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Monday, November 29, 2010

The Ugly Side of Dora

The other day I was putting on my daughter's favorite Dora the Explorer pajamas when Shaila looked up at me and matter of factly said,

Mommy, Dora is ugly.”

I was a little taken aback and not quite sure how to answer so I tried to recover the best way I knew how.

Shaila, why would you say that Dora is ugly?” I asked.

My friend said she is. She isn't pretty like Ariel or Belle. Ariel and Belle are my favorite,” she confidently asserted.

Honey, Dora IS pretty. As a matter of fact, everyone is pretty in their own way. And not only is Dora pretty, but she is smart, helpful, adventurous and kind.”

I still like Ariel better. She's pretty.”

I looked at Shaila. Shaila, who some might say shares many of the same physical traits as Dora. Chocolate brown hair, big almond shaped brown eyes and what I consider to be beautiful tan skin. See Exhibit A.

Exhibit A. The reason she looks so sad is I just turned Dora off.

I have never quite understood my daughter's fascination with Dora and all of her exploring, but it is one of the few shows I allow her to watch quite willingly. While I am a little sick of Dora's shenanigans with her map and backpack and the uncomfortable pauses in the midst of her conversations (I hate uncomfortable pauses!) I was saddened to hear of the use of the word “ugly” coming out of the mouth of my three year old.

The Ugly Years

As a child, I was a pretty kid for a very brief period. The period between the ages of 6 and perhaps 17 or so were certainly not my best when we talk about appearance.

With a great set of buck teeth, eyes that disproportionately took up my entire face, a mass of frizzy, curly hair that it would take me years to come to some kind of truce with and a propensity to run towards the hairy side, I was an awkward, gangly mass of insecurity. My finest accessories were the large glasses that I could wear that might match the braces on my teeth that day.

The dentist would sometimes make the rubber bands purple. Or pink.

So hot.

Having known what it was to be physically pretty at some point in my life and having that attention gone, I felt the absence of that attention all that much more. Even at an early age, I understood that I was no longer one of the "pretty" girls. And I knew that I did get treated different. Teachers tended to seek out the pretty girls and the popular boys and place them on their own pedestals.

So I did the only thing I knew how to do. I became the smart girl. I developed my whole identity around being the one who could rock every spelling quiz or ace any test. In order to find some acceptance and attention from the adults in my life, I showed them that I was special - if not in the way of my best friends, perhaps. If the boys didn't like me, I found solace in the fact that at least I was smarter than most of them.

I was everybody's friend. I was nice to most everyone. I had a problem with the nose pickers, but mainly - I really made an effort.

What Do you Say?

So I do what I guess most parents do and I tell my daughter that everyone is beautiful and that there is something special in every person and their outer appearance. But that it's not the outer that matters. That it's all about what's inside. You know, the stuff I am supposed to say.

We all know that the world does not evaluate outer beauty that democratically. I haven't quite figured out how to explain that yet. My guess is, like me, it's a lesson she will have to address on her own that I can help guide her through. I just don't have the words too teach her about that harsh reality myself.

Our children are not blind. Shaila knows how she feels when her relatives or friends say to her, "Aren't you the prettiest thing?" And I am working to change the things I say to her to reognize her other, non-physical traits.

"Aren't you the nicest thing?" (debatable)

"Shaila, you are so smart!" (too smart for her own good),

"You are so creative" (its amazing what she can do with play-doh).

Being Both

A woman can be both smart and pretty. We all know that - I think we all do, anyway.

So here is the question. How do we empower our children - particularly our young girls - to not feel that they have to be one or the other and to cultivate that? I would love to hear your thoughts and ideas on this - as well as what you have said when you have found yourself in situations like the one I had.

As parents, ensuring our children have the proper foundation for self-esteem is one we ourselves reinforce every day through our own actions, statements and innocuous comments.

Please share your own experience/advice here at Masala Chica.


Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Mommies Talk Gay

I have read quite a few blog posts from the "Mommy Blog" community lately (Yeah, I guess I count as one of those) about homosexuality in our society - be it around advocacy of gay marriage, dealing with the possibility of gay children, worrisome cross dressing tendencies in pre-school aged children and surrounding yourselves with "like-minded" people to ensure your kids don't catch that nasty bug called homosexuality, which apparently, is going around.

There are three posts which stick out to me the most, and probably represent some of the spectrum of opinions on this.

The Right Thing to Do?

My friend Sara - from Sara Plays House - wrote a great guest post over at Scarymommy (a fantastic blog by Jill Smokler) a few weeks ago, probably one which I could relate to the most. I guess its no secret from the content of some of my posts that I am left-leaning and Sara and I share many of the same views. In addition to wanting equality for homosexual members of society, she further explains why she feels so strongly, almost viscerally, in advocating for gay marriage rights. There are several reasons, but ultimately, it comes down to the following.

What if my own child is gay? How do I want and expect that this child be treated?

In the end Sara says, you should support gay rights "because it's the right thing to do."

I'll get back to that later.

Like-Mindedness . . .

Scarymommy offered a counter-argument to this post through the voice of Gretchen, aka Texan Mama, who wrote an eloquent response around her choice of role models for her own conservative, Christian family. While I appreciate her wonderful writing style and the truthfulness in which she shared her opinion, I was a bit disturbed by the following quote on why she has issues with her child having a teacher who is a lesbian.

"I want to surround them with people who are like-minded with us. I want to provide my children with positive role models who practice and support our value system."

Let's table that one for now as well.

Pretty in Pink

It's likely that you have seen the post by Nerdy Apple Bottom which went viral, spiraling her readership from a few dozen to millions of readers in a matter of days called "My Son is Gay" and explaining how she supported her son's decision to dress up as the folically gifted Daphne from Scooby Day for Halloween and the reactions it garnered as a consequence.

While there was an immense amount of support for this woman, and the way she addressed her son's choice of Halloween costumes, there was an equal amount of vitriol and criticism of her parenting, her response to the parents who criticized her and her subsequent decision to blog about it.

If you have read Masala Chica in the past, you probably know which camp I fall into . . .

Here's some masala . . .

So this is where I put it out there. Again, this goes back to my post the other day - I don't write this blog anonymously. But I think if you know me in real life, you know that I feel this way anyway. If you don't like my lack of a filter the past few days, I totally am ok with you "unliking" this little Chica on Facebook so I don't litter your Facebook feed.

It's all good.

I don't care if my kids tell me they are gay at some point in this life.

Allow me to clarify. It's not because I don't care about them or I discount the challenges that it will raise for them. It doesn't mean that I will not worry or care about that aspect of their life. I know that life will undoubtedly present a harder path for them if that is where their hearts take them, but life is challenging.

When I say I "don't care," I mean that it will not change - ever change - any aspect of my love for them.

Growing up as a minority, in a predominantly homogeneous region of New Jersey, I know what some types of challenges are. Growing up with an Indian family, much of whom live back home still in India below poverty levels, even for that country, I know of other challenges as well - some of which my own children will never know or understand.

Race. Religion. Handicaps. Poverty. And yes, sexual orientation.

People deal with challenges every day. It's what makes us INDEFINABLY us. It's what makes the people who can succeed despite challenges like these that much more special.

So how would I EXPECT the world to treat my child if my child was gay? To be honest, my expectations are low. But I know that I would embrace my own child without any hesitation - and that, as a mother is all I will allow myself to expect.

In Sara's post, she ended her post with the assessment that you should support gay rights because it is the right thing to do. While it is "right" for me, I also understand that for some people and their way of thinking, be it founded on religious ideals, a subscription to their doctrine on societal norms - that they may not embrace this as "right."

I don't agree with those people. I will most likely never be able to change their minds.

I probably would not have been able to change people's minds about desegregating schools and water fountains in the 1950s. Some society norms and "like-mindedness" have nothing to do with normalcy, morality or values.

And no I am not saying people who are against gay rights are racists too. My point is that standards within a society are not always "right." And that feelings on these lie deeper than the surface for most people, and have been built on a foundation of an individual's own "truth" that has likely been shaped over a lifetime.

The reason I had such a problem with Texan Mama's response in "On Being Gay" is her supposition that "like-mindedness" with those she surrounds her children with will support their "value system."

Why, oh WHY do I have such a problem with this?

Because "being gay" is not a value. It's not a moral code. It's a sexual orientation - one which one does not necessarily choose. Just like you can't choose to be born black or white or brown.

Blue eyed or brown eyed. Left handed versus right handed (though I know of parents who have tried to "train" their kids out of that as well)

Gay is not taught. Ask parents who have tried to "teach the gay" out of their kids.

Heck - ask Dick Cheney.

As parents, we teach our children a moral code that encompasses what we hope will shape them into amazing individuals and true contributors to this society. That code is not going to be compromised whether they are straight or gay.

I mean seriously, is one of the values you teach your children to lust after members of the opposite sex?

I guess every family is different, so maybe you are teaching them that. Who knows?

I know a**holes who are straight. I know a**holes who are gay.

As long as my kids end up on the other side of the spectrum from those a***holes, gay OR straight, we're in business on the whole values thing.

One of the most basic values that my children will have though, if I get this whole parenting thing right at some point, is honesty. If they can't embrace who they are on every level, they will never be fulfilled. And if I set them up to live a live unfulfilled, a life where they must live a lie - then I have failed them.

And I could never bear that.

The idea of supporting gay rights because of the possibility that my own children might be gay isn't why I believe in gay rights either. If my kids end up hardened criminals or thieves (if we REALLY screw up that whole value system thing again), it does not mean I will support those decisions or start a prison fund for them. I mean, I might. They are my kids. But that's different.

Because we are talking about the difference between the lack of values and what is just a state of who they are - not a decision point.

I think regardless of where my kids choose to go, with the partners they choose in life -I hope that they select a partner who can reciprocate in equal parts - love, respect, honesty, passion for life, family and each other.

That is what I care about. If my daughter ends up with a man who does not respect her or foster her desire to grow, it will devastate me. If my son ends up with a woman who does not respect him or whom he does not respect in return, I will be so saddened.

I just wish them love.

A life fulfilled.

And I am there for them every step of the way.

Note: thanks to these lovely women whose ideas I did share here today which inspired this piece. Links to each of their posts were interspersed throughout this post, but if you would like to read each, here they are again.

Sara, Sara Plays House - On Gay Marriage
Gretchen, Texan Mama - Is Gay Ok?
Nerdy Apple Bottom - My Son is Gay


Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Gandhi's Primer for Pre-school

I really love the honesty of children.

Their innocence.

The way they can say the gosh darndest thing one moment.

And then make you want to rip your hair out the next.

Oh? Excuse me?

That doesn't happen to you? Hmmm.... Oh - after they do the "gosh darndest" thing, they then help you put out a 4 course dinner?

Fabulous. Don't let that one go, I say. As a matter of fact, if you were standing next to me, I might look at you with just a teensy bit of dementia in my eyes as I affirmed the statement, "Yup, you got yourself a good one!" and then went off in a corner by myself, vacillating between laughing maniacally while crying.

And not the pretty cries, but the kinds where you get big boogers streaming down your face and you do that weird frog thing in your throat - as the boogers somehow make it way to your hair.

The same hair I just spoke of ripping out.

Because, see? I often want to rip my hair out. This could be my children. It could be me. It could be any combination there of. It could be that I need to get all of my meds re-evaluated.

That just might be it.

So, where was I going with this? Seriously, I am not being facetious - I have no effing clue where I was going.

That's how I feel most days lately. But at least I know how to accessorize with boogers.

Oh. Yes. Got it!

So, my folks are visiting from New Jersey. I have a week off from work and am watching the kids this week, with the nanny on vacation.

My daughter, Shaila has been getting wacked in the head at pre-school by a kid who continually pushes and hits the kids. Look, I am not saying that this kid has issues. All I know is that he continues to wallop my kid in the face and she cannot talk about ANYTHING else.

Me: "Shaila, how was school?"
Shaila: "Oh, it was good. Bobby smacked me in the face!"

Me: "Shaila! You look like you're in a good mood! Tell me what you did today at school!"
Shaila: "Yeah Mommy! I am! And guess what? Bobby didn't hit me today - he hit Brady instead!"

Yesterday was much of the same, but my dad was in the car with me.

Me: "Shaila - who did you play with today?"
Shaila: "Awww with Sandy - she is my best friend. And Bobby was not there. So he could not hit."

At this point, my father piped in from the front seat.

Papa: "Does Bobby hit?" He turned around to face her in her Britax.
Shaila: "Does Bobby Hit? Bobby. Does. Hit. A LOT!"

I didn't expect this to be a surprise for my father as we had prepped our families for her utter fascination with this boy's less than pacifist methods of communicating at pre-school.

My father turned around and looked at Shaila in her car seat. Good, I thought, let her grandfather get a chance to talk to her about the ways of the world.

"Shaila. Listen to me. If he hits you. If this Bobby hits you, even once - YOU hit him. TWICE."

Huh? What just happened?

Shaila: "Two times?!!" her eyes had taken up all of her face. "Mommy, Two Times!! That's this many fingers!" she said, holding up her hands. "SMACK! SMACK!"

At least she can count . . .

Papa: "Yes! And make sure you hit him hard. Make sure he gets hur . . . ." My father started demonstrating with a raised fist.
Me: "Papa!" Realizing too late the error of my ways.

Papa: "What? Why are you getting mad at me? Bobby is the one who hits her? Shouldn't you be mad a him?" He looked at me incredulously.

You know. Like I was crazy.

Me: "Um, Papa. He's 3. You're kind of . . . well . . . NOT 3."

But my dad was on a roll.

Papa: "So what? So she is supposed to sit there and wait for this kid to make his move? I would rather she just be the one. Watch this, Shaila. "Slap! Slap!" Just do it. He's already done it to her."

Taking another tactic, I thought that I would appeal to my Indian father in one of the best ways I could, especially around the topic of violence.

Me: "Papa - we don't teach Shaila that. Besides, Papa. What would Gandhiji say about this if he knew you were teaching violence for violence? Hmmm?" I gave him my best pointy eyebrow, because that usually makes me feel more right.

My father was already shaking his head at my and looking at me like I was a complete moron. Like I was a sucker.

Papa: "There is no place for Gandhiji in this world. In this world if someone bombs you, you bomb them twice. If they hit you, you hit them harder and then even hit their weak cousin. That's what the world today teaches you. Gandhi wouldn't know what to do with himself in this world."

When the movie, "Gandhi" came out in the early 80's, my parents dragged me in my five year old form to watch Ben Kingsley give his Oscar winning performance of one of the world's greatest thought leaders. I didn't appreciate it then, especially when I asked for Twizzlers and somehow ended up with the yucky black kind - but I did love it as soon as I was old enough to understand.

I looked at my father. He certainly has changed as he has gotten older. He muttered something under his breath that I couldn't quite catch.

I think it actually was "If someone farts on you, you better make sure you fart back louder."

But my Hindi is out of practice, so I can't be sure.

The point being - my father has always been a fairly peace loving man. To hear him sound so downtrodden about ideals that I still wish the world could believe in saddens me to no end.

And if there is no place for the ideals of Gandhi anymore, I think I want to go back to that corner I mentioned earlier in this post and cry - you know - those hearty and booger filled ones.

Because without that kind of grace to inspire me, why would I even bother?

So I go to one of my favorite "Gandhi" inspired quotes . . .

"An eye for an eye only ends up making the whole world blind. "

And so that's what I need to teach my own kids - because I still believe in those principles.

Some may call me a sucker. I am still not sure what the rest would call me. But it works for me.


P.S. names have been changed to protect the innocent. Except for Shaila's because the verdict is still out on how innocent she really is ;)

Monday, November 15, 2010

Who's In?

I sometimes wish that I had written this blog anonymously.

Had I been ANY kind of smart when I started this whole thing a little over a year ago, I might have realized that this blog would be as much of an emotional outlet as it would become a creative one for me - one in which I might want to write a little bit more frankly than those I love might be comfortable with as I bitched about marriage (yes my husband knows I, Kiran, am Masala Chica) , vented about a co-worker (yes, some of them read this too) or wrote about something a little too embarrassing that might make my neighbors want to sell their home to be away from me (yes, even in a down economy).

So I filter. And where I once saw this blog as an emotional outlet - a place where I could really tell you how I saw the world, I stopped speaking my voice. You see - I knew most of my audience now - and my readers had a name. In many ways, their shared comments, posts and emails connected me to them in addition to the "readers" who live life alongside me - whether its family, friends and colleagues.

As I first began writing, it was more of a "Hey guys, I write. Do you want to stop by and have a look?" The need for validation further drove me as I immersed myself within the welcoming and empowering arms of the blogger community - always encouraging- and willing to share their opinions. I made some great friends along the way - many of whom I consider my tribe of women - writers I started this journey with who have my back if I ever need, but I who I don't necessarily need for validation or vice versa. It is beyond that.

They are now friends.

And I hope they know that because sometimes I am really crappy about commenting back and stuff ;)

A few friends and readers have asked where the heck I have been? "Aren't you writing anymore?" Well, I have. I have been. But in many ways, I have felt the writing was so personal, that I didn't know if I could go there.

There has also been a side effect of something which I have shared with you. A lot of my desire for writing has been tempered over the past year as I have watched two of my close friends, Stan and Sherri Carmical weather something extremely difficult and heartwrenching. To give you some context, they are close neighbors and friends. Our son, Nico was born on August 6th. Their twin sons, Cole and Declan were born on August 26th.

As many of you know, Declan passed away on August 18th, after a brave, amazingly courageous battle with cancer. 7 days before his birthday. My friend's lives have not been the same.

While I am at the periphery in many ways, my life is no longer the same either. You can't have an angel cross your path and enlighten you on something that needs to be changed to help so many other children . . . to well . . . ignore it. I can't ignore Declan's call.

We can't.

There were times I wanted to write - but this was not my story to write. Sherri's voice during this time has been all I needed - and her sincerity and the organic way in which she related to her audience, letting everone know how she plans to rebuild in honor of Declan is incredible..and knowing that words were healing her right now made me realize that for Sherri, in so many ways her lack of anonymotiy has made her writing all the more meaningful and powerful. In her readers now - there are friends and family and a heartfelt community who will raise heaven and earth to raise awareness.

Because we love the Carmical family. And it's what needs to be done right now.

So, here's the deal. I am writing again. Here is where I need your support.

1. I am going to be me. I may say things about how I feel about religion, politics, my hatred of American football and how it has sucked the hopes of any romance out of my life. I will tell you about things that may sound vacuous and silly when you are reading them - just know that if I am writing about something inane - it's more likely that there is something bigger out there, that I am not ready to approach.

2. Stan and Sherri are launching a new site in honor of Declan. They are turning this devastation into somthing that will mobilize families who have to endure what they have been through - to empower people to understand what cancer really means when we look at our youth. If you are interested in helping raise awareness for their site, please let me know. I will be sending out a press packet to bloggers who want to help when the site does its "hard" launch.

In honor of Declan Carmical - and all the other brave warriors out there who can beat this thing - the Carmicals will be launching this site soon. Let us know if you want in! We would love your help to blog about the site on its launch date to connect people to the story and the mission.


Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Just Another Facebook Post

The other day, I was taking a much needed break at work and checked my Facebook news feed. The day had gotten away from me – as it often will on a Monday as I find myself making a frantic dash to get back ahead of things.

I hadn’t checked Facebook since the previous Friday, so was diligently scrolling through the noise of the newsfeed to make sure I hadn’t missed anything special, since Facebook has now become the avenue for me to learn which friends are expecting, whose birthday it is, who folks are voting for on Election day, and even when friends are selling a home.

As I was scrolling down, I started seeing the name of a friend repeatedly in my news feed. At first it did not register, but at some point, the vast number of pictures he was tagged in raised a red flag and suddenly the hairs on my neck were standing up.

I started scrolling down maniacally, hoping that my worst suspicions were wrong.

Oh no.

Oh no.



In loving memory of Gerald, the next post said, from a girl whom I did not know – but who had tagged a smiling picture of Gerald. I immediately went to his Facebook page, thinking that I must have missed something.

And maybe, hoping I had.

In Gerald’s status message, Gerald’s brother had posted in his place, notifying everyone that Gerald had been in a fatal motorcycle accident the previous Friday night.

As I connected with distant friends to understand what had happened – I was able to learn that Gerald had been killed by a drunk driver who had run into Gerald head on, going down the wrong side of the highway. The details of the accident slowly revealed themselves in the days following, leading up to the funeral service.

Gerald was not a friend I saw often, or in fact, in years. He had been a part of my memories of a different phase in my life. He was a solid, steadfast man who I knew in my days of fluttering around the Washington, DC nightlife as a habitual social butterfly in my mid-late twenties. He was a bouncer at my favorite bar and had been a big teddy bear, despite his large and potentially intimidating stature.

I joked with my husband that Gerald had played interference on more than a few instances for me – sending me home in a taxi before I got too drunk or fending off amorous suitors who didn’t understand that I wasn’t interested. Or telling me when I was beer goggling and needed to get back home before I caused collateral damage.

Ah, those were the days.

Here is the thing. Without Facebook, I would not have known that Gerald had passed. At the same time, finding out about his death on a newsfeed while I sat innocuously at my desk was a sucker punch to the gut I had not been prepared for.

I will miss Gerald and all the memories he represents for me. More than anything – I realize that Gerald probably did not realize the full extent to which he affected people in his joy of life, his desire to protect, and his ability to offer friendship to everyone.

In our lives we tend to internalize a lot of the things we see as shortcomings within ourselves.

I’m not good enough.

I’m not pretty enough.

I’m NEVER skinny enough.

I’m not successful enough.

I’m not smart enough.

I realize that with each passing year and the subsequent passing of dear friends and family that each of us leaves behind a far greater legacy than we realize. And I want to change what matters to me as I determine what my own legacy means.

Do my children understand what it means to be selfless?

Did I offer the hand of assistance and love to those who needed it?

Did I teach my children to be strong while being kind; empathetic without being doormats?

Does my family know how much they mean to me?

Do my friends know they can lean on me?

Life is fleeting.

But your legacy need not be.

Gerald wrote an open letter to his two daughters a few months before he died. I don’t believe there was any sense of premonition of what was to come – but I do know he is probably glad that he did it as he looks down on his family now.

Sariyah and Raine,
I am greatful and blessed to have two such wonderful young ladies like you in my life.

Thank you for allowing me to be your father. Thank you for showing me that a father is defined by actions and not by name. Thank you for never using the word "Step" when you talk about me. Thank you for making me feel special by letting me get you to sleep when no one else could. Thank you for knowing my word to you will be kept. Thank you for allowing me into your private world and trusting me. Thank you for using me as your bench mark to be a better person. Thank you for never saying "why" but "okay" dad. Thank you most of all for showing me what it means to be a father!

Thank you for letting me see myself in such a unique way. Thank you for having such a quick wit that makes me laugh all the time. Thank you for having such a loving gentle way about you. Thank you for being so thoughtful and unselfish. Thank you for being my carbon copy and allowing me to help you get through some of the confusing times you are dealing with. Thank you for never questioning how much I love you. Thank you for letting me show the world my beautiful contribution. Thank you most of all for showing me what amazing truly is.

In loving memory of Gerald Lance Glasper.

Thank you for the memories of your smile and your laughter, Gerald.

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