How To Raise A Generous Kid

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

How do you raise empathetic children? It's something any mother wants. And it is something that has come up here before. If you're like me, you find yourself wondering how to instill values of generosity and empathy, especially when our kids, for the most part (and knock on wood), will never know "want."

Along those lines, A., a reader, forwarded me this post from her blog, the South Asian Philanthropy project, addressing this exact issue.

Great tips for something well worth keeping in the backdrop of our minds all the time. Do you have ways in which you are consciously raising generous, charitable children? Please share!

Monday Musings: Love in the Time of Stochasticity

Monday, June 29, 2009

I was on the phone with Comcast the other day for, quite literally, 57 minutes. Good times, those long tete-a-tetes with your cable provider, no?

We had to switch our modem from a business unit to a residential one and, for some reason, the minute we did, nothing worked. No tv, no internet, no phone. It was all Little House on the Prairie. I sent bird signals to my sister to pick up milk.

It was frustrating. We get so used to feeling "connected." Whether it be via television, the internet, or (for some people) the phone (and that parenthetical is there because I am the WORST phone-person in the history of the planet--ask my mother-in-law.) We get so used to feeling like we have knowledge--of everything--right at our fingers and that we can be in touch, not only with information, but with the people we love (or socially network with. heh.) at the drop of a hat.

This Comcast phone call took place as my husband was in the air, on the way to India to see his grandmother who had, seemingly out of the blue, fallen into a coma. Hands were wrung, logistics were hashed out, tears were shed and, as the sum total of it all: My husband knew in his heart that he had to go be with his grandmother and grandfather. And I loved him even more for that being the case.

Yet, there I was, left with details like getting our On-Demand back on (normally something firmly in my husband's domain...having to do with that blasted "technology"...), so that our eldest did not revolt against the world because of a day without the Berenstein Bears.

"I don't understand," I said. "Our--what is the word? Our white box thing? Our router was working fine before we switched the other thing," I concluded, super proud of myself for coming up with the word "router."

"I here you ma'am," Mister Super Comcast Tech Guy said, "but I can see here by proxying into your system that the new modem is working absolutely pristinely (ed: pristinely? really?), but that it can't connect to your router."

Connections. We try to make them all the time. We try to make sense of things in the everyday that are--let's face it--pretty random. In the last week, here are some of the things that have happened: Michael Jackson died, Farah Fawcett died, my husband's grandmother went into a coma, my brother-in-law's grandfather passed away, one of our best friends was hospitalized for a staph infection, my sister's wedding invitations went out, I decoupaged a table, my middle son learned to love blueberries and finally said "mama" instead of "papa" (which is, believe it or not, what he called me)...

What does it all mean?

None of "it" mattered during the Comcast call. "It" was rendered meaningless because, unless I got Sprout On Demand back, my kid was gonna torch the house.

"Is there something I can do to re-set the router," I asked, plaintively?

"Of course, let's try it again," Mister (kind of annoying) Super Comcast Tech guy said...for the ninth time...

And again, off we went to regain our connectivity.

One of the first things my husband and I talked about when we heard the news about his grandmother was, of course, the fate of his grandfather. What happens to somebody when your connection to the world and your lifeline is taken from you after 60-some years of marriage? What becomes of you? How do we make life worth living for him if the worst case scenario comes to fruition? How do we connect him to us? What will we be like when we are in the same situation--hopefully, knock-on-wood, pray to whatever god(s) you believe in-- years from now?

My husband's grandparents don't have a traditional love story, but they have a love story nonetheless. One that takes them from Ghaziabad to Kampala and back again. One that includes the addition of a daughter-in-law (my mother-in-law) who added much needed laughter and love to the house and glue to the family. One that has allowed my husband to have memories of being a 3 year old toddler, bouncing on the knees of his beloved Vaddi Mummy.

Love is random and it has no script. Kind of like conversations with cable service-providers.

"I give up, I don't know what to do," I told Mister (now super annoying) Super Tech Comcast guy who--honestly?--at this point (minute 49) was losing patience with me.

"I think you need a new router ma'am," he said, oozing false politeness.

"But I don't understand," I cried, appealing to rationality in a world where it doesn't exist (aka Comcast). "The router worked fine today. It only stopped working when we changed the modem!" I said (mentally patting myself on the back for using both "router" and "modem" in one sentence).

"I can't explain it ma'am," he said. I gritted my teeth. Of course you can't, I thought.

"But sometimes, if you have had a modem and a router together for a long time, and you change the modem?"

Yes, I thought, waiting for some sort of fancy technical voodoo retort.

"Sometimes the router remembers the old modem...," Comcast-Tech-Guy said, trailing off.

Sometimes the router remembers the old modem?

"Sometimes the router remembers the old modem...and misses it..."

Wow. My router misses my old modem.

They had been together for 5 years.

As long as I've been married.


What does it all mean?

Who knows.

Love is all around us.

Brown Girls: Silent Misunderstandings

Friday, June 26, 2009

In Focus: Namita Kapoor

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Like I've said before, there are so many amazing women doing amazing things--I love profiling their diversity of talent and interests here on the blog.

Meet Namita Kapoor--a Bay Area native and visual artist whose work has been internationally exhibited and who has a show opening this Saturday in San Francisco. If you are in the area, check it out.

What is your first memory of being artistic?

It would have to be preschool. We had these big easels and large size brushes. I remember the brushes being hard to hold, the smell of the tempera. Every time I smell tempera paint I think back to my childhood.

Have your parents been supportive of your artistic ventures?

My parents are extremely supportive of my artistic ventures. I feel so fortunate to have parents that not only appreciate art, but are artists themselves. My mother is an incredible singer and an Indian Martha Stuart. I don't know anyone who can cook, entertain and throw a party like my mother! My father is an excellent photographer and more recently an architect, designing his own house, (a contemporary piece of art rather). As a family we traveled all over the world and everywhere we went my parents brought back a piece of art so I learned to appreciate art and craft from a very young age. They encouraged me to be creative and enrolled me in art, music and dance classes. I have been active in the arts ever since.

What do you think about the phenomenon of so many South Asians being a lawyer AND an artist; a doctor AND a musician. Culturally, there are so many explanations for this--did you ever go that route? Do you think it's possible to be successful via such a route?

I think this often happens because of the cultural need for stability in South Asian culture. I personally have never gone this route. In fact you could say that I have always gone in the extreme opposite. I started dancing professionally at the age of 18. From Broadway to small dance companies I have made my living performing, teaching and painting all the while. While I realize that one could deem this insane and extremely unpractical, I have always taken a lot of pride in the fact that I have chose an unconventional route. I would like to be an example and inspiration to other South Asians that it is indeed very possible. It takes copious amounts of dedication, and it sure isn't easy, but it is possible.

I also think it depends on what level of success you hope to achieve as an artist. If it is enough for a lawyer to enjoy stability in their job and practice painting as a hobby or a creative outlet then that's great. I admire people who appreciate and make time for creativity while also working demanding jobs. However, I personally believe it is a full time job to create work that pushes boundaries and challenges the status quo. For me, its a 24 hour/ seven days a week practice in the conceptual and physical act of creating art. I simply don't have time for anything else.

What are your major artistic influences?

Dance and mythology play a huge role in my work. Back in High School I made up this quote that sums up the influences in my life: "Art is music to the eyes, music is dance to the ears, and dance is art to the soul." I think this still rings true. I am a jazz and tap dancer and I work with a lot of musicians. The rhythm and the movement influence the way I compose my artwork. In addition, although I do not actively practice Hinduism, I consider myself to be deeply spiritual. The religion for me is the art practice. It brings me closer to consciousness and has an amazing ability to transcend time. I'll get to my studio and work the whole day without even realizing the hours passed. I love that.

I just finished a book ("Atlas of Unknowns") in which the protagonist often floats above herself as if writing her autobiography, and these words come to mind: "At this moment, I found myself at a crossroads." Do you have any moments like that?

All the time. If you get the chance you should go on the TED website and listen to Elizabeth Gilbert on nurturing creativity. She talks exactly about this and brings her own unique perspective. I would describe it, but its best to listen/watch. In fact I'm going to post you the link:

Describe the process of creating one of your pieces.

The process is usually very organic although as of late it is becoming more conceptual. In the beginning of this work I used to do a lot of collage from Indian spiritual posters and coming books. I would just cut and paste and play with the imagery by abstracting it in and around paint. Now I am turning to screen printing as a means to abstract this imagery further, play with scale and create multiples of the same image. Usually though I have an image I want to work with or a piece of fabric or symbol from Indian mythology. From there I create one of those mind maps where I write down related imagery or things that come to mind when I think of this symbol/design/image. The process unfolds from there and I add/subtract content until I feel the piece is complete. Sometimes the ideas are so simple while other times I sit for days/weeks/months on end in an effort to resolve the image I decided to use. Those pieces are usually the monsters from which something new emerges and I become a better artist because of it.

Your new show is called Karma Chromatic: What does it mean?

Well..according to Merriam:

Karma: : the force generated by a person's actions held in Hinduism and Buddhism to perpetuate transmigration and in its ethical consequences to determine the nature of the person's next existence

Chromatic: of or relating to color or color phenomena or sensations

Once you see the work I think you'll see how it fits together. I also love the way it floats of my tongue when I say it.

What's the last great book you read? Last great movie you saw? Favorite book of all time? Favorite movie?

Last Great Book: Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell. He says it takes 10,000 hours to become a genius of something. I think I plugged 1,000 in the last few months for this show! At least it feels like it. I also just reread "Confederacy of Dunces" by John Kennedy Toole. It makes me laugh out loud.

Last Great Movie: Why do I always go blank on this question! Hmm..let's go with the first that come to mind: Amelie/In the Mood for love or any Kieslowski film for the foreign section, Can't Buy Me Love (for the cheesy 80's classic), Vertigo ( your standard classic Hitchcock) and the ending dance sequence in American in Paris (how can you not love Gene Kelly).

What part of India are you from? Do you have family in India? Do you travel back?

My mom's side of the family is from Mumbai and my dad's UP/Delhi. I still have family in both places and love going back. I would like to apply for a grant to go out there and work with local craft artists to collaborate on a large piece. I am currently writing that proposal in my mind.

Word association:

-Masala: yes please.
-Jhumpa Lahiri: Unaccustomed Earth is on my next book list.
-Bollywood: I still can't believe I danced in a fountain 8 days a week in Bombay Dreams...
-Arranged marriage: if it works for you.
-Dada: very important reference. also the name of my Aunt in Florida.
-de Kooning: who were his models??
-McDonalds: There are cow legs and french fries in one of my paintings in the show-tell me if you can spot them!

For more information on Namita, check out her site. And, again, if you are in the Bay Area, visit her show.

I've Been Commercially Had: Crooked Houses

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Okay. I know I am feeding into a sort of media hailstorm by even mentioning this. I know that, at the end of the day and all debate about "reality television" aside, referencing anything that appears on "Jon and Kate Plus 8" is a sort of pandering to product placement and corporate America. But yet. There it is. I have to know. Were you as enamored as I was by the "Crooked Houses" on the oh-so heralded recent episode of Jon and Kate? Granted--I will NOT be purchasing one of these thousand-dollar play houses in the near future. I mean--I don't have a yard let alone a football field backyard like (poor, divorcing) J&K. But a girl/mom can dream, no? (Not about divorcing...!)

Crooked Houses--Yay or nay?

Camp Out

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

It's not too late. Did you know that June 27th is Great American Backyard Campout day? Pitch a tent in your yard/on your roof/in your living room, feel at one with nature, create memories.

My husband and his sister have endless stories of camping when they were kids. There is some campground whose name, if you say it, will cause them and my in-laws to erupt into fits of giggles for, literally, hours! (The name? Rathtrevor). Why not make some similar memories for you and your brood. Even if you're just in your yard and your hairdryer is right upstairs...!

It's the ultimate "staycation." And if that's not enough, take this to heart: Some people say that our kids' generation is the very first that will come of age, primarily, indoors. And myriad studies link the lack of unstructured playtime to childhood obesity, reduced creativity, and a lack of self-sufficiency.

Pitch a tent--pitch it anywhere--and spend some time together. More information here.

Monday Musings: Ode to My Joy

Monday, June 22, 2009

On the way out of my sister-in-law's place yesterday, my husband joked, "Based on how much we do, Father's Day should be, like, from 7 a.m. till noon. Then it should be a continuation of Mother's day..."

We all laughed and my sister-in-law and I exchanged that sort of running-joke-knowing-glance. Yes, moms do alot. Yes, moms--let's be honest--do more than dads, more often than not. Yes we give birth, we nurse, we know how much milk is in the fridge.

But you know what? This journey--and let's be clear, parenthood is nothing if not a journey of Homerian proportions--would be a horribly whiter shade of pale without these guys by our side. At least for me--and I think for most of you as well. I was telling someone the other day that having a partner in parenthood isn't about tallying up who does what, and who does more--it's more about having somebody to have adult conversation with during a day of non-stop baby logistics, going to sleep next to someone you love at the end of a hard day, knowing that you entered into this whole thing with your co-conspirator in life.

So my ode to my joy, my husband, the only person in the world who can make me laugh and cry at the same time, who makes up songs with me about Castro and nachos, who diapers babies as often as I do and who, when I feel like I am drowning in the mundanity of it all, can make me feel plugged in and alive:

Thank you.

Thank you for convincingly still declaring that you think I am beautiful after 3 kids in 4 years.

Thank you for understanding the notion of something approaching equal parenting even though we have never discussed it as a philosophy.

Thank you for never, ever allowing me to take myself too seriously...but at the same time knowing when I need to be serious.

Thank you for believing in me.

Thank you for being able to laugh at yourself (there's a lot to laugh about...!)

Thank you for consistently, persistently, continually, striving. To be better. At everything.

Thank you for my children, my life.

And one request--Not about helping me during night feedings; not about not going on so may business trips. Not about schedules, expectations, formula, groceries, drop off, pick up, date nights, phone calls. Not about any of the trappings of this life with three kids under 4. My one request? Please please...PLEASE Get rid of those shoes.

Weekend Links

Friday, June 19, 2009

Need a baby-sitter for your date night? Head to Ikea.

Check out this video about the age-old axiom: Brown guys have no game.

It's officially summer--try some of these ideas to enliven a love of nature in your kids.

It's not too late: CoolMomPicks has put together a Father's Day gift guide including everything from Star Wars cufflinks to personalized baseball caps, all available online. And here are some ideas on how to celebrate the dads in your life, without spending a penny.

I love this easy-to-do photo wall, and love the idea of not having all my prints wrinkling in a box.

Indian fashion has changed quite a bit since I was little and the sartorial highlight of a Bombay visit was taking a trip to Benneton. Check out some of the newest offerings, edited by Vogue India.

I immediately fell in love with Namita Kapoor's art, juxtaposing classical artistic technique with pop culture and Indian iconography--and I think you'll fall in love too. Watch out next week for my interview with her.

Brown Girls: Whose Playdate is it Anyway?

Thursday, June 18, 2009

DwB's Fifteen Minutes:

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Thanks for all the interest in the Femina piece, guys. Truth be told, I had no idea it would be running and I only learned about it when a couple of readers emailed me about it. Unfortunately, there isn't a web link for the article, so here is a scanned version for those who are curious. A few disclaimers:

-Believe it or not, the Femina folks managed to find a photo of me with a child that isn't mine...! The baby is my adorable nephew A., making his second appearance on this blog.

-The piece was written by a freelance author named Aparna who has become an email pen-pal of mine. The entire thing was conducted via email.

-The editing of the article was rather...liberal. Things that I never said/wrote appear in quotes. For instance, though I love my husband, the phrase "man of my dreams" would never cross my lips unless I was discussing the Curtis Sittenfeld book. I have no intention to quit my job as a lawyer because of all the fame and fortune and endless glamour a comic strip can provide...! And I don't believe I have ever said "who could ask for anything more" in my entire life. Just to name a few.

All that aside, I was psyched to see "Brown Girls" and my little A. in an Indian glossy and I am similarly excited to welcome all the new readers who have come from Femina--"who could ask for anything more"...heh...

Don't Worry Be Happy?

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

When a reader forwarded me this article, entitled "Were 1950s Moms Happier?", I felt like she had been reading my mind--just the week before I had been talking with a group of women about the "curse of too many choices," and about a conversation I had with my mom in which she told me that the idea of finding "fulfillment" in her work would never have occurred to her--back in the 70s, when she was a recent immigrant and looking for a job, finding something that paid the bills was the end in and of itself.

According to the article, and the NYTimes article it references, we are a bunch of melancholy mommas. And while there has been much commentary poking holes in this conclusion (the one that resonates most with me is that women in the 1950s might not have honestly reported their unhappiness--think "The Hours"), it is telling that many of the "reasons" people give for this sort of malaise center around an an over-involvement in the lives of our kids, and the constant navel-gazing about "the perfect work-life-family" balance that, let's face it, we all engage in.

Could it be? Could it be that, in trying to craft a delicate system of balance in our lives, we are actually engaging in self-sabotage? I can remember when, in a moment of postpartum haze, I asked my mom if she was "happy" working full time, raising two daughters, putting dinner on the table every night...her answer was this: "It never occurred to me to ask that question." Now, that may seem less than ideal from our oh-so modern and over-analytical vantage point--but, according to this article, perhaps not over-thinking happiness is a precursor for actually being happy.

When I really think about it, I know that more choices and more opportunities are a good thing. Just because I am realizing at this point that there will never be a perfect harmony of everything I want in my life doesn't mean that striving for such a situation shouldn't yield happiness. Bottom line? Sometimes you have to decide to be happy.

Monday Musings: HELP...I Need Somebody...

Monday, June 15, 2009

Why is it so hard for us to ask for help? And, furthermore, why are we so incapable of asking our friends for what we want?

In the last month or so I have done a couple of things that have made me feel supremely uncomfortable. When my husband was out of town for a week, I called out to friends (mostly couples) to see what they were up to on a Saturday night and asked if I could join in--it was one of those weekends that ended a week of constant, round-the clock, childcare duties and, while I often dream about early nights in bed watching t.v., those dreams usually include my husband next to me. In a nutshell: I wanted to be out, with people. Then, in planning a party for my sister's upcoming wedding, I solicited help from other people, foregoing my usual refrains of "Don't bring anything," "It's not a big deal!," "Seriously, I got it covered!"...

I'm not used to asking people for anything. And I know I'm not alone in this respect.

I've talked about this a few times with close friends--this sort of inability to be anything less than The Woman Who Does Everything (And Looks Fabulous While Doing It.) On the one hand, I think we all realize that everyone we know at this point is busy--with kids, work, family, life--and why would we want to add any more stress to that. On the other hand--at the risk of cuing the 80s soundtrack--isn't that what friends are for? To help when you're having a party, to talk you through whatever you are going through even though it is 3 a.m., to watch your kids for a few hours so you can get a haircut...I could go on and on...

It's the weirdest thing. I love being the go-to person for people. I love helping people--and a part of that is selfish because I love the feeling I get after I have helped somebody. This sort of small sense of fulfillment, in the world of everyday craziness. And yet--at the same time--it takes me forever and a day to let somebody be the mirror image for me. To let people help me--whether that means bringing spinach dip to a dinner soiree or letting somebody see my cry when I am scared.

Why is that? What is this image so many of us are trying to project? I know that nobody wants to seem needy, weak. But I also know--we all know--that nobody is Superwoman. I don't know anybody who wears a cape and can fly. And, for the lucky amongst us, we know that we have fabulous, loving people in our lives who are ready and willing to transcend that divide between friend and family, who would feel privileged and honored to be in our inner circles, who already love us, warts, (stretch-marks, those extra 5 pounds) and all.

I'm trying to let people in. I'm trying to not always be "fine!" I obviously don't want to be a constant parasite on people but I am getting okay with asking somebody to pick something up on the way to my house, or to drop me off at the airport. These were things that would have horrified me before. And I gotta tell you, in addition to making life easier, letting people in--really letting them in--has an added bonus: It makes friendships even deeper.

Win-win, no?

Weekend Links

Friday, June 12, 2009

If the President has time for date night, none of us has any excuse.

Vegetable-infused ketchup--yay or nay?

Check out these awesome, kid-friendly, kick-ass ottomans--coveting.

FINALLY, somebody adds the unspoken wrinkle to the work/life balance debate: When "opting out" isn't an option.

What are your thoughts on year-round school?

And have you heard about the Patel Club? Invitation (by virtue of your last name) only. But, have no fear, if you are dying to get married and you can't get into this group, you can always marry yourself.

Finally--if you need a pick-me-up, check out all sorts of people, things or events that have failed more than you...! chronicles--well--failures, such as this sign below. Whoops...!

Brown Girls: Best Friends Forever

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Click to Enlarge

Check out Brown Girls in India Currents

Sita Sings the Blues...At Last...

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Have you seen "Sita Sings the Blues"? It is am amazing piece of work, as it stands alone, but also because of the struggles its filmmaker, Nina Paley, had to endure in order to get the film to see the light of day.

The movie is a sort of witty, swinging 20s jazz-influenced rendition of the Ramayana, in the context of a woman with a broken-heart. The heartbreak is based on Paley's own life experience (check out her blog for all the gut-wrenching details). Earlier this year, Roger Ebert called the film “astonishing original” and something that has him “smiling from one end of the film to the other.” And, truly, no words can capture how amazing the animation is.

Paley did everything in the movie herself--she wrote it, she scored it, she animated it, she edited it. Everything. And the film was complete in 2005. Between then and now, Paley was in her own personal hell, going nearly bankrupt trying to let the film free. The problem? She did not properly license the jazz songs she uses in the film. After a recent screening in SF, Paley walked onto the stage and said, "You've all just participated in an illegal act."

As explained in the New York Times: "Though...[the] recordings are not protected by federal copyright, those who own the rights to the songs themselves charge tens of thousands of dollars that Ms. Paley does not have to use them — which is also more than independent distributors have offered for a theatrical release."

So what does renegade Paley do? The obvious thing: Release the film for free.

If you haven't seen this you have to. It is smart, irreverent, hilarious and just plain beautiful. Your kids will love it too. And if you want to support Nina Paley's vision, and her crusade against what she considers "oppressive copyright law," buy one of these super cool tshirts.

I Heart Pixar

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

We went to see Pixar's "Up" this weekend and it was such a remarkable, beautiful piece of story-telling that I have no guilt at all about spending a sunny afternoon in a dark movie theater.

If you haven't seen "Up" yet, go--with or without your children. I know it's a cliche but: You'll laugh, you'll cry...Seriously you will.

It made me so incredibly happy to watch this movie with D. I have learned to tune out the cloying voices of the Bearenstein Bears (it is not true that the only difference is that they live in a tree!); the creepy faces of Thomas; and an assortment of other bizarre-o sights and sounds associated with he random content that is ostensibly created for children (If Thomas isn't nightmare-inducing I don't know what is). So it was a pleasant reminder to see that a "kid's movie" doesn't have to be crappy, watered-down, or just plain annoying. In fact, "Up" proves that if you look hard enough, you can find wonderful content for kids that also happens to be wonderful content for adults.

Cailou be gone!

Monday Musings: I Know The Secrets That You Keep...

Monday, June 8, 2009

Do you sometimes wonder about the secrets your fellow-moms are carrying around with them?

D has been in preschool now for almost a year and, during every drop-off and pick-up I find myself wondering about these other moms, what their stories are.

What were they doing right before the slapped on a bit of Chap-stick for the drop-off scene? Do they sometimes let their kids eat cereal for dinner? How much tv do their children really watch?

What is their marriage like, what time to they start drinking wine, do they miss work if they are at home, do they wish they were at home if they are at work?

Does that woman wear a thong under her Juicy Couture track suit? Are those pajamas under the luxe Burberry trench?

My imagination goes nuts.

There is this special thrill to knowing the secret lives of other people. And there is a thrill in divulging secrets too, no? Entire sites, like Post Secret, are devoted to allowing us to release secret thoughts that we don't ordinarily allow to see the light of our real lives. My friends L and C even started a site called shameover where people can write about the silly things they did after that one-cocktail-too-many.

The preschool universe is the perfect milieu for concocting fanciful stories of what "the mom next door" is really like. For the most part, you only see these other moms for brief snippets of time and yet, the logistical constraints of the event--we all get there at a certain time, we all have to do certain things, we all leave shortly thereafter-- give a crucible-like structure to your daydreaming. Last week, while I was putting D in his car seat and a mom I didn't know was doing the same for her bundle of (3-pm-post-snack-energy) joy, I heard her whisper to her daughter, "Just please help me here and be good and I will give you candy when we get home."

I laughed out loud. I have uttered the same thing countless times. But in the Montessori preschool parking lot, where the organic kale is to the right and they are handing out mom-of-the-year awards to hemp-clad women on the left, bribery of any sort and bribery by CANDY? The word verboten comes to mind.

I of course immediately liked this mother. I wondered if she wanted to join me for a playdate. Sans kids...! I sneaked glances at her and into her car to find some clue as to what other secrets she might have. Maybe she hated breastfeeding too. Maybe she chooses the museum to take her daughter to based on its proximity to the restaurant she wanted to go to for lunch. Maybe she still, after three years, couldn't get it together to keep diapers and wipes in supply and had midnight-hour dashes to the Safeway.

I have had so many revealing moments like this. The sleek, sophisticate mom in that impossible -to- maintain camel coat who pulls out a random Hello Kitty coin purse to pay for a bakesale item. The almost-but-not-quite Goth momma whose rear-view mirror has myriad Christ iconography. Who are these people? Where did they come from, how do they live?

It reminds me of the question that always comes to me on vacation, when we are lingering over yet another latte or mimosa at noon or 3 in a random cafe: Who are the rest of these people? What life do they have that allows them to be here right now?? It's just like that. Except writ small, on the scale of child-raising mundanity.

Or maybe I am making too much out of nothing? Maybe those people at the cafes are just fellow tourists, wondering the same thing about everyone else. Maybe the mom with the Burberry and pajamas wasn't up till dawn at her swingers party but was instead...just sleeping. Maybe we are all just boring old moms. It is possible...

On yet another day, taking D to school, I was next to yet another anonymous mom dropping off her child. I noticed said mom sneaking looks into my trunk as I unloaded stuff for D's school project. I knew the look well and tried to be the secret-whisperer from her end.

"I wonder why she always comes to school with wet hair?" she easily could have been thinking.

"I wonder if she feels embarrassed about driving that SUV."

"Is that the mom who has had 3 kids in 4 years?"

Then I noticed exactly where she was looking and I didn't have to try so hard to read her mind.

Sitting there in my trunk was a people-watcher's dream. That Indian mom? The smiley one with the rambunctious little kid who comes to school in an SUV and always has wet hair? She has a box in her trunk with a blonde wig, a bag of Fritos, and--get this--eighteen boxes of temporary tattoos...!

What does it all mean??

(You don't think I am going to tell you do I? Even boring old moms need their secrets...)

Weekend Links

Friday, June 5, 2009

Some people think your creativity peaks at age 30. Find out how to keep those creative juices flowing, so that your best work is still ahead of you.

Forget the drama over John and Kate's marriage--the drama over Kate's plastic surgery is far more interesting! Has your view of plastic surgery changed post-motherhood?

In the tradition of spending money to make money--how about picking up one of these awesome piggy banks to help teach your kids about saving?

Be prepared to covet--Sephora's Top 10 Lists make me want to try about a gazillion new things.

Check out this trailer for Leena Pendharkar's new movie, Raspberry Magic, "a coming-of-age story about an 11-year-old girl who believes she must win the science fair in order to bring her father back after he runs out on the family." Can't wait to see it, in part because it was primarily filmed in the Bay Area (and in part because the filmmaker is rad).

And--can it be?--Number 5 is alive...again?!?

Lastly, a general note: Big thanks to everyone who comments on my blog. Sometimes some of you ask me direct questions and I would love to respond, but I have no way of getting in touch with you. Please feel free to send these questions to, or to include your email address in your comment.

Have a great weekend!

Brown Girls: Fiscal Priorities

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Click to Enlarge

Check out Brown Girls in India Currents magazine.

You and Me in the Summer Time

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

I have become one of those people who says things like "time flies" and "I can't believe how big you've grown" without a trace of irony. No joke time passes and can I REALLY not believe that a child has grown, it does tend to happen every now and again, no...?

And yet: My lord, time flies. Is it really June? I just got the "reminder" in D's lunchbox that the end of his "school year" is this Friday. A mild panic started to set in. What am I going to do with D. allll summer? I have gotten very accustomed to the managed chaos of my two youngest ones at home while D is at preschool 4 days a week. Come next Monday, there will be another set of needs to address everyday--and this set has a louder voice!

My first thought was to consult my BFF google on things like "activities for toddlers in Berkeley" and "summer classes for kids." And there is an array of options. Gymnastics, music camp, every sport under the sun, organic farming (this is Berkeley), swimming lessons, underwater basket weaving...endless possibilities.

But even as I was masterminding my chock-a-block summer activities for D., I could feel the tug in the back of my head, the voice from somewhere in my childhood, questioning this over-scheduling I was in the midst of planning.

I spent many summers catching frogs in the backyard of my house. My next door neighbor C. and I spent entire days making up fantasies in which, on any given day, the swamp that ran through both of our yards was a magical land of flying cars (we lived in Michigan--cars featured prominently in our fantasies), or a secret garden full of treasuers to unearth. Sure, there were swim classes here and there, family trips and whatnot. But the majority of the summers of my childhood could best be described as unstructured. And when I think back on them, I cannot conjure up beautiful enough words to describe how perfect they were.

Obviously I am running the risk of being simply nostalgic and sentimental. But can't summer just be summer? Can't our kids read their books all day, laze around outside, stop--for lack of a better phrase--and smell the roses, eucalyptus, organically grown produce? Maybe they will get bored sometimes. Forgive me but: so what??

Welcome to the "slow parenting movement." It is an idea whose time has come. To support it: Here are some recipes for bubbles. I can imagine long afternoons blowing bubbles into the faces of my three babies. That is enough activity for one summer day.

Book Club?

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

I can't wait to read this book. Yes it is by an Indian woman and yes it could be pigeon-holed as the sort of "identity fiction" I begged to come to an end. But I can tell it's going to be amazing. It's not going to be one of those "one foot in the east, one foot in the west, woe is me tales." It's going to be a full, robust, plot-driven adventure, featuring an Indian woman as the protagonist. Just check out this blurb from Amazon:

In the wake of their mother’s mysterious death, Linno and Anju are raised in Kerala by their father, Melvin, a reluctant Christian prone to bouts of dyspepsia, and their grandmother, the superstitious and strong-willed Ammachi. When Anju wins a scholarship to a prestigious school in America, she seizes the opportunity, even though it means betraying her sister. In New York, Anju is plunged into the elite world of her Hindu American host family, led by a well-known television personality and her fiendishly ambitious son, a Princeton drop out determined to make a documentary about Anju’s life. But when Anju finds herself ensnared by her own lies, she runs away and lands a job as a bikini waxer in a Queens beauty salon.

And apparently that's only the first half...! Seriously? The "Indian-American experience" with a sort of culmination at a waxing lounge in Queens?? I'm getting tingly thinking about it...!

If any of you want to read this with me, welcome to the most low-key book club of all time. We can read the book and, in a month or so, we can put up some of our thoughts about it. Done. Hope you'll join me!

Monday Musings: Remember Why You Started This

Monday, June 1, 2009
From the time I was twelve until the time I was twenty-six I kept a journal every day of my life. Every single day. Sometimes, in fits of masochism, I go back and read some of these volumes. There are embarrassing odes to denim jumpers my mom wouldn't let me buy, self-righteous soliloquies on the perennial journal subject that "nobody understands me," and please oh please don't get me started on the bad poetry (For about six months, I wrote various renditions of "Leda and the Swans"...I can still hear WBY groaning in his grave...)

I'm not sure exactly why my "journaling" (I wonder how many words owe their existence to Oprah) ended. And it didn't exactly end. But, regardless of my efforts to the contrary, I have not kept up a daily journal since I was twenty-six. Which doesn't mean I don't try. In fact, for the last months I have been attempting to do some consistent writing again. And the other day, turning the page of my journal du jour, I came upon the following phrase, greeting me on what I thought would be a blank page:

"Remember why you started this."

Remember why you started this?

At first, I was creeped out. It was as if my journal was auditioning for a bit part in a horror movie. But the thing is, although I felt immediately affronted by my very own journal...the quote was in my handwriting. I had written it. It was me talking to me.

Since I was a kid, whenever I got a new journal, I would flip to random pages and write short notes to myself. I'm not sure why I started doing this but, as the years went on, the little blurbs became time-capsules of sorts. Reminders of the moment in which I began a particular journal. In one of my early journals, these snippets included such choice aphorisms as "Stay real" and "Be you." Gag much? They got a tad bit better with swiped phrases such as: "It's never too late to be the person you want to be." And in later journals, they became a little less yearbook-y: "Do you still like the phrase about the blue canary in the lighthouse." (Confused? Google "They Might be Giants.")

But this one? "Remember why you started this?" I couldn't remember when I wrote it, or what it meant.

Like I said, I hadn't kept a daily journal in a while--did I mean remember why I started writing again?

I got this beautiful, leather, handmade journal (thank you E.) right after I got married--did I mean remember why I married my husband?

I hadn't written in the beautiful, leather, handmade journal since I had had D.--did I mean remember why we decided to have kids?

Truth be told: I don't know. But the somewhat amorphous fortune-cookie advice couldn't have come at a better time. I was having one of those weeks when one part of my head was perpetually devoted to waxing nostalgic about my life pre-kids. We went to a party with all three kids and, in the course of 2 hours, I didn't manage to have a full conversation with even one person. We spent an entire Sunday in what we call "survival mode"--the world in which once breakfast for the kids is over, and the kitchen is clean, it is time to prepare lunch...and once lunch is over, and the kitchen is clean, it's time to prepare dinner...and, oh yes, there are myriad bouts of crying and whining and negotiating with 3 year olds in between.

I know you know what I mean yes?

Of course you do. And those days/weeks/months are horrible. And anybody who claims not to feel like that sometimes post-kid? I don't understand them. But...Remember Why You Started This....

Because those long days and those parties where you leave more exhausted than fanciful? Those days when you are solely taking care of little people's needs, those countless hours of cleaning (organic) Goldfish crackers out of various crooks of your home (Is that just me?)? Those evenings without concerts, those afternoons without cocktails, those days of derrieres and those fortnights of absolute fatigue? They're hard. But they are the the short term. They're the price to pay. They are the admission ticket for holidays of boisterous dinner tables, reliving beauty through the eyes of our kids, being able to give unconditional love, and learning how to receive it in our adult-lives...On and on...

There are so many moments of motherhood that are pure beauty. On good days it is all "Madonna with Child(ren)", with perfect lighting, a great soundtrack, the wind whipping through our hair, propelling the little sailboats of our maternal lives on their charted courses. But sometimes? Sometimes when it's a little tougher and the waters get a little choppier? Remembering why we are doing this--remembering why we started this--it can get us through the day. It can give us solace. It can propel us to safe shores during those moments when the wind just isn't there.