Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Santa Gets Dora!

It seems Santa did have an extra Dora doll for my Siddy!  He's been enjoying it ever since.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

All I Want For Christmas… Dora!!!!

Some of the most memorable moments in our children’s lives we get to experience as unobtrusive bystanders, watching them as they play with friends and siblings. 

I recently overheard my 4 year old, Siddy, talking to his brother Nikhil and asking his opinion on a matter of utmost importance.  “Do you think Santa will ‘X’ out the Dora doll?  I promise next year I’ll ask for Power Rangers, cars and a soccer ball.”   How precious, I thought, that he had any awareness of social norms to try and rationalize with Santa Claus.

When the boys made their list for Santa, I explained that it was a “Wish List” and Santa would get them 3 to 4 things depending on how good they had been, what Santa’s inventory was like and where they were on his delivery route.  Some things, apparently, he just runs out of!!   Siddy is not a demanding child and kept his list short but among a few other toys, he asked for a Dora doll.  I felt I had to explain to him that if Santa had any more Dora dolls left after giving it to all the girls, he would give one to him. 

As a mother of 2 boys, I feel it my responsibility to teach them about equality and respect, especially as it applies to the opposite sex.  The seeds have to be planted early on and childhood play takes on a crucial role in teaching these values.   Through play they learn about compromise, sharing, following rules, and respect for toys and friends.  But despite being a highly progressive nation,  our society still dictates that certain toys are “boy toys” and others are “girly toys”.  

When Nikhil was about 2,  I happened to come across a nice, “masculine” blue and white play kitchen so I bought it for him.  My husband’s reaction was that of a typical male.  He said to me, in no uncertain terms, “Why the h#@*  did you get that for him?!”   This coming from a man who happens to be a great cook himself!  I had to remind him that most of the greatest chefs in the world happened to be men.  The fact is that the  kitchen was the most popular toy with all of Nikhil’s and Sid’s friends, girls and boys alike, up until they became more aware of gender biases.

When Siddy was younger he wanted a baby doll and stroller.  So, to my hubby’s horror, I bought it for him. I  swayed away from the pink and went for the more “neutral” purple since that was all I could find.  Siddy spent hours holding, feeding and putting his baby to sleep.   I realize from having 2 boys that it’s  innately male to want to jump, run, build, break, burp and fart. (Boys love jokes about farting and burping!!)  But they also have the capacity to love, care for  and nurture.  So why are all toys made for girls related to babies, home, domesticity, beauty and fashion and those for boys about building, destroying, science and sports?   Kids learn early that pink is for girls and blue is for boys.  I think we are the only nation that abides by this ideology.   I find it disturbing that Legos, for instance, are marketed mainly to boys.  Ask any great inventor or scientist of our time and they will attest that Legos, blocks and  tinker toys played a major role in influencing their interest in science and technology as children.  Why shouldn’t we give girls the opportunity to create something other than cupcakes from the easy bake oven?  Why shouldn’t boys be taught to cook and what it means to take care of someone other than themselves? 

Exposure influences who and what  children become.  I have yet to go to the house of little girls and see a bucket of Legos, or a telescope, or  a doctors kit or tool set.  It’s usually an explosion of pink and a magical land of fairies and princesses (which,  by-the-way, Siddy is asking for but I  am truly grappling with!)   For now,  I’ve decided  Santa just might have an extra Dora doll for a sweet little boy. I’m sure after hearing her singing, “We did it! We did it!” for the 100th time, I might want to send Dora to a magical place of her own.  I am confident that he will grow out of wanting to play with Dora dolls and such one day.  But my hope is that the lessons he learns about loving, caring and nurturing will stay with him for a lifetime and make him a better man.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Technologically Advanced Socially Deficient

Technology is getting more and more nano-, faster and readily available to all. On one trip to India, I was shocked to see that even the poor rickshaw drivers carried cell phones and didn’t hesitate to talk and drive.  Technology and advancements are great and necessary but can we admit that we have become all consuming and addicted to our gadgets and gismos that we’ve forgotten common courtesies and general, social etiquette.    We’ve forgotten to enjoy “the moment” and have the need to be “in touch” all the time, anywhere and everywhere, forgetting the little things that matter.  We are becoming a nation of ADHD adults who don’t know what to do with a few minutes of silence or free moment of time.  

Women’s purses, or pocketbooks as they call them on Long Island, have become bigger and heavier and cell phones have become so much slimmer and lighter that I usually  scramble trying to find mine in my big monstrous  bag.   I remember my very first cell phone, which was about the size of a brick.   All I could do on it was…well …talk.   Today cell phones are our lifelines, our windows to our world.  I’ve known people who’ve lost their phones and it was as if they lost a dear loved one.   With texting, GPS-ing, emailing, web browsing,  videoing and picture taking capabilities,  that cell phones have become such an essential, fundamental  part of most people’s lives.   From my perspective, we are becoming, unfortunately, technologically advanced but socially deficient.

We teach our children about manners, proper behavior and social etiquette but somehow adults think themselves exempt from what they preach.   We tell our children to use “inside voices”  yet we’ve all seen adults roaring on the phone as if the world cares to hear what they have  to say.  We tell kids to say “excuse me” when they bump into someone yet I see people texting and walking, not caring who they elbowed out of the way.   One of the most shameful and deplorable social faux pas I have had  the displeasure of witnessing was at a dinner party.  Inquisitive, or should I say nosey,  as to what was captivating this woman’s  attention and keeping her from mingling with the company,  I leaned over,  only to see that rather than socialize,  she was actually playing video games on her  Blackberry!!!  I guess she figured we were  too ignorant, or drunk, to notice because she held the phone under the table.  

Incidences such as the one above are inexcusable  but there are other  blatant  indiscretions occurring all the time.  I’m sure many people have  gone out to dinner or lunch with someone who can’t be torn away from their Blackberry or I Phone.  It’s right beside them,  on the table.  Do we not tell our children, “No toys at the dinner table”?   Now, if  the kids are at home with a babysitter, or there are elderly parents at home that may need tending to, I can understand.  Or if  the hubby is at home watching the kids and he’s pretty clueless in this capacity, I get it.  You’d better be ready to rescue the hubby and tell him where the diapers are!  But if you made special time to go out with someone,  then answering phone call from others is just plain rude and disrespectful.   Most adults  realize this and get clever.  You’ve heard people say, “I have to take this call.  It’s really important. It”ll just take a second. ”   Well about 3 “important”  calls later, the other person should have the right to say, sure take that call.  In fact, take it all the way to your car.  Maybe then you can call them and actually have a conversation!

Our technology is making us asocial.   Rather than actual face-to-face interactions , we thrive on  communicating  with people  via cyberspace.   Rather than enjoying  the moment at a soccer game, recital, weddings, church or wherever, people are texting, emailing, commenting on Facebook  updates or updating their own Facebook statuses as to where they are what they are doing.  Is time  with friends and family no longer valuable or sacred that the cells can’t be switched off  or put aside for a brief moment?

Monday, November 8, 2010

Am I an American or am I an ABCD?

When my son Nikhil was about 5 years old  I tried to explain to him how he was lucky to be both Indian and American.   Since he was born in America, he was American.    The fact that Pappa and Momma  were born in and lived part of their lives in India made him Indian too.   To my bewilderment, he started crying and screaming,  “NO,   I  am Spanish!!”    His 5 year old brain went on to argue that he watched Diego and could speak Spanish too. The fact that his playgroup at the time consisted of 4  Spanish-speaking boys only substantiated his argument.  

I could have argued that being able to say,”Hola” and “excelente”  made him about as  Hispanic  as eating  pizza made him Italian.   Not wanting to battle with a 5 year old,  I decided I needed to educate my children  about their Indian heritage.    I wrote and bound my own books about Indian mythological Gods such as Krishna and Hanuman.  I organized a story time with a few of Nikhil’s friends. After the story we would have related activities and try Indian snacks, some with interesting, made-up names like Indian donuts (South Indian mendhu vada.)

Another  time I was trying to explain to Nikhil that he needed  to address all Indian adults  as “Uncle”  or  “Auntie”.   He was rather perplexed  since in his school all the teachers, including his kindergarten teacher,  Sangita, were addressed  by their first names only, not  Ms. Sangita,  just plain  Sangita.   I explained that in the Indian culture no one called an adult by their first name.   He looked at me and said, ”Well, I’m not Indian. I’m American!”   As much as I wanted to smack him on the behind,  I had to admit that he did have a sound argument.

Since becoming a mother, I’ve done some soul searching  and introspection .   How can I teach my boys to be confident and proud of who they are if  I am unsure of who I am?   And who am I?   Am I “American” or am I “Indian” or am I an “ABCD”?   If I am truly an American why do I feel the need to teach my children about the Indian culture.

At times I did feel like an ABCD .  This is the acronym made up by the Indian community to classify each other.  The idea is that if you just came from India,  you are Fresh Off the Boat or an FOB.  If you were born here or have basically grown up in the US, you are somehow confused about who you are and hence you are labeled an ABCD (American Bred/Born Confused Desi), Desi being what Indians call each other.

Back in my high school days, I was often mistaken for being Hispanic.  As a teenager, frustrated with the restrictions placed on me by my parents in the name of following traditional “Indian values”,  I was actually glad not to be seen as an Indian.  My biggest gripe back then was when people asked ,  “So where are you from?”    I usually appeased them by telling them that I was born in India but what I really wanted to say was that I was from the Northwest side of Chicago!   Jhumpa Lahari’s book The Namesake touched on this topic.  Gogol, the main character of the book,  went through a stage in which he alienated himself from his family and everything it represented.  He gets involved with an American girl much to the dismay of his very traditional parents.  Without giving away the book,  it’s not till the end that  he comes to grips with his family and culture.

The irony is that as culturally diverse  as the US is today we still classify people according to the way we see them.  It’s human nature.   People are Chinese, Japanese, Indian,  Saudi, African, etc.    I still get the occasional, “Are you Indian?”  The fact is that I am from India.   I cherish the Indian culture for making my life richer .   I love Indian food,  which we have at least 3 nights a week.   But we also eat  Italian, Mexican  and Chinese too.  I love Indian clothes and wear them at Indian weddings and family affairs but I’m most comfortable in  jeans and yoga pants. The fact remains that the outside world  will  perceive me as being an Indian no matter how “American”  I  may be or feel. But despite how others may see me,  I   know I am American.  I love America  and could see myself  living nowhere else. This is the land of the free and being a women,  it’s all the more important to me that I am here. 

Christmas has always been one of my favorite holidays ever since I came to the US.  During the holidays my house is decked out, inside and out , with all the lights, glitz and gold. The fact that I love Christmas may be due to the fact that people are generally in better spirits and more kinder, friendlier and more giving. Maybe it’s because we tend to do more socializing and partying around Christmas time.  All I know is I’m still  “fa la la la  la-ing”  way past December 25th and  my husband remind me that it’s almost Valentines Day!!

Motherhood  has a way of  eradicating  any and all  confusions, insecurities and doubts a mother may have.  I am not confused anymore.  I know who and what I am and  I value the fact that I am Indian too.  I’ve made a choice to hold on to my Indian heritage and pass on what I can to my boys.   I am proud to be part of  a country that  invented  chess, the place value system, decimal system. Yoga, Algebra and ayurvedic medicine  also have origins in India.*  India is rich in history and culture.  It even has Bollywood which produces more movie per year than any other country, for better or for worse!!!

My boys are, without question,  American  but I want them to learn about their Indian heritage  not because they need to,  but because it  will enrich their lives too. Like me, they too can be Indian-Americans.  They speak mainly English but I want them to learn Hindi too.  If they can learn Spanish in school,  why shouldn’t they know the language of their ancestor.  They will always celebrate Christmas but why not Diwali too.  They can eat hotdogs for lunch and curry for dinner.  They can learn about the “Christ in Christmas” and Krisha in Vrindavan.  They are   fortunate  to be able to experience the best of two different cultures and the values and merits  of both.

America is not really a “melting pot”  as some  declared it to be .  I hope my boys will recognize  that  the different ethnicities have not all blended into one homogeneous group.   America is  more like a salad bowl.    Each ingredient of a salad adds it’s own unique color, texture and  flavor to the dish.  Without the individual items, it’s just lettuce…bland and uninteresting.    And who wants plain lettuce when they can have  lasagna, burritos ,biryani,  falafel, kababs,  Chicken teriyaki,  sushi,  chow mein, Thai curry and soooo much more !!!! 

Sunday, October 31, 2010

My First Halloween

I came to this country on October 30th, 1976.  Being one of  only a handful of  non-white children, I had the privileged opportunity of being  initiated into the American mainstream by being pummeled by snow balls, asked why I was so dark, and my all-time favorite, being called a camel-jockey.  Yes,  a camel-jockey! How could I tell these children that I had never even been close to a camel before let alone ride one. 

The fact that I had a small nose ring at the time, didn’t help me blend in either .   Today I would have  fit in with the bohemian, hippie type crowd but in those days  having a nose ring was considered strange not fashionable.  Children would look at me  quizzically and ask, “Why do you have a ring in your nose?”    Needless to say, I had my parents  let me take it out. 

While  all the American  girls had beautiful flowing  blond or brunette hair,  my mom would put my hair in two long braids on the sides of my head, very much like Pippi Longstocking, and  stick a bindi on my forehead.  How could I   escape answering the question, “What’s that dot  on your head?”    It was futile to point out that it wasn’t on my head.  It was on my forehead!!    I survived without any  scars or trauma, thank God, and in fact I can  laugh  about it today.

I still remember my very  first Halloween.   My mother had decided to dress me up as an ”Indian Princess.”  Dressed in one of my  Indian chaniya-cholis* ,  with my midriff  showing, I looked  like Princess Jasmine from the Disney movie  Aladdin .  Only thing I was missing was a veil so I could  hide my  face.  The following year my parents splurged and let us buy  facemasks.  My brother and I would improvise and put together the rest of the  costumes from old clothes or from brown grocery bags.  One of my favorites, ironically,  was being an American-Indian.  It was fun making  a fringed Indian vest and my very own feathered headband. 

Halloween on the Northwest side of Chicago in the 1970’s  was different.  Parents were at home passing out candy while the kids trick-or-treated.  We were out for hours and came home with literally  a pillowcase full of candy.  Those to me were times of innocence and goodness,  before people figured out how to contaminate candy  or stick needles in apples to hurt children.  Those were also less commercial days when people did make their own costumes.   I remember my friend Andi’s mom   stitched adorable costumes for her and her sister which could probably be sold at Pottery Barn Kids today for $100. 

Every year the PTA held a fair during the different holidays.  These were simple fairs with everything from cupcakes to planters homemade by the PTA moms.  My parents usually gave us no more than  $.40  but we were still able to get something.   I remember buying cupcakes for 10 cents apiece. Today  when my son has a fair at his school,  he needs at least $ 5!!   Also,  I don’t recall any mom wearing plastic surgical gloves so as not to taint my cupcakes.  There were no allergy alerts.  And no one cared if the toy had small parts that could be swallowed.   Somehow  we survived . For better or for worse, times have changed.   I still like to look back to a time when life was less complicated, less commercial and childhood was pure and fun……………

*Chaniy choli-a long flowing embroidered skirt worn with a short top

Saturday, October 23, 2010

A lost Art

 My son Nikhil recently turned 8.  The night before his birthday, I wrote a short letter to him telling him how much I loved him and how proud I was of him.  I placed the envelope  in his homework folder so when he opened it up in school, he would  get a surprise.   The mothers reading this are thinking, "Oh sooo sweet!!"     The men reading this are saying, "God help her son!"   

When Nikhil came home from school that day, I asked if he saw anything special in his bag.   As only a typical male would respond, he said,  "Oh yeah, thanks Mom."  So much for my tears and staying up at night writing the letter.   But I'm glad I did it!  As a matter of fact,  I'm going to do it every year on their birthdays, even when they say "God, Mom really?  I'm not a kid any more!"

During the summer of 1928, the late Prime Minister of India Jawaharlal  Nehru wrote many letters to his then 10 year old daughter Indira (Gandhi).  

"  I am going to write you short accounts of the story of our earth and the many countries, great and small, into which it is   divided  I hope [these] will make you think of the world as a whole and of other people in it as our brothers and sisters . . ."

In all,  he wrote some 30 letters to her that summer .   I can't image the thrill she must have felt while  tearing open each letter knowing that her father,  who was  hundreds of miles away,  had sent this personal gift to her.  It contained his writing,  his emotion, his love.  Imagine looking  at the letters years later, after her father passed away and  thinking back to the day when she actually received it.   What memories and feeling it must have evoked.  I love history and nothing teaches more about the past  then old letters.   They take us back to a time….to a place…to a life.

Today it seems everyone is too busy to write letters anymore.   Letter writing is an old lost art.  Except for the quick email or text, most people don’t  actually put the pen to the paper anymore.   The most thought or emotion we  show is in our preprinted  Hallmark cards are,  “Love,  John Doe.”    And oh, and let’s not forget the very heartfelt and classy, ”XOXO!!”   Are we really that busy?  Or have we just forgotten how to write? 

The  Hallmark company has become very profitable.  The irony of it all is  that if someone today were to take time and effort to write us a short letter rather than buy a card, we would be inclined to believe that they were just being frugal…to put it nicely.  Cheap is the other word  I was thinking!    Come on now, be honest,  how often do we flip the card to see how much the  card cost.   I have to be honest and say that  I always go for the cheapest one….because I know it’s going in the trash anyway!!

This might sound silly but I still have an old note that my sister wrote to me when she was about 6 and I was 16.   She had  jumped on me while I was laying on the bed and I got very upset with her.   She wrote that it was an “axcident”  and  I was to circle  “YES”  if I forgave her and “NO”  if I didn’t.    I chuckle, at this moment, as I write this because I can actually remember that day .   I really beat her.  (XOXO Bina!!)

That’s the beauty of  a handwritten  piece of  writing.   I might be able to save all  the cute  emails I get in my “SAVED” folder  or on my  computer.    But nothing can compare to the joy of opening an old letter written by a father to a daughter, mother to a son or a friend to another friend.   Touching those old  letters is like being with and touching the person who wrote it. 

 It saddens me to think of what the implications of this new trend in our society means to the future generations.  I hope my sons will save whatever letters I write to them and be able to talk about how mom was so mushy!!