Folks We Love with Rupa Parekh, creator of Jai Jai Hooray
Who's in your family? Ages? Names?
My husband is Emre, he’s Turkish American. Our daughter is Uma, almost four and Niko, our son, is almost two.
How did you choose your kids names?
For culturally mashed-up houses like ours, this can be a very lively conversation, as it was for us!
Uma is another name for Durga, the Hindu Goddess of strength. We’ve always loved the name so it was a pretty swift and certain choice. Niko is neither of Turkish nor Indian origin. We just like how the name sounds and decided he would create a meaning through his own identity and legacy. So far, given his personality, Niko should mean “full of zeal.”
We are recent transplants to Houston from NYC.
Founder of the toy and media company Umani, Creator of Jai Jai Hooray
What is Jai Jai Hooray? What inspired you to create it and what are your hopes with this company?
Jai Jai Hooray is the first collection of Umani. Our goal is to make more global play for global kids. We see a huge gap in the market for toys, tools and media that help families introduce different cultures to their children. We started with a line inspired by South Asian because I’m Indian-American. Since launching a year ago, we’ve grown a cult following….but even cooler, 35% of our customers are non Indian. It tells us that we’re all global citizens who crave diversity.
Our first product was a set of high-quality, matte flashcards that introduce the key characters of Hindu mythology. The art is super alluring and caught the attention of the Rubin Museum in NYC and Asian Art Museum of NY. We’re sold online and in several stores around the country.
The Goddess Power Tower is a set of unique blocks feature the fiercest female characters of Hindu mythology. Each block tells the story of a different goddess and as they are stacked, they build a poem honoring all women and mothers. They also nest which brings to life the concept that inside of every woman are so many personas--the nurturer, the artist, the warrior.
It’s a beautiful toy, perfect to help daughters and sons learn to respect and treasure women.
What's on your manifest board?
To run my own race, remember that I’ve won the life lottery and to use all the luck I have to spread love.
What is your favorite book?
Hmmm...when was the last time I got to read a book? Our shelves have been buried by Piggie and Gerald books and indy delights like The Moon and Me, Sarla in the Sky and Golden Domes and Silver Lanterns.
How do you unwind?
Walking or swimming, catching up with old friends on the phone...yes, actually calling them...and drinking a glass of wine with my husband on the balcony.
Tell us some of your most loved ways to spend the day with your clan?
Having an adventure! We’re a city family that loves immersive experiences so sign us up for a new museum exhibit, the zoo or a picnic. Even if it’s a trip to Target, we try to make it feel like we’re going to the moon and back.
What are some silly/fun things that the kids do or say?
We are so in the zone of silly speech with two kids under the age of four!
Uma started planning her birthday party in October. She’ll turn four in March. She made a guest list that hangs on our kitchen bulletin board and has decided on the seating arrangement. When she gets upset with my husband or I, she’ll disinvite us to the big bash.
Niko’s speech has recently exploded but he’s still just throwing all words at the wall to see what sticks. Our favorites are snacky-a (snack) and pandey (Panda) and Ko (Niko).
What are the best and worst things people said to you when you were pregnant?
It wasn’t so much what people said, it was what they DID.
Best--my favorite is the look you get from either new parents or grandparents. Just this rush of nostalgia and comradery. In a world where people hardly make eye contact anymore because we’re so consumed by our phones, it’s an exhilarating and humbling feeling to know that the sheer site of you could make someone stop and feel love. It’s a reminder of the goddess power of women.
Worst - I hated when people would just rub my belly, specifically scratch or mooch it, without asking. I think it triggered this carnal protectiveness in me and I’d get really annoyed. Mama lion. :)
What is something you wish you had known before having kids?
How much your vag and ass hurt during the first few days of post-partum!
What are some things you really believe in?
I want to see more people of color in positions of power, where they are making decisions in all industries.
Where do your passions lie?
Empowering people to do and be who they want. Discovering simple pleasures everyday. Creating things with which people become obsessed. Problem solving.
How has your relationship with your other half changed since having kids? How do you stay connected?
We were best friends, equals and partners before and so much so after. We make time for frequent date nights, remember to be kind to each other while the toddlers are making us crazy and commit to talking things out.
What are some of your favorite life lessons you've grown to love? (even if learning them at the time was hard)
Attitude, Aspiration, and Action. If you can get an A+ in all 3 you’re bound for success.
Don’t schedule time to “pick someone’s brain” or talk about an idea; show them what you’ve done, even if it’s a small result, and where you want to go.
Everything takes longer than you think, so be patient.
What do you wish you could've told yourself when you were a teenager?
Nourish your artistic and creative side; don’t abandon it. It’s what you’re meant to do.
What do you find most challenging about being somebody's parent?
They watch you constantly. More than you know. Very soon you have to start checking yourself on how you handle stress, how you react to people and situations, and how easy it is for you to laugh or get upset. Parenthood means you’re now on stage.
What do you want your kids to learn about the world?
The earth is an incredible, unconditionally loving gift we’ve received. It’s ours to nourish or destroy.
People are mostly good and we have more in common with each other than we think. Appreciate, respect and learn from this earth and the people on it. And bring something to the party.
What advice would you give a parent-to-be?
Don’t worry about how fast or slow your baby achieves the small milestones (walking, talking.) They all get there.
What is the best advice you have ever received?
From a teenage expecting mom in our birthing class: “Too blessed to be stressed.”
What are 4 things you can't live without as a parent?
I love this question. Our answers would have been different a year ago. Based on the phase we’re in now----
An amazing ecosystem of grandparents, friends and babysitters who help us make it through
Spotify and specifically the ability to play the Moana soundtrack on demand
Creativity. Tantrums and toddler irrationality are solved through distraction, jokes and fun. It just takes creativity and energy to think of them in the moment when you’re exhausted and short of time.
Tike transport...first it’s the bjorn, then the stroller, then a scooter. Be mobile, be happy.