Brown Girls: 2009, We Can't Wait to Meet You

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

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Celebrating New Year's Eve with Kids

New Year's Eve isn't the easiest holiday to celebrate with kids. First, of course, there is the issue of timing--keeping kids up, I now know, does not necessarily bring CPS to your door but you almost wish it did the morning after, when you have uber-cranky and unruly monsters on your hands. Plus, the stuff of New Year's Eve--sparkly dresses, flutes of champagne, reminiscing about the year--is just very adult. That being said, New Year's can be lots of fun with your little ones and it's a great opportunity to make traditions that can be part of your family folklore for years to come. Some ideas on how to celebrate the mark of 2009 with your children:

Noon Year's Eve Party

Create a party at 12 p.m. instead of 12 a.m. Invite some kids to come over to your house at 11 a.m. on Dec. 31. Have the kids watch the ball drop in Times Square (taped from the year before). Make a ginger ale toast, make festive hats, blow noisemakers, dance under disco lights, make sundaes, be festive. Or you could have the party at 12 p.m. on Jan. 1 and show the taped recording from this year.

Indian New Year

Since India is twelve and a half hours ahead (the half! why the half!), you can start celebrating New Years in India right around noon (on the west coast)--Indian midnight. Make it fun for adults and kids alike by shaking up some easy Indian cocktails, like a Tamarind-margarita or one of many concoction based upon Sub-rosa vodka, with its decidedly Indian notes of toasted cumin, lemony orange, ginger, black peppers, and red chilis. You could do this for any country. Try an Italian New Year and have a pizza party starting at 6 p.m.--midnight in Italy. And check out these recipes for some cool kids cocktails so the babies don't feel left out of the imbibing...!

Clock Party

My friend A. started a tradition of making clocks with her kids every New Year's eve. Her kids are now 8 and 4, and they have quite a few clocks in their collection. There are many ways to do this, but why not start simple? This kit comes with a step-by step poster for easy assembly. And here are 4 other basic kits. (For the classic Indian over-achiever mom, check out this site for actual clock parts.) The basic clocks are super colorful and, according to A., making the clocks together affords you the opportunity to teach your kids about time, as well as places around the world, since you can set the clock to the time of different countries. Gotta love the fun with the hidden educational component. Kind of like sneaking those green beans into the spaghetti sauce.

Once you have made our clock, you can set it 's alarm to whatever time to you deem to be "midnight" and herald in the new year.

Time Capsule

This one's my favorite. You and your kids can fill a box with all sorts of circa-2008 items--toys, photos, magazine collages. There's no limit. You can use anything as a time capsule as long as it's waterproof and airtight. If you have any of those popcorn tins from the holidays lying around--those are perfect. And, depending on how young and/or interested your kids are, you can unearth the capsule as soon as next year or as late as, say, your eldest's high school graduation! The fun part is making it an adventure and explaining to your kids that you are a bunch of explorers in your house, searching for artifacts to bury. Make tinfoil hats as necessary, and turn hiding the capsule into the centerpiece of the event.

Bubble Wrap Stomp and Balloon Drop

Two fun add-ons to any of the above ideas, or parties in their own right. For the bubble wrap stomp, all you need is a bunch of packing materials. Attach bubble tape to any surface and let the kids at it. Make sure to get the bubble wrap with the big bubbles (which pack more of a firecracker-like sound than those puny bubbles) and synchronize the stomp with whatever time you are calling "midnight." The fun is in the sound, and in the contagious energy of a bunch of kids jumping and dancing on the stuff at the same time.

The balloon drop is a little more involved but kids LOVE it. Here's how to do it:
  • Line up two rectangular paper tablecloths and punch holes every 2 to 3 inches down one long side of each.
  • Stitch the tablecloths together with yarn, leaving a foot or so at the end for a rip cord. Tape the cloth to the ceiling on three sides, leaving the side opposite the rip cord open. Tape the cord up separately, so it's accessible. Let the center of the cloth hang down to allow space for the balloons.
  • Inflate at least 75 balloons, buy thin streamers and metallic confetti.
  • Stuff the cloth with balloons, then add the confetti and streamers on top. (Reverse it, and the confetti will weigh down the cloth and filter out ahead of time.) Tape up the last side of the cloth.
  • Let her rip! Just one strong pull tears through the paper, releasing a cascade of balloons and confetti--and some seriously amused children .
Forget about it and get a Babysitter

Always a good option!

Enjoy, and here's to great things in 2009!

Monday Musings: 2008 CHEERS and JEERS

Monday, December 29, 2008
I am still relatively new at this blogging thing and was having a hard time figuring out how to treat this week--such a liminal period, the end of one year (a tumultuous one at that), the beginning of a new one, affording, at the risk of sounding cheesy (like you don't know I'm cheesy by now), hope, opportunity, promise. How do you sum it up, especially through the lense of motherhood?

Luckily enough, 30 Rock provided some inspiration. I was slow on the uptake with this show which I am now obsessed with. In one of the early episodes, the sinewy 20 year old receptionist/eye-candy girl (who explains that she and her betrothed will have been dating "2 months in about 3 weeks") tells Liz Lemon: "We want to have kids when it's still cool."

Spot on, just like so much in the show: Parenthood, parenting, motherhood, babies--it's all ubiquitous right now. Whether it's the international press corp following Brangelina, special editions of popular magazines devoted solely to children, politicians being forced into the work-life balance debate, or the ever-ranging back and forth on nursing: The narrative of parenthood is hot. We're lucky, in a sense, to have kids when it's so au current. At the same time, it's difficult, sometimes, to navigate all the "noise" and just be a mom, isn't it? It's enough to mother and feed and caretake without reading about J Lo's parenting style or what 342 people think about the fact that Facebook has taken down photos of breastfeeding mothers.

So, without (even) further ado: My CHEERS and JEERS for all the news that was fit to be called "parenthood-related" in 2008:

JEERS to Trainwreck Teenage Pregnancies

With Jamie Lynn Spears giving birth at age 16 to Maddie Briann Aldridge, 17 year old Bristol Palin due any second, the ABC family show The Secret Life of the American Teen, and the media hailstorm over the eventually untrue "pregnancy pact" in Manchester, 2008 may be known as the year of the pregnant teen. Although I almost gave the phenomenon a CHEERS since it led to one of my favorite quotes of the year--Tina Fey as Sarah Palin: "Marriage is meant to be a sacred institution between two unwilling teenagers"--it's just horrific. Not to mention in-a-bad-way retro (remember the old Sally Jesse shows devoted to "Babies having babies"? Haven't we gotten past this?) . The most saddening part of this is when the teenagers in question claim to want our lives because of the "unconditional love."

My goodness, get a puppy.

to Iphone Apps for Parents

I constantly make fun of my husband for his love-affair with his mistress, the Iphone. But when a reader sent in this article about applications specifically tailored to parents I had to admit that the Iphone can do some pretty remarkable things. Whether you need a nursing tracker, a portable baby monitor, a recipe-maker, or a white-noise provider the Iphone has you covered. Next up it will nurse for you, watch the baby, and cook the food.

JEERS to the Man Who Gives Birth

The image and story of "the pregnant man" caused visceral reactions in almost everyone. First, there was the fact that a man, Thomas Beatie, was with child. It turned out he was born a woman, and when he went through the process of becoming a man, he did not have his ovaries removed, which made the pregnancy less of a scientific wonder and more an issue of gender politics. The LGBT community was torn on whether this man should have told his story so publicaly, concerned it could cause more damage than good and the jury is still out on whether telling the story to Oprah hurt or helped.

I'm happy for the happy couple, but the public fascination warrants the JEERS. Enough already! And, if Beatie really wanted to just have a family like "regular people" as he claims--why is he now writing a book about it. Just goes to show you how timelessly sensationalist pregnancy is.

CHEERS AND JEERS to Monster families

Two big families were in the media's eye this year, and they illustrate two completely different ways to have kids. The Duggars--Michelle and Jim and their 18 children--follow the controversial, conservative "Quiverfull" movement, which in general opposes using either birth control or infertility treatments, and is unequivocally opposed to "feminism"--hence my JEERS. The most recent addition to the family was Jordyn-Grace, born December 19 of this year. The rest range in age from 17 months to 21 years old and, cloyingly, also have names starting with "J": John-David, Jana, Jill, Jessa, Jinger, Joseph, Josiah, Joy-Anna, Jeremiah, Jedidiah, Jason, James, Justin, Jackson, Johannah Jennifer, and Joshua. The family's life is now being chronicled in a reality show on TLC called 17 Kids & Counting.

"Jon & Kate Plus 8" also shows the daily life of a family that went from Jon & Kate and their twin girls, to Jon & Kate, the twins, and a new set of sextuplets. Unlike the Duggars, this family was the product of modern fertility science. Everything they do happens in sextuplicate (is that a word?) and--this is why this garners a CHEERS-- it really makes having one or two kids seem cake-walk easy...!

Though not as publicized as with the Duggars: J&K+8 are also highly religious. It makes you wonder if you need to believe in God to be able to sustain a life with more than one of these little monsters...!

CHEERS AND JEERS to the "Momification" of Michelle Obama

Not surprisingly, with the election of Barack Obama as the 44th president, quite a bit of attention has been paid to his accomplished wife, Michelle. Michelle has a distinguished career in law and a history of working on behalf of the underpriveleged, and, in an early NPR interview, many of the Harvard professors that taught both Barack and Michelle almost sheepishly admitted that they would have pegged M to go onto a life in the national political spotlight. Perhaps relatedly--as part of the campaign, there was an effort to make Michelle more "palatable" to more conservative America, giving her a fashion make-over, even advice to speak more quietly so she would not seem so "militant." Hillary redux. On top of that, a great deal of attention has been paid to what role she will have as First Lady, something she herself has defined as "mom-in-chief." Debate now rages on the internet about whether she has been too "mom-ified," transforming a formidable working woman into a docile stay-at-home mom. Some argue that she is "throwing away her achievements" by not keeping a paying job, others say she is "reinventing stay-at-home motherhood." No doubt this debate will rage on for the next four (or eight??) years while Michelle is in the White House--and after that as well. CHEERS to having such a role model of a woman and her young kids in the national spotlight, JEERS to a culture of questioning and judging everything she does in the name of "motherhood."

CHEERS to finding the silver-lining of this recession.

According to this article, the recession may be good for marriage. The argument is "elegantly simple" (I for some reason always remember that bio text books described the double-helix like that--we remember the oddest things): Since money is the root of most marital problems, the lack of money reduces fighting. Hmmm...many missing links for sure...but according to the article, the strongest marriages were born during the Great Depression and it is nice to read something about the recession that doesn't make me want to jump off a bridge.

JEERS to "Twilight Moms"

This seems to be an example of people LOOKING to be cultish. There is an actual movement of crazy moms who are obsessed--and I mean obsessed--with the teeny-bopper "Twilight" books that this year's blockbuster movie was based on. Although the general assumption was that the movie would draw only teens and tweens, it turned out that women over the age of 25 made up 45% of the audiene for this film, and many of these people were mothers, either attending with their daughters, or going on their own with other moms. At first blush, this seems fine--moms reclaiming a bit of their youth and bonding with their daughters. But look a bit closer and see that these moms have websites, online communities and travel plans devoted to "Twilight." Debate rages amongst the moms about which 17 year old character they would rather date; they are booking trips en masse to visit the town where the books are set; one mother tried to buy the cheerleading outfit of a girl in the town--while the girl was in it. My interal crazy meter is going off. Plus if we have learned everything from after-school specials (can you believe our kids won't know what "after school specials" are??) it's this: We aren't really supposed to be our kids' friend, we're supposed to be their parents. A natural corrolary? We probably shouldn't be lusting after the same 17 year old who is on the poster in their rooms.


Was she a saintlike role model for working mothers, a privileged, book-banning control freak, or a pregnancy-faking cue-card-reading huckster? Probably none of the above, but every description seemed fitting at one point or another during the last couple months of the U.S. election. While Obama urged us to stick to the issues, Sarah Palin drove the electorate into a frenzy of half-truths and hearsay — and no one took her candidacy more personally than the mothers of America. With some distance on the election--and with the election ending how I wanted it to--I am starting to feel a bit sorry for Sarah, having been thrown into such a shark tank of media and national vitriol. But you know what? She was an idiot, she has made a mockery of intelligent women everywhere, and she has made it so I can never use the word "maverick" every agin. She never should have been thursted into the VP spotlight to begin with.

CHEERS to the Brangelina twins

You probably were expecting JEERS? A comment about the media's fascination with two people simply having babies and getting to do it with a small army of help in the form of nannies, cooks, trainers, more nannies? Perhaps a tie-back to the "monster family" topic above?

But you know what? I love Brangelina. I love that Angelina was a blood-wearing sociopath who has become a smiling mom in the park by day, a U.N. ambassador by afternoon, a red-carpet fixture by night.

I love that the trainwreck has transformed because she became a mom. It's inspiring. Plus she's just hot and wears tons of black and I might have bought aviator sunglasses beause she looks like such a badass in them.

Oh yea, and the twins are cute.

JEERS to Josef Fritzl, the Most evil parent of the year

The discovery of the family locked in seventy-three-year-old Austrian man Joseph Fritzl's basement — including his forty-two-year-old daughter and three grandchildren by incest, none of whom had ever seen the light of day — was one of the year's most gut-wrenching parenting news story. Fritzl is currently facing charges of rape, incest, false imprisonment and slavery, all of which should result in a nice long jail sentence before he rots in hell or whatever bad place you happen to believe in.

JEERS to the Most enviable toddler wardrobe of 2008: Suri Cruise

Suri is rarely photographed wearing the same thing twice (except her metallic shoes, which are de rigeur). She has a penchant for dresses, and the last year has seen her wearing high-end threads from Burberry, Juicy Couture, Phillip Lim, Bonpoint, Helena, and Splendid Little.

JEERS...yes, because it is excessive to dress a child like this and because there has got to be something wrong about the amount of time this child spends in the shoe section of Barney. But really? JEERS because I am jealous of the wardrobe of a 3 year old...!

JEERS to Bisphenoal A, Melamine, and other scary things

Last year it was lead in toys; this year, the toxic chemical BPA emanating from plastic containers and water bottles. There's nothing scarier than finding out that something as innocuous as toys and baby bottles may be causing your family harm. Then, the melamine scare. It came from China when, starting in July, alarming reports began emerging that the industrial chemical melamine had been found in Chinese-produced infant formula, leading to kidney stones in thousands of infants. Just this past month, though, the story took a turn for the local when news leaked that even U.S.-made infant formula contained the dangerous chemical, prompting the FDA to release new guidelines for what it considered a "safe amount." The substance, used to make plastics, apparently turns up in a lot of products whose manufacturers are hoping to boost protein levels of dairy and powdered-dairy products. Far from being a mere accident, this was the kind of contamination that makes you wonder whether you can eat anything you don't grow yourself.

JEERS AND CHEERS to Vaccinations and Autism

If you want to immediately spur eye-rolls, utter "Jenny McCarthy," "vaccinations" or "autism" to a bunch of moms, but be prepared for some vehement reactions. This year, Amanda Peet got reamed on the internet for calling non-vaccinating parents "parasites," while Dennis Leary's jokes about autistic kids' parents backfired bigtime, and singer Kimya Dawson (of Juno fame) provoked the ire of commenters with an off-hand comment about not vaccinating her daughter. CHEERS for promoting conversation, JEERS for celebrities undermining accepted medical science. (Go ahead, send me the hatemail, I am ready).

JEERS to the Loss of a Father: Heath Ledger

The passing of any young man is a tragedy. The passing of a young man just as he is beginning to really get noticed for his craft, even more so. The passing of a young father just as his child begins blossoming into her young life--the biggerst tragedy of all.

The images of little Matilda being hugged by her devastated mom brought home an obvious truth: It doesn't matter how much money or fame you can still drop dead at any time.

Hug your kids.

to the Most well-intentioned legislation that utterly backfired: the Nebraska Safe Haven law

Nebraska legislators thought they'd make life easier on desperate parents when they passed a blanket safe haven law. Little did they know how desperate some parents were. Parents traveled hours--to abandon their teens. One dad dropped of nine kids before the law was amended. What started out as a way to decriminalize parents who were responsible enough to take steps to ensure the safety of their newborn children, even when they couldn't take care of them themselves, turned into a "get out of child-jail free card," making regular parents everywhere scratch their heads in amazement.

CHEERS to the Best Sesame Street guest star ever: Feist

It's not easy to find something or somebody who transfixes parents and toddlers alike, but Feist did the trick.


Finally, CHEERS to TINA FEY.

If you can't tell yet, I am obsessed with Tina Fey.

A mom who is witty and self-deprecating, accomplished and humble.

Her interview in Vanity Fair, full of tidbits about how a "regular" girl achieved the sort of confidence and comfort in her own skin to serve as a moral compass through life, has informed my thoughts on how to raise children--and especially girls--more than anything else I have read this year.

And she just seems so normal. CHEERS to normal moms...!

Happy New Year! Look out tomorrow for fun ways to ring in 2009 with your kids...

"Brown Girls" in Tehelka Magazine

Friday, December 26, 2008

"Brown Girls" was featured in Tehelka magazine this past weekend, the fastest-growing weekly magazine in India.

It's an awesome magazine and the current issue is the "Fiction Issue," featuring 15 original works on the theme of "excess," along with gorgeous illustrations. Check it out!

Brown Girls: Oh Those Holiday Traditions

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

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Happy Everything!

There's Still Time To Make a Difference

DwB reader Shirin let me know that one of the charities we profiled a few weeks back--"Adopt-A-Family by Brighter Beginnings"--is in desperate need for donations before Christmas. Some of the families who promised to provide books and toys as presents to kids have dropped out at the last minute. There's still time for you to make a huge difference in a kid's life this holiday season just by donating some of the baby parapheneila you have lying around your house. More information below, and you can call Jody at 510-903-7533:

Adopt-A-Family by Brighter Beginnings
Brighter Beginnings is a United Way organization that provides resources and help for young children and their families in need. This rewarding charity program couldn’t be simpler, and it’s a little like becoming Santa Claus.

First, pick a family or individual online by reading about them. (For example, “Doria is a single mom of 2 boys, ages 6 months and 2 years. She comes from a broken home and grew up primarily in foster care. She is currently living in shared housing because she cannot afford her own place. She recently gave birth to a son and is unable to work due to health problems.”) You’ll see their wishlist, which often involves things like diapers, warm clothing, formula and toys. It’s up to you how much or how little you’d like to give.

Buy the items, or give unused items from your kid’s closet, and drop them off at a location near you. My friend who did this last year received a sweet letter from the family she had adopted expressing their appreciation. It’s a personal way of giving, you know that your entire gift will go straight to the person in need, and you can even involve your kids in it.

Barbies and Bikini Waxes

I was second in line for a bikini wax this weekend. Behind an 8 year old girl. I know she was 8 because her mother (who looked like she had had every possible stray hair on her body waxed and then lasered and then plucked, just for good measure) who was there with her told me. When a clumsily formed question about whether her daughter was a swimmer--because I could not fathom any reason for an 8 year old to be getting waxed-- rolled out of my mouth, she looked at me like I was speaking in tongues and said no.

Sure, it's easy to sit here in mommy-blog-land and talk about the "dangerousness" of 8 year old girls getting bikini waxes. "Girls are growing up too fast." "Girls are too interested in their looks." We all know these things. "Constant pressure to look good is "dangerous" for a girl's self-esteem and sense of self." That's true for "girls" of 8 to 92, isn't it? The first thing that struck me, though, wasn't the dangerousness--that came later. I just felt sorry for the little girl. I often bemoan the amount of "maintenance" I engage in these days. Eyebrow threading, manicures, pedicures, the occasional facial--it's a part-time job for sure--the quest for a merely presentable image...! Why start at 8?? I was fourteen before my mom let me wax my legs. I didn't own a lipstick until I was a junior in college, I didn't touch my eyebrows until law school and waxing down there? Please.

I'm reminded of my friend Eloise's mom, who on the day of our law school graduation told us that we have a duty in life--a duty to be interesting. It's always stuck with me. How interesting can you be if you spend the summer after 5th grade at spa camp? (Yes. There is such a thing). If you grow up prioritizing image over imagination?

As I have mentioned, I am pregnant with my third child--a girl to add to my two crazy boys. And I definitely am noticing things I didn't notice the first two times. On our trip to Mexico, I kept staring at the pre-pubescent girls at the pool in little bikinis. There was something horrific about it. Like those Puritanical paintings of children-as-miniature-adults. And even the most cursory look at the "parenthood" shelf at the bookstore yields titles like "Stressed Out Girls: Helping Them Thrive in the Age of Pressure" and "Girlology: A Girl's Guide to Stuff that Matters." Obviously it's too easy to indict tv and movies for the phenomenon but: Did you know that chick on Gossip Girl--the one wearing the Elizabeth and James blazer and carrying the Fendi bag--is fifteen years old?

Girls love beauty, girls love makeup, girls love to shop. There is no need to try to debunk these things--they aren't myths they are statistical facts. I am looking forward to giving my daughter my handbags one day and--yes--going to the spa with her. But a beauty maintenance routine at 8? Spa camp? My First Facial? Please God I hope not.

This goes deeper than the intrinsic ick factor of imagining a child on a facialist's table instead of outside playing in the grass. There's something fundamentally disturbing about little girls thinking about "fixing" things about themselves and their looks. When little boys are throwing balls around, nobody thinks they are "practicing" to be better--they are just playing. But a girl getting waxed? That is an improvement being made. I'm sorry for the rhetorical brimstone and firebrand but it just is dangerous. Sure, I probably have a bit of Indian prudishness running through my blood. But is there any possible reason an 8 year old should be getting her bikini line waxed? Can it be anything other than sexual? For any reason other than pleasing a man?

Monday Musings: Long Live the Sap

Monday, December 22, 2008

My friend L and I are masochists. This past weekend we hosted a Holiday Kids Party for 15 moms and 19 children at my house, complete with cookies to decorate, a silver star to bedazzle, and a skinny Indian Santa (my husband--who, to his horror, was called "Santa Uncle" by one of the older kids) to ogle. There were juice boxes for the kids, champagne for the mommas, and enough high-pitched shrieking to have qualified as a zoo. It was great. A few years ago it would have been unimaginable and, in fact, many of the moms in attendance admitted to furrowed brows upon getting the evite from me--you're hosting a what? But among the many thoughts that count as epiphany these days ("I am going to have to drive my children to school for the next 18 years") is this one: Motherhood has made me into an unmitigated sappy mess. Coupled with the general dose of sentimentality provided by the holidays--it's over, done, I am a cooked sappy goose.

The thing is, I have always been a sap. More "crying at Life is Beautiful" than "crying at Hallmark commercials"; more emailing my kids random thoughts than scrapbooking about their first steps, but a sap nonetheless. And this time of year forces reflection doesn't it? It's sort of the silver lining of the frantic-ness of the end of the year: You get to (albeit somewhat forcedly by the end of the calendar) take stock of things, try to get perspective on your year, think about the people who are important to you. That was the impetus for the Holiday Crack-y Kids Party, really. We wanted to take a moment to get all of these amazing women together. To see all of the kids who are going to grow up side by side. To mark the fact that life right now is absolute craziness, punctuated by tantrums, spilled juice, melt-downs--but aren't we lucky that we're all in it together? Like Tina Fey said, "I don't care how many covers you're on. When you're chasing a three-year-old around with a pull-up [diaper] hoping she won't poop on the floor, you're just like every other mom on the planet."

My sappy-chip got to go into overdrive since, immediately after the party, we had our annual family dinner--my husband and I; our sisters; my sister's fiance; my husband's sister's husband. Sitting around the table, I found myself realizing that I was surrounded by 5 of my absolute favorite people in the entire world. 5 of the people who can make me laugh louder than anybody else. Who can read my expressions. Who I let myself call when I need help (and who get how weird I am about asking for help). I was so overcome by my sappiness that I had to bite my tongue at one point so as not to proclaim--as an absolute non-sequitur--how much I love my brother-in-law. Any control I may have once had over my reckless sappiness was absolutely absent.

And I suppose it's time to get used to it, because life is going to continue to throw us for many loop-de-loops. At our family dinner, when we were talking about 2008 and its myriad ups and downs, I found myself thinking about how different each event would have been without the cocoon of the people I love. The birth of two babies, the death of a father; fear over a newborn and fear over an elder; new motherhood and pregnancy; a blissfully happy engagement; layoffs and health scares, birthdays at the beach and on the drums in a courtyard; fellowships; imminent moves across the country; and everything in between. Events, for sure, like so many other peoples', but they just happen, collectively, to be ours. Our little story, our piece of the world. We share it together and I thought about how I would not be the same person if I didn't share every single moment of my life with the people I am so fortunate to have in it. I don't remember having these sort of bone-deep moments of sappy contemplation before. Another byproduct of motherhood, like the not-quite flat stomach and the inability to watch sad news stories about kids. Moms definitely have a heightened sense of sappiness... but if the pay-off is gratitude then I suppose some good comes from it? I'm not going to go emblazoning "Carpe sappiness" on any tshirts soon...but I might as well...

Because why not risk being sappy if it means showing gratitude. Why not take a moment to appreciate people, and the other moms we know, especially the ones who have gotten us this far. The ones who come over the night before the party to decorate with you, even though they are averaging 5 hours sleep a night and have multiple deadlines. The ones who you call and email for everything from advice on cold medicine for your toddler to borrowing bathing suits. The ones who have never forgotten your birthday, who you let bring food to your parties, who drive you to airports, who pick up your children from school when you are in a pinch, who ask you what your kids are up to and actually want to know, who appreciate how hard we work and how hard we try. The people who show up--for weddings and wakes alike. The people with whom we are all in this together.

Sappiness isn't always so bad. And even it if is, I am betting we're kind of stuck with it.

Christmas Penis Issues

Friday, December 19, 2008

You likely have a bunch of things you are worried about this holiday season. The still-gloomy economy. Traveling with children. What to wear to the "festive ethnic chic attire requested" cocktail party. Unfortunately, I am here to tell you that you need to add one more concern to your list: Your toddler son harming his penis with a toilet seat.

That's right.

According to this recent report, injuries by toilet seats are on the rise and--ready for it?--"[a]s Christmas approaches many families will be visiting relatives and friends and their recently toilet-trained toddlers will be keen to show how grown up they are by going to the toilet on their own...It is important that parents check out the toilet seats in advance, not to mention the ones they have in their own homes, and accompany their children if necessary."

The doctors who authored this report suggest tips to parents to prevent penis-injury-by-toilet-seat, including banning "heavier" toilet seats and "leaving the toilet up after use, even though it contradicts the social norm of putting it down." They earnestly tell the reader that: "We are concerned that the growing trend of heavy toilet seats poses a risk not only to [toddlers'] health, but to their confidence."

Um. Come on. Where do I even begin? First of all, I can't stop laughing over the fact that this article somehow makes the issue of toilet-seat issues a Christmas topic. Really? Beware of people posing as Santa, bad eggnogg, and particularly heavy toilet seats out to get your toddler sons?

But, more importantly, how far are we going to go in our never-ending pursuit to protect our children? The verbotin peanuts, the agonizing over PBS Sprout's "educational content," the horror and guilt over standard-issue scraped knees or bruised elbows. I think Indian moms are hard-wired to be overprotective and reports like this don't help matters at all. I'm reminded of an article my friend Anu sent around a while ago about a mom who--purposely--left her 9 year old at Bloomingdales, armed with a MetroCard and a subway map, believing it was time for him to learn to use the subway on his own. She was accused of everything from being a bad mother to being a criminal but she stood by her decision and said that "the problem with this everything-is-dangerous outlook is that over-protectiveness is a danger in and of itself."

It's true. I really believe it...and I really don't want to have to leave the toilet seats in my house up. I've just taught my husband to put them down.

(Thank you Meghana for alerting me to this penis report...!)

Brown Girls: Mean Girls

Thursday, December 18, 2008

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"Brown Girl Guide" Dispatch: Cold Weather Skin Savers

Wednesday, December 17, 2008
Baby it's COLD outside. Brown Girl Guide is here to help. Brown skin needs special treatments to combat the dryness and general ashy-ness that the holiday season gifts to our skin. Just as we are luckier in the summer months to be able to brave the sun without as much damage as our paler BFFs (but you still need to wear sunscreen! Don't be fooled!), our skin's natural resilience ironically makes it more difficult to treat during the cold months, necessitating deeper-penetrating formulas and specific active ingredients designed to trouble-shoot darker pigment issues such as grayness and flakiness. Ah karma.

For scaly elbows and heels: Try Neutrogena Deep Moisture Butter Body Cream. It's just as good, if not better, than the cult-favorite everyone raves about at Kiehl's (at a fraction of the cost).

If your heels or elbows are actually cracking--a problem many Indians are prone to--apply an over-the-counter 1 percent hydrocortisone treatment twice a day. Also, switch to oil-based body creams, which trap water into the skin. Lastly, apply all treatments immediately after you shower, when your skin is most able to absorb the repairing ingredients.

Lizard Legs: Dry indoor heat and less frequent shaving (come on, you know you do it) often lead to scaly flakes on skin--which are more noticable the more pigmented your skin is. If you have some time, take a warm bath and add a few drops of body oil to the tub. Even olive oil will do. Exfoliate with a mineral polish to banish the dead cells, and slather on a cream immediately when you get out of the bath. St. Ives Mineral Therapy Smoothing In-Shower Exfoliating Body Polish works wonders.

Parched Faces: Harsh winds cause chapping, and the constant propensity for brown skin to appear ashen is heightened by windburn and unforgiving elements. To protect and brighten your skin, add a hydrating serum to your regime that contains humectants--these help heighten moisture levels. One of my favorites is from LaRoche-Posay--your face instantly feels less tight and has more illumination.

After the serum, smooth on a rich, hydrating cream, not a lotion--lotions contain alcohol which will only further dry you out. Some of the tried-and-trued ultrarich face creams for the wickedly cold winter months:

Elizabeth Arden Eight Hour Cream Skin Protectant. An oldie but goodie. Simple, rich, moisturizer where a little goes a long way, and there is no greasy residue.
Dr. Weil for Origin Plantidote. This restores with vitamin E and a "mega-mushroom" cocktail. The list of ingredients and claims is long and a little pretentious--but the stuff works.
Dermalogica Age Smart Super Rich Repair. This literally blast of moisture is my favorite cream du jour. It's designed for older skin, but I use it as a night treatment when my skin is particularly ornery.

Chapped Lips: I am saving the best for last. I have finally found the must-have item for all of your purses. It has rid me of my Carmex addiction and saved me a pretty penny to boot. I'm putting it right up there with YSL Touche Eclat in my beauty hall of fame. Plus everybody asks me what it is when I pull it out because it isn't one of the usual suspects--I am so mysterious. Introducing: Nanak's Lip Smoothee. Yes, it is a horrible name. Yes, the packaging leaves something to be desired. But believe me, this is the best chapstick I have ever found and I truly believe I have tried them all. It's simple. It doesn't try to do too much or be the star of your beauty arsenal. But it does what it is supposed to do. It has a work ethic. You can only purchase in bulk from the website, but you can find Nanak's at many holistic or Indian markets. A part of my heart (or lips I suppose) will always belong to Archie for turning me onto the stuff--and breaking my Carmex-crack habit--thank you!

Finally, my top 3 tips for radiant winter skin:

1) Control the climate: In winter, the humidity in the air can get lower than that of a desert--even if you live in a rainy climate, like the Bay Area. Use a humidifier and moisturize throughout the day to keep skin quenched. And--I know this is difficult--try to take a warm, versus a hot shower. (I will admit I am usually incapable of doing this but I notice the difference in my skin when I do).

2) Read the ingredients on all your products, especially your soap: Many soaps contain detergents that strip moisture and oils from your skin. Use mild soaps like Cetaphil.

3) Go au naturale: Use fragrance-free laundry detergent and fabric softener--fragrances are unnecessary and can irritate sensitive winter skin. Similarly, if your skin is feeling particularly itchy, skip the wool and synthetic clothing and opt for natural fibers like silk and cotton which are less likely to irritate already weathered skin.

For more beauty tips, as well as secrets and news on all things style specifically tailored to brown girls, sign up for Brown Girl Guide, launching soon.

Kid-less in Mexico

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

5 days and 4 nights at a super luxe resort in Mexico. Without the kids. I didn't really believe it was happening until I was on the airplane, fully absorbed in my book, a baby cried--and I almost started to laugh when I realized it wasn't mine...!

At first it was like my husband and I were re-learning how to dance with each other. We kept looking for baby accoutrements on the security conveyer belt, we held hands and it felt odd that our arms weren't pulling wheeled carseats or screaming toddlers.

But, very quickly, the old moves came back to us. Perfect weather, white sand beaches, drinks with umbrellas in them and one of the most beautifully designed hotels I have ever seen didn't hurt. For 5 days we covered all the "re"s. Recharging. Rejeuvinating. Reconnecting. Remembering. That was a sort of surprise: Having the luxury of time and concentration to think back and remember everything from a funny comment somebody made at our wedding, to the first trip we took together (to El Salvador) and how excited and nervous we were, to our first apartment and the time I presented frozen spinach pie as a home-cooked meal. The stories bubbled to the surface, apropos of little, our minds uncluttered by logistics, schedules, naptimes, needs of children.

We covered a bunch of the "un"s too. Unwound. Unplugged. Understood. We took the time to think about and understand our life, ruminate on where we are going, plan and map out our future with wide-eyed excitement instead of necessity.

At the risk of sounding hyperbolic: It was pretty magical. And of course I was torn about leaving my kids, but the guilt became theoretical by day 2--an internalization of the social script that I am "supposed" to feel bad about "deserting" my children. I obviously missed them, especially when I saw little boys splashing around in the pool, showboating for their parents, smiling big toothy grins and running on the beach. But I missed them in a way that made my chest pull with love, not with shame.

It got me wondering about some of the reactions I received when I told people about our vacation before we left. One close friend who is not yet a mother told me that her parents never went away together, alone, and she thinks their marriage suffered because of it. Another friend who is a mom told me to "pretend you don't feel guilty even though you obviously will." Yet another mom friend asked me if my husband was forcing me to go. All of these sentiments were voiced with the passion and certainty often reserved for politics and love.

Why are there such strong reactions to how we choose to spend our time after we have kids? And do we all--secretly or openly--condemn parents who choose to get away without their kids? Is it selfish?

I personally think that our trip was selfish. But lots of the things I choose to do would be technically selfish, I'm guessing? Getting a pedicure instead of spending time with my son would be selfish. Reading a novel (just finished "The Story of a Marriage"--amazing story-telling)? Weekly dinners with girlfriends? Spending money on something frivolous? Selfish, selfish, selfish, right?

When I was talking about this with my husband, who has a clarity of purpose I often envy and who feels no guilt about leaving the kids for a few days, he said, "It's important for us to do this" and I immediately nodded my head in agreement. I knew that the trip was good for us. "And it's important for the babies too," he said. I sort of laughed, thinking about our 3 year old and our 1 year old weighing the import of us escaping to hot tubs and 5 star restaurants versus playing peek-a-boo with them.

"No I mean it," he said.

I looked at him expectantly.

"It's important for our kids to have parents who are in love with each other and who have a marriage that is as strong in 20 years as it is right now," he said. And suddenly the trip didn't seem quite so selfish anymore.

Monday Musings: Labor and Orgasms

Monday, December 15, 2008

As I was penning tips on how to travel with kids last week, I myself was getting ready for a 5 day trip with my husband, sans children. We got back last night and while I can't come up with the right word to sum it all up (is "absoluteblisswhydidntwedothisbefore" a word?), I will try to do so with a few words tomorrow.

I can't really come up with a good segue either so let's just get to it: Labor, Delivery, Orgasm? According to the newly-released documentary "Orgasmic Birth," labor causes a surge of hormones and endorphins, which are the same ones present when experiencing sexual pleasure. And, when a baby is going through the birth canal, the same places are being touched that would cause an orgasm. This perfect storm of factors inspired filmmaker Debra Pascali-Bonaro to travel the world and film the births of children by women who believe in this notion and who claim to have had orgasms during labor. The take-away? That the birthing process has the possibility of being a sensuous, sexual event. Per the website for the film, "Orgasmic Birth" delivers "the ultimate challenge to our cultural myths by inviting viewers to see the emotional, spiritual, and physical heights attainable through birth. Witness the passion as birth is revealed as an integral part of woman's sexuality and a neglected human right."

While at first blush the film seems sensationalist and sort of kinky, the crux of it amounts to the idea that, given the right circumstances and attitude, the birth process can be one of pleasure and ecstasy versus--well--horrific pain.

I'm first in line for the epidural, I am anti-pain. But equating the the arrival of my children with the stuff of romance? Hmmm. Not even a 5 day trip to Mexico gets me to that point. What do you think?

Comments Are Back Up

Saturday, December 13, 2008
Hi readers! Thanks for all your emails alerting me that the comments were down. The problem is fixed now--looking forward to hearing from you!


Friday Frivolity

Friday, December 12, 2008
You've probably already seen this video of the Barack-roll, but how about this one: Rick Astley "Rick-rolling"* the entire Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade!

*In case you need a refresher (courtesy of Wikipedia): Rickrolling is an Internet meme typically involving the music video for the 1987 Rick Astley song "Never Gonna Give You Up". The meme is a bait and switch: a person provides a Web link that he or she claims is relevant to the topic at hand, but the link actually takes the user to the Astley video. The URL can be masked or obfuscated in some manner so that the user cannot determine the true source of the link without clicking. When a person clicks on the link and is led to the web page, he or she is said to have been "Rickrolled" (also spelled Rickroll'd).

The Oh-So Friendly Skies

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Remember when the toughest part of airline travel was figuring out what magazine to read and getting over the fact that you would have to make do with red wine that is cold (because apparently airplanes only have cold red wine? Why is that?)? I am assuming times have changed for you as they have for me. The only thing worse than facing airport lines, smaller and smaller airplane seats, taking off and taking on your shoes over and over again in the name of "security" is, in fact, doing so with a baby. Or two or three.

But it's Christmastime, when many of us will be embarking on various adventures in air travel. Gives the phrase "it's not the destination, it's the journey" a whole new meaning, eh? Here, at the request of several readers, are some of the best tips I've heard and used on traveling with kids:

Before You Leave
  • Less crowds means less stress. If you have the option, book your flights for non-peak travel times: Mondays - Wednesdays, at midday, or in the evening.
  • Pack more food, snacks, diapers, and wipes than you think you will need. Something about planes bring on messes of unprecedented proportions. Plus, you never know if you'll be delayed.
  • As for activities: Pack books, activity/coloring books, travel-sized board games, playing cards, and, if you let your child use a portable video game system or LeapPad®, you will never appreciate it more. (Be sure to charge it the night before.) And remember Colorforms? Those plastic sticky things that peel on or off every surface? They are particularly useful on planes, where your kids can stick and unstick them over and over again to the windows and the tray tables. And each other.
  • If your child is old enough: Prepare your child for the trip. Tell him what to expect at the airport and on the plane, and give him tips for how to behave. (When checking or screening baggage, reassure your child he will get his belongings back — something many kids worry about.)
  • Remind your child that it's illegal to make any kind of jokes about bombs. My friend learned this the hard way--and her family in London was not amused when she wasn't there for Christmas dinner. According to the FAA, even a child's jest can result in fines, delays, and revocation of your tickets.
  • Save room and pack your checked luggage lightly. Okay--lighter. Check out this site and this one to find places near your destination to rent cribs, strollers and any other baby/child necessities you may need.
In the Airport
  • Allow extra time at the airport. As you know, everything takes looooongerrrrr when traveling with kids.
  • Give your child safety rules, such as what to do if you become separated. Should she stay where she is and wait for you?
  • If you are traveling with a carseat, I cannot sing enough praise for the GoGoKidz contraption that turns your carseat into a stroller. If only I had a dollar for every envious stare I get as I wheel this baby through airports...
On the Plane
  • Take-offs and landings can be painful for little ears. For young babies, bring a pacifier or a bottle to use during these times. For older children, bring along ear filters, which buffer eardrums against rapidly changing air pressure. Encourage your child to swallow by offering beverages, gum, or hard candy.
  • For maximum entertainment valve, bring toys out one at a time, and put one away before introducing the next. One odd thing that has worked for me: Individually wrapping a bunch of small toys and presenting them to my kids through the course of the flight--especially when they are getting antsy. Kids love presents.
  • Seat your child by the window. Most kids find the view fascinating. It's also safer than sitting on the aisle, where little arms and legs could get bumped.
  • Remember, not all passengers appreciate the joys of children...even a perfect, genius, wonderful one like yours...! Plan to keep your child entertained and know your kid--some parents of noisy kids, for instance, deliberately choose seats in the back of the plane, where engine noise can muffle piping voices. My friend Suzanne told me two tips to immediately ingratiate yourself to your fellow-passengers, which I still use today: (1) Enter the plane bearing a bag of ear plugs and hand them out (with self-mockery) to the people next to you; and (2) Buy everyone around you a drink.

Brown Girls: Holiday Party Pre-Mortem

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Congrats to some new Devis with Babies...

Two very different women are joining our ranks as Devis with Babies.

First, congrats to Parminder Nagra, who is expecting her first child this summer.

And also--in case you missed it--congratulations to Rajo Devi (heh), who yesterday became the oldest woman in the world to give birth. She is 70 years old.

Can you imagine? Running after a newborn when you are 70?? What do you think the story is here?

Merry Krishnamas?

I grew up celebrating Christmas. Sort of. We put up a tree, we exchanged gifts. We listened to carols and, as my sister and I got older, we looked at Christmas as a time for our family to come together, spend time at home, drink hot buttered drinks, celebrate and be thankful. We never went to Mass or put up nativity scenes (and, in fact, my dad for some reason has always liked the look of menorahs so we put up one of those one year) but, when people ask if we celebrated Christmas as kids, we always say yes.

We also celebrated Diwali. My mom would have big Diwali parties, would light floating candles, and every year would remind me that my name derived from this festival. Diwali was never explained to us as an "Indian Christmas"--I can see how that could be annoying. But, in all honesty, we also didn't celebrate it with the gusto with which I remember celebrating December 25th.

Which all comes to a head, now, of course, when thinking about whether my kids will celebrate Christmas. My husband never believed in Santa Claus and his family never really celebrated Christmas. He has memories--which he will proudly recite--about debunking Christmas mythology and the existence of Santa to his 6 year old friends at school (there may have been tears). While he will indulge me, he thinks I'm a little silly to put up a tree, garlands, stockings, and ask to be taken to see the holiday decorations in the department store windows and "the houses with the best Christmas lights." (I think I'm a little silly too. But I still ask to see this stuff). But, as in many spheres of our life, there has been a shift in my husband in terms of his perspective on this holiday since we've had kids. After he and my 3 year old put up our tree (and my son essentially thought his dad was the most amazing person on the planet for making the glittery shimmery object materialize from our garage), he even told me that he is glad I "make him do this"...! (I wish I had had Dave Chapelle's home stenographer around so that I could always remember this moment...)

I would like to give our kids Christmas. First of all, I have so many memories of the time of year from my own childhood and we often want to pass on the happy traditions from our own youth, right? Plus, Christmas doesn't really seem Christian to me. For better or for worse, it just seems "American," like Thanksgiving or Halloween. Obviously this provides a host of issues as well--because, really, even the secular traditions around most holidays, American and not, are baffling when you try to think about them rationally--but, end of the day: We are American. We are a part of it. Is it worth fighting this particular manifestation of it?

I don't think so. But I could be wrong. Once in a while I am. Ha. No, seriously, I do wonder about whether it would be "better" to explain to my kids from an early age that we aren't Christian and we don't celebrate this holiday. Maybe use the season as an opportunity to discuss diversity of viewpoints and religion. On the flip side, I just don't care enough to be one of those people who insists that this period of time be called "the holidays" instead of "Christmas". Neither do these Hindus so I guess I'm not alone in being rubbed the wrong way by the overly-PC nature of some very well-meaning people.

As for the fact that Christmas really is about--well--Jesus. I'm reminded of a story my husband told me about the Christian missionaries arriving in India to spread their gospel. One of the missionaries walked into an Indian temple and showed the Hindus a picture of Jesus. "This is our lord Jesus Christ," the missionary said. The priest looked at the man, looked at the picture, took it from the missionary's hand and tacked it onto his wall--above various images of Krishna, Ganesha, and others. When the missionary protested--"No, Jesus is the only God, you have to take those other images down"--the Indian priest was baffled. "We have many Gods here," he said, leaving the missionary speechless.

So be it that Christmas is about Jesus. We have a rich cultural tradition of accepting different faiths anyway.

We will be spending Christmas with my parents, my sister-in-law, my brother-in-law, my nephew, and of course our kids. We'll eat tons, we'll exchange presents, we'll sit around the fire and re-hash stories we've told before. There will be a tree.

I can't wait and I'm kind of "pro" any excuse that gets this particular group of people together...

Happy Bakri-Id

Monday, December 8, 2008
Tomorrow is Bakri-id, one of the most celebrated Muslim festivals and a day of Muslim sacrifice. A Happy Eid day to Muslims everywhere. In light of the terror attacks in Mumbai, many Muslims are going out of their way to express that their Islam is a peaceful, loving one, and to condemn the recent events.

We are all capable of contemplating and remembering the events still going on in Mumbai without condemning an entire religion.

Here is one of the more poignant tribute to the Mumbai attacks I have yet to see, music by Karsh Kale:

The words in the middle of the video are Gandhi's. Many thanks to Nehal for the video.

Monday Musings: Kids Say the Darndest Things

Have you talked with your kids about the Mumbai terror attacks?

At a holiday party this weekend, my friend, who has a 6 year old, was telling me about how her daughter was fixated on the news they watched all Thanksgiving weekend. My friend was in unfamiliar territory. Like all of us, she attempts to control the media her daughter sees. She balances telling the truth at all times with safeguarding her child's innocence. She weighs the pros and cons of each PBS Sprout program before allowing her children to watch it. But current events throw our carefully orchestrated systems of parenting out the window sometimes. Incapable of turning off the coverage of the Taj, my friend wondered whether she should let her daughter see the graphic footage of carnage and death, how she should explain it, and now, over a week later, she is dealing with how to field the constant and myriad questions the images provoked in her daughter.

Why are the men smiling Mommy?

Is that a baby?

What is happening in that hotel now?

Who cleaned all of that up?

My friend is at a loss. Having seen more disaster and terrorism than she hopes her daughter ever will, she continues to read the news about Mumbai but, for the most part, goes on with her life as usual. Not so for her 6 year old. Every day, little R has a new question that comes from her 6 year old attempts at trying to make sense of the nonsensical. Everyday, often apropos of nothing, R asks her mother to explain to her what happened again. And everyday my friend comes face to face with the fact that, sometime soon--maybe even now--she will stop being able to provide all the answers to her children.

"When she asked me if the terrorists' moms are mad at them, I had to leave the room so that she didn't see me cry," my friend told me.

We were at a Christmas party at a tiki bar. It was a pretty surreal setting for the unsettling conversation, and "Guns and Roses" was playing in the background. We both took sips of our drinks and I felt grateful for the small fact that, when my 3 year old asked me about the coverage of the attacks, I was able to tell him that it was a bad movie and that Fireman Sam was coming to save everyone and that the good guys win in the end.

My kids don't understand these things. Yet.

Devis Like Smart Girls

Friday, December 5, 2008
Two empowering new voices for all our little Brown Girls to emulate:

Check out Saturday Night Live's Amy Poehler's new webshow "Smart Girls At the Party," which "celebrates girls who are changing the world just by being themselves":

And take a peek at for more pro-social messages for little girls everwhere. Plus some cool t-shirts.

Have a great weekend!

Brown Girls: The Whole World is Watching?

Thursday, December 4, 2008