Youth Advocate: Sareana Kimia

Radhika Kowtha-Rao
June 15, 2015

Sareana Kimia catapulted to fame and became pretty much every DC Indian household’s topic of conversation when Washington Post ran an article on her over the last holidays.  The headline jolted each of us into paying attention and we all read of her. After recovering from awestruck admiration, we naturally shared her story around. The children were pulled up by parents, and the students in turn thought she was cool and brave for all that she went through and manages to keep at.

I was to speak with her a few months since, but somehow our busy lives could not get a breather enough to connect, and we played tag awhile and when I finally did, it was well worth the wait, and what an honor! Being a mom to teenagers, I’ve always admired the youth for their tenacity and the beauty of their innocent dreams and the passion with which they plunge forward!

Sareana’s face popped on my screen, she was really just another teenager (albeit a precocious one) with a smile that lit a thousand candles, and a laugh that was at once shy, unassuming and sure. I had done very little homework on her, just coz I wanted to hear first hand on what she had to say!1236175_247552748726239_989927615_n

With  an air of nonchalance studded with occasional escapades into her own mind and getting distracted with her work, just like any other teen, she conversed with me, on her interests, her life, vision, and her personal story that shaped her for what she is today.

Read on:

Continue reading Youth Advocate: Sareana Kimia

Batala Drummer: Aparna Krishnamoorthy

Radhika Kowtha-Rao
March 9, 2015
I met Aparna on Twitter. We started following each other when we realized we had a few things in common. Apart from DC area residents, we both enjoyed food. She is great at discovering various food places in and around DC (and everywhere she travels and she does travel a lot!) which makes me watch her with envy, coz well, that’s what a suburban can do! 🙂
She writes about it in her fresh new blog:Apart from food, what caught my eye was her fervent tweets and passionate shoutouts to a Batala drummer group. I had no idea what Batala was, but every link was to a place they played and so I asked her one day, and she explained that she is part of the troupe and they play at various places. I googled, like a good dutiful curious cat, and my eyes went round. I love all things music and arts, but seeing all these strong, vibrant women with HUGE drums and the way they swayed and played, was an experience itself!Then she tells me they are an all woman Band – Batala Washington and that she joined after moving here to the US!There was definitely a parallel connection. Not only were the arts the connection, she also followed her heart and passion and it shows! I can relate to that. Totally. :-)Of course I had to badger her to spend some time to sit down with me and tell me and us her story! How? What?Read on!
Aparna Krishnamoorthy:
Blog: Doorstep and Beyond 

So Aparna, let’s start from the beginning! A little background please?

I grew up in India, mostly in Bangalore, and have been in the US now for 13 years. During the day, I work in Product Management in the corporate world. My (outside of work) passion is in Food and Travel, and I LOVE exploring new restaurants and neighborhoods in DC (which I now call home). I recently started a blog – Doorstep and Beyond to document my adventures.


So, I can tell you love music. How did that come about? Started off as a child or is that a recent entry? 

Growing up in a Tamil Brahmin family, it’s hard to escape music. I grew up learning Carnatic music and Bharatanatyam. I have ALWAYS been exposed to music and dance, but percussion has been my main draw.  When I was about 10 – I wanted to join “mridangam” classes, but it was a pretty male dominated thing to do, and multiple teachers refused to tutor a girl! So that was that. I ended up joining my high school marching band to get my percussion fix! 🙂 

Haha, I can totally relate to that! I am not Tamilian by birth, but have lived there and I know that it’s something that runs in your blood, and it’s actually a hugely envious trait, for the rest of the clans I mean! So this sounds like a natural progression of sorts. 
Percussion is amazing, and am not surprised but more shocked that the teachers would actually refuse you! Gosh, You showed them didn’t ya! 
So tell me, did you figure out why percussion? 

Percussion is fascinating to me. It’s very mathematical (and I love numbers!) in a sense, and timing is everything.  Also, when playing the drums, you are expressing yourself, and you literally forget about everything else at the time. The energy is fabulous, and invigorates me. 

I agree. The drum resonates deeply. 
I know we can all google, but tell us about Batala. What sort of drumming is it, and origins? 

The music that we play is from Salvdaor, in Brazil. In Salvdaor, music is literally everywhere. There are multiple street parades (called blocos) – and the music is basically the evolution of the drumming methods brought to Brazil in the 18th and 19th century by West African slaves. There’s a lot of history to the music we play.The all-women Batala Washington percussion group started in June 2007 in Washington DC, and is part of the International Batala group that plays Afro-Brazilian / Samba-Reggae rhythms.
There are over 20 Batala bands around the world – in the US, France, England, Spain, Brazil, Belgium…etc. It’s a big family!

That sounds super fascinating. But you are right, when I think South America, the vision is that of free styling, happy folks engaged in music, singing or drums and one thing that stays is that they all look so happy! That’s such a positive thing for a group to project. Love it. 
So, how did you fall upon this band? 

In 2011 my husband and I bought a condo and moved to the Ust neighborhood in DC. As luck would have it, Batala played a show in my neighborhood within a week of my moving! The minute I saw them – I knew I had to join them! I literally found my groove with them after seeing them that day. Seeing 70 women playing drums is powerful!

U bet! Isn’t that wonderful? Things just come together, when one is ready for it huh? 🙂 
So you’ve been with the band a few years now, tell me how this has changed or shaped you? 

Drumming in general to me is powerful, even more so as a girl. You forget about everything else when you are drumming – so it’s a great stress reliever, and a mental stimulator. Playing for 3-4 hours is also good physical exercise – it’s draining, but you are so wired from the stimulation, it’s almost like a “high”!
Batala Washington is all female –which brings about a different kind of energy and support!
Also, we got to play a show that opened for The Rolling Stones – can’t beat that!

All female is excellent! I belong to an all female biking group, and the fun, strong atmosphere is such a thriving atmosphere to be in. Has its perks definitely 🙂 Also one day you must send a video of you girls to all those tutors who refused you! 😉 
Rolling Stones! Wow Indeed! 
It must be a lot of fun and hard work am sure? 

Playing with Batala is a LOT OF FUN, and if you are not having fun, it’s hard to keep up the commitment. At the same time, it’s also challenging. You are constantly trying to improve your skills, learn another drum, recognize the nuances in the music and the beats…it’s a constant learning and improvement process.
We also get to play at really cool and interesting venues, events – exposing me to a lot of things that I otherwise may not have come across. 



YES! I agree. Work Hard, Play Hard always works. As long as we are challenged, and there is constant growth, interest and commitment sticks. What fine perks you have! 🙂 
So tell me how many hours a week you meet, what’s your time commitment to this? 

It’s definitely a big time and energy commitment. We spend about 5 hours weekly (Saturday mornings) or rehearsing as a group, and of course we have shows that we are all involved in. We are also an all volunteer band, which means we are involved in teams in the band and all contribute time to organizing shows, or managing the costumes and instruments, or doing PR etc.Currently I co-lead the production team, which is basically responsible for responding to show requests, making sure shows are set up and logistics on day of show. We have a number of teams and everyone in the band is encouraged to join one – if possible.

There are social commitments as well – with almost 80 people in the group, there is always a birthday, or a happy hour, or something! It’s up to you to manage your time and energy though – if you really want to do it, you will find a way. I have it easy – but there are women in the band who are in school, who have kids in school, so it’s a lot harder for them, but everyone is just so passionate about it, and you make it work. You want it to work.

Thank you for re-iterating what I also believe and tell folks all the time. If you want something bad enough, you will make time for it! The enthusiasm levels is what makes a group successful, and this is great that you girls have it together. Wonderful! 
Do you think this drumming is for anyone to try? Is there a personality that would do better? Let’s say, should we be musical or trained for someone to try Batala?

Absolutely for everyone! I believe that it gives you a different persona when you are drumming, especially with a group of other women! Introverts, extroverts, musically inclined, not so inclined – there really is something for everyone, as long as you want it!

Yay! One of these days I’ll probably try it too. Am getting all enthused just watching a few of those videos you sent! So with all this time commitment and practice, I bet you had to give up a lot too? 🙂 

Haha, yes, no more late Friday nights! In all seriousness, my husband has been a great support – since it does take a huge chunk of time, time away from him. And time away from friends too. My friends are also always supportive and come cheer us on in many shows. I don’t think of it as a sacrifice – but more that I have really found something that is truly satisfying, and am glad to have all the support I do!

It’s awesome to have that support right? Pretty much all the women I’ve spoken with, have a spouse who is amazingly supportive in what they do. It works both ways, but without the men allowing us to be ourselves, reaching where we want to is hard. 
So, how diverse is this group? Have any one else from India or someone you can relate to? I know it doesn’t matter much, but for curiosity sakes? 

There is one other Indian in the group. But – never felt conscious or stood out – the group is EXTREMELY diverse and very welcoming. I like that it is also a different world of sorts, for me – and outside my regular circle of friends. 

Awesome! I agree. It’s refreshing too, isn’t it? 
Okay now share some funny incidents during this learning process. I bet there are a few, there have to be! 🙂 

Oh man, too many to count! To keep it kosher, I’ll give you a small example. When we were rehearsing for our show at the Rolling Stones concert, Mick Jagger (we call him Mick ;)) came out and said Hi – and all of us just stood there like lovestruck teenagers, in awe, and didn’t say a word. Not sure what he made of that…..We’ve also had a number of shows where my (drum) sticks fly off…or I make a HUGE and very evident mistake…it’s embarrassing, but it happens…and we laugh it off.

LOL! Mick eh? Yep, the aura of a super musician. I can see that happening with a few I admire. 🙂 
..and yes, sticks flying. That’s me definitely haha! 
As a parting shot, tell me where you see yourself, say a year or 5 years form now? Batala is here to stay? 

Honestly, I don’t really know. I am not a planner. I do however know that I want to and will keep doing it as long as I can. Once a Batalette, always a Batelette J

A few links:
WashPo article on Batala Washington. 
CCTV’s article on the Troupe and Founder. 

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There you have it folks. If you have been reading the posts here, the one constant thread that you will find is ” Follow your heart and your passion” Just do. Don’t overthink. Happiness and Contentment is found in the journey when you follow what your heart tells you. 
 
If you are new, take a moment and read some of the earlier women I’ve profiled on here. Subscribe for a fortnightly “So, what’s your story” on meeting the next Ms.Chutzpah 😉 

 

I Will Fix it: The Young Entrepreneur Says

Radhika Kowtha-Rao
March 3, 2015
Most of us when presented with a problem, try to find solutions. Immediately even. Some ponder and think and reach into their experience and wisdom and some use what they have learnt in classrooms and books and we work forward, with the strength of the background in focus.As I was debating on what I must write today, and what facet of the girl power that must be addressed and I could write on, and this neat little short fell into my lap. I was drawn to the screen as it showed an Optometrist and a little kid. Since, optometry is close to my childhood heart and I grew up with visions of me in those shoes, I usually and quickly try and peek into what the article is about.Once a nerd, always a nerd they say, and I am, and am unafraid of admitting it.So, I clicked on the link and immediately, this young girl Lillian Pravda burst on to the screen with enthusiasm and cheer. A simple google search reveals some endearing and determined stories of how she did what she did. From building and being inquisitive at a young age  to how she goes about managing 8th grade and fundraising and getting adults to listen and take her seriously. What caught my attention, apart form her story, and her vivacious personality and all things eye, was how she defined what an Entrepreneur is.

“.. Even if you are able to help ONE person, it makes a difference to that ONE, and that is what entrepreneurship is all about. It is about being Human.”
She declares. With conviction and bated enthusiasm that sparkles in her eyes and reaches out to tug at your heart right through the camera.

There’s a charm in seeing young ones go do their own thing.
There is a certain naive conviction and belief that is not marred by cynicism or grayness of all else that floods the adult world.

Probably the reason they also win and whoop our adult asses when it comes to gaming and video and mobile-phone games. They do not strategize much, they just do. They follow their heart and belief, in solutions and their workings and just DO.
..and that’s what she did. Right here. 

Gotta love ’em!

Go ahead and listen to her. It’s just 3.50 minute long here. 

 

 

Open Adoption: Lakshmi Iyer

Radhika Kowtha-Rao
February 23, 2015
 
Adoption has been a topic close to my heart. A secret topic close to my heart. It wasn’t one of those I spoke much about or acted upon, but dream I did. From when I was in 8th grade and I heard a rather vivid story on adoption and I saw how integrated and happy they all were and how hard the pre-adoption stage was for both, and I swore to myself that I would grow up and adopt. 
 
Well, I grew up, and no, I did not adopt. For some, life isn’t steered too consciously, and I did not pay much attention to where I sailed, and now am at the point where I know that that boat has sailed what with my age and stage in life. That only makes the desire and dream all the more poignant when I do hear stories or meet folks who have opened up their hearts and lives, it creates that pang in my heart. There’s that tug, a gentle choke of the voice chords and there is that mist that appears when I see them, making them all look like well, angels. 
 
In recent years, Ive known a few of these wonderful families, and the count is only increasing. Bless their hearts! 
 
That’s enough about me, and let me introduce you to this amazing woman who has followed her instincts and heart and charted off into unknown territories with nothing more than faith and belief in herself and her husband. Unassuming and with an air of quiet acceptance hiding all the turmoil as she worked her way through to the surface, Lakshmi and I go a very long way back. 
Both of us started blogging right about the same time, and with so few Indian bloggers in the US back then, most quickly knew each other and we built a rapport, like we do, through our words, experiences and the tales we spun on our blogs. She had an ephemeral way of expressing her thoughts, almost dream like, and many of us watched her through her initial gloom with despair and helplessness, coz that’s all anyone could offer. 
 
Then when I found her again after being offline a bit, there she was happy and preening over her babies. She writes it all on her blog. 
 
She is also an amazingly helpful, kind person, who without hesitation, opened up to me with what I posed. If I was in wonder and awe with her last five years, I now am also filled with gratitude and joy in knowing her and to the value that one can add on with such experiences. 
 
Without any more delay, here is Lakshmi Iyer, on her adoption process and becoming a mom, a parent. 🙂 
 
 
 
 
So, Lakshmi, let me ask you why adoption? What exactly sparked the idea of adoption? Whose idea was it? 
Adoption as an idea probably appealed to me since the movie Kannathil Mutthamittal. But it was one of those things you think you will get around to in time (when I am older, when I have more money…) meaning never. Then someone in your circle adopts a child and you go “you know, I always wanted to adopt!”
Oh God, that’s me. That’s what I told myself, but I suppose, after the third happened, I was wary. But oops, sorry, you were saying?
Haha, yes, adoption as a germ of an idea came when infertility treatments were unsuccessful and I was tired of poking myself with needles and afraid of getting my hopes up only for them to be doused over and over. The options open to me at that time (surrogacy, donor embryos and adoption) all involved no DNA link between the child and me. Given that, adoption held appeal over the others. 
The specific point where I was ready to act on it was when a friend of mine and a fellow infertile announced she was adopting from India. I remember the conversation so well. There was a glow in her face. The promise of hope. I remember thinking, this is what I want. The hope, the beginning of something knowing there is a child at the end of it.
Is it something you and your husband immediately warmed to, the idea?
In a way yes. The initial conversations surrounding adoption always had an air of ‘sometime in the future’. We would talk about it, agree that it was a good way to build a family and the conversation would veer to other topics.
In April/May 2009, I started browsing about adopting from India seriously. I have always believed knowledge is power. So, I haunted forums on adoption, dug through blogs, personal accounts, government websites and realized the process would take 3 years or more from when I started. Then there was this whole immigration angle to it that made things harder. 
On an off chance, I stumbled on a post on some forum by an Indian couple who had adopted a hispanic child. I followed their trail online, dug up an email address and wrote to them. The answer came back short and cryptic. Yes, they did but they were not comfortable talking about it. But the idea had taken hold of me and would not let go. So, I searched till I found another couple. The girl was open to talking except they had moved back to India. The emails went back and forth and eventually she shared a picture of her family. I fell hard. This was tangible proof that it could happen. 
When did you discuss the idea at length? Am sure you had your fears and doubts?
Armed with this, I opened up the conversation again specifically about adopting domestically. The initial reaction from my husband was lukewarm. He understood where I was coming from and how desperately I craved motherhood but a part of him wanted to discuss it logically sans emotion. We talked about race, skin color, reaction from family and friends. As we talked, one thing became clear. This was our journey. As much as others’ were impacted by it, it was our life. Our way. Once that was clear, a lot of the obstacles tumbled away. Then it was about dealing with our prejudices and unlearning a lot of things we had grown up with. 
Incredible! It’s such a learning experience, this communication, talk and then acceptance, am sure. Do you think this brought you two closer?
It is a personal journey of sorts. Discovering ourselves on the way to building a family. I look back on it now and realize that as a couple we complemented each other.
Aw! So what did you do next? 
The next step once we had agreed domestic adoption was on the table was more research. This time it focused on the different routes to domestic adoption. Picking an agency to work with. Figuring out what we were open to in terms of race, medical needs, medical history etc. Once we had a loose idea of what we were ready for, the actual process started in June 2009.

For folks who don’t know yet, Lakshmi’s kids are Caucasian. Not brown, or asian, or south-asian. With this in mind, do read on.
 
So, at this point, am stepping on touchy waters, so bear with me here. Adopting local is a big step even for adoption. From where I stand. I have seen inter-racial adoptions, but Ive seen whites; Caucasian parents with Asian kids and such. How did you make peace with that concept and allow yourself to grow to embrace it? 
I cringe as I even write this. When I look back on our journey, we started out like most of us do. Fixated on adopting a child who would be a close match to us in physical appearance. Black hair, brown eyes and the like. Because the two couples I had stumbled on in my research had adopted hispanic children and they seemed to look like a family that is what I zeroed in on. Once we signed up with an agency and talked about the races we were open to, the lady who was doing the intake looked us in the eye and said it was going to be difficult. Being Hindu, vegetarian and Indian, the chances of us being picked by a hispanic family was low. However, she said it was not impossible. 

Seven months later, we sat on the other side of a phone call that was about twin girls who would go on to be our daughters. The last thing on our collective minds was the race of the children. I look upon the months it took for our daughters to come to us as a journey literally and metaphorically. We changed as people. We looked hard and deep within ourselves. We asked hard questions about stereotypes. We questioned our place in our families, the society we were part of and the premium it placed on skin color. By the time we became parents, we realized to be good parents to our children, we should not be color blind but very aware of how skin color will impact how they interact outside the home. It is still work in progress and our ideas change with the challenges we face personally and with reading and interacting with the adoptive/adoptee/birth families community.
Was it a harder decision in any way? Did you toss the India, family and friends reactions and then subsequent acceptance of the kid here? How did you get past that? 
The decision making itself was not hard. It took all of 30 minutes. We got a phone call (one we were not prepared for), took down notes, sat down as a couple to talk and called back and said yes. Once we had made the decision, the magnitude of it hit us in waves, over a period of time. Personally, we both believed and accepted that this was our decision, our life. Period. 
However, over the course of time, we see that our decision impacts people around us. Sometimes, it is mild curiosity, sometimes it is far darker. We, as parents, shrug it off but I am starting to fear for the impact it will have on the children. 
Am sure you had to think from a few different angles. Adoption, as grand and amazing a way it is to build a family, has its challenges, just like any other parenting. You bring in another set of parents/guardians – some at least do. Many don’t explicitly mention it, coz of course it is personal, and also it helps when the difference is not too stark. So did you have to toss all that through? Did you have to not only think from your perspective and what you would face as parents, but also on how the kid would grow up and have those questions? How did you decide on that part at that time? 
It took seven months from the time we signed up with the agency till our girls came to us. During this time, we went through two failed adoptions. We learned first hand about the murky underbelly of the adoption industry. We flew eight hours after having been matched for three months and vicariously living the expectant mother’s life only to be told that she changed her mind. I reeled from the news and fell back on the internet with a vengeance trying to understand what it is like. What I learned changed me. 
Adoption is H.A.R.D. No ways around it. A bond is created starting with loss and pain. It will tinge the relationship life long. The birth family is their family. It is our family as well now. Once we have our head wrapped tightly around this fact, the rest of things fall in place. In order to be the best parents we can be to our children, we decided that truth, however hard it is will guide our parenting as it relates to the adoption part. 
The children will deal with it in time. They are just now connecting the dots and asking questions about their birth family. I expect over the years, it will get hard before it gets better. My focus is on providing them with answers and the tools they need to handle it themselves. It also means drawing lines around what I share about their story and their history. About letting them take control over their narrative.
Just a bit more conscious parenting, perhaps? 🙂 
It’s how many years now? How’s the journey been so far? Are there any practical challenges or anything funny or different that you had to face when your family steps out together?
It has been five years now. Five happy, fulfilling years. Like any other family we have our challenges and we find our way through them. Most times I am left scratching my head wondering if it is adoption or if it is typical of kids that age. We bumble, fall, pick ourselves up and make our way. Any challenges we have had have mostly been with traveling to and in India. There are no filters. We are asked to share our childrens’ story. We are gawked at. We have had to be proactive about protecting our children’s personal space. At two years, they soaked up the attention. At five, they are wary. They realize the alienness of it all. They also experience white privilege which I am not sure how I feel about it. 
These are things I am grappling with and trying to understand so I can teach my children about it.

Am sure. We all learn I suppose. Parenting is hard as it is. It’s like we got signed up with absolutely no credentials and no experience and then there is the added pressure of the job being that of raising a grounded wonderful child! Go figure! 
So, How welcoming (or maybe not) has society and community been? Did you guys care? 🙂
Overall our immediate society and community has been incredibly supportive. I must make special mention of my family and my in laws who have been incredibly supportive from the word go. It is my father in law who sowed the seeds in a way. When we were initially discussing adoption with him and explained to him how we were looking to be placed with a hispanic baby. He cut us short and said (paraphrasing here) “Black, white or brown, Why does it matter? Any baby once it comes to your home is your baby.” I was blown away and felt very small.
..and this is Lakshmi with her daughters. Twins. Gorgeous, innocent, flawless beautiful angelic girls with their equally lovely mom!
 

 

 

 

I can tell you are very happy and it’s great, but tell me, what are your first thoughts when you wake up, when you go to bed at night? How has motherhood been so far, how has it changed you and how satisfied and content are you, with your decisions so far? 
First thought when I wake up? Hmm! I need my coffee. Jokes aside, I wake up happy and secure in the knowledge that I am incredibly blessed. By my children. By my husband. Motherhood has been a dream come true. I enjoy nurturing my children. I soak in the physicality of our interactions. I realize time will fly so I consciously make an effort to slow down and enjoy each day. 
It also means some days I am overwhelmed. I struggle with keeping a lid on my temper. I struggle with demands on my time and person day in day out. Even on those days, there are lucid moments when I realize I wanted this. I worked for it and these are my blessing.
 
 
Do you ever think or brood about the future in an apprehensive way? is there an apprehension at all? Is it faith and goodwill that you hold on to and take every day as it comes?
On yes! There is a lot of apprehension. But I think it has more to do with being a parent rather than being an adoptive parent. I fear for my childrens’ health, their future, their teenage years. I worry about how being adopted will impact how they see themselves. I worry about genetic mirroring. About whether they will look back on life and wish their adoption had been closed. 
Then I realize I cannot control any of it. I take a deep breath and tell myself this is the best version of me I can offer them. It will have to do.
 
I understand you are a huge advocate for open adoption. What exactly does that mean? You blog the journey and I love that you share so others also benefit from it, so if there is someone out there who’s been tossing this idea, what’s the one thing you would tell them that will make them cross over? 
Open adoption in a nutshell means accepting your children has two families. Their family of origin is as important in their narrative as the family they are in.
I am an advocate for open adoption simply because it is the truth. It is who they are. It is where they come from. Having said that, it is also a function of the kind of people my husband and I are. We believe children are resilient. That being open with them invites trust. Only if we accord their heritage due respect, they will understand that we respect who they are separate from us. I do not want to gloss over the fact that there are times when I wish life were not complicated. That there are some nights I stay up wondering what future holds for us. 
Despite all that, I am happy with where we are and where we are headed.  
 
Knowing what you do now, do you think our upbringing or our personalities matter when considering adoption? Is there a trait that one must NOT have before signing up for this journey? Not just adoption, but open adoption and inter-racial so to speak?
Hmm! Tough one that in the sense, any characteristic I can think of as not amenable to adoption also in turn implies not compatible with parenting. Rather than traits, what I will say is that if one is turning towards adoption to build their family specially after infertility they must bury their ghosts of infertility past before starting this process. Adoption is not a substitute for having a biological child. They are two different methods of creating a family. Waiting for your adopted child cannot and should not be compared to gestation (I see too much of that). Adopting a child will not miraculously close that ‘hole’ in your heart. 
Bringing a child home however, will make you a parent. If all you craved for is to become a mom or dad, you will be very happy. As for open adoption or transracial adoption, all I can say is you need to be cognizant of the fact that the child is a blessing. You are lucky to have that child. Not the other way around. There is no element of altruism in adoption (in most cases). We as parents pursue adoption to fulfill a very selfish need (becoming a parent). So, it is easy to get caught up in the whole ‘I/You saved a child’ feeling. That is dangerous territory.
 
Yes! It’s something that I have felt all along. That parents who adopt are fortunate and lucky. They have been given that opportunity and they are blessed for it. There are many like me who want to, but don’t/cannot, and yes, I can see why the reverse “saving” is a slippery slope. Thank you for putting it out there!
 
Is there a low? at all?
Of course there are lows. When you grapple with setting boundaries. When you are in a temple and wish for a few hours you could just be a regular family without being gawked at. Lows punctuate each day. But there are the highs that compensate. When you watch your children practice kindness. When you watch them sleep, mouth open, on the sofa because you wanted to get that counter cleaned before you put them to bed. When your children say something in Tamizh because they know it pleases you. The little happy moments outweigh the smaller annoyances. It reminds you of all the reasons you wanted to be a mother for. It grounds you.
 
Aww 🙂 You know, most of it is just being a mom in itself, right? How do you pick up when there is a low?
Simple. I remind myself that this was an act of choice. I wanted children. I worked hard towards building this family. I owe my children the very best version of me. So, I fake it till I make it. I plaster a smile, grit my teeth and pray for patience on difficult days.
 
Wow.
Fake it till we make it.
Yes 🙂
Anything you want to add Lakshmi? 
Not really! Thank you for giving me an opportunity to talk about our family and what an incredible journey it has been. I wish prospective adoptive parents reading this good luck and baby dust.
 
***

 

So, there you go.
If you were ever on the fence, well, take heart, believe and take that leap of faith. A family is a beautiful thing. As personal and as intimate as we make it, and only you decide.
 
To all parents who made a family this way, here’s a HUGE bear hug to each of you from me. God bless you, and may your tribe increase and flourish! Muah <3
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Black Belt and Marathon: Serial Achiever Sheetal

Radhika Kowtha-Rao
January 26, 2015
We start the new year off with someone who has accomplished goals with a dogged determination and ones that took some dedicated persistence over long periods of time. With unflagging practice, Sheetal Rawat has followed her childhood dream of earning her black belt at the age of 42 after working on it for 5 years. She then went ahead ran a marathon.

 

Yep.

 

 

I’ve known Sheetal awhile, and only over the past few years have we gotten close enough for me to watch her with an air of awe and wonder. I can’t walk fast for nuts (coz of my knee) and here she was running marathons and kicking ass (maybe even literally!).

 

For the most part, thanks to Facebook, there is enough and more of everyone’s accolades hitting us at super byte speeds every time we open the app. It’s reached masochistic tendencies for some. To open, watch someone be happy for something they’ve achieved or celebrate and then instinctively look back on their lives and well, you know how that goes down the drain. It’s morbidly entertaining when you sit back and watch!

 

So, what we do see is the icing on the cake. The final ‘aha’ crowning moment. The tip of the iceberg. What we don’t see is the huge massive amount of personal effort and struggles that laid the foundation for the tip to shine through to you.
Is it worth it?
Heck yeah!
How do I know? Well, I know just like you do. You and I will together learn in this very space what it takes to become the very best that *you* want to become.

 

I sat down with Sheetal (over a period of time) and this is what I have for you.
Read on.
Get inspired. Fan that fire within.
Spread the joy and inspiration.

 



So, Sheetal, here’s how I see you. You hold a full time job, have two actively engaged kids and then there are the dinners and social events that you most likely are obligated to attend. Your downtime and weekends are precious to you. And you tell me you have TWO huge physically empowering achievements under your belt (literally too perhaps).
I have one question. How?

 

Sheetal grins sheepishly. “Honestly? I don’t know. I just did!”

 

Haha, okay, let’s start from the beginning. You say Black Belt in Tae Kwon Do. That’s impressive. So, when did you start? Why TKD and not karate?

 

I did karate for one year when I was 11 years old in my home town. I loved doing it then and earned a yellow belt. The classes were next to my house so it was easy to attend, then the instructor moved and my parents were not ready to send me far out. Since then I always had an inkling to start but then college and job never made it happen. My son joined Taekwondo in 2009 and thats when my husband asked me if i would like to try too coz he knew that it was something I always liked. So i joined the adult class right here in the neighborhood.  

 

How long did it take for you to get to black belt?
I started in Jan 2009 and got the black belt in May 2013

 

Wow! That’s a long time! 4 years. Did you ever feel like giving up?
Actually I never felt like giving up. I always wanted to be a black belt and keeping that goal in mind, did not take a single break after I joined in Jan 2009. I guess I was worried that history may repeat itself!

 

So what made you keep going on a daily? Surely, some days are harder and it is very tempting to give up or fall into a break?
My Taekwondo instructors Mr. Faleski and Mr. Dudla were the key motivating factors. They made the class so interesting and fun that I never got bored in so many years. Also as months passed by I made new friends in TKD. We started having outside TKD parties and had a nice set of girl friends. When you are having fun with the activity and also share it with others who become friends, it never gets boring.

 

So, this earning the black belt was quite important to you.
Yes! Childhood dream I suppose.
   
How would you say this helped you? Physically am sure it was strenuous, mentally? Was there a difference you saw in yourself?
In TKWD we do kicks, punches, stretching, jumping etc. This helps in building cardiovascular strength and also toning of muscles. I gradually got really toned and flexible. It felt so good feeling the difference in my body over time.
Taekwondo helped me relieve stress. On stressful days, I made sure I attended the class. After 85 minutes of class I would be completely relaxed. The practice of Taekwondo has also greatly increased my ability to concentrate and has taught me how to focus my mental and physical energy. It is true what they say about focus!

 

Isn’t it amazing how one activity actually helps all around! How did you feel when you were given that black belt?
Very happy, and a sense of completion. It was my childhood dream coming true.

 

So they say work-life balance and we do know it’s hard when a woman has to play and juggle equally well many roles in just one day even. How did you juggle?
Well, work was work. Evenings, and weekends, were when I needed support, and thanks to my husband Suk, who helped at home and with the kids, or this would not have been possible! Both the kids were also enrolled in TKD, so everyone knew what it takes.

 

Isn’t that fabulous? I love it when the family is involved in an activity. There’s proven research that kids emulate and adore parents and the bond is stronger when there is a physical (or intellectual) activity that they are both involved in. What a fantastic way to show that taking care of yourself physically and setting a goal is how one achieves things in life, without lectures I mean! 🙂
Yes! I did not start off to teach or get the kids to follow me, but then I realize how much they value and support me when I do get on such goals! So it’s nice yes, I can relate to what they are saying as I am also doing what they are, so there is understanding and it’s a lot of fun.

 

 

Awesome! Is there any one particular person who was your inspiration?
My dad.
When I was a growing up my dad  and I watched a lot of karate and Kung Fu movies. He always said that girls should know and be good at self defense. That’s why he enrolled me in karate class. He was not very happy that it stopped back then, but when I joined here again he was thrilled.  He told me to complete it this time. I just had to.

 

We could probably file this under things daughters do for their dads to be proud of them! Alright. So all you did was show up at every class and keep at it and after 5 persistent years, the black belt was yours! Kudos! 🙂

 

With that down in May 2013, you were already eyeing your next goal, and that was the Marathon. Let’s talk about that. Where did running come from?
Marine Corps 2013. That was the goal.
Running really just started as fun activity. Few of my friends registered for Rock and Roll marathon in VA beach in 2005…So I decided to try it out. I had my second child in May 2004 and wanted to get rid of the weight that I had put on. Since the plan was to meet every Saturday and practice long distance walk/run, I decided I could do it.
   
I’ve always imagined one must be fairly fit or athletic to start jogging! How fit must you be to start running?
Frankly speaking u just need to be mentally disciplined to start running. Everything just falls into place. Initially a person does not need to run. Just interval of walk and run is good enough. As long as there no severe back issues or knee issues, anybody can walk or run.. The trick is to stay consistent with the routine.
For example; my first half marathon was all walk. Then I started with the 2 mins walk and 2 min run interval. Eventually I progressed to all run.

 

Ah, see, now you give even me hope! Always nice to hear from folks how they went about doing it. So did you have a particular program or group u trained with?

 

Initially for 2 years I trained with my colleagues. We met every Saturday or Sunday and ran on W&OD. Later I decide to run by myself coz that saved my 1 hr  driving time . I pulled out a half marathon prep sheet from the internet and customised it to my schedule and then followed it all the way till the race day.

 

Wait, you did this alone? You just printed a sheet, and got your shoes on and started running?

 

Sheetal laughs: Yep, just me, alone.
One can train by themselves for half marathon. Full marathon is a completely different story. Since the training period is longer (almost 4-5 months of training is reqd) and also the distance is longer, a training group helps. A friend was already part of a group that trained for marathon, and I joined them.

 

Hmm.. how did this come about though? Another long term goal to achieve?
Yeah, so I ran 5 half marathons between 2005 – 2012…So then I realised that half marathon was not a challenge at all, it was all too familiar. Logical next step was to do a full marathon. I always looked at the car stickers of 26.2 and said to myself one day I need to do this. It was just another goal to achieve, and things just fell into place once I found the group to train with.

 

Super! Run me through a typical day of training? What’s it like?

So this is how a week looks when you are training. I used to run one long distance on Sunday morning. My group organizer would decide where to run and how many miles. Every Sunday was a different location and diff number of miles to cover…Interesting run was when I ran 18 miles at C&O canal. Training runs were usually early morning, start before 7 am!

After the run, drive back home, stretch for 30 minutes. After that eat a good protein diet for muscle repair.  Monday was rest day. Tuesday and Friday I would run 4-5 miles. Also on Wed I would do yoga for 1 hr so that my leg muscles would get good stretch.

 

Where do u get the motivation to wake up at 5 and step out into the cold?

The full marathon medal and the bumper sticker of 26.2  was the motivation. I needed to prove myself that I could do it…Also I realized while I was practicing, my fitness levels were just great. Before I started running, I always used to fall sick due to allergies. Since I started running, my immunity has increased and allergies have drastically reduced. My energy levels were high! It felt so good. Seeing this change in health, I was determined to train every day.

Also my dear husband and kids were my biggest motivators. Never once did Suk, my husband complain that I would disappear for 4-6 hrs every Sunday morning. Also kids were very proud that their mom was training for full marathon

 

Super mom! But I bet does take considerable effort doesn’t it? To stay on track? How important is mental strength?
Running a complete marathon is all about mental strength. After around 20 miles, most of them will have some amount of pain. It is at that moment where mental strength comes in play. Your body is constantly signalling you that you are tired. But mentally you need to visualise the finish line. You need to focus away from pain on to your breathing. You need to keep talking to yourself that just a few miles more and you can stop with the medal around your neck.
Also the running time was my “ME time”. It felt nice to get that time alone running all by myself.  If anytime I was upset with anything, I would go for a run. It cleared my mind completely. Guess that’s what they mean by exercise and endorphins 🙂

 

Was there a time when your body or our mind were so drained that you said, Ok, am done, am giving up?
No I did not….Once decided, then it has to be done.  she states matter of factly. Like that was even a choice!

 

All goals come with some sacrifices. What did you give up?
Oh yes! All the Saturday night parties. The great food and wine, I was and am a social drinker anyway, so it wasn’t that hard, but I gave up 3 months while I trained. I made sure that I slept by 11 pm latest on Saturday night as I had to be up 5:30 am to go a practice run on Sunday. Also the diet. I had to watch what I ate. Carbs on the day before the run and protein diet after the run.

 

It is a mind thing isn’t it? Once we switch it off in our head, the body follows. Awesome! So what’s your next goal?
She grins: Yes, yes it is. No goals in sight yet, am looking to see what appeals to me next. You’ll know 😉

 

Haha, fair enough. What is your message to ones who are on the fence? Especially ones who want to but are worried they would be hurt or they think they can’t fit it into their lifestyle?
Take it slow and do not give up. The biggest mistake most women do is that we decide to start running on day one, at high speed. Then we are not able to cope up with it and then give up. Best way is to go slow. Increase distance as you feel comfortable, and then work on speed. Life will happen and will continue on, one must pay attention to your heart and mind and do what makes you happy and proud of yourself.

 

There is a reward at the end of that journey right? And it’s just not that medal?
Absolutely! The reward is the sense of satisfaction and achievement. It increases your self confidence and most important increase in endurance, stamina which eventually boosts your health, and let’s face it, our generations will live long, and we have to be independant and be on our own, so fitter we are the better for us.
This is a picture of me finishing the Marine Corps marathon in 2013. You can tell how happy I was!

 

 

So, it is worth it?
Absolutely! Especially for all Indian ladies who are always busy running after kids and managing the home front. They hardly take out time for themselves. Running or walking gives them that time for themselves. This is so important for mental and physical health
I would suggest ladies who are on fence, start with a 5K and eventually do a 10 miler  or half marathon is worth it. It is a stepping ladder for full marathon and your own happiness!

 

***

 

So, there you go. Fitness is happiness. You and you and you can do it. Only thing stopping is YOU. Yeah? 🙂

 

Have someone who has inspired you in any way? Message me either here or on Facebook or just fill in the contact form here! Every woman has a power that’s waiting to unleash, and while you are getting that cape on, you surely want to help another sister climb up and see her own potential?

 

If you’ve enjoyed this: click through and read about other remarkable successful women on the blog!

 

 

…AND We Are Back In 2015!

Radhika Kowtha-Rao
January 10, 2015
So we are 20 full days into the New Year and am not sure about you, but am still tingling with the excitement of the newness of it all. Helps that it’s winter, coz the cold air always spelled freshness and gives me goose pimples.

I know what you thinking!
No, it is NOT because of the cold, but it’s because of the anticipation of achievements, goals, and the possibilities that can be achieved by our dreams that we dare to dream!

Don’t you think?

The old one is gone. 
The checklist is withered and scratched off.
The choice of whether one wants to carry over some goals and not is entirely up to us to decide. 
That’s incredible. Just in itself, without any of the other fanfare or the societal conditioning that we would love to lay this on. 
So, long story short, am back. 
*waits for the round of applause to die down* 
*grins* 
Yes! 

I shall continue bringing you some exquisitely ordinary woman who wield the power to harness their best. They are women who you will pass on the street or carpool with or will share a gym bike with. They are women who look just like you do. 

Suburban. Wife. Mom. Careers. Dreams. Sweatshirts. Kids. Juggling. Dreaming. Achieving. Mourning. Whining. Groaning. Gritting. ..and some more. 
These are the women who dare to follow their dreams, make the wisest choices under the circumstances and stick with it, despite all odds. They wear their invisible cape on their shoulders, and are always conscious of the ever so slight tug at the neck when things get rough and the wind is blowing strong and when the body teeters, but the strength of their mind holds them steady, while that cape gives them that anchor to keep sailing. 
Lots of exciting things to come your way, so hang on, coz that’s what am doing!
..and if you are new around here, and have no clue what am talking about, here are some previous posts and ladies that are worth reading about.

Nirathi. 
Lakshmi and Aruna 
Karen 

Inspiring in the simple ways they talk and teach us, I hope you will tune in weekly to read and share and draw from the words and the people that I introduce you to, right here.
Subscribe, just so it’s more convenient in one of the following ways: 
Monday. 
Every Monday with a post that will make you think. 
And I’ll introduce you to an inspiring woman every other Monday.

..and that is a promise! 

<3
Radhika