Monday, July 29, 2013

80-20 rule

The Pareto principle (also known as the 80–20 rule, the law of the vital few, and the principle of factor sparsity) states that, for many events, roughly 80% of the effects come from 20% of the causes (Wikipedia). Likewise in my life, I feel that 80% of my unhappiness comes from people who form 20% of my core support structure. I attribute undue importance sometimes to some things, situations and words.

My birth dad's son is visiting him from Canada and a piece of me already knew that he wouldnt be in touch while his son was home. But I still waited for his emails, his phone calls. I sent him my half marathon pictures, no response. I knew and I still felt bad. I know I do not have a place in his life, I am always someone he will turn to, when he has time or the whim to write and I still expect and still feel bad. What does this man have to do with my life anyways except for biologically being the reason I am here today. He has turned his back and walked away from me and our paths would never have crossed in our lives had I not gotten up and changed the course. I am done with trying to nurture this relationship, always taking the efforts to stay in touch, always calling, always writing. I give up. I accept the harsh reality that I do not matter to him. As I do not have the courage to completely shut him out of my life, I can at least change myself and stop expecting and treat it as an acquaintance relationship..

Nowadays I feel that people never change. It is very hard to get someone to change. Try to change yourself and you will find out. But what you can do is to make sure you do not allow yourself to get hurt over and over. Choose your own strategies to make sure you can stay happy and make the best of the situation.

My strategy with my mother in law is working very well for me. I do not know what she thinks or feels. But I have long given up trying to make people happy. I am actually seeing her in a new light. Once I have decided that none of her comments/words are directed at me personally, its almost like having an out of body experience and watching a movie. I have observed her and the remarks she makes and realised this is who she is. She will not change. You cannot teach a person to be at peace. For some, mental turmoil and dissatisfaction is inherent. I am also trying very hard to shed my ego. I have accepted it to be a given that she will always praise food made by someone else and I will never have a good word for all the hard work I do. I have just accepted it. Even if she might think it, the thoughts will never be transformed into words. I actually feel bad for her. I wish she had close friends and family who would steer her in the right direction, teach her how to be happy and at peace.

I have also decided to be realistic about myself, my strengths and my limitations. Everyone has 24 hours in a day. How you choose to distribute it is up to each person. Who you choose to focus on, what thoughts you allow yourself to consume with, whether you allow enough time for prayer and meditation, if you just sit down and laugh with your children; its all up to you. I am done trying to have everyone in my life like me.

My parents always say that I am an excellent child, an excellent daughter to them. We are perfectly in tune. P's Uncle and Aunt say I am a wonderful daughter in law; the daughter they never had. But would my birth mother or mother in law say the same thing? For different reasons of course. I have never been the daughter that my birth mother wanted - the obedient diligent daughter who would have agreed and listened to all her directions without a question asked. I do not regret it - even if it was the price of our relationship. I have never been the daughter in law that my mother in law wanted. Actually I am not sure anymore what she wants except for me to say "Stay here with us and do not go back to India". I think I know what would make her happy - asking her recipes, standing at the stove and asking her to direct me and cooking under her eyes, listening to all her self focused stories and appreciating them. And I am trying it in baby steps but it is not what interests me and therein lies the problem. I have given up trying to make her happy. All I hope for is to move towards a relationship where we are comfortable in each others presence and I do not get upset by her words.

Life gets hard sometimes with unmet expectations, unreturned love, politics at work, challenges with your children, the struggle to make time for your spouse, trying to focus on your own body and mind and then after all this too, sometimes I feel what have I done for my community or for my spiritual advancement, its a thousand things to do and not enough time. But it is necessary to take a deep breath and count out the handful things that mean the world to you, for which and for whom everything is worth it. And then shift your focus on them and let the others fade into the background. My husband, my children, my parents, my best friends, my siblings, my physical health, my mental health......I count my blessings and realise I am the happiest person on earth!

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Saas bahu episode 1

My in laws arrived with a bang last Friday. On Friday morning, I left for work at 6:45 am, turned the corner and when the sun hit my face, tears streamed down and my left eye just refused to stay open. It was very strange and I was freaked out. I finally drove home slowly and felt wiped out! I lay down on the sofa for a long time. I had to drive out to work in the afternoon to attend some meetings. After that it was a whirlwind as usual, pick up the kids, make milkshakes for both, drive to R’s Bharatnatyam class, rush back and cook dinner. Baby S helped pick basil leaves from our garden and I made pesto sauce and sautéed some onions and red peppers and threw together some pasta for us. Made special rice and peanut curry for the in laws who were on a fast. I also cut mangoes and put out the coconut water that I had bought for their fast. As I was setting up the table, they arrived and sat down to dinner soon after.

My father in law started eating and was chatting with me about my preparations for my upcoming half marathon. My mother in law sat down and barely had eaten her first bite, all hell broke loose. She started saying “The rice is just slightly undercooked” (repeated 13,458 times) and yelled at my fil to stop eating and give her his plate so she could put it into the microwave and “correct” my cooking. Followed by “I am not saying just to criticize you but we are home and we should be able to say what we want, and why should we eat slightly undercooked rice blah blah…..on and on followed by her stories of how she had popped her perfectly cooked rice in the microwave against her sister’s wishes to cook it further as her sister is older and needs soft food and then how her sister was so happy with her. Followed by “Everyone makes a mistake, its fine!”. I just sat back in shock, dead tired and slowly the anger rose in me. This lady could not see how tired I was, or appreciate how I had taken the effort to cook their special meal and think of additional things like cutting up fruits and buying coconut water. There was no gratitude expressed or acknowledgment of my care but she just re affirmed why I know our wavelengths wont match.

Instead of creating this big hue and cry, she could have gotten up diplomatically and “cooked” her rice to whatever consistency she wanted. Also if something needed a quick pop into the microwave for under a minute, it was obviously cooked in the first place. Or she could have said “Its nice, but I need a bit more softer so I will pop it into the microwave a bit longer”. Anyways….. I was so upset – more stories followed of how she had smart ideas, how my sister in law and her husband were so happy with her wisdom and I was done.

I went upstairs and cried and cried and P came by and walked away upset and I then lay down on my bed and the room started spinning around. I am mighty embarrassed that I have turned into one of those feeble women that they show in old Hindi movies where the doctor advises the family members to treat her delicately or she will have a heart attack. Its my resolve to strengthen my mind against such incidents now. Later on, she came over and started crying and said how I was like her daughter and she didn’t want a repeat of last visit and that she thought she should just say frankly etc etc.

I thought about it later – there is no one bad here. Its what you think. For my mother in law and I am sure my sister in law; this incident is me being extra sensitive and getting annoyed for being told “frankly” that my rice was not up to par. For me, it was a situation of bad manners and an attitude of entitlement and zero appreciation and wrong use of words. I never tout myself as an expert cook, all my dishes are a hit or miss, sometimes they are incredible, sometimes too salty or just blah. But one thing I do not lack is care and concern. And all the people I know and love, appreciate it. Whenever P’s Uncle and Aunt come over for dinner, Aunty always is appreciative of the fact that I rush home from work and whip together a meal for all of us and serve it with love. Another important thing is that you can give five women three potatoes each and same ingredients and they will end up cooking five differently styled potatoes. And you could have them swear to their own dish being the “only” way to cook it and perfect.

The next day I woke up and spoke nicely to them, even offered her to accompany me on my grocery store visit because I know how much she enjoys going out. But I have realized that our wavelengths do not match at all. Most of our conversation is incredibly one sided with her telling me stories of either her own smartness and expertise in cooking or my sister in law’s. My sister in law is definitely a good cook. I do listen to my mil’s stories and praise her but I cannot go beyond 15 minutes of conversation, beyond 15 minutes of saying non stop “Oh how nice, that’s a great idea, you are good!” etc. Now I have decided to ignore or simply not respond when I receive unsolicited advice that is so obvious that I feel – why is she even feeling the need to tell me this. And because of the way she delivers her words, they sting everytime.

Just a simple silly example is – I oil my daughters’s hair every weekend and I had sent R into the shower and was running around gathering her clothes and other stuff. Its our routine, she loves the shower and she happily sings in it and gets all drenched and then I go put shampoo in her hair. My mil accosted me on the way and accusingly scolded me “What!!! She is taking a shower by herself!??!! Arent you going to go put shampoo on her hair, she is not old enough, how will the oil come out??” Ignore and walk away is what I did. R is 6 ½ years old and has had countless head baths since she was born and I have an IQ slightly above average and have managed to keep my family alive (and oil free) on my own. I need not answer that outburst.

So now we are all in a peaceful harmony as much as we can manage. I do not respond to advice or questions that I think are completely ridiculous or condescending but I do not shut down conversation. I chat about other topics, ask them how their day was and make sure everything they need is bought. I have also told P to step up and assume primary responsibility for his parents.

One baby step at a time to a better relationship….

In other news we ran the half marathon again, more on that in another post…

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Love yourself

I have two little girls - two beautiful little girls. My six year old is already in the fragile self esteem phase - checking herself out in the mirror at every opportunity, hating her naturally wavy hair. If her hair will be straight in the morning or not is the biggest stress she has before she goes to bed. And did I say she is six?

All through my childhood I was considered to be pretty. My best friend who is a stunning beauty always said that I had the most beautiful skin she had ever seen. My parents always praised me and it was a given that any color would look good on me given my fair complexion etc. Beauty is indeed in the eyes of the beholder. I used to have my front two teeth overlapping each other. Uptil the point of meeting my in laws and P, everyone I knew raved about how my smile was so natural and sweet. My father always said our quirks made us unique or we would be all the same.

On my in laws side both my husband and sister in law have perfect straight teeth thanks to orthodontic treatments rendered in their childhood. My father in law asked that I get braces done after we got engaged/married. This point was brought up in every conversation that we had. My mother in law told my mother and a close relative that she had asked her son - do you want to marry this girl? Her teeth are not straight, she has some problem with her eyes (I have a slight Shashi Kapoorish squint) and she is adopted and that her son said Yes, I want to marry her. I don't know if this was supposed to be a compliment or a slap or both or one disguised in the other. Over time I have realized that my mother in law is not the best communicator - maybe she doesn't mean some things but they come out wrong.

Newly married I looked at myself through my husband's eyes and had the first huge hit to my self esteem. My teeth bothered him (many years later I got an expensive orthodontic treatment done and now I have a perfectly aligned teeth smile), my weight bothered him and does to this day - his mother and sister are size zeros and below; they both barely eat a roti and me, eating with gusto was a shock to him, my wavy hair bothered him. My self esteem took hit after hit. I was so confused - I thought I was great - my friends and family say so then why don't I have a husband who is dizzy crazy in love with me. He was/is in love with me, don't get me wrong but it wasn't the blind throw yourself in love kind of love. It was measured and always realistic and critical and full of recommendations for how I can improve myself.

Down the years we also had to face many many tough situations and he unfalteringly stood behind me and held my hand and had my back as required. I also realized that this is who he is and this is how he is brought up. His mother is also prone to seeing the bad in situations and people - they are not simple satisfied happy people. There is always something that nags them stresses them. Roses have no smell, something is not sweet enough, grandchildren are not affectionate enough, there is no curry in the meal - the list goes on and on. My father in law on the other hand is always at peace. He has his own world but he keeps himself mentally and physically occupied.

As we try to coach our older daughter who has inherited most of these qualities to always see the good in people and situations, to appreciate and be grateful and to express affection and contentment; it's a revision of all these thoughts for us too.

As women, I feel that we are prone to self doubt, guilt and emotions; I will make sure my babies first and foremost learn to accept and love themselves and believe in themselves and not ever rely on any other person for it. My dearest children, I will always be in your camp cheering you on, saying that you are the smartest, prettiest , awesomest girl ever but I need you to believe it yourself and not ever let anyone bring you down anyday.