Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Love what you do - do what you love - volunteer for your passion

So, I volunteer a lot.  People who know me, know this is true.  Sometimes to the chagrin of my
husband and my children, no doubt.  But yeah, I volunteer for a couple of different organizations. 

PTA - not just at my kids' schools, where I was Treasurer for two years and then President for three years, but also at the next level.  I was Council President and now am Council Treasurer - the Council I'm in oversees 12 local schools and their PTAs.  I've been nominated to move up to the District, which oversees the entire San Fernando Valley.  I have resisted that move for a while now because I feel that the further I get from the local schools, the less impact my time will have on the kids - which is the whole reason to volunteer.

I also volunteer with Girl Scouts.  I have been a leader since 2011 when Nadia was in 2nd grade.  I have loved being a leader.  Sometimes, the parents are hard to deal with and sometimes the kids have serious attitudes, but overall, I truly believe in the Girl Scout mission to cultivate girls with courage, confidence, and character, now more than ever.  And with Girl Scouts, I have moved up the ranks too - troop leader (which I still am), to Service Unit product sales support, to Service Unit Manager.  I oversee about 40-45 troops in our local area.  It can be an exhausting position, but everytime we have a troop leader meeting (once a month all the leaders get together to get info and exchange ideas), I walk away feeling really good about the support I am giving to our local leaders (along with my Service Unit Management Team).  That support flows directly to supporting the girls in those troops - leaders who are happy and feel supported translate to fun and active troops.

I volunteer because I feel passionately about these two organizations.  But I'm still waiting for the cash to start rolling in.

Say, what?

Well, there is all this advice out there about doing what you love and feel passionate about and the success/money will come.  I'm following that - I love supporting kids and other adults who support kids (like teachers and troop leaders).  I've been doing this since 2008.  And every year it seems to get more and more time consuming.  But I have yet to see any kind of monetary payout.

Are you sure about that?

Yeah, yeah, I know that the skills I use in volunteering, like event planning, human resources, time management, and project management can translate into a career and money.  Ok, fine, I'll stop waiting for the money to start falling from the sky!

All kidding aside and getting back to passions...one of the reasons I volunteer is because I have a passion for fun.  And I volunteer with some seriously funny people!  Some of these people have become true friends and sisters in the cause.   People who I just adore and LOVE to hang out with them.  I also have a passion for kids, which is how I chose the organizations I support.  And I have a passion for making a difference.  After all, if not me, then who?

But a lot of people don't realize that when the fun stops, when the support doesn't get to the intended audience, then the reason for volunteering stops.  Who is going to give their free time to something that isn't giving them SOMETHING back (not money).  Giving them a purpose, giving them a sense of satisfaction, giving them some fun!

Volunteering can be serious work.  I always hated when someone said they would do something and then bailed.  Just because it's a volunteer thing doesn't mean that someone isn't relying on you doing what you said you were going to do!  Because if you say you're going to do something, say run a table at the carnival, and then you back out or even worse, don't show up, then someone else has to scramble to fill your position with another volunteer.  So, while it can (and should!) be fun, it's also something to consider carefully.  Don't just say yes without every intention to do your best.

Because what is just fun for you may just be a passion for someone else.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Goodbye 16, Hello 17

Tuesday night, I cuddled on the couch with Damian in the last waning hours of his 16th year.  During his middle school years, cuddling went out of style.  But in the last year, the affection between us came back and how we hug a lot more, talk a lot more, I try to just *listen* more (though it is very hard to not always give advice).

On Monday, he talked to me about having trouble lately with feeling as though he is passing for a boy.  I look at the changes he's gone through and I cannot understand anyone who looks at him for the first time now and assumes Damian is a girl.  I get it if you knew him from before, if you knew him as Maya.  That's a hard habit to break and we understand (but so appreciate it if you try your best to get it right).  But meeting him for the first time, being introduced to him as Damian - I don't get it.  But it happens still and it really hurts him when it does.  It happened in one of his classes that day - and it was a teacher who had never had him before, so there shouldn't be this issue (his name is changed in the school already).  And I didn't have any advice other than to just keep correcting people.  Yeah, it's totally lame advice.  And what a terrible burden to put on a kid.  Especially by an adult.  All of Damian's friends get it and do not have a problem.  They have switched over and, to the best of my knowledge, none of them have made glaring mistakes.

But even this past weekend, it happened AGAIN at his Saturday morning Art Conservatory classes.  The school apparently pre-prints the rosters for the entire year for each session (they change teachers every 4-6 weeks).  And since they were printed back in September, it was before we talked to them about the name change.  Still, they should have just gone in and changed the name manually after we talked to them.  But they didn't and EVERY TIME Damian gets a new teacher, he has to go to each of them to change the name again and basically come out to each of them all over again.  It's frustrating.  It's annoying.  It's emotional for him and it's infuriating for me that he has to go through this over and over again. 

Anyway, so we talked about it - well, Damian talked and I listened.  I just said that I'm sorry it keeps happening.  But the most wonderful thing happened after that - Damian said that he likes talking to me and feels better after we talk.

Best. Compliment. Ever.

What parent doesn't want to hear that?! I just walked over to him and hugged him.  Our relationship has really come a long way since when he was in 9th grade and we fought every day.  And I mean EVERY DAMN DAY. But now, I feel as though we are closer than ever.  I'm seeing the talkative, fun-loving, wickedly sarcastic and smart person he was always on the inside.

He's 17 years old now.  And this year was the first year he was a birthday BOY.  Wow, I just love this kid.

Happy birthday, Damian!!

Monday, January 30, 2017

Women's March LA 2017

What an amazing experience going to the Women's March in Los Angeles was last week!  I took both Damian and Nadia with me, but unfortunately Chris had to work, otherwise he would have gone with us too.

We got to the subway station at Universal City at 8am and met up with two other Girl Scout leaders.  We didn't go as a Girl Scout event, but my friends just happened to be Girl Scout leaders too.  The three of us just took our own kids.  Nadia wore her Girl Scout vest there.  Anyway, so we met up with them at 8am.  Luckily we found parking pretty easily in one of the nearby lots.  There were so many people going so the energy in the air was exciting.  We saw lots of cool signs too.

Getting on a subway was crazy.  We went down to the platform.  The first train that came, we couldn't get on, but got closer to the front of the line.  The second train that came, same thing.  The third train, we decided that if only a few of us could push our way on, then we'll just meet back up at the destination (Pershing Square).  Two of our group were pushing on...the daughter got on but not the mother, so that didn't work.  Then we decided to follow someone else's advice - we got on the train going the other way towards North Hollywood (the end of the line) and just stayed on at the end while the train turned around to back down towards downtown.  In the end, that worked out for us.  Makes sense because the traffic at North Hollywood was CRAZY as I drove by it to go to Universal.

It was a long and stuffy ride to Pershing Square.  The kids were complaining but there was nothing to do about it.  Finally we got there and it took a while to get out of the station.  And then...we waited.  We moved along towards Pershing Square inch by inch - some people were being rude but I think they were mostly people who lived in the area or had to still go to work through that.  I can't imagine.

I think what happened was that there were so many people there that it overwhelmed the organizers and the original route just wasn't happening.  That's what happened in DC and I think that's what happened in LA too.  So many people that there wasn't really a way to march anywhere.  So, we ended up turning around and walking towards City Hall via a different route.

So we marched, listened to and participated in the chanting, and enjoyed the hope that was clear throughout the day.  There wasn't a lot of anger being displayed - there was some through some of the signs, but it really was about being a part of something bigger, being a part of a statement.  It was so energetic to be around that many people who were coming together for the same cause - equal rights.  It was not just a women's cause - it was about equality for all.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

New Year, New You.....

I haven't made New Year's resolutions in quite a few years and I probably won't be making them this year (I haven't so far).  But the new year does seem like a good time to make a start on something big - and we certainly did that in January 2016.

At this time last January, we were unaware of the unbelievable journey we were about to embark on with Damian.  He was still Maya back then.  Then one day, I think it was January 16, 2016 turned out to be January 28, 2016, he called a family meeting.  That was odd, because usually it's me doing that and not received with excitement.  He was very nervous and Nadia was by his side, encouraging him and saying it was going to be alright. I fully thought that he was going to come out as a lesbian that night.  I was prepared for that and completely at ease with that thought.  But when he said he's questioning his gender...I didn't know what that meant at all!  The word transgender was foreign in meaning to me.  I've heard of it before, of course.  I'd seen it in the media, read about Caitlyn Jenner, reacted to the bathroom laws in North Carolina.  But I didn't REALLY know what it all meant.  My first thought was, "What do you mean you don't know if you're a girl??" The thing is, Damian was easing us into this announcement.  In reality, he knew what was happening to him.  But he told us that he wanted help in figuring out what he was thinking.  He was trying soften the revelation that the girl we knew really didn't exist.

So we started on a journey that was lonely at first.  Especially for me, I didn't know who to talk to about the crazy feelings I was going through.  Chris seemed to have accepted it right away.  I didn't want to give any impression to Damian that I wasn't supportive of this.  I didn't want to ask "are you sure?"  But how can a parent not think that?  It seems like such a huge decision for a 15 year old (at the time) to come to this conclusion.

But oh how much I've learned since then - lots of transgender people transition when they are much much younger.  As young as 4 and 5 years old! I had no idea and that was a shocker to me.  That seemed way too young, but who am I to know what is going on inside another human being's head?

So, Damian asked for help.  He asked to see a gender therapist, stating at the time, that he didn't know what all these feelings of not wanting to present as a girl meant.  So, we started doing research.  Well, Chris and I started, because Damian had already started researching stuff about 6-9 months before he came out to us.  He had started following people on various social media outlets who had gone through or were going through transitioning.  He had started looking up what to do next and where to go.  We found a great family support group close by to us.  We went to our first meeting in February, just about 3 weeks after Damian came out to us.

I don't think that Damian made the announcement in January just because it was the beginning of the year.  It just happened to work out that way.  But if someone had told me back then that in a year I would have a son and be comfortable with that, well, I would have thought that person was crazy.  So much has changed - my attitude towards the whole thing being the biggest thing.  But we've come out to our families, to our friends, to the world.  I have done a lot of reading (though still not enough) and come to understand what transgender means.  I am using the name he chose (which was SO HARD!) and using male pronouns.  It feels weird to say "Maya" now.

Oh, what a difference a year makes!

Friday, December 30, 2016

Cocoon of love and acceptance

I haven't written since the election.  So much has happened since then.  I have so many topics brewing in my head.  But today, I write about Thanksgiving week.

Thanksgiving week was a banner week for our family.  The four of us traveled to Atlanta to attend my cousin's wedding.  We went back and forth about going, quite honestly, because of a variety of reasons.  But ultimately we made the decision for the kids.  Damian and Nadia really wanted to go and one of the reasons they wanted to go was to see family.

That right there makes me happy on so many levels.  The fact that they are old enough to have family as a reason to go somewhere new is wonderful.  They wanted to see family they knew but hadn't seen in a while and also to meet family they had never met or don't remember meeting.  You see, I had a lot of family from India traveling to the wedding too. And since we don't get to go to India very often, this was an opportunity that was too good to pass up.

Another reason this makes me happy is because of Damian.  I have had nothing but support and love from my family about his transition.  Emails and messages and phone calls saying that, despite not quite understanding what being transgender means, we have their unconditional love and support.  That Damian is a treasured member of our extended family.  This knowledge made him want to go to this family gathering.

My God it brings tears to my eyes even now - this amazing cocoon of love and acceptance.  We are so very lucky and blessed.
My beautiful family

So, we went to the wedding.  We spent a week surrounded by family and friends who treated Damian as if nothing was different about him, as though nothing had changed since the last time they had seen him, as though he had always been Damian. And he had amazing conversations with people about politics, about his interests, about his transition.  He bonded with his cousins, he bonded with uncles and aunties, and I basked in the sight of him smiling and being happy.  I delighted in him wearing a kurta to the wedding and a suit to the reception.  I thoroughly enjoyed dancing with him at the reception.  He was a young man and happy and at ease.

Dancing with my son

I don't know that he would ever been as at ease in his previous identity.  There is something different about him now - I mean, other than the obvious.  It's his mannerisms - his ability to be his true self.  His ability to BE.  He seems to laugh easier now.  His confidence has definitely gone up.

Back to the wedding week.  The true measure of its success is the fact that when we came home, we spent a full day feeling lonely.  Even though the four of us were together, we missed everyone and the loud cacophony that is my extended family.  It was reminiscent of when I was a kid and we came back from summers in India and we were just so depressed because it was just too quiet in our house.  Luckily, we only had a day before the schedule of school and work started up for us after Thanksgiving, but that Sunday was spent unpacking and talking about the week and being sad that it was over.
There is a lot of love in this picture

But I felt true gratitude too.  I am grateful for the open mindedness they practice.  For the acceptance they share.  For their ability to say "I don't understand but I still love and support you."  For their willingness to ask questions and open their hearts to the answers.

This world needs so much more of that.

*Pictures by Venkat Kuttua Photography

Thursday, November 10, 2016

It's not about losing an election

Some people seem to think that I, and, maybe, Democrats in general, are just sore losers.

Maybe some of us are. I'm definitely in the mood to throw a tantrum (and have a little bit on Facebook). I know I feel as though we were robbed. Secretary Hillary Clinton won the popular vote. More people wanted her to be President than Donald Trump. Once again, Democrats, nay, the American People, were ignored during an election. Never mind how we've been ignored in the last few years by the Republican Congress...

But I digress.

We are not just sore losers. We are dealing with grief. And there are several stages to that.

Right now, I'm in the anger stage.

I am angry that someone who has publicly stated that women should be punished for abortions has been elected President.

I am angry that someone who supports conversion therapy to turn gay people straight has been elected Vice President.

I am angry that someone who has bragged about sexually assaulting women has been elected President.

I am angry that someone who has time and time again called for violence against those who disagree with him has been elected President.

I am angry that someone who has cheated hard working people out of fair pay has been elected President.

I am angry that someone who wants to ban Muslims (who happen to look like me sometimes) has been elected President.

I am angry that someone who wants to ban gay marriage has been elected President.

I am angry that someone who has called for discrimination against LGBTQ people has been elected Vice President.

I am angry that the freedom to love and marry who you want regardless of sex will be taken away from my children by our new leaders.

I am angry that acts of violence against People of Color, against other religions, against the LGBTQ community has no been legitimized by the President-elect.

I am angry because I live in a country that now thinks it is ok to elect a racist, misogynistic, bigoted bully to the highest offices in the land and have those be the representatives of America to the rest of the world.

And then the same people who stood in the way of President Obama's political and social agenda, who called him and his family racist slurs, who wished him death, these are the same people who now say we should give Trump and Pence a chance and bring the country together?

The double standard is strong with the Grand Old Party.

Yes, I am angry right now. This is the stage I am in today. And I will get through it. I just can't feel this way forever, right?? Tomorrow, I start looking for ways to channel that anger into positive work.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

It's been a few months now...

I think that today is the perfect day to update everyone on our journey.  Today is National Coming Out Day!  And it's been just a few months since we, as a family, came out to the world that Damian is a transgender male.


Since then, I have been showered with support from friends and family.  This means the world to me.  Of course, our immediate family has been so wonderful.  My parents, Chris' parents, our siblings have all been supportive and switched gender pronouns and to the new name.  Over the summer when I was in New York City, my cousin (who is more like a brother) and his wife and I had some amazing long talks about everything, including the transition.  And recently, I got Facebook messages from my aunt and a phone call from an uncle who said, in no uncertain terms, that we have all their love and support and that they were proud of how we were handling the transition.  Such support is amazing to hear because it helps me continue on.  But what is even more amazing to me is that such support is in spite of the fact that some of my friends and family don't understand what "transgender" means.

And that's ok with me.

I would rather get questions about it.  I would rather someone say that they don't understand what this means and to ask me for an explanation.  I would rather someone say "I don't know what this means" than to sit quietly and slip away from our world because they were afraid or uncomfortable to ask me.  Damian is probably not ready to be the source of all the information, but in the last couple of months, he has grown so much and further understands what it means to be transgender.  I definitely don't have all the answers, but for now, I'm willing to take the brunt of the uncomfortable questions to give Damian the space to grow in self-confidence.

My uncle said to me that he didn't know yet what questions to ask.  This made me laugh and tear up at the very same time because that was the EXACT same response I had when Damian came out to Chris and me.

It's been quite the year for us.  It seems like to me that this transition has consumed our daily lives.  And it should for now.  But there isn't a day that goes by when I have to remember that I now have a son and a daughter instead of two daughters.  I can no longer shout "GIRLS!" when I need them both to come out of their rooms.  Instead, I have started to yell "KIDS!"  Just recently, a former teacher of Damian's asked me how my girls are doing.  I took a few moments to tell them what happened...and that now I have a son.  This former teacher said "Congratulations on your new son!".  I think that is exactly the right response I needed to hear.  It felt so positive.

One thing that has come out of our experiences are some new partnerships.  We have found a great support system, one that has a component for parents AND for the transgender kids.  Chris and I started going to this group back in February and I remember vividly that first meeting - I cried the ENTIRE time.  And last month? I was the one helping a new parent who was also crying almost the entire time.

I've come a long way, baby!

This partnership has been a blessing.  Damain looks forward to those meetings too - he is coming out of his shell.  He has always been my shy kid.  Well, now he is training to lead a GSA (Gay Straight Alliance) club at school, wants to learn how to advocate for transgender youth, and maybe even go into gender studies as a major.  We are looking forward to a conference at the end of the month at USC all about LGBTQ issues.  Damian is learning to advocate for himself at school through the new GSA club. He is navigating the name change through school.

And for now I'm dealing with the constant mindfulness that I have of my new son and the many changes this has brought to our lives.