Tag Archives: India

“Where are you from, mum?”

26 Aug

My children started preschool on Thursday.

At lunch on Friday Leila asks me, “Where are you from?”

I feel the skin on my forehead scrunch up as my eyebrows move toward each other. I catch Maher’s subtle uncomfortable movements.

“Well, we live in Chengdu.” I begin my answer as I would if anyone asks me where I’m from. “I’m Zambian and of Indian origin,” I continue. “Did someone ask you that question at school?”

“My teacher.”

“Well, you’re French.” Maher says, speaking in French as he always does with the children. He looks at me and continues on, “One of your great grandfather’s is from India. And you know where nana and nani live?”

“Zambia,” Rahul replies.

“And you know where teta, jiddo, and jiddo Raymond live right?”

“Lebalon,” Leila says.

“So you’re French, Zambian, Indian, and Lebanese,” I say.

Unconvinced with the heaviness and level of disconnection from our reality in that answer, I take solace in the fact that these two-year-olds, whose favorite foods are egg and tomato noodle soup and Sichuanese style fried spinach with rice, whose toys live in our apartment in a tall building in Chengdu, don’t yet know what the question really means, nor what we’re going on about. I stop short.

They were ready to get out of their seats and play anyway.

“Let’s go on the boat quickly, before the crocodiles get us. Come on Princess Leila.”

“Ok Prince Rahul. Let’s go to Zambia on the boat. Take your horse with you.”

Heritage plays a role of course. But how much can you really carry with you? Will R and L feel Zambian, Indian, Lebanese, and French, and respond that’s where they’re from even though they probably won’t live in any of those countries, and might not know much about the traditions, history, politics, and way of life there.

We’ve begun to celebrate Christmas with Maher’s family, and Raksha Bandan (a Hindu festival that celebrates the bond between brothers and sisters) with mine. That’s about it for family traditions.

We enjoy visiting these countries and spending time with family there. L and R have strong memories of the people we meet and places we visit. They go on fantasy trips to Paris, Zambia and “Lebalon” in the playground when they swing high in the sky, or when they ride their horses from country to country room to room in our apartment.

But then, they also trip on playing with their friends in Koh Samui, sometimes they go to the park in Hong Kong, and in the last two days their travels have taken them to Montreal.

Other than their heritage, part of it depends on where we live and what interests them. If we lived in Canada say, in time we could be considered Canadian, where in China we are always going to be lao wai or foreigners. But that’s a topic for another post, and Catherine Platt talked about that poignantly in her post White Ghosts.

How do you deal with, “Where are you from?” And how can we help our children figure this one out either from a sense of belonging, or peaceful detachment from it all?

 

I live in Chengdu with my husband Maher and our two-year-old twins Leila and Rahul.  I was an Ashtanga Yoga teacher until Our Little Yogis became the teachers.

Mama…Why, When, Who, How?

13 Mar

Ever heard “The Logical Song” by Supertramp? It takes you through an extraordinary journey of questioning the world around us. I thought of this song when my three- and- a- half year old son started bombarding me with questions, some were answerable others needed some serious soul-searching from my end.

Parenting, I tell you, isn’t easy.

I see numerous moms around me who make it look like an effortless fairy tale, but me I am constantly fumbling over issues. When I look back at the time I began this fascinating journey of motherhood, the initial few years now seem like a breeze. As my three-and-a- half year old is growing and becoming inquisitive, my job as his mother is more interesting, but challenging. The journey is hilarious, fascinating and mind-boggling all at the same time. I have to admit there are times when I have to sit back and make a serious analysis of how I need to ensue. Those first years seem like a breeze because my primary role as mother was satisfying my sons physiological needs; lack of sleep and a small level of fatigue were my biggest issues. Today, his questions that are often accompanied by that: Don’t fail me mama, I will find out, look makes it tough.

I was born in a Hindu household in India. Unlike most typical homes where god played a central role that guided the lifestyle of most Indian families, my parents were not big advocates of religion or god. We did not go on annual pilgrimages during our summer breaks, our weekends did not consist of touring nearby temples, and most importantly my parents never really forced the concept of religion or god on us. We celebrated festivals like any other Hindu family, we were told stories about magnificent god kings, but festivals meant new clothes, goodies to eat, and stories with colorful scenarios that would send any child’s imagination soaring.

In retrospect, I don’t think my parents were non-believers, they were busy with their careers, and god did not seem like something that was a significant part of their lifestyle. My husband, however, comes from a family that was different from mine. His summers consisted of touring various temples around south India; he is well-versed in all the mythological characters that exist in Hinduism, in a nutshell religion and god played a big part in his family.

So here we are, as parents with two very separate childhood experiences and different ideologies with regards to god/religion. This difference does not in any form or fashion interfere with our daily routines, but we do have healthy arguments about how things should be done or not done on the matter.

I’ve had interesting dialogues in my head about the why’s and how’s regarding this very confusing chapter on god/religion. As I mentioned earlier, my parents were neither biased in their love for god, nor did they completely shun the concept. But lately in her retired time off, my mother has taken to it very seriously, the consequence being that I was taken on a guilt-trip on how I should begin inculcating a bit of god in my children. This is very confusing to me, I do not necessarily see the point of it and I am not against it either. I am not mostly against it because of that unknown guilt that harbors in me when it comes to the mysterious religion issue.

So during my recent visit to India I decided to teach my son some Hindu prayers – just to placate my mother. My son repeated and learned them quickly. He got exposed to a lot more of it as our stay in India progressed, till one day he stood up straight and asked me, “Mama what is god?”

Whoa! This completely confounded me. I’m not ready for the question myself leave alone explaining it to a three-and-a-half year old. I managed to burble something on the lines of god loving everyone and all the good things that are associated with the concept of god that he would understand at his age. I was angry and disappointed with myself for doing so; I always prided myself on being a mother who was honest with my feelings and beliefs, particularly when it came to my children.

This was a deal breaking moment for me. It was time to catch the bull by its horns. As an adult I have had several moments where my personal version of god/religion has come to my refuge, but I have never labeled myself as religious or not. Yes, it was a convenient option for me, but children don’t need convenience, they need permanence. Until this point, it has been a very personal choice, but it seems like I cannot continue on this way.

As a parent, I have to take a stand on every issue; it is the only route to take. Children need direction and consistency; in my son’s mind he needed a reason for being asked to say the prayers everyday.

As a parent, I either had to continue with this practice when we returned home to Chengdu, or give it up completely – till he is old enough to make up his own mind about whether or not to embrace god/religion. I’ve chosen to let my son be the judge of how he wants to approach the issue when he is older and hopefully wiser.

But in the meantime I have begun to re-evaluate myself as a mother. I have begun to consciously take a stand on most issues in my life, at least the ones that I plan to expose my children to. I want to be ready when my son poses the next big question.

I am getting there slowly, but surely.

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Renuka Venkataraman is a contributing author at Multicultural Mothering.

“I was born and raised in Mumbai, India. I lived in Dallas, Texas for almost 15 years and worked as teacher for special needs kids for 10 of those years. I moved to Chengdu in September 2011 with my husband, two kids and our miniature dachshund Zen. I’m looking at motherhood under a very different light here in Chengdu. It has brought a sense of positivity and purpose to my life in many ways I can’t wait to experience and share with all you other Multicultural Moms.”

 

Values Made Easy

5 Feb

Multicultural or Multiconfused? Speaking for myself of course, I’ve never had to pause so long or think this hard about a simple question. “So where are you from?”

My response, “Ummm well, I’m Indian but have lived in the United States for most of my adult life, and I’m here now in China”.

My confusion does trickle down to my children A & A who are three and a half, and nine months old, respectively.  I find myself at crossroads several times a day about simplest of mothering issues. I was raised a certain way, I believe, think, and act differently from that, and my style of parenting is still being defined as the needs of my kids change.

I used to be a strong propagator of creative parenting, which spurred from the techniques I would use as a teacher for children with special needs. I would cater my teaching style to individual children and their ways of learning, which involved tons of creativity from me as their teacher. Before I became a mother I often wondered about how fabulous it would be if I had kids of my own. I imagined spontaneously taking my kids to the zoo,  or to museums to teach them about animals, or taking long walks during the fall and collecting leaves of different colors, then going home to make a scrapbook out of them, and a billion other ideas.

But reality sinks in and those ideas remained just ideas. Lunch at 12 every day, and three-hour afternoon naps become the biggest priority of my role as their mother and those spontaneous visits to the zoo and walks become short little trips that were pre-planned and orchestrated for months before they actually took shape.

I have to confess that I am grateful to my state of confusion now because it is that which has introduced them to 3 cultures. And I have to thank my husband’s constant curiosity for change and his power to convince us that this global diversity is very essential in defining and molding our kids’ lives. I love mothering the multicultural way. It has opened a window for me to bring back the creativity I thought was lost.

My children will be different everywhere they go. They’ll have experiences to share that very few kids their age would have had. They will learn languages, see and experience life in a new light.

China and its proximity to India, both physically and culturally has helped me teach values such as sharing and curbing the need for over indulgence in my 3 year old son. We now take those walks more out of necessity than for leisure, and they give me the time and patience to talk to my kids like I have wanted to. I am learning from mothers from all over the world here in Chengdu and it has opened my mind to a large extent.

My recent trip to India allowed me to teach my son the need to give and share.  He, like a typical American born child didn’t grasp the concept of what it feels to not have or to go without.  The concept of sharing was a very abstract one for my son.  I seized the opportunity to help him understand this concept during one of our many cab, auto, and train rides in Mumbai.

For those of you who might be wondering what I am talking about, little kids are often used as tools to bring money to impoverished homes. It is a common sight at almost every traffic light or crowded train compartment across Mumbai. A little child not more than 2 or 3 years old stretches her arms out for money or food or anything that you are willing to share.

When my son saw this for the first time, he looked at me questioningly – a hard situation for me as a parent to explain poverty to him. I told him these kids didn’t have a toy or candy, and they were wondering if he would share his with them.

So at his request we decided that we’d carry a little something with us the next time we traveled. I was taken aback at his gesture of kindness; he picked out his favorite candy and put it in my purse.  He was enthusiastic to pass it out and see how it lit up the little boy’s face at our first traffic light. He was willing to bring his favorite dinosaur toy as we were stepping out to run an errand.

This was the beginning of a big learning experience for him, and me.  He would leave a little bit of his pasta or a few slices of his pizza when we went out to eat at a restaurant just so that he could share it with some little boy or girl he might run into.

Surprisingly, he was more willing to share his favorite toys with his little sister. That was unimaginable just a few weeks prior. I had to step back and watch my son grow up right in front of my own eyes; it was a heart wrenching moment for me.

Different cultures bring diversity to us in amazing ways. My trip to India was life altering. I didn’t anticipate a big life lesson that he’d be learning during this trip. I was hoping for him to get some exposure to his mother tongue and meet family that he’d never met. We won’t forget the looks on the little children’s faces when he handed out those treats to them.

There was no difference between him and those kids; in his mind he was just sharing his stuff with them. He didn’t have a clue about the social or economic differences that existed between them.

I cherish my life here in Chengdu everyday; I am no longer scared about how my kids will adjust to the new place, new environment, and everything else around them that is new. I know they will be just fine and because they will be fine, so will I.

By Renuka Venkataraman – contributing author here at MM.

“I was born and raised in Mumbai, India. I lived in Dallas, Texas for almost 15 years and worked as teacher for special needs kids for 10 of those years. I moved to Chengdu in September 2011 with my husband, two kids and our miniature Daschund Zen. I’m looking at motherhood under a very different light here in Chengdu. It has brought a sense of positivity and purpose to my life in many ways I can’t wait to experience and share with all you other Multicultural Moms.”