Monday, May 22, 2017

Joint Family Life: one year later...

A year ago, my in-law's moved in with us and we took the plunge into traditional desi joint family life - something I knew was coming sooner or later. When you marry the eldest and only Indian son, it is inevitable that you will have to eventually live with his parents!

In our instance, my in-law's moved in with us after our relationship was already well-established (we had just celebrated our 10 year anniversary last year). And they also moved into our space, as opposed to us moving into their space. Those two factors made the transition much easier than the average bahu.

One year later, I'm still a big fan of the joint family set-up because it really works - for us, at least. Everyone has their roles in the household and everyone is flexible with those roles. Husband-ji works. My mother-in-law cooks. My father-in-law throws the trash and gets groceries. I take care of the kids and am the family chauffeur/master scheduler (driving everyone to their appointments, taking the kids to their classes, school drop off/pick up). My in-law's have taken the role of child-rearing support: they let us primarily parent the kids, but they are always there to help with anything from watching the kids, packing lunches, reading stories, or giving baths.

It has been very beneficial for us and it has alleviated a lot of stress. Husband-ji can just focus on work, and he's even taking a class after work to learn a new skill. I've got the daily support with raising the children, and also some company in the house. My main stress before was cooking complicated Indian meals and now my mother-in-law completely handles the cooking. Husband-ji is so happy to have all his favorite dishes. Indian food is made every day but I often eat my own food (salads, pastas, sushi, etc). Maya gets constant attention and love from her grandparents, which is so important for young children. My father-in-law says the best part is watching his grand-kids grow up every day, rather than seeing them on a screen or through a phone.

So much has happened this year - my parents' health has been failing, I got pregnant & had another baby, my mother-in-law had heart surgery - that I couldn't have done it if they weren't here. My mother-in-law had a depressive episode after her heart surgery, and I had a few months of depression during my pregnancy too. Living in a joint family is like being in an intertwined spider web where everyone is supported and taken care of. When one person is suffering, the others lift that person up. That's what I love about it the most. I try to keep myself busy with the kids most of the time, but sometimes at night I feel sad about my parents and the reality that they're not getting any better. In those moments, instead of sitting in the dark and crying by myself, my mother-in-law is there offering me a shoulder to cry on and also to lift me up with her wisdom. Both her and I definitely rule the roost! Along with my two little queens, it's definitely a female-centric matrilineal household!

Not to say we don't have any fights. I had a gigantic fight with my in-law's in the Fall, but luckily they couldn't stay mad at me because I was pregnant. All of us living in a small space makes us more likely to solve arguments quickly, because there's spatially no way to avoid each other! You also have to be pretty forgiving - give the other person the benefit of the doubt and understand that their intentions are not bad. You can't hold grudges in a joint family household. The noise level has been really tricky, especially with the kids' naps and bed times. The whole house shuts down at 8 o'clock at night, which used to be my in-law's dinner time. And everyone basically has to wake up at 6am everyday. Whenever husband-ji and I are fighting, my in-law's take the kids out for a walk. By the time they return, the fight is always over. I do miss the time alone with husband-ji - we don't have as many conversations as we used to. Now they are family conversations. We have been trying to go out after the kids are asleep for dates again to re-connect and just chat with each other. I also have mixed feelings about shutting myself in the bedroom to breast-feed. Sometimes I like the alone time with the baby, but other times I feel trapped in the other room when everyone else is in the living room. Maya has gotten even more orthodox with her eating habits, as she knows her grandma will make her whatever she desires (which is always South Indian vegetarian food!) but I can't complain because at least I don't have to cook!

We are living in an 1000 square foot, 2 bedroom busy city apartment, which sounds terrible but it's actually not that bad. Well, it was fine for 3 people...but now we are a family of 6! As of now, Queen Maya is the only one who has her own bedroom. We share our master bedroom with the baby now, and my in-law's sleep in the living room. (This is a step up from my husband's childhood home, which had 10 people living in a tiny 2 bedroom house!). We're going to be moving to our new place in the Fall which will be double the size and have a separate room for everyone. Maya says she doesn't want to move because she loves our little apartment, just the way it is. That just goes to show that more space doesn't make a happy home - it's the people in it that matter!


Saturday, May 20, 2017

My Intercultural Love: Jateen & Rebecca

I am Rebecca, I was born in Los Angeles, CA and my parents are from New Orleans. My husband, Jateen was born in Tanzania and his parents are Gujarati. We live in San Francisco, CA in a much too expensive apartment and have one cat named Shiva. 

Three words that describe you...
Curious, Brave and Compassionate.

Favorite childhood memory...
My favorite childhood memory is when I traveled with my mom during a hot summer in New Orleans and cleaned out her childhood home. We ate all of the local food and I got to see some of her that I had never experienced before. We found old baby pictures and beautiful antique furniture in her dads old house. 

Where/how do you feel most inspired?
I feel the most inspired when I am somewhere else. I really love trains, planes and foreign cafes. 

Where/how did you meet your spouse?
We met online and then in person at a little cafĂ© in San Francisco. We celebrated Bastille day together champagne and appetizers. It was really sweet and the conversation between us felt so familiar and easy. 

How long have you been together?
We have been married for two months and dated for 18 months before that. I feel like we've known each other our whole lives. 

What qualities do you admire in your spouse?
Jateen is one of the nicest people that I have ever met. He will literally give you the shirt off his back. I admire his generosity, calmness and genuine kindness. 

Favorite memory together as a couple...
My favorite memory as a couple is eating breakfast in the Serengeti and watching hot air balloons rise over the plains of Africa. We are truly blessed to travel as much as we do. 

What did you know about your spouse's culture prior to your relationship?
I studied Ayurveda, Yoga and Keralan Cooking in Kerala in 2007, so I did know a little about Indian culture. I knew enough to understand that his culture is very multifaceted and that I am easily overwhelmed by so many differences. But I hadn't even heard of Gujarat and not much about Tanzania either. I would say that the family is more geared toward Gujarati culture than Tanzanian as their Indian subgroup really strived to maintain Gujarati culture in Africa. 

How did you tell your friends/family about your intercultural relationship?
I actually didn't draw a lot of attention to our different cultural backgrounds and I still haven't. But I do remember some conflict during wedding planning when picking the menu. It was actually a little bit trickier to tell my Indian In-laws that we were going to serve Indian and Middle Eastern/Californian food. My MIL's reaction was "why can't everyone eat Indian food?" and "don't spend your money on more food". I was a little offended by the insensitivity around my cultural food preferences. 

How has your relationship enlightened your life? How has it changed you & your outlook on life?
My relationship has helped me to become a more calm and confident person. Jateen is so caring towards me that I am able to do my job of care-giving for others even better. My outlook has evolved to include the importance of family even more. We have a large immediate family split between the Bay Area and Southern California and we both make even more effort to spend time with both. 

Who proposed and how?
Jateen proposed in a really sweet way. I was getting impatient with our plans but he kept a straight face and took me on a short after work hike near the Golden Gate bridge. It was super foggy ad there weren't many birds out but he pointed out a flock and when I turned back around he was holding a beautiful ring for me to wear. He video taped the whole thing and I could barely talk through the tears. 

Describe your wedding...
Our weddings were very special. We got married at the San Francisco city hall by a Justice of the Peace with only our family and a photographer around. After the ceremony we went eat delicious southern Soul Food. A few days later we had a big (not by Indian standards) Hindu ceremony at a historic theatre in Livermore, CA. Jateen walked in with his family following and lead by a drummer and then I walked down the aisle with my male ushers. Jateen's father actually performed the ceremony and the best part of it was that my family was under the mandap with us. After our ceremony we has a swing dance lesson, a multicultural dinner and then danced the night away. It was such a fun event! 

What does being married mean to you?
Being married to me means having a team mate. We are tied for life and will keep growing and changing together. It means that I have a big Afro/Indian/Caucasian family and we will all love and support each other. 

What are your dreams for your future together as a married couple?
Our dream is to have a few children, own a home in the bay area and then buy some vacation property on the northern coast. I would like to grow wine and Jateen would like to put a tiny house on that land. We really also want to have love in our lives, regardless of how that ends up looking. 

What's the best marital advice that you received from elder family/friends?
To always give each other the benefit of the doubt. And enjoy it all, even the tough stuff. One of my patients told me to always touch toes before you fall in bed because no one can stay mad after that, I'll go with that one. 

What positive cultural values do you bring to your relationship?
I bring a big amount of decisiveness and self direction from my culture.

What do you do to keep your relationship alive? What kinds of things do you do to connect with your spouse?
To keep our relationship alive, we have a weekly date for just the two of us. Lets hope we can keep that up after kids. We enjoy connecting over weekend trips to the coast and we both enjoy road trips. We watch a lot of comedy together and also enjoy talking politics. 

In what ways have you adopted aspects of your spouse's culture?
We celebrate some Hindu Holidays like Diwali and Holi; attend local Pujas and I am cooking up a few good Gujarati dishes. 

Has your family adopted aspects of your spouse's culture?
Hmm, that is a good question. My mom wore a sari to our wedding, and both parents came to the pre-wedding functions. My mom has also been excited about making her own chai and they have started sending food back and forth between families in true Indian style. 

What aspects of your spouse's culture do you find difficult to embrace?
For sure that would be IST. Jateen seems to have a different sense of time and urgency.

Name some cultural faux-pas that you have unknowingly committed...
I offered his mom some chicken soup without the chicken (she is strict vegetarian)

What was the most challenging time in your intercultural relationship?
The most challenging time in our intercultural relationship is when we are getting ready to go somewhere at a prescheduled time. I have learned to make myself busy at the exact time that I want to leave because otherwise I just end up looming over him and freaking out being somewhere on time. 

What's the best and the worst part of being in an intercultural relationship?
The best thing is the extra parties and that is the worst thing too. Really, I enjoy being the center of attention but only sometimes and a lot of his aunties fuss over me and force feed me...both sweet and too pushy. I have really had to focus on boundary setting during family gatherings and doing only what I am comfortable with.

What do you think are the biggest misconceptions that people have about intercultural relationships?
That our relationship is not as much about shared values as it is about exoticism.

What are the biggest misconceptions about American women?
The biggest misconception about American women is that we plan to divorce your sweet son. Rip his heart out and stomp on it and also that we won't celebrate Hindu culture. 

Have you come across people who disapprove of your intercultural union? If so, how do you deal with them?
The only time that I feel disapproval is when we are stared at. Jateen and I were out to dinner and a table of Indian folks were next to us. As we were leaving, some of the women craned their necks to stare at the two of us. We left and laughed about the incident.

Take-away advice for other intercultural couples...
Be curious about the other person's background, they will open your eyes to new things in the world and you will open theirs too. When MIL's get on your last nerve, tell your partner and let them deal with it. Examine what you are comfortable giving and set boundaries to reflect that. For example, my husband likes to visit his family every week and I like my alone time so I let him go and I stay home. Then we have stories to share about our separate times and have both been recharged.


Friday, May 19, 2017

Best Children's Books About Diversity

There's no better time than now to do a book list for parents to read with their children about the importance of celebrating diversity. The younger - the better. Sometimes children can be naturally curious of different people and different cultures, and it's our job as parents to educate them that different doesn't necessarily mean bad. Different is beautiful, and there are all kinds of people in the world.

Here are some of our favorite books that celebrate diversity and multiculturalism:
(Ages 4-10)
This book is one of our new favorites, written by the elegant Queen Rania of Jordan. It is really relatable and it's a situation that they will all experience - someone will make fun of their lunch, particularly if they come from another culture. It tells kids' not to be afraid of food that is "different", especially when they have never tasted it. A good book too, for picky eaters who are scared to try new foods.

(Ages 4-10)
This is a lovely book that celebrates diversity all over the world in beautiful, delicate drawings. It will ignite a greater understanding of other cultures from around the world, explained through geography, fashion, religion, holidays, families, and work. It's a short, colorful encyclopedia for curious minds.

Everybody Cooks Rice
(Ages 3-8)
This book follows the story of a little girl going around her diverse neighborhood before dinnertime to fetch her older brother. As she wanders into her neighbors' houses, she realizes all of them are cooking rice in different ways. The neighbors all come from different cultures, like China, or Haiti, for example. It teaches the young reader that you can make so many different things with one ingredient.

It's Okay To Be Different
(Ages 2-6)
This is a simple book with bright pictures that I would recommend for the youngest readers. It provides a great foundation for celebrating diversity and tolerating differences. The author touches on race, disabilities, families, feelings, and more.

It's A Small World
(Ages 1-6)
If you have to buy a Disney storybook, this one should be it. This book is based on the "It's a Small World" ride from Disneyland and song. This book comes with a CD so you can sing along to the story. The illustrations are modern, cute, and fun.

A Ride on Mother's Back
(Ages 3-8)
I originally discovered this book in my midwife's office and fell in love with it. This book follows all the mommies who carry their babies in different parts of the world - from the Arctic, to Asia, to Africa, and beyond. Children can learn that all moms and babies around the world are similar, but they just live in different climates and wear different clothes.

One Family
(Ages 1-6)
I loved this simple and direct book about different types of families. It was so incredibly diverse - showing gay parents, foster parents, big or small families, and more. The pictures were colorful and vibrant, and the language was strong and simple. This is also a good book for practicing counting.
(Ages 2-8)
This book is particularly nice for interracial families because it features a black mom and a white dad. It celebrates the love that the parents' have for their children and how mom and dad have such different personalities. It's a feel-good book with charming, poetic language.

Mixed Me!
(Ages 2-8)
This is one of our favorites, written by the famous actor Taye Diggs. It's about a super cool mixed kid named Mike who's unique and proud to be mixed. The book touches on the fact that not everyone will understand why "mom and dad don't match" but that's okay. It also tells mixed children that they're "a perfect blend of dark and light", instilling self-confidence in a young reader.

The Colors of Us
(Ages 2-10)
This book is a celebration of diverse skin color, written in pretty prose. It focuses on the many shades on brown skin and celebrates it in a positive way by comparing the shades of brown to a delicious food. The illustrations in the book bounce off the page and are very painterly.

Click HERE to see some of our other favorite children's books.


What are your favorite children's books that celebrate diversity?
Is there any that we can add to this list?

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

May Celebrations

(Maya's birthday card for her dad)

The last week has been quite hectic in our big household as we had two celebrations in one week: husband-ji's birthday and Mother's Day, which were both equally sweet.

I never know what to get husband-ji for his birthday. I am always so stumped because he loves to shop and he's the biggest diva ever. He hates anything I get him, except when it's food-related. With two kids, I basically hardly ever leave the house anymore when I don't have to so I thought we'd bake him an eggless chocolate cake for his birthday. Little did I know that Maya would be the baker and I would be her assistant!

I love baking with her and this was our first time making an eggless cake together. It came out great. We also made chocolate buttercream from scratch and Maya decorated it with sprinkles. It was a lovely activity to do together. We usually bake cookies quite often, but we have never baked a cake together.

Other than that, the day was a disaster, as always. The dishwasher broke so the landlord sent maintenance men in and out of our apartment all morning as they tried to fix the old dingy thing, which hardly worked in the first place. After about 5 hours of them trying to fix it, they finally realized that they should just buy a new one for us. Well, duh. (By the way, the new one is just as shitty as the old one!) Then, we tried to go to a nice restaurant in the evening and poor Veda cried the whole time and crapped in her pants. In a restaurant with no change table. Thanks, guys. She spit up all over me, my tummy was hurting so I hardly ate dinner, and we all raced through dinner to get the f*ck home. We told my in-law's that we'd get the baby loaded into the car and bring it to the front of the restaurant. We were waiting out front and losing patience while Veda was wailing in the car, while they were down in the parking garage where Maya was having a gigantic tantrum because she thought we had driven off and left her there. Then, we finally got home and had about 5 minutes to blow out the candles and shove the cake down our throats before the bedtime procession started by Veda's tired evening rooster call at 7 o'clock sharp. I told husband-ji that I refuse to go out for dinner for like, ever again.

It was an absolute disaster of a day, but at least:
a) the cake came out beautifully
b) Maya presented the cake to her dad with such pride
c) we had such fun making the cake together

Mother's Day was 5 days later and it was much more calm and relaxed, lucky me! I usually wake up early with the kids at 6am, but I decided to sleep in for a few extra hours. I figured that it's Mother's Day and I totally deserve it! We didn't do much that day, except stay at home and watch Moana with Maya (her special weekend movie treat). More and more, I'm really loving having less of a schedule with the kids. I'm becoming an absolute hermit! I'm perfectly happy staying at home in my pajama's, putting a big quilt down on the living room floor, and playing with the kids or reading to them.

The next day, we had a special Mother's Day party at Maya's school where the kids sang songs to us, gave us an art & craft gift, and served tea and cakes to us. I brought my mother-in-law along with me and she just loved it.


Dear readers, how was your Mother's Day?
Did you do anything special?

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