marriage.”

Dad knifes girl for speaking to lover

Why do men NOT have to choose between being a CEO and a father, but women have to make this choice.

“Freedom can wait, I’m staying put for Dad”

Abhishek Bachchan as a Working Dad in the new Idea ad.

“My husband says he can’t go against his family. My father says study but not without your FIL’s permission.”

“Ask your father if he has never beaten your mother!” Please adjust.

Response to “Koi Baap Apni Beti Ko Kab Jaane Se Rok Paya Hai”

Haryana killing : Here is a father A P Singh might want to defend.

“This dad is openly threatening his daughter and is instigating others to burn alive their daughters.”

The father threw the baby on the ground and tried to strangle her with his legs: No case registered.

Father wants the world to know her real name.

Feminism Is Good For Society

Where do they go away?

 

 

Disability and how it affects the family

Guest Post by wordssetmefreee

Disability comes with many names – autism, Asperger’s, muscular dystrophy, bipolar, Downs – basically any condition that interferes with day-to-day functioning. People with a disability are usually reduced to a bunch of letters and labels – ADD, ADHD, MS, DS, CP, and so on. Disability can be physical, developmental, or both and can vary in degree (mild, moderate, severe). But disability evokes ONE single emotion in the minds of every family hit by it. Fear.

Fear is what you first feel when your child has been diagnosed with something. Fear of what lies ahead. You feel the ground under your feet slipping away.

The general stages that many families go through are Fear, Shock, Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Grief, and Positive Acceptance. They may not happen neatly(one at a time) and in any particular order. Just when you think you’ve gotten past the stages and progressed to Positive Acceptance, a challenging phase can trigger one of the earlier stages.

Each family must traverse it’s own individual journey. No two disabilities are alike, no two people affected are like. And no two families are alike. My younger son, 12, has autism. (I also have an older, typically developing son, who’s 16.) I do not have knowledge of disabilities other than autism and I will use that heavily in this post, in terms of examples. I will also write this from a parent- young child perspective (please translate the situation appropriately to other disabilities and other relationships such as caring for a sibling or a parent).

What I hope to share here are some thoughts, experiences, and strategies that may be helpful to all families with disabilities, regardless of the individual diagnoses or differences in the challenges they are facing.

Practical Considerations

1. Get a Comprehensive Evaluation

A thorough evaluation by a professional is not only important to understand your child’s diagnosis, it also becomes the basis for appropriate services.  Do some research and find a professional (such a psychologist, physician, developmental pediatrician, or other expert) that you feel comfortable with in terms of both knowledge and manner.

In the early days, my son’s evaluation gave me the first piece of clarity in all of the chaos – it not only captured his diagnosis accurately, it also summarized his strengths and developmental challenges, and recommended a list of therapies, tools, and services that would help address his challenges. Having something concrete in my hands was a lifesaver. I had a purpose. A sense of direction.  I needed to help him. Therefore I needed to be okay.

2. Research interventions related to the condition.

Beside’s the doctor’s or psychologist’s recommendations, do your own research on what is out there helping those in the same situation. Look for therapies, tools and technology that will help your child learn, communicate, and grow. Get trained in these interventions.

For my son, a host of therapies have been effective – Communicating Partners, Floortime, Applied behavioral Analysis, Occupational Therapy, Speech Therapy, and Relationship Development Intervention. There are literally 1000s of apps on the iPad to choose from – I use the ones suitable to his needs. I also attend workshops, read books, and get trained on how to use specific techniques to help him learn and grow.  It also helped to teach my older son some play-based strategies so he could find ways to connect with his brother.

3. Start a Journal

Make observations about your child.  Keep track of missed developmental milestones. Also make note of your child’s unique traits, preferences, dislikes, and fears.  What motivates him?  What gets him too excited?  What calms him down?  How does he communicate?  How does his responsiveness vary, based on the environment?  How does he relate to various members in the family?

One of my journal entries from many years ago reads “he likes spinning balls”. Over the years, he was taught many things using various balls (some shiny, some springy, some squishy) as rewards. Now he has graduated to playing basketball with his brother and at school. The next step is to teach him to play basketball in the community (like a neighborhood league).  It all started with a spinning ball.

4. Do some research on funding.

In the US, insurance companies cover some therapies and services, while the government covers others. While at least half the services we use are covered, the other half have been out of pocket – because what is covered can often be inadequate/minimal or have many conditions attached or may not be appropriate for the child in question. Therefore, you might also want to set aside a separate fund for educational tools, supports, and medical appointments. There may be specific government grants and scholarships, educational savings accounts and living trusts, specific to each country. Yes, a disability can be a huge financial drain and requires smart financial planning both for the short and the long term.

5. Read up on Disability Law

There is generally a body of law governing the education of people with special needs. For instance, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act is a federal law in the US that ensures that every disabled person has a right to an appropriate education, which must be provided by the schools. However, what’s ’appropriate’ can be wishy-washy. Therefore knowledge of the law is crucial.

One day, I was in a meeting with 8 other professionals whose jobs depended on denying as much funding as possible (a psychologist, a behaviorist, a lawyer who was mediating on behalf of the funding agency, my case manager, etc.). I felt so alone. They were all disagreeing with me, denying my son services that were helping him make progress. But I had done my homework and come prepared. I quoted cases, laws, precedents that were relevant. I also had detailed reports and records, videos and proof of his progress. The data spoke the truth. I got the services he needed.

Of course, I would never let them know that there was moment in the meeting when I came close to crying. We seldom realize how strong we are – until we are forced to be.  That was the day I realized – when you understand your rights, knowledge is truly power. You can advocate for a range of services that will help you child achieve his full potential and live as independently and productively as possible.

6. Make a plan for sharing responsibilities. 

Make a list of your new responsibilities and things that need to be done. Discuss with your spouse or other family member how you will share responsibilities and juggle your respective tasks.  Your workload practically triples when your child is diagnosed with special needs.  All of a sudden, you will find yourself becoming a teacher, advocate, therapist, behaviorist, and counselor (besides being a parent).  You will be making multiple appointments, doing a lot of paperwork, and driving a lot more – to therapies, playgroups, support groups, workshops, etc.

Planning, being organized, and sharing responsibilities is the only way to fit in everything and ensure all the important areas are being addressed.

Emotional Well-being

1. Allow yourself to Grieve

I researched interventions, recorded behaviors in journals, built spreadsheets for tracking goals and flowcharts to design his programs. What I couldn’t do easily was grieve.

I felt grieving was an act of betrayal toward my son. If I sit down and cry (even in private), will he sense it on some level? Will it sadden him? Which child would want to feel responsible for making his parents sad?

My husband, like many men, was also uncomfortable with talking about our son’s autism outside of problem solving.

It was finally on our first visit back home, (2 years after diagnosis) in India, in my childhood room that it happened. We were talking about his autism and my husband broke down. I was caught by surprise. I had never seen him cry. I too cried about it, for the very first time.

I realized I wasn’t sad. I wasn’t disloyal. I wasn’t weak. I just needed to cry. It was intensely cathartic.

The crying did not change our love or commitment to him one bit. It opened the floodgates for us. We’ve had many discussions since then about things we were uncomfortable broaching. About our fears. About his future. Giving words to the unknown makes it known. And the known is easier to deal with.

2. Start Building Supports and Networks

Recognize that you are in crisis mode, at least in the first 2 years, until you’ve figured out supports and services. Look to your family and friends for supportive people who are willing to help and can take on tasks for which you simply do not have the time or energy.  Sometimes having a cup of coffee with a friend can go a long way in relieving some of the stress. Form a support group with other like-minded parents in the same situation.

3. Don’t forget your child is a child first. His condition is secondary.

Your child still needs to be loved and cared for. He needs to play and have fun. For that, he needs a relaxed parent.

It was hard for me to be relaxed in the beginning because I had so much on my plate. But playing with my son and letting him be a child magically reduced my stress levels. If he does something annoying, I try to remember he could be doing it because he’s a child and not necessarily because of his condition. I try to refrain from looking at every action of his through the autism lens.

4. Build independence and pride for your child.

I also have been working on making him as independent as possible. We don’t have a handicapped-parking permit because I taught my son to walk safely in the parking lot, so others who truly need it may avail of it. We don’t use special passes at amusement parks because we have managed to teach our son to wait in line (again so these can be used by people who genuinely need them). I want him to know he will be given help and support but he does not need crutches. My son needs to help out with chores like everyone else in the family. I will not do anything for him that he is capable of doing himself. He has developed a sense of pride in himself. He will struggle with something for the longest time and do it himself rather than take help, in many instances.

5. Figure out ways to support the needs of other members in the family.

Siblings get the hardest hit. Make sure you dedicate one on one time with your other child/children. Be involved with them, partake in their activities, and be supportive and understanding of their own struggles. If they have negative feelings toward their sibling with special needs, you need to listen, validate, and teach them practical ways to deal with everyday problems arising out of their sibling’s condition.

Siblings of children with special needs can go in two very different directions. They can take on a lot of stress and break down under it and really “act out”. Or they can learn to deal with the challenges positively – in the latter case, they tend to become mature beyond their years.

Reading, running, and chess are three activities I share with my older son. When we discuss books or play chess, we are being friends and equals. When we run, he beats me every single time! The rest of the time, I have to be a parent to him, an adult, of course. But when we do something we both enjoy, we are building an easy bond that sort of helps us tide over tensions during other times.

6. Humor can be survival.

Humor is the best medicine, yes. In the absence of a cure, it’s the only one. Don’t forget to kid around. In my family, we all poke good-natured fun at each other. It’s our most cherished tradition.

7. Don’t get exhausted. Take breaks.

I religiously go for my Sunday morning hike with my friends. I also go to my monthly book club. My husband and I go out for Friday lunch dates, every other week. My husband likes to go to Fry’s Electronics to browse or watch the local baseball matches with his buddies. We stick to these activities no matter what. Taking care of ourselves is just as important as taking care of our children. Also the latter is ineffective without the former. (Remember the flight attendant’s safety mask announcement.)

8. Be an Effective Parent

Remember that no professional can know and understand a child to the degree of intimacy that a parent can.  It is only possible for a parent to deeply know his/her child due to the constant proximity and the very nature of the parent-child relationship.  However, many parents may be so distressed by the diagnosis that they may lose sight of this important fact – a knowledgeable parent can be an indispensable and powerful member of the child’s intervention team.  You truly have the power to help your child be the best that he can be.  You will not be able to do it alone – you will need help from professionals, family, and friends – but it all begins with you.  When you are able to set aside the ‘Why Me?’ question, when you are able to overcome your grief, you will start seeing how beautiful and unique your child is – you will then be a powerful force in aiding his development and shaping his success.

DEALING WITH STIGMA

I’m lucky to live in the US. My neighbors know my son and his issues but they don’t let it bother them. They find ways to connect with him (by casually asking, “Hey Ryan, wanna help me out here with this lawn mower?”) and if he’s not there, always check in on me and ask me how I’m doing and if they could help with anything. Same thing happens at our neighborhood cafes and restaurants. They know what his usual order is.  They don’t freak out if my son does something weird. I have been reduced to tears (in the beginning) at the absolute kindness and helpfulness of random strangers. The public spaces in this country are tremendously accepting of people with disabilities.

When I visit my family in India, I do sense a lot of stigma and silence on the issue, although I also sense it is slowly getting better. Still, some mean people ask rude questions or call him rude things. Once I was on a local flight with both my sons and the family behind us kept making rude comments about my younger son.

I put up with it until I heard, “If he’s mad, he should be in an institution, not on a plane.”

I finally stood up, turned around and told them “My son has autism. I have the right to inhabit this space as much as you do. He is not being disruptive. He is intelligent with a high IQ, sensitive, and a really nice human being, but I don’t expect you to understand that, not in a million years. He has the right to travel without discrimination. Please refrain from making rude remarks. If you continue to do so, I will not hesitate to complain to the authorities.”

I highly doubted that “the authorities” cared, but singling the offensive people out put the focus back on their behavior. It was sufficient in getting them to leave us alone for the rest of the flight (during which they maintained a deathly silence). While my boys and I calmly carried on with playing magnetic Scrabble.

The key is confidence. Do NOT be apologetic. It is NEVER the child’s fault. EXPECT adults to behave courteously and if they don’t, then DEMAND courtesy. I’m a veteran now at handling ignorant remarks about my son.  In the early years, my eyes would sting with unshed tears, my throat would catch, but I would gulp it down and pretend I was fine.  But ignoring comments is losing an opportunity to take a stand.  Remember Rosa Parks. Refuse to give up your seat on the bus.

And that’s how you deal with mean people, but what about good people?

Good people in India tend to avoid the subject altogether. Although this is well intentioned (they don’t want to hurt you), I feel this is not acknowledging the elephant in the room. Their being careful comes off as indifference. I start talking about my son’s autism. Once I share willingly and enthusiastically, they begin to relax and ask me more and try to understand more. It’s okay to ask. It’s better than being indifferent. The more we talk about this, the more we break the silence and the stigma around it.

The good news – autism schools and services are burgeoning in every Indian city and from what I hear, the quality is top notch, and the professionals are empathetic and dedicated.

IF SOMEONE YOU KNOW IS FACED WITH DISABILITY

If a friend or a cousin or a co-worker you are close to is battling a disability, you may wonder how you can be of help. Here are some ways to be helpful:

1. Ask how you can be of help.

When I was a student in Canada, one of my fellow students lived in the same building. He was in a wheelchair but incredibly independent. He drove a specialized car and worked a part time job to pay his way through school. We would sometimes run into each other in the parking lot when we returned home at the same time. We would be talking while walking, he wheeling next to me walking. When we reached the building’s entry door, I would always wonder if I should run ahead and get the door for him or not. What if he reaches a step ahead of me? Would it be rude if I insisted on getting the door? Does he see that as ‘forced dependence’? So, one day, I just asked him what he preferred. He told me he’d appreciate it if I got the door for him. Problem solved! I happily got the door for him every time after that. I also told him since I lived in the same building to please ask me if he needs help with anything else. He did ask for help with unloading groceries, so every Sunday, I would get them from his car to the elevator. Then elevator to his door. Such a small thing for me. But every little thing counts, when you are faced with something big.

2. Understand and read up on the challenges.

When I saw my cousin suffering emotional abuse, it bothered me quite a bit. Here was a guy who had followed me around like a little brother when we were both kids. Here was an aunt who had been kind to me in my early years in the US. What has happened to this family, I wondered. They are all good people, yet they are suffering. I found myself reading everything I could find on the subject, so I could start pointing him in the right direction.

One of my close friends (who has typical kids) began reading up on autism after she met my son for the first time. I was surprised and touched. She said she wanted to understand him better. Learning about something that doesn’t affect us, is, I think, an act of love.

3. Let them know you are there.

Don’t offer sympathy. Most families affected by disability are like any other family. They have their own challenges. They will find ways to deal with them. Challenges make people stronger, more capable, and more empathetic. Rest assured they will find ways to be happy and enjoy life. But letting them know you are there – to listen or to help – is meaningful and genuinely supportive.

4. Know that different doesn’t mean inferior.

Know that someone who may act strangely on the outside may be very intelligent on the inside. The intelligence is trapped in a body that is difficult to control. There may be great ideas inside the brain, but to be expressed, neurons must carry them from point A to point B, then to C, then to D. If the neurons misfire, the idea is trapped inside. It can only be brought out by providing supports (visual, auditory, tactile, kinesthetic, etc.) And this is now being done through the use of various technologies (devices, apps and various software programs).

If I tested you in Mandarin today, you’d fail miserably. That doesn’t mean you aren’t smart. It just means I need to find the right language to test you in –one you are fluent in. With autistic people this “right language” is technology. Give them a multi-media way of learning and expressing and you will see that many of them are incredibly gifted. The giftedness is a result of overdevelopment in certain parts of the brain that seems to be a way of coping with deficits (neural connectivity) in other areas. Those autistic individuals who’ve had everything fall in place for them (a complex combination of supports, people, technologies and figuring out the blocks) show giftedness in math, programming, music, and poetry.  Notice how all four areas require excellent pattern recognition – little surprise since many autistic minds are obsessed with patterns.

Those whose ‘puzzles’ haven’t been solved, whose systems haven’t been ‘configured’, who are constantly battling sensory overload – although just as intelligent as those described above – continue to be trapped in their prisons – unable to demonstrate how much they know and understand.  It’s a little like suffering stroke.  You see a pen.  You know it’s s pen.  You just can’t get your mouth to say the damn word.  You are immediately labelled “not smart”.

You’d think most people instinctively understand that jokes about disabled people are in poor taste. You’d be surprised. President Obama himself made a derogatory joke about the Special Olympics. In case, you’re still using words like “retard” please wake up and step into the 21st century and refrain from using words that demonstrate ignorance.

Please, no matter what you do or don’t, DO NOT feel sorry for disabled people.  They don’t need your pity, they need your respect, and if possible, your help.

You can help disabled people in the following ways:

  • allow them to live with dignity and autonomy
  • ask them how you can be of help
  • give them ways to become independent and productive
  • give them ways to talk about their condition without secrecy or shame
  • accept them as human beings with human weaknesses, strengths and dreams

Related Articles:

Building Trust Non-verbally – https://wordssetmefreee.wordpress.com/2014/05/28/building-trust-non-verbally/

The Stories We Choose To Tell –

https://wordssetmefreee.wordpress.com/2014/07/07/the-stories-we-choose-to-tell/

Holding it in Letting Go –

https://wordssetmefreee.wordpress.com/2013/05/02/holding-it-in-letting-go/

Starting on Green – https://wordssetmefreee.wordpress.com/2014/11/07/starting-on-green/

The Road Taken – https://wordssetmefreee.wordpress.com/2013/09/05/the-road-taken/

A Day in the Life of a Family with Autism –

https://wordssetmefreee.wordpress.com/2014/10/16/a-day-in-the-life-of-a-family-with-autism/

Life with These Boys – https://wordssetmefreee.wordpress.com/2013/04/02/life-with-these-boys/

The Art of Asking for Help – https://wordssetmefreee.wordpress.com/2014/01/10/the-art-of-asking-for-help/

Light It Up Blue –

https://wordssetmefreee.wordpress.com/2015/04/06/light-it-blue/

Autism and Bullying

http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/americas/autistic-teenager-beaten-up-by-bullies-makes-them-watch-20minute-video-about-autism-10368201.html

 

Friendships between men and women

Guest Post by wordssetmefreee

I ran into an old college friend here recently. We went out for coffee and caught up with who’s doing what. He’s married now with kids. We talked about our respective families and updated each other on our other friends from the same graduating class. We talked about our interests and I realized he also read “ All the Light We Cannot See” recently and liked it. He also told me he liked adventure sports now, whereas when he was younger, he was “quite the wimp” in his own words.

As I was driving home, a strange thought occurred to me. I had found out more about this guy’s likes and dislikes over coffee today than I did in the entire 2 years I had been in the same class with him and had known him. That’s because I (and many other girls I knew back then) did not have any close guy friends. We knew some guys in our college and we talked to them but we weren’t really ‘friends’ in any true sense of the word.

When I was a kid, (since my sister was much older), I mostly played with three boys – my brother and my 2 cousins who lived down the street. I was not taught to “play like a girl” nor was I bought “girl toys” (did they even exist then?); so playing with the other gender did not pose problems. We played ‘land and water’, ‘hide and go seek’ when we felt like running around. When it was too hot to play outside, we played Scrabble, Chess, and Chutes and Ladders.

It was only when I got older (entered high school) that I began to have less interaction with boys. My brother continued to be my friend, of course, and so did one of my cousins. But he and my cousins now had their own friends and they were a group of boys. I had my own friends, a group of girls. Some of my girl friends had friends who were boys, while others were strictly forbidden from male-female friendships.

My parents didn’t have strong opinions on the matter. They didn’t mind if a boy from my school called about something or dropped by. My aunts and uncles (who lived in the same house) highly disapproved but my parents mostly ignored them. However, I did not form any deep or remarkable friendships (or even casual ones) with boys my age. I found that many of them (if not all) behaved or thought in ways that made me uncomfortable –

  • they stared at girls in an obvious way
  • they made fun of girls’ skills and abilities
  • they made remarks on the appearance and physical attributes of girls
  • they assumed that they are smarter than most girls
  • they wanted to keep their interaction with girls secret from their parents
  • they considered aloof girls “good” and friendly girls “bad”

A few boys did not fit the above description. They did not make girls feel uncomfortable. But the environment of girl-boy friendship was so uncomfortable. There were my aunts and uncles who would be walking around in the background when a boy came over to my house – as if he’s some kind of a convict. Where exactly were we supposed to interact then? Every other public place is equally disapproving and hostile to high school age boy-girl interaction.

And that was high school. The college years exaggerated these differences. Women as a group were made to even feel more self-conscious.

Our female instructors would caution us, “‘Oh watch out your chunni is slipping!!” as they passed us by in corridors.

Another instruction in the labs was: “Be careful how you sit when you wear skirts, your panties are showing!’

We were made self-conscious about what we wore, how we sat, how we walked, and whom we talked to. It was all so exhausting. It was easier to hang out with women. Friendship with men, although not forbidden to me by my family, simply did not seem worth it to me.

I’m not saying this is the case for everyone in India – I’ve known a few of my friends who did have men as good friends – but this has been my experience, and I believe what I’m describing here is the experience of the majority in small town India.

It was only after I came to the US to go to grad school that I finally breathed around men. The men in my classes and labs did not stare in awkward places. They looked at my face and listened to what I had to say. They either agreed or disagreed. They did not try hard to impress me nor did they look down on me. It was so casual, easy, relaxed. I stopped paying attention to how I sat or how I walked. I saw men and women wearing shorts and no one spent the entire class time staring at each other’s their legs. I began to wear what I wanted. For the first time in my life, I began to make friends that were both women and men.

There was this guy in our group who loved his beer, Shakespeare, and bungee jumping. Another guy was super smart and super lazy. He would often be caught napping on his keyboard by our professor. There was an Iranian guy who joked, “I ran from Iran.” He could make wonderful gourmet pizza and he often brought us leftovers of his amazing cooking. We would go to the university theater, which aired old B&W films including some Hitchcock classics. Then we would discuss them the next day in the lab instead of getting work done. One of our favorite hangouts was a coffee shop downtown called Second Cup. We would sit there discussing politics, books, and movies, while having a second or third cup of coffee 🙂 For the first time in my life, I began to see men as people.

Some friendships were just friendships. Others became more involved. If a guy liked a girl in a romantic way or vice versa, they would simply take the friendship to the next level. If not, they would just remain friends. There was no automatic assumption that every girl who talks to or is friendly with a guy must have something more on her mind or owes him something.

I think it’s very important to have these friendships between boys and girls, men and women. By forbidding these friendships or creating an environment that makes platonic friendships sinister, an artificial separation is created in childhood and this gap only grows wider with age and takes on unpleasant forms:

  • Girls are objectified from a very young age because boys are only allowed to ogle at girls, not get to know them as people.
  • Girls and women begin appearing “mysterious”. They develop their own way of communicating. Their language is often not understood and thought to have hidden meanings. When a girl’s behavior can’t be explained, it can be interpreted as “whimsical” or “illogical”.
  • Men give up on trying to understand women.
  • Women start thinking “men just don’t get it”.
  • Men stop seeing women as human beings. Human beings can be good or bad, kind or mean, generous or selfish. Men tend to stereotype women as good/kind/generous, which can also in their minds mean weak/unassertive/accepting of unfairness.
  • Women begin to stereotype men as selfish, which they come to associate with assertiveness and aggression, which are seen as “masculine”.

Thus, not allowing/encouraging, or enabling these friendships has a cost to individual members of the society, as well as society as a whole:

  • It becomes harder for men and women to work together and effectively in teams. Workplaces are full of gender stereotyping situations for women. This places severe limitations on productivity, by not tapping into the talents and potential of half the work force.
  • For those who wish to get married, how exactly are they supposed to find a life partner and not settle for a stranger? In India, this separation makes it almost impossible to meet people of the other gender, get to know them, date, or find a life partner on one’s own. Many people are left with little choice but to follow the arranged marriage route; they are thus deprived of the opportunity to make a sound decision regarding their primary relationship.
  • Most of all, this gender gap of understanding results in a lot of unfairness in the treatment of women.
  • Women get objectified in the extreme by men raised in conservative settings – they’ve never been given an opportunity to get to know any real women – therefore they don’t see women as people first, they see them as caricatures – the sexy secretary, the motherly teacher, the shrewish boss, the sisterly neighbor, etc.
  • The male gaze (both literally and figuratively speaking) makes many environments (colleges, workplaces, streets, public transportation) uncomfortable, intimidating, negative, or even hostile for women.

But even for people belonging to families that are open minded, there are obstacles to male-female friendships. It is not as simple as not having anything against it.

  • Indian schools actively discourage and even punish interaction between boys and girls. By the time they reach college, they have more freedom – although they’re not punished for platonic friendships, these friendships have less chance of occurring or being successful. Men and women in the college environment already bring with them the baggage of their conditioning. If men can view women in their college only through stereotypes (the outgoing “loose character”, the traditional “nice girl”), women feel uncomfortable and tend to avoid these interactions with men.
  • Boys and girls are conditioned and socialized differently. In some societies like India, boys are raised with a sense of entitlement and privilege. They are often not required to help out with chores. Girls are expected to adjust and accept unfair and unequal relationships. This inequality mars adult male-female friendships as well.
  • In almost all societies, boys are raised to be assertive and girls are encouraged to be docile. The resulting differences in thought patterns and communication styles also pose a problem for male-female interactions. Boys’ jokes may sound ‘rude’ to girls and girls’ interactions may appear ‘mysterious’ to boys.

How can we change this? Some thoughts and ideas that might help break this mindset:

  • The first step is to raise your son or daughter free of stereotypes. If you have a son, assign him household chores. Encourage him to express himself and offer him emotional support when he needs it. If you have a daughter, buy her toys that allow her to explore, design, build, create, imagine, analyze, and solve (rather than dress up, feed, and care for). Examples of great toys for both boys and girls are any type of building blocks (Legos, Bionicles, etc.), pretend spy gear, fossil kits, ant hill kits and other science experiment kits, puzzles, board games, and art supplies. Giving them a journal to write in or a camera to take pictures keeps their minds busy in healthy ways – also writing and recording through pictures can be very empowering to children.  Fun/healthy activities for both boys and girls include reading, hiking, biking, swimming, engaging in sports of any kind, singing or dancing to music together, and visiting aquariums, museums, and historical monuments.
  • If you have a son, emphasize the importance of relationships and working in teams. Teach him to listen more and be responsive. If you have a daughter, encourage her to be assertive and instill the value of physical fitness.  Teach her to be vocal about her preferences and to speak up and object even when the smallest things are assumed or taken for granted. (When someone says to her, You’ll absolutely LOVE the iced latte, teach her to say, Actually I haven’t decided what I want and I’ll let you know when I’m ready.)
  • I’m not trying to imply that sons shouldn’t be taught to be assertive or daughters shouldn’t be taught to value relationships. I think those things are going to happen to some extent naturally. The environment most of us live in encourages those traits already. So, as parents, we can work on teaching them things that the environment doesn’t encourage, or in some cases, actively discourages (assertiveness for girls, listening skills for boys).
  • Send your child to a co-educational school that embraces diversity, if possible. In my son’s school, when kids work on team projects, they must sort through differing ideas and viewpoints. They must learn the process of consensus. They learn to work with kids of all races and both genders. There is also a committee at my son’s school for the protection of gay students from being bullied. This is an ideal environment to focus on people’s minds and ideas, instead of stereotyping/objectifying them. (If this is not possible or such a school is unavailable, home is always a great place to teach inclusiveness.)
  • Allow friendships (for your child) with the other gender. Encourage your child to see his other gender friends as human beings, as individuals. If they start interpreting their friend’s actions based on gender, (she did that because she’s a girl), gently correct them and illustrate how you would’ve done something different even though you share the same gender.
  • Lead by example. Keep in touch with your own other gender friends. I go out for lunch with my colleagues from work that are obviously both male and female. This is the most common type of interaction between adult men and women. Last weekend, I invited some people from work, both men and women, single and attached, with or without kids to hang out with my family on Memorial Day, for a backyard barbeque. Children watch and learn from their parents’ behavior much more than they listen to their parents’ lectures. If you interact with adults of the other gender and from varied backgrounds, if you treat them as individuals and focus on their minds and their ideas instead of their bodies, their skin color, or their gender, your child will likely do the same.

Please share your experiences and thoughts on platonic relationships. How did they happen? Or if they didn’t, what were the obstacles? Do you think it’s important for men and women to interact and be comfortable around each other? Do you encourage your children to have other gender friends?  Why do our elders reject male-female interaction and friendship? What is it that they fear? What happens in societies that forbid such interaction? Who benefits from such rules? Who loses?

Related Posts:

An email: I am 18 year old male from a traditional (read:backward) Indian family Inter sex mingling in coed schools – permitted or not?

“According to my mom, friendship with guys should always be limited to academics, nothing personal.”

“She was warned several times and was used to unethical practices like friendship with boys.”

By an Indian Teenager – “Sometimes it seems like every single thing I do has the potential to be something ‘provocative’.”

Sexual abuse victim thrown out of school for being a bad influence on other students.

‘The liberties that are guaranteed to our citizens, cannot be stretched beyond limits nor can such freedom be made weapons to destroy our fundamental values or social establishments like families’

Love Marriages spoil the Family System of our Nation.

How illegal bans on Valentine’s day and birthday parties are connected with dowry deaths and sex selection.

Boys and girls holding hands.

Are schools right in enforcing such strict boundaries between interactions between girl and boy students?