Tag Archives: mothering

Smiling Baby

21 Jun

I am Chinese and my husband is Lebanese-French. We live in Chengdu, China with our 7-month-old daughter Mina.

When she was born I chose to stop working and be a SAHM (Stay At Home Mom), because I have a few SAHM friends around me, they take great care in raising their children and they turned out wonderful.

I don’t want to miss any part of Mina’s childhood. There are not many full-time housewives in China though. The liberation of women was so thorough during Chairman Mao’s era that it was such a glory for women to work that no educated women would dare stay at home.

“We didn’t send you to university knowing you’d end up a housewife!” My parents will never understand my decision.

I decided not to ask my parents to live with us as everybody in China does after the birth of a baby, so I could have private time with my husband. Here, we believe baby is the most important thing in a family, which means after a baby is born, the entire family gathers around the new parents and baby to help. It is common to have the grandparents, usually from the mother’s side, staying with the couple for 1 year or even longer.

I also decided to breastfeed Mina after reading some English pregnancy books. The breastfeeding rate in China is low, partly because the advertising and promotion of formula is strong, and most women return to work 4 months after giving birth. Luckily, I have 2 friends who are breastfeeding their babies. They encourage me and have armed me from head to toe with breastfeeding equipment, books, and they have shared their experiences with me.

I even tried to minimize the help I needed. It is not expensive to have domestic help in China. Hiring an ayi (nanny in Chinese) to help with the baby and housework is easy and normal. But I thought that it would be uncomfortable to have another person walking around the house all the time and I was sure I’d be able to handle a baby myself.

And then…..I was exhausted to death the 1st  two months after Mina was born! I struggled with breastfeeding, there was no milk, there was too much milk; Mina had strong reflux, we had to hold her upright for 20 minutes after each feed; I didn’t know how to make her sleep: I rocked her, I fed her, I strolled her. She cried and cried.

Liu Yan and Mina

Luckily my mom insisted to help me with the cooking, so when my husband went to work, I didn’t have to starve.

And forget about the quality time I thought I’d have with my husband. If I don’t yell at him, it’s “quality time”. We were exhausted to a point (with me panicking all the time) that I was considering a 24-hour nanny.

Well, things got easier as time went by. The annoying reflux was gone after 2-months, Mina gradually developed her routine and started to interact with us. My milk supply regulated and I am enjoying being a mom more and more.

Today, I am thankful to my daughter for coming to my life. She has allowed me the privilege to love devotedly and unconditionally. And what a wonderful feeling that is!

Without her, these 7 months would have been like any other 7 months, quickly forgotten in the currency of time. She takes me back to the starting status of life, getting up at sunrise, sleeping at sunset, observing and learning about “new” objects. I am so happy that I took the time to stay with her, quietly watching her grow up.

Mina is turning out to be a very happy baby, active and playful. She smiles all the time. She is the center of attention when we walk around the neighborhood, as all passers-by marvel at the Smiling Baby.

I don’t know whether it’s just her nature or from my mothering, perhaps partly both. But that doesn’t matter. This mother is very proud. And all the struggles seem a distant dream, well, until she wakes up at 3 o’clock in the morning.

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Liu Yan, contributing author at Multicultural Mothering, is 30 years old, born in Leshan, China. She used to Work as an English teacher, newspaper editor and translator. Now she is learning to be the mother to her daughter of Chinese / Lebanese blood with French Culture in the crazy fog of Chinese modernization.

My Multilingual Mothering Story

17 Nov

I’m often asked how I managed to learn so many languages and how I keep them apart. Well I must say a big part of my abilities come from my mother’s motivation during my childhood. She was a busy woman, but very strong in her belief that she was giving me an enormous gift, that today, I can thank her for from all my heart.

I decided to write this to encourage mothers not to be afraid to speak several languages to their children, if they are bi-or multilingual and wish their kids to become part of a true multicultural world. I realized very early that having several cultures and languages is enriching. There is nothing better in life than understanding other cultures from the inside, including their sense of humor and their way of thinking. The more languages you speak the more you are able to find yourself in the right place and situation.

My multicultural experience started when I was 3 years old. Another language and culture entered my life. Thanks to my mom I kept up my first language. I spoke both languages at the same time, adding on the new one like a parallel world on the top. My brain got more and more flexible and I learned how to separate them. The third language followed when I was 10, just learning it at home.  Actually that kind of passive learning was not bad either. I only realized it later when all the vocabulary I acquired was stored in my brain, and when I needed to speak it four years later, it seemed to flow out of nowhere. I started learning the 4th language at 15 years of age, the 5th at 20, the 6th at 23, the 7th and 8th at around 30, and today I’m learning my 9th one.

When my brother was born, 20 years ago I decided to help my mom with the difficult task of raising a bilingual child, understanding that with age one gets less motivated for all the extras about child upbringing. I wasn’t there all the time for him but my mom came up with other tricks to keep her language alive.

My own personal experiences strongly influenced my multicultural mothering choices from the moment my daughter was born. So when it was her turn I knew what to do but I had to choose between the languages I knew and chose to limit myself to 3.  I knew it wouldn’t be easy, but I was prepared.  I was lucky because we had the chance to move from France to Sweden before my daughter turned 2. At kindergarten she was immersed in one language, her father spoke a second and I kept up the third. She hardly spoke before the age of 3, but when she did she had a lot to say in all three languages simultaneously. I was optimistic and believed that the order and structure of each would come in due time.

Things became a bit more complicated when we moved to China four and a half years later. Two more languages were added: English and Chinese. The latter was added by a “storm” as it was a phenomenon moving from a Swedish to a Chinese kindergarten. A year later, English was smoothed in at an international school, even though she was part of the French section.

Today my daughter speaks five languages, not all very well, but I make sure I keep them up to a certain level. She will work out which she wants to continue with later, on her own. The most important job has been done though and I’m sure that one comes out of such experiences only stronger, not weaker as some people tended to think in the 70’s.

We live in a new era, in which we need to communicate with and understand each other more deeply to keep this world peaceful and to preserve the planet.  That will be the task for the multilinguals we are educating today.

Svetlana Furman is a contributing author at Multicultural Mothering. She is an independent business consultant living between Paris and Stockholm, where she just moved back to, after spending over 3.5 years in China. 

Her 9 year old daughter is attending the Lycee Francais of Stockholm.

Zamsick

3 Apr

I’m finally going home in May. It’s been 9 years.

I moved from Montreal to Lebanon, then to Moscow and back to Lebanon, and to Chengdu during that time, got married in Montreal, dropped out of a master’s program in Beirut, took up yoga, did a Teacher Training in Thailand, supported Maher through a stroke, seen a few too many gynaecologists and IVF experts, trusted a fantastic doctor in Ahmedabad and gave birth to my twins in Hong Kong – so, that I didn’t stop off in Zambia since my last 3 week visit many years ago is beyond me. I constantly go back and forth about how that happened.

How could I have been that complacent?

I thought my mum was crazy when she told me she was going back to Bombay after 10 years. I will never be like that when I grow up. I remember how alive and confident she was weaving around Fashion street and Crawford market in Bombay, chatting and bargaining with the salespeople. She proudly  introduced us to Badsha, her favorite falooda (ice cream drink) joint in Bombay.

I can’t lie, I have  I’ve had a mental drama about home, what it means, if the concept will ever exist for me again, and especially for my children? When I recently told my brother how long I’d been away, he did a quick mental calculation and said, “But that’s almost a third of your life, can you even call it home?”

I can’t lie, I miss home. I don’t have the words to express it. My first, only attempt at a poem ever, was inspired by an uncontrollable nostalgic moment.

Whenever I’ve brought up my need to go home, Maher reminded me that we’ve seen my family here in China, in Canada, and in India, depending on where they or we were.

But it’s not just that –

It’s the smell of the wet grass when the drumming rain keeps me curled up in bed devouring book after book, the feel of the red earth between my toes, the mango trees at my grandparents house in Livingstone, and the size of the avocados, of my solitary bike rides and road runs around our neighbourhood, of the rocks along the banks of the Zambezi river, of my school and my friends – some still there, many also living in different places.  But then it’s also the Rotary clubs, and politics that my father was always too busy with; it’s the street kids, the AIDS, and the corruption.

When I was 13 or 14 I decided that I would become a doctor. I was adamant. My parents and I went to see the principal, who was also my English Literature teacher, and running-group leader – without a doubt my most inspiring teacher. Now, I realise that during that meeting he gently tried to persuade me not to switch out of history and literature, that there were other possibilities out there for me. He bothered to try. I was stubborn, and I had my father’s backing on this one. My mother understood me better than I thought I knew myself, but she never imposed anything on me. She’s always trusted me, and in her typical manner, she let me figure things out my way. But she always listened big when I mentioned switching into naturopathy, or anthropology during my university career.

Back to when I was 14 in Zambia, I asked one of my parents doctor friends if I could intern at her clinic for the summer. I went in at 8 every morning, mainly helped with computerizing patient files at the reception, spent a couple of hours with the lab technician every afternoon, and went home for my evening runs. That’s the thing, while I was a teenager in Lusaka, there wasn’t much to do over the holidays; kids were either involved in sports and engaged in the community, or doing drugs and having sex. I fell into the former category.

But I digress…

One afternoon the lab technician was showing me how to actually carry out a malaria test. He put a drop of blood that he’d drawn earlier, on a glass slide. We examined the sample through a magnifying glass to identify if the parasite was present. The patient had come in specifically with a malaria query, but the lab technician was on a teaching spree and decided to show me how to perform a HIV test. He took a little more of the blood (don’t ask me about the ethics / human rights of it all especially since he knew who the patient was), and it was positive.

A number of caregivers from my past have died, usually young, and after a lot of suffering. More often than not, it’s AIDS. The man who cooked for us throughout my childhood and until a few years ago is one of them. The man who drove me to school and back every day, who taught me how to drive, who told me it was his dream to drive trucks – the only person who ever called me princess, playfully, just because he knew I hated it, is living with HIV now. He sent me gifts when my children were born – 2 chitenges (traditional cloth that women wrap into skirts, and use to carry their babies on their backs). He quit working for my parents a little while ago. I can’t wait to see him; to hear him joke.

I couldn’t wait to leave home when I was a teenager; now I can’t wait to return.  I’m not sure how I’ll react after so long, but I want my children to feel a slice of the simplicity, play in the dirt with the chongololo’s (millipedes), imagine the white clouds are cars in a blue sky, run barefoot in real green grass, play football with their uncle, eat nshima  (thick maize porridge – local staple food) and curry, see elephants, kudus, and lions in their natural habitat, all that alongside people who smile wide, who smile for life.

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The idea that we can and should feel at home anyplace on the globe is based on a worldview that celebrates the solitary, mobile individual and envisions men and women as easily separated from family, from home and from the past. But this vision doesn’t square with our emotions, for our ties to home, although often underestimated, are strong and enduring.
The New Globalist is Homesick, the International Herald Tribune

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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.

Parenting The Enemy

2 Apr

by Janice Lindegard of Snide Reply

I wanted a girl. No question. Oh, sure, I told people I just wanted a healthy baby, but really, I wanted a girl. So, when my son was born, it was more than drugs and exhaustion that had me on emotional overload.

I was a feminist. I was prepared to rear a strong, self-possessed woman. In my feminist readings, I ran across a piece on women in heterosexual relationships that likened being married to a man to sleeping with the enemy.  How the hell was I supposed to parent the enemy?

The first week of parenthood featured little sleep, lots of poop and a humiliating tendency for my body to do really revolting things completely out of my control. I remember one day, though, sitting on my back porch. The Little Enemy was asleep, finally. I had a lovely rose garden, but I wasn’t admiring it. I was completely absorbed in an epic wallow of self-pity. I had a boy. Boy, boy, boy. No little soul sister, I had a miniature man.

I started to cry. I stared out at my rose garden and wept. I got maudlin. I wept for the sassy girl I wouldn’t have and the beautiful woman I wouldn’t know. I wept because my child would never wear my wedding dress. And then I thought of Dennis Rodman and I laughed out loud. At that time, Mr. Rodman was wildly infamous for his outrageous behavior, which included going clubbing in a wedding dress. Immediately after lamenting that my child wouldn’t wear my gown, I pictured the beastly ugly Rodman in his and thought, “God, I hope not!”

I’ve said that nothing made me more of a feminist than raising a son. When I do, more than a few women look at me like I’ve either lost my mind or made a very unfunny joke. But it’s no joke. If our society beats down girls, it beats down boys just as cruelly. The problem is that while we’re eager to help girls with their self-esteem, their body image, their academic standings and their professional opportunities, most people don’t even want to recognize that boys are bound and gagged by our society, too. After all, helping boys would be the societal equivalent of aiding and abetting enemy combatants.

At this point, you may be wondering what the heck I’m talking about. Boys don’t need help; boys aren’t discriminated against. Boys never had to fight to get into anything. From Little League to Harvard to the White House, boys—especially white ones—have been living the high life.

I am not delusional, though. From the time my son was born, he was treated differently than a daughter would have been. Even in infancy, we expect boys to be tough. Baby boys are picked up less frequently than baby girls. Just because of a roll of the biological dice, one child is cuddled when she cries and the other is left to seek comfort in his little blue blankie. Being born male even reduces your chances of being adopted. Globally, more girls are adopted than boys, not because more girls are available but because people feel safer adopting a girl. In fact, you can probably cut your wait time to adopt merely by stating a preference for a boy.

School is supposed to be where the rubber begins to hit the road in discrimination against girls. But, seen through the eyes of boys and their mothers, school is set up for the male to fail. Standing in lines, communicating verbally, sitting still, pleasing the teacher are all behaviors that, for whatever reason, girls seem to master more quickly and easily than boys. Let’s not get sidetracked discussing why girls are able to do it. Let’s think about what it means to boys that their genetically codified behavior is more likely to get them a pass to the principal than a gentle reminder or exasperated sigh.

I don’t have enough space left to discuss how my son’s middle school career might have differed if he were a girl. I have a hard time imagining he would have been called lazy and unmotivated if he were a girl failing in the gifted program, though. One day he forgot to bring pencil and paper to the library. His teacher gave him a detention for defiance. If his name were Emily, I wonder if she’d just roll her eyes and hand her some paper.

As my son gets older, I’m less and less concerned about how his school treats him and more concerned with how his society treats him. Recently, a friend posted a screed on her Facebook wall. The gist of the post is this: if the parents of boys raised sons who kept their hands to themselves unless invited, then the parents of girls wouldn’t have to worry how their daughters are dressed.

At the same time, I’m dealing with my son’s sexual maturity. Overwhelmingly, his society paints him as barely able to contain his desires. If he has unprotected sex with a girl and she gets pregnant, it will be his fault. Don’t think so? When was the last time you heard someone refer to the boy involved in a teen pregnancy as “a nice young man”? Nope. He’ll be “that jackass who got Susie pregnant.”

The idea that boys have to be controlled for the world to be safe is insulting at best and hypocritical at worst. At the same time we are telling little boys to keep their hands to themselves, we think it’s cute when little girls chase them to steal a kiss. The boys don’t think it’s cute. The boys think it’s harassment and they get mad when we don’t stop the girls.

We ridicule boys who dance, want to be nurses and love to play with dolls. If you think we don’t, then you haven’t raised a boy. When a girl wants to box, play hockey or quarterback a football team, we say “Why not?” We may even get angry if she’s not allowed to. Imagine the reaction to a boy who wants to dance Giselle. Not really seeing the outrage, are you?

Let’s call a truce. Let’s teach boys and girls to keep their hands to themselves. Let’s admit that girls want to have sex as much as boys do. Let’s teach all of our children that they can be whatever they want to be . . .and mean it.

Janice Lindegard is a writer, blogger and columnist living in Naperville, Illinois. She is mom to two children: a bio son with ADHD and a daughter adopted from China. She tries, often unsuccessfully, to follow the teaching of Buddha, is married to a Jewish man and was raised by Roman Catholics. She writes a parenting column for Naperville Patch and blogs about her life at Snide Reply.

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.”

 

Teaching My Son to Write

29 Feb

I’m a graduate student in educational theory (Master of Arts, Integrated Studies, to be precise).  For several weeks, I’ve been immersed in feminist theory, race theory, Marxist theory, the birth of sociology, the jargonistic musings of Judith Butler on the intentionally difficult to comprehend Foucault….  And I have the kind of cold that kept me awake until 4am last night with fever chills and has left me giddy and directionless, today.

Forgive me if this post is somewhat less than concise.

Kwame Anthony Appiah has written and spoken often about his reasoned disavowal of race.  He doesn’t believe there are any races, and deconstructs both the original concept – as defined in North America with the African slave trade – and the current relevance of this sort of cultural leftover in his Tanner Lecture on Human Values (1994), among other papers, interviews and speeches.  I mean, we’ve established that people of all ethnicities are equally capable, moral, feeling, loving, hurting people….  Right?

So, why do we need to talk about it anymore?

Well, because race is socially determined.  Our culture tells us what race we are, establishing visible majorities and visible minorities and an increasingly difficult-to-determine mix of bi-racial, multi-racial, multi-ethnic, mixed-race, erm… people.  Black and white, gorgeous and beige, my kids fall into that last category.  And while I’m hoping hard that the strident voice of bell hooks and the educated bluesman musings of Cornel West remain sources of profound pride for American black people; here in Canada – in multicultural Canada – I’d like to see my kids’ generation drop their divisions, deny racial solidarity, and embrace something more like Appiah’s cosmopolitanism.  There is something so calmly appropriate about a theory of philosophy that refuses race, encourages knowledge of other cultures, and denies cultural relativism.  You don’t have to be just like me to be my brother.  I will love you, just the same.  And through my love I’m committed to learning more about you.  But I will NOT stand by and let you hurt people.  We have a human responsibility to protect each other from harm, even if it’s you – my brother – who is doing the harming.

To me, that sounds just about perfect.  Multiculturalism without assimilation.  Globally situated learning and citizenship.  And the outright refusal to allow nations to commit crimes against humanity just because their culture or their religion says that they can.  Does it GET better?

And so it was from this warm, fuzzy, I’d-Like-To-Teach-The-World-to-Sing perspective that I sat down with my kids and a bowl of popcorn to watch Discovery Atlas’s China Revealed.

Now, this film was done in 2006.  China was going crazy with preparation for the 2008 Olympics, and aside from a few ethnic Chinese family members, extra kids, students and friends, I really don’t know very much about Chinese culture.  I am NOT an educated observer, here – let me make that very clear.  But it was hard not to stare at the sheer focus demanded of children, in that film.  It was hard not to cover my mouth when a father spoke of beating his young daughter because she didn’t want to return to gymnastics boarding school, in that film.  It was hard not to just stare in fascination at Wushu city, and at thousands of workers performing calisthenics together to ensure an injury-free day at the factory; at adult children with the same single-minded focus to please their parents, to serve their parents, as appears on the faces of elementary school kids.  At the drive.  At the SOLIDARITY – in that film.  (I’m repeating this phrase because I do know that one film cannot adequately capture the depth and nuance of any culture.  There is so much more I need to learn!)

But, HOW can one deny the existence of race in the face of that?  Even while considering the vast differences of language and tradition within China’s borders.  Do we relabel it “culture”, and continue to reach out, hold hands and sing Kumbaya?  My kids will be competing with children from families with similar cultural influences for scholarships, jobs and promotions.  My kids, who have been raised without corporal punishment, who have been encouraged to cooperate before competing, who walked early, talked early, and were reading by age three….  They can’t do simple multiplication, like some of their first generation Chinese Canadian friends can.  My kids have always been given the option to work on reading, work on writing, work on language study, science or do anything else we come up with together in our afterschooling home.  (It really is up to them.)  And they have always been rewarded for their efforts in these areas.  Not punished for their shortcomings.

I’m a little worried that they won’t be prepared for their global reality, fifteen years from now.

Anyway, this post was about teaching my son to write.  I’d decided to post about that before diving into race theory and watching that documentary, and now our little writing exercises read with a decidedly different flavour.  I do apologize.

My Bug asked to learn how to write his name, so I told him I would help him.  I wrote out his name for him to copy, and that was difficult for him.  Frustrating.  I wrote out a letter for him to copy.  Still frustrating.  I printed out a preschoolers’ letter-tracing page from some website we found together.  Didn’t like it.  The dots were overwhelming and made no sense to him.  So, I wrote a letter, just one, with a highlighter and asked him to keep his pencil on the green line.  He took the pencil with some hesitation.  Standard pencils are small and awkward for his three-year-old hand; fat round or triangular pencils are too big and clumsy.  (He’s always preferred paintbrushes.)  But then?  He did it!  HE DID IT!  And asked for a page more.  And then I gave him the parts of the other letters in his name, not all together, just a page of lines, a page of curves, a page of initial connections, all written with electric green highlighter….

And I watched him light up with the joy of his own success.

I don’t know if my kids will be able to compete at the global level.  In many ways, I hope they won’t have to.  But, mostly?  I hope this light, this spark they have – that we can keep it going for as long as possible.  I’m hoping hard for forever 🙂

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I’m a mother, corporate refugee, grad student, quiet activist and child care provider.  I live in Canada and write about grace, joy, hilarity, leg hair, living healthy, and learning with kids over at The Valentine 4: Living Each Day.

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.”

Permission to Give Birth – part 1

25 Jan

The first thing a Chinese woman has to do when she discovers she’s pregnant is to get a “Permission to Give Birth” documentTo get it she has to apply for it – in a bureau and she has to take her marriage certificate. It is illegal for a nonmarried couple to have a baby. If she doesn’t get the permission to give birth, she can’t deliver in a hospital. This also means  that her child won’t be able to have identity papers, go to school, work, travel, or even live in another city.He will be marginalized; socially unaccepted. 

When I found out I was pregnant, I was extremely happy. I rushed to see my very close friend and neighbor to share my excitement.  The second thing was to see a doctor,who could confirm the pregnancy with a blood test.

The first question my Chinese doctor asked was, Do you want to keep this baby?” I said, “Of course.”

The only other questions she asked were the father’s name, my date of birth, and after a quick calculation, she asked me to come back in 2 weeks for the first ultrasound.

In the meantime she asked me to do the following:

– Not to use my computer

– Not to use my cell phone

Not to eat raw food

– To watch as little TV as necessary

– To drink fortified milk powder every day

– To stay away from cats and dogs

– To eat a lot of fruit

– To eat a lot of meat

Since my pregnancy was going well my doctor decided not to overdo it with excessive blood and urine tests, just the regular ultrasound  schedule.

As foreigners, we were allowed to know the gender of our child. Because of China’s one child policy, doctors are not allowed to reveal the gender of a foetus while it is still in the womb, but this is slowly changing in the cities because some doctors consider they are not dealing with farmers anymore who would get rid of the baby if it’s a girl. If the doctors are caught they can have their practice removed and face very high fines.

At our first 3D ultrasound, the nurse asked us if we wanted a DVD of the scans. We were excited. We said yes. She then informed us that they had a viewing roomwhere all our friends and family could watch the DVD’s of each ultrasound. That was a bit extreme, so we said no. But the truth is that when we got the videos, we sent them to our families by email.

At the second ultrasound, the same nurse screamed, “Aiiiiiiiiiiii, so cute! But look at the HUGE nose!!”

I didn’t understand, the nose looked normal. Even tiny. But then I was the mother after all.

Was my baby a monster?

They see babies every day. They must know better than me. Then she called another nurse who was walking by and told her, laughing,Look, look at this baby’s nose!

A very close Chinese friend who was present, noticed that I was on the verge of crying. She sweetly said,Don’t worry. We Chinese have very flat noses, so for us this is a big nose. But we consider big noses are good. To have a bump on your nose is even considered good luck.”

It made me feel a tiny bit better.

But it was the same story at every single ultrasound over the following 5 months.

Scan. “Heart ok”.

Scan scan. Brain ok”

Scan scan scan. ” Ooooooh look, look, look. A big nose. There’s laughing, calling out to the other nurses, and pointing at the baby’s nose.

At my 7 month check up, I requested a private appointment with the doctor to discuss my birth plan. I was a bit afraid of the cultural differences and wanted to talk about the  Chinese procedures. I asked for it because the visits to the doctor here are always made with an open door. Anyone can come in, ask a question, sit and stare at you until you are done. She simply said “no need for a private appointment” and closed the door. For the first time I saw her relax.

Shput down her pen, and with a smile said: “So what do you want to discuss?”

MeCan my husband be present at the birth?

Doctor: Usually family members are not allowed in because in China, hundreds of people would crowd into the room. I think it’s in the mother’s best interest to be able to focus. But if your husband manages to stay calm, he can be present.

Me: Unless there is a medical problem, I want to have a natural birth.

Doctor: Fantastic we encourage that! Currently at ourhospital we have only 40% rate of natural birth.The management has asked us to increase this number.

Me: If possible, I don’t want any drugs.

The doctor smiles: Ok, I will give them to you only if you ask.

Me: I want my baby with me at all times and I’mplanning to breastfeed exclusively. I don’t want anyone to give water or formula to my baby.

Doctor: your baby will be with you all the time. Nobody else will feed her unless there is a medical problem.

I am amazed. So far she says exactly what I want to hear.

Me: Can you wait until the umbilical cord stops pulsating before you cut it? In Europe we believe that it reduces the risk of jaundice.

 Doctor (suddenly more serious)We believe the opposite. The more you allow the baby to take blood from the placenta once it’s born, the more problems you have.

 MeBut can you please leave it if we ask you to?

Doctor: I’m sorry. I can’t do that. This is a medical issue. I am responsible for the delivery.

Then she asked “What do you want to do with the placenta?” I was caught off guard.

“What do you mean?”

Well, in China, some people want to take it home,she said, almost whispering.

That’s when I remembered someone had mentioned to me that some people here cook the placenta and eat it. Apparently it is extremely good for you.

No, no I don’t want it. I said in disgust.

Well you can rest assured, in this hospital we destroy it after birth.

 

For a second there, I had a doubt. This is country where  black markets are bigger than legal markets. I had to focus on answering the next question in order to forget the image of people sitting around a table eating my placenta.

Pascaline is greek, she lives in China since 2008 with her french/lebanese husband I. In 2011 she gave birth to N. at Angels hospital in Chengdu. This is the first part of the series “Permission to give birth”.

Breastfeeding in China

3 Jan

This afternoon, while my little son was sleeping, I had the rare pleasure of taking a midday bath with my four-year-old daughter, Clara. It was nice to spend some cozy alone time with her, soaking in our beautiful juniper tub. At one point, she paddled over and asked if she could have a taste of my milk.

“You don’t nurse anymore, silly. You’re a big girl!” I laughed.

“I just want to taste it,” she pleaded, looking forlorn.

“You drank my milk for almost 3 years,” I reminded her.

“But, Mommy, I can’t remember!” I pulled her close to me and let her suckle.

“Yummy,” she smiled. “It’s sweet!”

Breastfeeding my babies has been, and continues to be, one of my very favorite parts of motherhood. The intimacy and tenderness of the nursing relationship is truly indescribable. How heavenly to gaze into the eyes of a nursing baby, so perfectly nourished and fulfilled! I have often thought to myself, as I cradled a gorgeous baby in my arms, that it is LOVE that makes a child grow healthy and strong, and the flow of sweet milk from mother’s breast is certainly one of the purest forms of love.

I was blessed to give birth to both my children at home and nurse them without delay, as instructed and encouraged by my parents and midwives. Such a fantastic rush of joy and relief it is to have a newborn infant placed upon one’s breast, cord still pulsing, skin wrinkled and red, deep-blue eyes quietly alert and blinking in the soft light, tiny mouth latched onto the nipple! It is a timeless, weightless moment, that first greeting between mother and child, a sweet and unforgettable celebration of the bond formed within. That precious bond, so crucial for the health and well-being of mother and child, is what is nurtured most intensively by the nursing relationship.

The industrialization and modernization of human societies has dramatically affected many women’s understanding and experience of childbirth. Here in China, as elsewhere in the industrialized world, urban women almost invariably give birth in a hospital setting, frequently by Cesarean section. The World Health Organization reports that rates of Cesarean sections performed in urban China may be as high as 63%. The report goes on to say:

Many Chinese couples now opt for delivery by caesarean section to avoid pain. Apart from the clinical indications for caesarean section – breech presentation, dystocia and suspected fetal compromise – there is growing evidence that many women choose delivery by caesarean section for personal reasons, particularly in profit-motivated institutional settings that may provide implicit or explicit encouragement for such interventions.[1]

Not surprisingly, just as more and more women opt for expensive and potentially dangerous medical interventions in lieu of natural childbirth, fewer and fewer are choosing to breastfeed their babies.

During my time here in China over the past six years, when I have always been either pregnant or nursing, I’ve chatted with numerous Chinese mothers and gleaned from them the following impressions. The general perception seems to be that breastfeeding is old-fashioned and inconvenient for the modern career woman. Infant formula or cow’s milk are the preferred substitutes for breast milk. The sexual objectification of the female body by the media also seems to have played a role, making Chinese women fearful of losing their youthful figures by nursing their babies. There is also the widespread belief among mothers that they have no milk. How many times have I heard Chinese women say, “Wo mei you nai.” (I have no milk.) While low milk production (and various other circumstances) can certainly be a challenge for a small percentage of women, this issue more than likely arises from a general lack of knowledge and support from family, doctors, and the culture at large. Several women have also expressed to me the mistaken idea that breast milk becomes un-nutritious after the first six months.

When my kids play in our apartment compound, our Chinese neighbors regularly admire them and tell me how strong and healthy they look. “What do you feed them?” they ask, assuming that it must be lots of meat (of which we eat none). “Breast milk!” I say proudly, gazing down at my young son’s glowing pink cheeks. This surprises them and often precipitates a conversation with the older generation of onlookers, many of whom survived the Great Chinese Famine (1958-1961). Invariably, they recall their own years of nursing babies and confirm the benefits of breastfeeding. Sadly, that information seems to be largely forgotten or ignored, lost in the mad rush for socio-economic “progress”.

China is certainly not alone in this arena. The World Health Organization states that:

Despite the recommendation that babies be exclusively breastfed for the first 6 months, less than 40% of infants less than this age are exclusively breastfed worldwide. The overwhelming majority of American babies are not exclusively breastfed for this period – in 2005 under 12% of babies were breastfed exclusively for the first 6 months, with over 60% of babies of 2 months of age being fed formula and approximately one in four breastfed infants having infant formula feeding within two days of birth.[2]

 Alas, breastfeeding seems to be just one of many terrible casualties of modernism and capitalistic greed. The complexity of this subject far exceeds the scope of a blog entry, for sure, but being that it is so close to my heart, I thought it worth sharing some thoughts. I wonder how long it will be before the breastfeeding promotion programs forged elsewhere in the world spread to China and begin to make a difference in the lives of women and children.

While Clara may have forgotten the sweet taste of my milk, I know that she will never forget the sweetness of my love. She is of that love—it is in her heart, her blood, her bones. And I feel sure that when her time comes, she will not hesitate to draw her baby to her breast and share her own milk, that most sublime nourishment for body and soul.

Heidi is an American married to a Tibetan, living in Chengdu, China. She has two young children, ages 4 and 1.

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[1] WHO: Delivery settings and caesarean section rates in China

[2] Wikipedia: Infant Formula

Babies

17 Dec

How  can babies can be brought up in different environments is the idea behind the documentary “Babies” by Alan Chabat and Thomas Balmès.

Follow 4 babies simultaneously, day after day for one year, as they grow up in different countries and cultures: Mari (Japan), Bayarjargal (Mongolia), Hattie (USA) and Ponihao ( Namibia).

There is no voice -over on this documentary, which points out something I strongly believe in: that there  is  no right or wrong way of parenting; when it’s done with love and care. The American father takes a shower with his daughter, the Mongolian mother spits water over her baby’s body to rinse him off, and the Namibian mother wipes her baby’s butt on her knee, and then removes the poop on it with a piece of corn.

The little Namibian and Mongolian babies play naked in the mud, take a bath with a goat, sleep next to a chicken, and put their hands in a dog’s mouth, just to explore it. They reminded me of my childhood in Africa, my sisters and I were spending our days outside, climbing trees, chasing little snakes, playing with colorful flowers and plants. We were completely free. These babies spend their days outside too playing with whatever is around them, quite the opposite of the little American and Japanese girls with their big toys, books, playgroups, sophisticated carriers and strollers (who reminded me of my baby growing up in China, yet she has her playgoup on Monday, baby group on Wednesday, music activities on Thursday,  sophisticated stroller & toys…)

In general, I loved all these babies because they reminded me of the world we live in and how sanitized it is. Despite my “multicultural” environment,everything is clean, in order, and secure around me .

This documentary raises questions but allows you to find your own answers through beautiful images and little events that will warm up your hearts from the first smile to the first step.