Friday, March 9, 2018

Helping Children deal with the death of a family pet

Last year, only a few weeks before Veda was born, our beloved dog Ziggy passed away of a sudden heart attack at the young age of 6 years old. We were all absolutely heartbroken and devastated - but the worst part was telling Maya, who was 4 years old at the time.

We adopted Ziggy in 2010, right in the midst of our wedding planning. We had always wanted to have a dog together and we thought it would be good preparation for us for growing our family. Maya was born in 2012 and Ziggy was very much a protective older brother. They grew up together. When she was a baby, he used to lick her feet, cuddle with her, and watch over her while she was sleeping. Maya and Ziggy were very close. The last great memory that we have of him was spending Christmas together.

He died on our anniversary last year. We were planning to go out for dinner that night. Husband-ji called me hysterically from an animal hospital saying that he had died. I jumped in the car and drove as fast as possible. When I arrived, he was in one of the rooms, holding his body and crying. It was so terrible. We sobbed and sobbed. We asked the vet why it happened - how could it happen? He was only 6 years old! Apparently he had an underlying heart condition that developed quickly.

I can handle any amount of pain and hurt, but when you see your child experiencing it...well, it's hard to handle. We had no idea how we were going to tell Maya. Luckily it happened when she was at school, so we had some time. We waited 3 days to tell her and went back and forth on which way would be best. My mother-in-law thought it would be best to just tell her quickly and distract her. Husband-ji thought about telling her and then saying we could get a new dog. I thought it would be best for her to just grieve and let out her emotions, even though it would be hard to watch. We also went back and forth as to what time to tell her. Should we tell her in the morning? The evening? We didn't have the right answer.

After 3 long days, we decided to tell her in the evening one day after she got home from school. I told her that something happened to Ziggy and he died. She cried and cried and cried. It was terrible. She said she wanted him to come back, and I had to tell her that he wasn't coming back. I cried with her. My mother-in-law and husband-ji were very uncomfortable. My mother-in-law started trying to distract her, which didn't work. Husband-ji said "we can get a new dog!" to which Maya shouted, "I don't want a new dog, I ONLY want Ziggy!".

Then came the questions. Inconsolable, she wanted to know why he died. And where did he go? And why can't he come back? I explained that his heart stopped, and that he died at an animal hospital. And that they would bury him in the ground, under leaves. And that he has gone to Heaven now and is always looking down on her like an angel from the clouds. I explained that he has gone to join great grandma and great grandpa and they are taking care of him now. I told her that I had a dog growing up and Ziggy went to join him in Heaven and they play together. I said if she misses him, to just look up at the clouds. I told her that she was the best sister to Ziggy and he loved her so very much.

I am not a devout Catholic by any means, but I was at a loss of words at how to explain the concept of death and the angels that watch over us. Why is it that someone dies, all of a sudden? Those things even I don't have the answer to. Naturally, I thought of what my Catholic grandmother would have explained to me at that age. When it comes to parenting, she is my internal compass. The concept of Heaven seemed to comfort Maya a bit. We also found this really amazing book called Dog Heaven which I highly recommend.

I also said that it's okay to be sad about Ziggy, but it's our job now to take care of baby Veda who was coming soon. She thought about that for a while and tried to be brave.

Grieving was a long process for Maya. The first few weeks were really hard and she cried on and off, constantly. Despite Veda's exciting arrival, she was upset for months over Ziggy and still had a few cries about it towards the end of the year. I think she would have cried a lot more if it wasn't for Veda. Still, every once and a while, she remembers that he's gone and she gets sad. She has recently started again remembering Ziggy and missing him so she will draw him a picture. 

Towards the end of last year, we started talking about the idea of getting another dog in the future which Maya seemed open to. I told her she can help pick it out, name the dog, and help take care of it. We decided all together that we'd look into getting another dog after we move to our new place, and after Veda turns 2. Maya seemed to warm up to the idea since she had some space and time to grieve Ziggy.

One thing that I think I really did right about all of this was just to acknowledge her sadness and tell her that I missed him too. It's always been really hard for me to see Maya upset, so it was a struggle for me to fully allow her to be upset but I'm glad I did. In this situation, I think - there was no other way. Grief is really hard and there's no way around it.


Monday, March 5, 2018

Now Featured On: Masalamommas (8 Things I've Learned from Raising Mixed Kids)

I'm back with my monthly intercultural/interracial column on one of my favorite websites, Masalamommas! This time, my article is all about raising mixed kids and a few things I've learned along the way.

Click HERE to read it!

And do let me know what you think!


Monday, February 26, 2018

Why Do People Live in a Joint Family?

Back in the day in my in-laws' generation, when a woman got married she was expected to live with her husband's parents. It was a cultural norm, and a couple living on their own away from elders was seen as something unusual. It was also a societal pressure - if you opted to live on your own, people would turn their noses up at you. Young women getting married were prepared in advance on how to navigate moving in to her husband's natal home and how to deal with in-law's. My mother-in-law says that this is because the old families in India usually had a large multi-level ancestral property and the whole family would live there. Elders, aunts and uncles, and cousins would grow up on one property, and the property would just be handed down the generations.

But, India has changed. A lot of young couples in India are making the choice to live on their own, away from their families - even if they reside in the same city. Most people view living with your husband's parents as more trouble than it's worth. Nowadays, young couples and elders both think that living apart peacefully is better than living together and being unhappy - this is becoming a societal norm, especially in urban metropolises. Elderly people are living on their own longer than ever before, and only moving in to their kids' homes only when one of them is widowed. However, the elders do wistfully value everyone living under one roof like most people did in their own generation.

The concept of the joint family has also changed it's definition. A joint family used to mean that it was a home shared by elders, husband and wife, and the husband's siblings and their families - with cousins growing up as brothers and sisters. Now when people refer to a joint family they refer to living with only the in-law's.

There are also many different ways to reside in a joint family. For example, you could have an in-law suite/wing on the side of your home or a lane way apartment. You could build a suite on top of your garage, or have a basement suite. You could live on the same property but have separate apartments, having a sense of spacial privacy. Or you could live separately, but in the same neighborhood - a short walk or drive away.

One of the many Laneway Houses that have popped up around Vancouver: a seperate detached smaller home on the same lot as the main house

Making the decision to live in a joint family is a choice but in some cases it's also not a choice. There are a lot of external factors that come into play that are more complicated, such as:

a) Your husband is the eldest son OR only son.
If your husband is one of these, then there is no doubt that your in-law's will eventually move in with you. It's going to happen, he just hasn't told you about it yet! It may only happen after one parent is widowed, but it's still going to happen eventually. Parents are still seen as the eldest son's responsibility and this mentality is an unwritten rule even in this generation.

b) Valuing grandparents being heavily involved in children's lives.
Some people are fine with grandparents seeing the grandkids a few times a year and would prefer to parent the kids on their own. Others really value the grandparents' involvement in the kids' lives and could not do without it. You might be more swayed by this if you were very close with your own grandparents growing up.

c) You live in an expensive urban city and you can't afford to live separately.
Many times there is also a financial factor in living in a joint family. If your in-law's are retired and don't have much money, it just makes sense to live together as a big group rather than rent a separate apartment. Some of the cities with the most expensive housing markets are: Hong Kong, Sydney, Vancouver (our city), Auckland, Bay Area, Melbourne, London, NYC, etc. All of these cities have large Indian populations, small urban properties and extraordinarily high rents (like $2000 for a 1 bedroom apartment - not including utilities!). What young couple has $2000 extra to waste on rent? Financially, it makes more sense to stay together...even if it is cramped.

For us, living in a joint family was important because both husband-ji and I were extremely close to our grandparents growing up and we wanted our kids to have the same experience. I also value their input in regards to parenting the kids - it's helpful to have an elder's perspective. At the end of the day, no matter how tough it is on me as an individual to live in a joint family at times, seeing my kids close to their grandparents makes it all worth it.


What about you? Do you or would you ever live in a joint family? What are the factors that made you decide to live or not live in one?

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

You don't have to enjoy every single second of being a mom

Maya: 13 months old

Recently I had a conversation with a first-time mom whose baby was a few weeks old. She was deep in the trenches of adjusting to life with a newborn and she was finding breastfeeding to be extremely difficult, and she was driving herself nuts pumping every few hours because she wasn't producing enough milk. She had that crazed/teary look that a mom gets when she's freaked out about her milk supply. (Been there!!!) She was incredibly sleep deprived and was on the brink of tears several times while speaking with her. First, she was confiding in me about how hard it was. Then, she told me she read this article online which said something along the lines of "you must enjoy it because it goes by so fast and you will never get this time back again..."

AS IF the first-time mom needed the added pressure of thinking she should be "enjoying" every single minute of it, especially when she's having a hard time getting through the day.

We moms do this a lot. First, you're not allowed to ever openly complain about how hard motherhood is. Or else people will look at you like you're crazy. And if you do, the complaint has to be followed with: "But of course, I love my kids so much". (Duh.) Do we really need to say that we love our kids? OF COURSE we love our kids. The result is that so many moms suffer in silence and they have absolutely nowhere to vent any frustrations because nobody wants to be honest. Whatever happened to just having a good vent??? Without being judged for it. Or without being questioned for it.

As a mom of two children (who are 4 years apart), I can attest to the fact that yes, children do grow up so incredibly fast. And lately, I'm all about trying to enjoy the present moment. But I don't like this shitty societal standard that moms "should" be enjoying every single second of it, and the implication that if you don't that you're a bad mom and/or you regret being a parent.

I can just imagine my mom friend deliriously pumping at 4am (next to her snoring husband) and feeling bad about herself because she's not enjoying EVERY minute like the article said.

That day, I told her: "You don't have to enjoy every minute of it. Sometimes it's just really hard." Her expression to what I said is something that I can't put into words. It was a reaction of relief. Of an honest understanding and acknowledgement. Somewhat of a secret code among moms. I basically told her it's okay to feel like that.

I, for one, do not miss those newborn days. Of course I think back to how cuddly Veda was and the total bliss of her falling asleep on my shoulder...but I certainly do not miss: waking up every 45 minutes, colicky crying, postpartum bleeding, being insanely preoccupied with my milk production, and having zero energy recovering from birth while simultaneously taking care of and breastfeeding a newborn.

Rather than preaching to mothers that they should be enjoying every single millisecond of parenthood (particularly when they're going through a rough time), I think it is more helpful to see the positives and negatives in each phase. And acknowledge the fact that some phases of child-rearing are harder than others.

That is all.

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