Being Woman

Last month, as I watched my Facebook news-feed filled with reminders that it was women’s history month, I thought how timely it was that I had picked up The Confidence Code for my spring/summer reading. The book, written by Katty Kay and Claire Shipman, journalists and authors of Womenomics, describes how even the most successful women are considered one step behind men, mainly because of their lack of internal confidence. This obviously hits home for many who are career oriented, partly successful, and think of themselves as no less than men. Naturally, my first thought was to deny the statement altogether, because I never thought I lacked confidence to speak my mind. But as I continued to read the book, I realized how true that statement was.

Yes, working women today are educated and more qualified than ever before. Yet still, men predominate high positions in society and family. Yes, women have come far from the old days, but let’s be honest, we still have mileage to go. Why is this still true? It is probably because we are going through a cultural shift of sorts in today’s society, in our homes, and at our workplace…….where women are slowly taking charge….but we are not at the finish line just yet. Thankfully, this is vastly different than just a generation ago and will be different than what the next generation may experience.

Every woman in my immediate circle is confident and successful, but I do see that our society doesn’t consider us equal to our men yet. I believe it is because what has remained during this cultural shift is what the book was trying to point me to. That there is still a lack of eternal confidence among ourselves. True, outwardly we are powerful, strong, and shoulder to shoulder with men and can bring the same things on the table that men do. We walk through a room and we can own it…….because we know we can make a difference. But, when we sit down with friends, coworkers, and family and begin a conversation, or when we sit in a corporate meeting with executives and leaders………a tiny voice inside of us tries to pull us back. Be it a conversation about corporate marketing strategy, or be it a mere conversation about home or family, we feel that we need to filter things and either say them in a “right manner”, or not say it at all. We may bring equal or more salary home, or have a same position as the next man on that corporate table, but we think that if we voice our disagreement on something, we will be seen as harsh, or critical, or rude. In a same situation, a man would more likely be considered as being constructive, or witty even. See, men don’t prejudge themselves, and instead say things as a “matter of fact”………..whereas women ponder how others may perceive their every sentence.

Why do we as women second guess ourselves? Why do we want to please everyone and be the BEST all the time but yet, time again we feel we are nowhere close to being good enough? What is it inside of us that make us feel vulnerable? Why do we listen to that tiny voice that says “you must continue to fit in in the world of men”?

Like any woman I know, I have asked these questions to myself multiple times and found varying answers. At times, I feel it’s the society that always puts men high up on pedestals and tells women “don’t you say or do things that way as a woman”. May be because we were taught that is not how a lady would behave. And, may be it is wired in the genes of women to overthink and over analyze everything. Whatever the answer may be, Kay and Shipman do have a point. That, we modern age women, still hold ourselves accountable to the standards that were set forth by a patriarchal society hundreds of years ago.

I don’t intend to offer answers to the above questions here, as I am no expert in the field. But in my personal experience what I’ve realized is that, at times we don’t help our own kind. We judge the woman who speaks her mind more critically than the woman who always says the “right thing the right way”. True that the overall society needs to continue empowering women, but women themselves need to support and lift each other up.

Celebrating women isn’t about making strong women-centric claims on social media platform for one day. It is about continuously uplifting women around us, being happy for them, celebrating their success, empowering them, supporting them, and standing next to them……………….not against them. Here is to all of those who celebrate women and women empowerment even after Facebook stops reminding us. May we be them!

Until I wander again……

 

We all came from somewhere….

immigration
Pic credit: National Park Service (www.nps.gov)

If you have been following the news, you know we have a new President who isn’t well liked and is regarded in many ways, reprehensible. And, recently he made it tougher for the world to like him, by signing the executive order on immigration law and sending the nation in a protest spree.

Quite frankly, I am not politically savvy to make arguments and discuss details in an open blog, as I do not completely understand either side of the debate. May be it is a horrible plan and very much against the American values, or may be it isn’t any different than the plans Presidents before this one put forth. But it is clear, that this plan was not executed correctly which created chaos and confusion. It also put every Americans’ story front and center, as we all came from somewhere or our forefathers did. It didn’t matter if we came in legally or landed here on a boat, the event struck a chord within us. So obviously, the event reminded me of my own experiences as a gawky teenager who migrated here with her family.

My family was not a “refugee”, but my parents worked hard and stayed separated for five painful long years to give me the life I live today. My dad came here first and legally completed all of the paperworks in those five years, so we could join him. The long distance relationship took a toll. Obviously in the long run, the blood prevailed and we came together. But I would be lying if I didn’t admit that the distance created a never to be filled vacuum between each one of us. There are times we don’t understand where the other one is coming from.

These are minor struggles though, as the life we live in this country is far better than the one we did before. Things we take for granted today – air conditioner, unlimited supply of water and electricity, were luxury items for us. And most importantly, my brother and I today have what my parents worked hard for – opportunities…opportunities for proper and higher education, opportunities to make our own decisions, opportunities to vocalize our opinions, opportunities to choose, to vote, to live our lives the way we want. So, I do not for once take that for granted because it wasn’t easy for my parents to give it to us and it wasn’t easy for my brother and I to transition into.

Today, I am vastly different than that 16 year old who first landed in Pittsburgh to meet her father after five long years! The six months we stayed in Pittsburg were the TOUGHEST for us….no one looked or talked like us. We stood out like a sore thumb, and my brother and I had a tough time adjusting. Coming to the “land of opportunities” as a teenager was exciting until we landed here and faced the realities. It was hard to break in, make friends, talk to people, and do “normal” things that we took for granted previously. We had to start the social and school life from scratch. My parents had their own struggle as they worked hard to make ends meet, make sense of the new culture, and comfort their whining and culturally shocked teenagers; all the while putting effort in their own relationship after the long gap. What remained fundamental to them and to us, is that life here was going to be better…….we just had to ride through the tide…together…..as a family.

Today, I don’t feel any less “American” than a person who was born here. When I talk to people, I don’t remember that I am not from here….because I don’t think that’s relevant. I don’t think of the color of my skin….hair…eyes…because none of that matters to me. Technically, my feelings say the label of “immigrant” even gets blurry for me. I wasn’t born here and neither were my parents. But I am one of those oddballs who is stuck somewhere between the labels “a child of an immigrant” and “an immigrant” because I feel like I am neither but at the same time, I am both. I had no say on whether or not I wanted to move to the country. So technically, I am not the first generation immigrant in my family….but since I wasn’t born here, I am.

Any time someone asks me where I grew up, I say “Arlington” because that’s where I finished school and that’s where I feel like my “growing up” happened. I hadn’t learned to be resilient, be headstrong, be proud of my identity and learned to be me; before I moved here. So I tend to box my “growing up” days to the days I lived in Arlington with my parents.

It is one of the most beautiful thing about this country; people can land from any part of the world, and feel at home without any prerequisites. It is because we all came from somewhere, our roots have touches from other parts of the world but we all are deeply rooted here….together.

“All Americans have something lonely about them. I don’t know what the reason might be, except maybe that they’re all descended from immigrants.” 

Ryu Murakami, In the Miso Soup

Before I end my wandering thoughts, I want to share the 21 Most Powerful Things Ever Said About An Immigrant that was published by BuzzFeed. My favorite is #16, “All Americans have something lonely about them. I don’t know what the reason might be, except maybe that they’re all descended from immigrants”, because it speaks to every one of us and, resonates the core American values.  If you can’t relate to being an immigrant, you may know of someone who does……..be it family, or a friend, or even a coworker. Which is probably why the current event has touched us. I hope that during this chaotic time, we continue to remember that America would not be the same without the influence of the numerous cultures that has come to this nation with the “immigrants”. And that, at the end of the day we all value the same things, “freedom and opportunities”. It doesn’t matter what side of the debate you are on, or what one person decides the new policy should be, at the end of the day we all are proud of what this nation stands for.

Until I wander again………

Is your last-name YOUR last-name?

Few months ago, I saw a hashtag “#MarriedNotBranded” that was used by the wife of a famous Indian film actor. She was responding to someone on Twitter who had questioned her decision to not change her last-name even after being married for over 15 years. It resonated and reminded me of days when people questioned my decision of keeping my birth name. Although, changing my last-name has been a thing of a past, since I have been married for long time and people around me have come to accept it, I still get asked every now and then on why it differs from my husband’s. So, with a thought that I should feel guilty about it, I give my explanation, while feeling guilty for not feeling guilty about it. But I know I shouldn’t feel that way. After all, my husband and his family don’t think it is an important issue (and I am lucky that way). I think the feeling comes from an inherent place that reminds me that I am breaking a norm of sorts. Majority of the married women take their husband’s last-name, and until recently not doing so was looked at disparagingly.

In a society where men are considered high on the totem pole, it is hard for people to understand the concept, even though our society has come a long way. We “almost” had a woman president this year. While our country is still recovering from a heated political season, we can all agree that most of us were in awe to see a female candidate on that ballot.

Today, women are walking shoulder to shoulder with men in all aspect so the name change should be a decision, also at par on both sides. Would a man change his last-name after marriage? After all, marriage is between two people, so why should only one member be pressured into changing the name? What is in changing the last-name? Does it somehow make us more married?

“Doesn’t it feel weird?” someone asked me after I had a baby. To be honest, I had thought that once I have a baby, I may want to change my last-name as I will not want to be the only one without the “family” name. But my feelings stayed the same. Just because I was having a child, I wasn’t changing who I was fundamentally, so why should I change a part of my identity?

For me, my full name is my identity, something I was given at birth, even though my name is one of the MOST common/generic one (thanks mom and dad!). I have degrees and certificates on this name and I am known personally and professionally with it. To change it to something else, meant losing a part of an identity that I had worked hard to create. And I couldn’t bring myself to do it. I couldn’t connect to the person who had my first name and my husband’s last-name. She felt alien to me, even with a hyphen.

When I was working as a graduate program assistant in college, one of my responsibilities was to enter potential students’ information into a system. Which meant, sorting through piles of faxed/mailed applications, degrees and certificates. Sometimes, it felt like a scavenger hunt. The particular program was a teaching program, so (somehow) it meant more female applicants. For the same person, application forms came with one last-name, undergraduate degree came with another last-name, and certificates with another last-name (if they had remarried/divorced). It was frustrating to find the matching documents! I had taken the decision then to keep my last-name forever!

Let me be clear that I do not judge those who change their last-name. Heck it’s a norm AND a choice they made. Some do it because it is a tradition, some do it because it is important to their husband and so on. Whatever the reasoning may be, it is a normal practice to go through after marriage. I am sure there is a lot of thought that goes into their decision as well. I admire them, as I feel like that requires self-assurance, as in “you won’t feel lost with your new name”, kind of self-assurance. I am the opposite, I felt lost and used to get annoyed even if someone addressed me as “Mrs. Hislastname”, until recently.

Although I still don’t connect to “Mrs. Hislastname”, it bothers me slightly less after my son started his school and his teachers addressed me with his last-name. Few years ago, I would have corrected them…….today I don’t. So who knows, I may or may not warm up to the change eventually. But…….for now my last-name remains my last-name……except with few teachers of my son’s. 🙂

Until I wander again…..

Living with food allergies but counting our blessings…

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I want to get a disclaimer out first: This post is going to be a long one. So I hope you grabbed your coffee…. Also, I am aware that everyone has their own set of life struggles…..I am just writing about mine. In no shape or form, am I undermining or even comparing my family’s challenges with anyone.

Now that’s out…..let’s get started.

Ahaan turned 5 this November, and like any mom, I say…he grew up fast, wayyyyy fast! 5 feels like such a big number. When I met a 5 year old’s parent in the past….I felt like I met a mature, wise and have their “life together” person. Now that I have a 5 year old myself, I feel like I couldn’t be furthest from all. I am still immature (at times), have a lot to learn, and I definitely don’t have my life together. And, as much as it went by with a blink of an eye, these 5 years were also a roller coaster ride.

It started early, Ahaan’s food allergy struggles. I remember sitting in the pediatrician’s office when Ahaan was about 3 months old. I was a new mom, scared and unsure but I mustered enough confidence to say what I think could be causing him pain.

The pediatrician dismissed my opinion that it could be dairy allergy, “too early to tell” she said. And asked that I take him off breast milk and try a different formula. 1 week later, I found myself back in her office, resoundingly stating that dairy is bothering my little guy’s tummy and I will be damned if she stated otherwise (…well not in those terms…but almost). She then handed me a sample non-dairy formula. Overnight, we had a different baby…happy, giggly, and satisfied.

After that visit, I started living on basic food for the longest time, just so he can take my milk. Every food I ate, became an experiment on him. I can’t recall the number of times my husband and I made the trip to urgent care with him and huddled in a corner, hoping and praying that the pain of this tiny little human would just go away! While I silently kicked myself about eating anything different….or deviating slightly from the “basic food”. I can go on and on about those days. I have cried countless number of times asking myself “why? Why MY child? Why could I eat the same food, while he cried murder after eating them?” Starting solids brought another set of challenges….he was having a reaction to every food…even tomatoes or apples.

At the end of it all, my husband and I learned to accept this as our new normal. There are lots of people suffering/fighting different kinds of battles, many far worse than ours. So, we’ve learned to count our blessings instead, and think “could have been worse”. At least his doctors believe he will eventually outgrow the allergies, so there is that glimmer of hope. Hope is ALWAYS a good thing.

Today, Ahaan has outgrown most of his allergies, and we’ve narrowed it down to dairy, eggs, nuts, and some fish.

In these 5 years, I have done plethora of research and learned about ingredients of every food like a mad scientist. I could go for a degree on allergy friendly nutrition with my eyes closed!

It is not easy though and it perhaps will never be. In the beginning, within our social circle, we probably came across as pompous, or demanding, or making some sort of statement.  Every time there was an event….I NEEDED to ask the host if there will be food my little man can have. It was extremely uncomfortable and it hurt………………it hurt BAD!!!  I have left few birthday parties and events mid-way…..in tears……as my little man couldn’t eat anything while other kids enjoyed simple food, like pizza. The guilt was inexplicable and we had to take ourselves out of those situations!!

Thankfully, our close knit of friends have been considerate and have gone above and beyond to accommodate Ahaan’s allergies during social gatherings or birthdays. We are forever grateful to them…..as we’ve been lucky to have them in our lives! Obviously, we had to let go of few but it is no one’s fault. Life is never fair. Hanging out with my child/my family comes with new commitment now, and I understand that some people would rather not deal with it. I can’t blame them, it is hard to wrap your brain around dangers of food allergies if you haven’t gone through it yourself. I remember in one case, someone laughed at me when I mentioned Ahaan’s allergies. You see, I wasn’t being funny……. I was being safe…..for my child! I needed to be as we have no other option. I wish we did! And no I wasn’t looking for pity, I don’t want that for my child, I wanted understanding and compassion.

So, my husband and I became selective of events we attend for the safety of our child. We didn’t choose to live like this, it chose us. And it doesn’t make us famous, or give us “congeniality family” award, but it keeps our little man safe, while keeping us from getting into emotionally draining situations.

Today, with food allergies being prominent, there are LOTS and LOTS of options for Ahaan that are safe. All I have to do is walk in the Nature section of Wegmanns and Whole Foods. I have cried in the middle of a grocery store aisle every time I found a food I could add to Ahaan’s list. Heck, there are even allergy friendly cheesecakes, whoopee pies, and burritos, let alone pizzas and ice creams he can eat.

Throughout this journey, I have also learned to bake/make allergy friendly version of anything Ahaan wants to eat….…from donuts to cookies, to cakes, to cupcakes……… with healthy ingredients as replacements……..think apple sauce, black beans, zucchini, prunes! What better way to feed a child than sneaking healthy items in his food?!?

In retrospect, life is not normal without some sort of struggle to keep you on your toes. Food allergy seems to be our slice of pie and we’ve come to accept it. And, since he turned 2, Ahaan has been thriving, and is happy, smart, silly, and goofy boy like any other 5 year old. He is hitting all of his milestones out of the park. I am also very proud that he is immensely mature for his age about his allergies and handles it so well!! He is the easiest child to feed, easier than kids without allergies at times….and he eats healthy. Proud mama here!

Above all, he has friends and family that understand his allergies and make accommodations for him. He sure is a lucky guy and we count our blessings for that every day!

Until I wander again…..