Author: Anita Ayela

Growing Kids in the US!

download (1)It is so difficult at times to tell our kids about India’s culture in one breathe, as it is so vast! Being from a conservative country as India, it is all the more difficult to get used to the ways and means of life in the US. I remember when my kid was stepping into the middle school and she had just learnt about ‘FLASH’ in 5th grade. ‘FLASH’ is sex education given to all students with the permission of the parents.

Parents are first asked to watch it themselves and then with the parents’ written permission the kids are shown the videos. Come to think of it, my daughter was just 10 when in 5th and I found it a little odd for her to know about menstruation, growing parts of the body and reproduction. But then, I found it logical that she too should know about it if her whole class is going to learn about it. It is all the more destructive to know such issues from friends instead of the proper source.

I knew that a few of her friends had ‘boyfriends’ in 5th grade itself!!! As I have been living in this country for 12 years now, this didn’t come as a shock to me. But realization dawned on me that I now had the need to tell my angel about the culture and traditions of India. I let her know in strong words that ‘We are Indians’ and ‘We are different from Americans’. Having boyfriends, dating is all taboo in India and such things wouldn’t be tolerated in our house. Though she is sensitive, she is smart too, and hence she understood my stand point.

Before she could question me, I told her that my husband and I dated when both of us had an education and got married after having a job. I’m sure she got my point very well. Having said that, I have trust in her and I have never behaved like a suspicious mom ever. I always feel that kids need to be given that space and they need to learn from the small mistakes that they make. Of course, if the mistakes are big, they would for sure, always have us to support them as parents. But prevention always is better than any kind of cure and so I had to give her a piece of my mind for sure!

A lot of my Indian friends feel that their kids shouldn’t have ‘sex’ education at school at such an early age. Their argument that in India we learn this in 9th or 10th grade is relevant only to India. Our tradition is different, or rather I would use the word ‘was’, as I see a great change in India and its kids today. Here in America, for Americans having boyfriends or girlfriends, dating, bringing them home, all happens pretty early. Teen pregnancies are on the increase. And so the schools find it appropriate for kids to know everything before they step into middle school which is from the 6th grade.

Not that these problems are not prevalent in other countries, India for one, but we turn a blind eye to it. We don’t want to acknowledge the fact that dating and teen pregnancies are getting their foot in India too. Is it because we are scared that out traditions are being tainted? Or is it because we think that by acknowledging it, we are paving a way for our kids to follow? I would not understand this. That way, we have to agree that Americans are more practical thinkers than we even know.

Another important aspect is that the growth of American kids is way more for their age. And so, it is but natural that they know the contours of their body, their hormonal changes early. Minimum menstruation age for the American girls is 11- 12 years. Hormonal changes lead to sexual attraction to the opposite sex. No wonder teen pregnancies are on the high! Not kidding, seriously, they are!

At any given point of time, of course, being the odd kid out in school, depriving them of knowledge which their ‘white’ counterparts know, is not advisable. I would say that in Rome, we need to do what Romans do or at the least know what Romans do, in order to survive with them!

Broken Relationships

images (3)“A relationship is like a china cup, once broken can be mended, but a crack is always there.”

I read this when I was a teenager, an age when you collect quotes and poems, with a feeling of butterflies in your stomach. I still remember it like yesterday because it didn’t make sense to me then, but it does now.
Broken hearts may be easy to mend, but broken marriages leave a scar on the heart and the soul. A bad marriage of years going array is different and has a lot of reasons. But a new marriage going stale or snapped in the bud, is a heart wrenching thing, with no fault whatsoever of the victim.

Recently one of my friend’s cousin’s two year old marriage was broken. It was sad and shocking because the girl left him for another girl. No offence to anyone, but it was shocking as she behaved perfectly normal with her husband and even lamented many-a-times that she couldn’t conceive. The boy blames her for using him to come out of the ‘closet’ and the girl is beyond distance to comment on this. He is looking out for a girl to remarry, but is so cautious that he doesn’t trust any girl easily now.

Another of my cousin’s friend had a divorce because he was not interested in worldly affairs of the heart or body! Simply put, he married so his mom could have a daughter-in-law. He was into spiritual and religious activities and was not interested in a married life. The girl bore with this for a year and didn’t even let her parents know. But ultimately, when the boy couldn’t bear with the girl’s desires of the body and heart, he took a decision, a right decision I would say, to tell his parents about it. The girl’s parents are thinking of a remarriage for her, but at the back of their mind, there is always a doubt about their daughter’s future.

One of my first cousin’s marriage was broken before it even took place. After the engagement, my cousin was back to the US from India, as they were to be married after 3 months, on the request of the girl’s parents. They spoke on the phone, exchanged emails and worse, he knew a bachelor’s party too. It was then, in the course of their discussion, my cousin asked for her passport details so he could arrange a visa for her to come to the US after marriage. It was then that she told him the truth that she loves someone else and now her parents have agreed to it which they never did before. My uncle had sent out the invitation cards too and it was an embarrassment for everyone, and sad too, that the wedding didn’t take place.

I know a girl who got married, flew to the US and eloped with her boyfriend residing in the US. The boy was grief-stricken and embarrassed too. He was left trying to answer his parents’ and relatives and friends’ questions, while the girl was being wooed by her boyfriend. I also know a girl, who got married, came to the US and found out that the husband is already married to an American. He was a pervert to even think that he could live with both of them under the same roof and enjoy. But the girl ran back home to her parents. She is happy now though single, staying with her brother’s family. I know, we all must have watched movies with these plots, but believe me, I have seen them happening around me.

Why does a marriage break? There may be numerous reasons. But, the actual facts being that people don’t enquire enough about the other party before they get their girl married or fix their marriage. And the main glaring reason is also that parents don’t know much about their own children before they decide to get them married. The kids don’t feel close enough to the parents to tell them their secrets, because some parents are too strict to be friends with the kids. Who is to blame? Nobody? Or both?!!

Wake up papa and mamma; talk to your kid first, marriage comes later!
Wake up kiddos, talk to your parents first, before you walk out on them!

Parents, Eat and Let Eat!

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Don’t blame the kids, blame the parents! I know, a lot of parents’ eyes would be glaring at this with anger or would have stopped reading this by now. But wait a moment! Read through this before you form any opinion. I was just talking about the eating habits of kids!

It is a very common complaint of parents all over the world that their kids don’t eat certain vegetables or any vegetables at all, varying from house to house and kid to kid! But if we delve deeper, we get to see that the parents of these kids don’t do justice to their vegetables too.

Let’s begin at the beginning….It is scientifically proven that what we eat during pregnancy, those tastes travel through the amniotic fluids to the baby in the womb. Babies develop taste buds while in there too. Doctors believe that if the moms who eat all varieties of vegetables and fruits during pregnancy, then these babies would later eat their fruits and vegetables without putting up a fight. The baby’s exposure to variety of food while in the womb would have less chances of the baby being a fussy eater later in life.

In most of our houses now, neither of the parents or either of the parents is a very bad eater of vegetables and fruits.  And so is the kid! No surprises here as to why it is so. Some parents don’t cook vegetables or dishes they themselves don’t like. Some parents are clever enough to understand the situation and try to steal in vegetables into the kid’s food that they themselves would have never even sighted upon when they were kids! If this is done very early in their childhood, like for month’s babies, then it would probably work. But not after the kid grows up enough to understand that he/she is being fed what his/her parents don’t like to eat. That’s a gone case then!

My friend is very possessive about her one and only son. She is at his beck and call always and cooks only what he likes. She cooks as if only the son’s favorites are edible on the entire planet. You guessed it right!-Her husband gets the same food almost every day as the kid’s glossary of vegetables and fruits is very limited to two or three for that matter! A day came when they had to hospitalize the kid for being anaemic due to lack of proper nutrients in the body. It is absolutely fine to pamper your only kid, but not at the cost of the kid’s health.

Leaving modesty aside, I must mention here that I am envied amongst my cousins and friends! Even my mother-in-law always has a good word for me regarding my kids’ eating habits! I have always liked all vegetables if cooked in the proper way, and fruits have always been my secret snacks. No wonder my kids eat all vegetables and fruits! Touchwood! If they don’t like some vegetable they sure let me know but they eat it anyways, because I never give them a choice! Not that I force them, but I just let them know the time and effort I put into cooking them! Viola, they clean their plates! Come on, that’s not being mean, but just being persuasive.

I remember when growing up, my mom used the same trick for us kids. We ate everything my mom cooked as we knew the love and effort she put in cooking for us. And of course, my dad was strict enough to support her efforts by saying that ‘what’s on your plate has to be eaten, no matter what’! You bet my parents are proud of me now when they see my kids following that!

When I stepped into my in-laws’ house, incidentally, I saw that at least this was one thing that is very common with my family’s values. They too never got a chance to say ‘no’ to any food on their plate. When I had kids, I was sure glad that both my husband and I had the same values as far as parenting goes!

Fruits and vegetables are in abundance in the US. There are a lot of varieties of vegetables here; in addition to the American vegetables, we get Mexican vegetables and Indian vegetables too. My house has seen broccoli, asparagus, zucchini, and tomatillos playing with the okras and bitter gourds. I try my best to cook each vegetable in hundred and one ways, and the kids usually take to at the least a couple of varieties. I have tried and learnt different cuisines and so Indian, Italian, Mexican, all foods co-exist in my kitchen. My father-in-law in good humor says that I should have done my PhD in cooking, not English. Yes, I love food, and my husband likes different cuisines, the result being that I learnt all kinds. And, of course, it goes without saying that I love cooking! This has helped me extensively in winning my kids’ palates.

Eat, and eat everything is the motto in my house! And you bet, it worked and it still works!!! Touchwood!

A Helping Hand!

maid“Oh I have a daily maid too!” Shilpa said and she got a lot of ‘wows’ from her friends. This incident would sound odd for any Indian living in India. Maids are part and parcel of the any house, as simple as buying milk, buying vegetables; so you buy the services of a maid. But labor is very expensive in the US and so affording a daily maid is like affording five star hotel stay in India!!

I feel that working women find life easier in the US than in India. Why so? It’s not just the 50 times more money that they earn here than they would in India. It’s not just that for sure! The microwave to warm your food, the dish-washer to wash your dirty dishes without the scrubbing, the washer to do your laundry not hurting your smooth palms, the dryer drying your clothes without straining to hang them out, are also the culprits! The refrigerators are more powerful and so food stays fresh for a day or two more than it would in India. The four burners for cooking eases the time for cooking, and the oven keeps your cholesterol in check if you bake instead of deep-fry.

But then a maid is a maid and I miss a maid’s services almost every day. The laziness that comes with the dishes sitting in the sink rolls over to the clothes in the basket crying to be folded. Trying my best to keep the house clean makes me lethargic to the carpet cleaning. When in my most depressed moods , thanks to the gloomy weather of Seattle, I earnestly wish I had a helping hand even to cut my vegetables or empty the dish washer!

Of course, there are women like Shilpa who are able to afford maids even in the US. But then not everyone has a double income and mortgage free homes at such an early age. Living in the US is not always living in the US alone because most of us have responsibilities and liabilities back in India too and fulfilling those takes away half of their life!

Monotonous burdens are always there for almost everyone in their life but wish everyone had an extra ‘hand’ to share their burdens too!!

Education in the USA

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People say that when you learn something in childhood you don’t forget it ever. How true that is, is debatable. How many of us remember the scientific names of all the flowers or the names of different clouds in the sky? Learning or rather ’mugging’ before the exams is what I remember doing. Isn’t that what all of us who studied in India did way back then?

When my daughter came home from school one day and recited the names of all the bones in her body, explaining their use or function in the body, I was awed. She was in her 6th grade. After 3 three years she still remembers them,”mom, my patella (knee bone) is hurting” or “she hit my scapula(shoulder bone)”, she shouts at the top of her voice when she has a fight with her sis. I fall in a dilemma then, whether to check the dictionary or run to her and physically see where it hurts.

It is impressive how things are taught to kids here in the US schools, unlike how we learnt in India. Pictorial teaching is very effective especially when it is science. They remember things for a long time. After every lesson, they are asked to present some project to the class on that chapter. It could be a diorama, a chart presentation or powerpoint, anything that is part of the chapter and is interesting to the student as well as the class.

My third grader made her year-end book report on France in the form of a diorama. For that, she looked up on the internet, information about France, in addition to the book she was reading. Facts like how the statue of liberty was presented to the USA by France fascinated me, enriching my knowledge too.Crafting the Eiffel tower along with my kid and the color chart paper engaged me for two best days of my life! And now I also know the difference between a baguette and a beret too, know them enough to eat one and wear the other!

Learning-by-rote, cramming, mugging, whatever you may call it, sure gets you grades but doesn’t retain knowledge; practical learning does. A lot of young parents, first-timers to the education system in the US, fear that there is not much competition in this way of studies in the US. But, believe me, I have taught students here as well as in India, and competition is there here in the US too. Getting ‘A’ grade is as important for students here as getting 95% and above is for students in India!!

What say, guys? Now, is that grammatically correct or not? You need to check it out, right guys?!

My first cultural shock!

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After spending a cool three decades of your life in India, moving gear to a totally new country like the USA is sure a change of a lifetime! In addition, if you are struck in the face with a cultural shock, it is all the more difficult to cope with the transition.

Believe me, my cultural shock didn’t come in the form of Californians wearing bikini tops and shorts to the super market. I knew the culture of America, and thanks to my avid reading habit, I knew what to expect. But, the immigrant Indians trying to copy Americans was a shock to me. The beautiful bhindis didn’t adorn their faces anymore, the salwars gave way to shorts and their hair welcomed shocking colors.

A smile escaped my lips when I saw a seemingly newly-wed couple in the Wal-Mart. The girl obviously had never worn anything short, not even her hair. And here she was trying to adjust her short skirt now and then, looking around to make sure that nobody noticed her long legs. The husband was trying to teach her to overcome her fears and ‘act’ normal. Her hair was short to her ears, what I presumed could have touched her waist for all I know, when she was in India. That was sure the tradition in the south of India to wear a girl’s hair long.

A lot of people have always asked me then, and still do sometimes even today-What is the little dot that I have on my forehead, which surprisingly looks like a tattoo to them! I simply say, “This is my culture”, they smile, admire it and walk away. Some of them, especially the ‘Iskon temple followers’, do know about India’s culture so much that they put a lot of us to shame more often. They come forward and say, “Isn’t that dot on your forehead a symbol of you being married? “Or “How did the colorful ‘bindis’ replace the traditional red dot? “, “Why do South Indians have a dot on their forehead whereas the North Indians have it in their hair-parting?” I explain as much as I can, knowing very well that as  much as our knowledge of our basic traditions is losing out in India, it is gaining popularity outside the country.

Now, this brings me to say that Indians who come to the US, immediately remove their bhindis, their magulsutrams and their toe-rings in order to become Americans. Knowing very well that our Indianess is writ on our face, no matter how we dress up, every lady starts to feel that a bindi would give away her country of origin! Now, I would never understand what is wrong in being an Indian!! Jeans don’t go with sindoor, toe rings don’t go with stilettos and mangalsutra shows in a tee. Nice excuses, indeed!

Even today, Americans look up to India for its rich culture, and our immense traditional living. Indian girls who look and behave Indian are given more ‘looks’ than girls trying to eat burgers with forks and mouthing ‘you-know-what-I-mean’ for no reason. I know this because, when I wear a sari and walk to my car, all the Americans around my house give me admiring looks.

The totally unknown culture or a little knowledge of any culture always arouses curiosity in people. Cultural differences will always be there, but culture and traditions shouldn’t change for anyone for the sake of changing. After 12 years of living in this country, I don’t think I have changed much except for a little accent now. My tee shirts have matching color bhindis, my toe-rings cozily hug my toes, and my mangalsutram plays lovingly on my bosom. And I have the most American friends ever possible , partying at my house, eating ‘samosas’ along with Caesar salad ; dancing to ‘kaho na pyar hai’ and admiring my kurtis worn over the jeans!!

This is culture for me. This is how I want to be known as,an Indian!You know what I mean, don’t you?!!

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