Tag Archives: parenting

Faces

28 Jun

My father is from Nigeria.  My mother is a first generation Canadian, caucasian with straight hair and dark eyes.  She blends in a way that people don’t feel the need to ask her where she’s from, or makes them unafraid to ask.  I look like her, in the shape of my jaw, my eyes and my ears.  You have to know the two of us well to see our similarities, which I’m sure is the case for all apparently mono-racial parents of obviously bi-racial kids.  It’s something we get used to and don’t question until we see that hesitance in the eyes of someone who wants to ask but doesn’t want to offend.

I live in Canada, not the United States, but because our media is predominantly American we live with the assumption of an Afro-American or American Black sensibility in the eyes and minds of many who see us.  For the record, I’ve known poverty and I’ve been hungry and I’ve done some things that I was embarrassed about until I came to value those acts for the way they’ve shaped the person I am.  I’ve lived in low income neighbourhoods and spent childhood summers without shoes on my feet and have known too many who were criminals because they had no choice, and some who were criminals because they wanted to be.  There are parallels between American Black and Canadian Black people, perhaps most strongly felt in our shared history.  Many of our ancestors have the Middle Passage in common.  Most of our ancestors knew slavery.

But the majority of Canadians who look Black emigrated to our country in the last two or three generations.  We are the children of skilled practitioners exploring North America after immigration laws relaxed in the 1960s, from the countries of Africa, or the Caribbean, or Central America, travelers riding the post-slavery, pre-equality diasporic wave.  We are refugees filtered through the United Nations.  We are students who chose to study abroad and wound up in The Great White North, and formed ourselves to fit our new cultures.  We are the children, some of us, of those who found the place too cold, too inhospitable, and too different from home, and ultimately returned without us.

I don’t know my father.  We’ve exchanged letters a few times over my three-and-a-half decades.  What I know of Nigeria’s cultures comes from Ben Okri, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, and Chris Cleave.  I know the greed for oil has killed people there, as it does with varying body-counts wherever there is oil and money to be made through its extraction.  I know my father has other wives and other children, and that I have uncles in Europe and cousins in the USA.  I know he was of the Igbo tradition, which means our people were bound, shipped and traded, despite his vehement protestations otherwise.  I know he called Nigeria the most beautiful country in all of Africa and thus the most beautiful nation in the world.  He wrote to me to come to him when I was fifteen.  He had a place for me in a good school in Benin City, he wrote.  He knew a family that would take good care of me when I was ready to marry, he wrote.  He named me “Princess” and sent love to my mother.

I didn’t go.

My children know none of this.  When my daughter was assigned “Kumbayah” by her piano teacher, I side-stepped the teacher’s request that I explain the song’s provenance for her.  At seven years old, my daughter is innocent.  History sloughs around her, but does not touch.  So when she plays “Kumbayah”, it is spritely, happy, almost joyous, her little fingers skipping over the keys, and I love to hear it.  She has just recently realized some people choose not to be married, after months or years, and so their children have two houses and two bedrooms, or one house that is emptier.  She has come to understand that people might have babies before getting married, or might welcome babies from other parents to raise as their own and love with their whole hearts.  She is learning how people are mean to each other, and make bad decisions, and hurt each other deeply on purpose or by accident.  She knows how people, like her, have parents for whom the shape of their eyes or the colour of their skin or the bend of their hair mean nothing compared to the scope of their love.  And that’s enough.  For now.

Last week, at the library, I saw NIGERIA in bold print across a children’s magazine.  Faces, it was called.  I picked it up.  Put it down.  Grabbed it quickly and checked it out with the stacks of picture books and early readers.  I placed it with the other books on the table by the blocks at home, and when my daughter picked it up, I told her, “My father is from Nigeria.  He lives there now.”  And then we learned, together, about the many languages spoken in Nigeria, and the gorgeous red tomatoes in the Lagos market, and the value of elders’ wisdom, and how to make Puff-Puff, which the editors declare a beloved snack.  Later, while she was resting, I learned that I’d chosen a biracial Nigerian vocalist for my wedding song, and that I’d named my children for family and place in the tradition of a people I had never met.  I sat with that magazine and remembered going to the library in Calgary by myself and sitting on the floor in the World History section, and laying eyes on photographs of my father’s nation, of his people, for the first time I can remember.  I felt the ache in my chest as I had when I saw a Benin Bronze in an archaeological text, and how the shape of her head is just like mine.  Just like my son’s.  Just like my father’s.

Nigeria is not my country.  I am Canadian, as are my children.  Multiculturalism is official policy, here, and minority rights are constitutionally entrenched.  It doesn’t mean there is no racism.  There is racism in Canada.  It doesn’t mean there is ethnic, cultural, or gender equality.  We still have a long way to go.  It doesn’t mean we are more culturally aware, or above ethno-cultural derision, or a true mosaic of the world’s diversity.  What it does mean is that a biracial woman born out of the 1970’s wave of West African immigration can walk into a public library and pick up a magazine about a faraway place representing an integral piece of who she has become.

It means that I can sit with my daughter and show her a luminous reflection of who we are, and talk about going to visit, one day.

(This was originally posted at The Valentine 4 blog.)

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.

——————–

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.

Jet-lag with Twins

5 Jun

We are back in Samui, un-doing our 11 hour time adjustment to two weeks in NYC. Of course, it was only in the last 3 days there, that we made it out to a 10 am museum opening, and didn’t have angry hotel guests complaining about the, “two bratty kids screaming in the hallways in the middle of the night.” Central Park at 6 am became our hang-out as well as The Disney Store at Times Square. And not a person looked at me twice for pushing a double stroller down 7th Avenue at 1 am. In fact, there were lots of other little kids at the store dressing up as Rapunzel and Ariel waving their wands at the magic mirrors.

The first few days adjusting to a 180 degree shift in time means that at least one of the four of us is asleep during all 24 hours of the day. What might be naps are a little longer than usual. “Sleeps” are a bit shorter than a typical full night. While one twin is having a nap, the other is playing then falls asleep for the “night”. And then the napping twin wakes up, is ready to snack, play, have dinner, then sleep for the “night.”  Soon after, the other wakes up for the “day.” One of us adjusts to Paris time. The other stays at New York time. Phew, we’re finally all back in Samui!

Here’s a post I wrote a year-and-a-half ago about some jet-lag experiences of our family trip from China to Canada.

Jet-lagged in Montreal

It’s early September, 3 am, in downtown Montreal. The night-streets abound with young people, bar-hopping, club-hopping, bunny-hopping; many strange things happen during Frosh, the first week at university. Teenagers go out in teams to discover the city, and each other.

This year we are part of the drunken masses, 10 years, OK, well over 10 years after we were freshmen here. But this time with a twist. We’re with our almost 2-year-old twins. The thing is, 3pm in Chengdu, is 3am in Montreal, and like most toddlers, Leila and Rahul need to exhaust their post afternoon-nap energy surplus.

I clearly remember three o’clocks decision time: coffee, pizza, or shawarma? Home or an afterhour’s club? The children could do with an afternoon snack. We head to my favorite 24 hour café on Park and Milton, bang in the student Ghetto.

We stroll past the smokers on the terrace, and push through the café’s narrow, double doors. You’ve got to get through one, and then another door. It’s when you have a double stroller that you notice these things. We sit next to a man with dreadlocks, cup of coffee in his hands; working on his laptop, and studying through massive text books. He smiles.

I ask for 2 hot-chocolates and an opinion of the café’s least-sweet chocolate cake. A man with the Second Cup logo embroidered in gold on his black t-shirt grins. “It’s chocolate. It’s all sweet,” he replies in his tall, blond, Russian accent. I get a bagel and cream cheese. Leila and Rahul can’t sit still. No surprise. We are fresh off a 30 – hour trip, and a full day at home. They pull on the leaves of a large plant, run around leaving a trail of crumbs. I clean up behind them.

Three young guys in smart, blue jeans, and preppy t-shirts, gelled hair and all, peer into the café windows. One is holding a red rose; he’s serenading a couple of young women who’ve just walked into the café. The two girls in high heels and tight, short skirts are not amused. Leila and Rahul watch intently.

It’s now or never. We collect our stuff. I go to the washroom with Leila. A homeless man leans against a graffiti’ed wall, waiting his turn. We are back in the real Montreal sharing common spaces with all. A female student walks out of the Ladies; her look of disbelief says it all:

Are you out of your mind? I should call Social Services on you.

I smile, walk into the booth with Leila. Change her diaper. Repeat the process with Rahul, pee myself, and we head out. If only she knew.

Rahul and Leila insist on walking back. Of course that means they explore every stone, leaf, and empty beer bottle along the way. Despite our pace, we pass the 3 guys from outside the café, there’s a waft of alcohol in the air, rose still in hand. They’re arguing about something.

“Shouldn’t they be in bed by now?” one of them slurs.

My thought: Shouldn’t you?

With Leila on my shoulders, Rahul on Maher’s, we enter McGill University through the Milton gates, all very familiar to us. The crickets are doing their thing; the stars theirs. At first sight of the football field, the children throw themselves head-first off our shoulders. They pick up some wet maple leaves and run around the field like crazy kids. Moments later, we’re all running.

Amidst our excitement, we almost miss a couple walking by: a man tightly holding a woman in an elegant green dress with matching heels. She’s wearing her partner’s black jacket. There are uncomfortable glances. The woman leans even closer into her man, and whispers something. Well, it is 4:30 am, and we’re on campus playing with our toddlers. Maher suggests that we paint a “Jet-lagged,”sign on the stroller. We both laugh.

While Maher and Leila are still running around, I introduce Rahul to James McGill. Rahul manages a quick wave and a forced hi. The statue of Mr. McGill, small as it is, can be scary at this time of night. While I pick Rahul up, I notice a security guard watching the 4 of us intently. He’s standing upright, muscles flexed under his all-black outfit. He fidgets with his flashlight as he waves it around. We all meet at the stroller and decide to head home.

image

Just outside the gates, Leila asks for milk. I prepare it quickly. Then Rahul says “num num.” Think fast. It’s lively at Amir, the Lebanese sandwich joint on Maissoneuve and Cresecnt. I wait outside with Leila who is fast asleep by now. Maher and Rahul order some food.

A skinny woman, with dark circles around her protruding eyes sticks her palm out. She asks for change in a hoarse voice. The wind blows through her stringy, brown hair.

She looks defeated; she’s one of the city’s many junkies.

A young man who must have spent his night clubbing on Crescent Street, motions her through the large open windows, to wait. He puts what’s left of his fries, pita bread, and chicken into a brown paper bag, and hands it to her. She wolfs it down.

A moment later, Rahul has his first taste of a chicken shawarma sandwich, and of potato squares sautéed in garlic and coriander. The hummus makes him scrunch up his face.

“Too much garlic?” I ask.

“Garlic,” Rahul repeats.

Over the next few days, many things taste like garlic.

As we climb the hill, close to home, Rahul falls asleep.

It’s 6:15, I can still catch the Mysore class at the Ashtanga Yoga studio a few blocks away.

My body is warm and flexible from the night out; my mind tired and ready for sleep. The yogis around me are fresh, ready for the day to begin.

—————-

Natasha: I am mum of 3-year-old twins Leila and Rahul, recently moved to Koh Samui, Thailand after 7 years in China. Just started teaching yoga part-time again.  My first class back last week, after NYC, was 4 hours after I got off the plane. I didn’t believe I’d make it through my heavy eyes!

Catch more of our stories at Our Little Yogis 

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.

National Education: UK vs USA

18 Sep

Sharon Takao’s recent post on National Education: China vs Japan struck an unexpected chord with me. My thoughts on multi-culturalism and how to balance different national perspectives tend to focus on our life in Asia and the experience of being Westerners immersed, to varying degrees, in Chinese culture and society. But Sharon’s post reminded me of the subtler multi-culturalism within my own family. I am British and my husband Ethan is American and although we share a language and broad cultural background, the phrase “divided by a common language” can sometimes seem uncomfortably accurate.

Sharon’s story reminded me of one day earlier this summer, when I was making dinner and listening to my husband talking to our two sons about family history.  Ethan is a direct descendent of Paul Revere, hero of the American War of Independence, famous for his midnight ride to Lexington and Concord to warn patriots that “the British are coming.” You can probably guess where this is heading. Paul Revere is our son’s 7 times great-grandfather so it’s right that they should know his story and feel proud of his accomplishments. But as I listened to Ethan’s stories about the brave, clever American patriots outsmarting stupid, bullying “lobsterbacks” so they could gain freedom from the injustice of British rule, I couldn’t help feeling uncomfortable. I understood that he was telling them simplified stories they could relate to, but I also didn’t want them growing up believing only one side of a complex story.  So I spoke up and pointed out that the country was divided at the time, with many Americans still considering themselves to be British subjects, that many had in fact been born in Britain, and that the story was not a simple one of good guys and bad guys. It was not as if the Americans were fighting for independence from a colonial power who had come in and occupied their country. They themselves had been part of the occupying force who had taken the country from its native inhabitants, then as they settled down decided they no longer wanted to pay taxes to the home country.

Maybe that’s another gross over-simplification, but it comes down to what Sharon pointed out, that each country teaches its own version of history, casting its own actions in the most positive light. And if you are married to someone who grew up with a different version of history than your own, you need to find some accommodation between the two. In fact the American War of Independence does not play a major role in history as taught in British schools. It is one in a series of narratives of countries colonised and lost, of Empire created and dissolved. In seven years of secondary school history courses, the only time I can remember it mentioned is as a contributory factor to the French revolution! By contract, in America it is of course a compulsory part of every child’s education and an important source of beliefs and discourses about what the nation stands for and represents.

The first time the subjectivity of history really came home to me I was already 20 (which means I had lived that long more or less accepting what I had learned in school), when the Battle of Agincourt came up in conversation with a French friend and we realised he had never heard of it. What is taught in British schools as a glorious victory is quietly ignored in France. Fortunately passing centuries take the sting out of defeat and the further away these events are, the more they become of purely academic interest. On the day in question I realised that 200 plus years aren’t quite enough to erase national loyalties within my family. Hearing my concerned tone as I tried to bring another perspective to his history lesson, Ethan did modify his story, somewhat, and acknowledge the uncertainties and divided loyalties of that period of history. We laughed about it later and I said it was a good thing I wasn’t German or Japanese, from a country that America has fought a war with in living memory, or Iraqi for that matter!

Chinese-Japanese marriages must contain similar tensions, not to mention Anglo-French ones, with centuries of conflict to draw on. Sometimes the tensions are greatest closest to home: Anglo-Scottish and Anglo-Irish marriages must have plenty of fodder for diverging perspectives. I would be interested to hear other’s thoughts and experiences on this subject, it may be that I am over-sensitive. Maybe some people are good at rising above their own versions of history, allowing their children to absorb one side of the story only, but I have realised that within my family we need to find room for both sides, or at least the acknowledgement that history is complex and multi-faceted.

About me: originally from the UK, I first came to China as a student in the 1980s and my life has intersected with China one way and another ever since. For the past 8 years I have been based in Chengdu, Sichuan Province China with my American husband and our two sons aged 6 and 11. I work freelance for non-profit organisations and on my own writing, editing and translation projects.

National Education: China vs. Japan

14 Sep

Recently there have been demonstrations, assemblies, and a hunger strike to fight against Moral & National Education (so-called ‘brain-washing education’) which was to be introduced into all primary and secondary schools in Hong Kong within the next 3 years.

120,000 people assembled outside government headquarters on 8 Sep against the introduction of Moral and National Education

Fortunately the HK Chief Executive said the government would leave the decision to include the subject, as well as the subject content, to the schools. That has stopped the hunger strike and the week-long assembly outside the government building.

I think that since the handover, HK people should have anticipated a gradual ‘nationalization’ by the Chinese government. Most countries mainly teach their school kids the positive history of their country – be it a victory or a defeat in a war – the home country is mainly right. At least that’s what I thought until I talked about this with my husband.

Me: I just don’t understand why the HK people are so radical. Come on, all countries are doing the same at school.

My husband: No, Japan is not like that.

Me: (suspiciously) Oh really? Did they teach you about the Nanking Massacre in school?

My husband: We are not sure if it really happened. Why would it be in the textbook?

Me: Uhhh…

So there are no exceptions. My husband was brought up in the Japanese education system.  To me, history is history. We always say, “we must learn from history in order not to make the same mistakes”. But if dwelling on history could ruin the current friendship between two countries, I’d rather have everyone forget the past.

If you were me, would you tell your child that his dad’s people were part of a crazy killing machine yet they say they are not sure if the massacre really happened? Or maybe we should let the kids find the truth out by themselves? In this world of propaganda, what is the truth anyway?


Contributing author Sharon Takao is originally from HK. She lives in Tokyo with her Japanese husband and 3 year-old son. She works at a local advertising, event planning company. She enjoys reading, writing, singing, dancing and playing basketball. She is a member of the online writing community Fanstory.com

The Birth of this Blog

10 Sep

I remember it clearly – my husband was asleep, so were my kids, well at least for the next half-an-hour before one or both would wake up and need attention. It was my chance to read for a few minutes before bed.

I was on a wave, jumping from blog to blog – devouring the stories. When I hit Literary Mama, I stayed. Before I knew it, it was 5am. The swollen eyes the next morning had nothing to do with my usually non-sleeping twin toddlers. Instead of catching up on much-needed sleep, I was reading and forwarding links to my friends. Honest Voices: A Review of Call Me Okaasan: Adventures in Multicultural Mothering a book review by Literary Mama columnist, Avery Fischer Udagawa caught my attention. It was the first time I’d read anything about multicultural parenting.

Call Me Okaasan: Adventures in Multicultural Mothering, is a collection of stories by mothers in Japan, Israel, South Africa, the US and so on, raising bi / multi – cultural families. Avery herself is American married to a Japanese man. They live in Thailand with their two children.  Like Avery’s children, mine were starting to say words in different languages, speaking to me in English, to my husband in French and to their ayi (nanny) in Mandarin.

I particularly appreciated Avery’s reflection on the patterns in her writing about parenting, which she described as a “nagging tendency to dwell on the positive and project certainty. The reality, as my family has learned, is often more complicated.”

I forwarded her piece to a group of my own mum friends, all of whom could relate in one way or another, and suggested we write our own simple stories of Multicultural Mothering. The positive response drove us to create this blog. Most of us are neither writers nor bloggers, and yet we enjoy reading about each other’s experiences, discussing them, celebrating our friend’s successes, and above all finding support in each other.

Here’s an excerpt of Avery’s review of Call Me Okaasan: Adventures in Multicultural Mothering.

“Life among four worlds — America, Japan, Thailand, and the expat world — brings many benefits. Our three-and-a-half-year-old daughter enjoys a Wee Sing song with greetings in several languages not because the words are foreign, but because she actually uses them: hello with Mommy, konnichiwa with Daddy, ciao with our Ecuadorian neighbor, shalom with a teen at the international school. We slip in sawat dii kha, which she uses all day every day with Thais. I love to think that these words are all hers, and that I grew up in Kansas but can hear a child speak Japanese in a mall in Bangkok and realize that it’s my own offspring. My husband and I were thrilled recently to welcome a second child to our mélange of worlds.

But life abroad is not simple. Our preschooler sometimes has to be prompted by my husband to use his native Japanese here, while she readily uses my American English, except when it’s Thai-accented English, which she believes she should use with Thais. Like us, she is least fluent in the language of our host country, though she was born here. I wonder sometimes about her future: Where will she call home? Will she feel chronically displaced? Despite all of the people, places, and words she knows, will she feel cast adrift?

These are questions specific to people raising children among cultures, and ones I seldom see addressed in parenting books. I am happy to report that Call Me Okaasan: Adventures in Multicultural Mothering is an exception to this rule. This collection of 21 essays by mother-writers in expatriate, international, adopting, and/or diversity-seeking families offers the kinds of stories I hear and tell daily, about parenting in multiple languages, juggling identities, and rearing children in terra incognita. It also addresses challenges of parenting among different worlds, including some much more daunting than my family and I have faced.”

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I am yet to get my hands on a copy of the book. It will be soon I hope. Read Avery’s full review here.

The Call Me Okaasan: Adventures in Multicultural Mothering Facebook page

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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.

Boys Can Wear Dresses Too

31 Aug

“Look, the woman is free now,” Leila describes an American Indian man in the animated film.

“That’s a man, Leila,” I say, knowing full well where this would go.

“But, but he has long hair, and…”

“Men can have long hair,” I was a little too stern with her about this, fed-up with all the stereotyping.

“But look at the hair bands in her hair.”

“Leila, men can wear hair bands.”

I would get nowhere with my attitude, and of course my two-year-old’s are only trying to make sense of the world and figure out how they fit in it. Their gender differences are a part of that. I relax, try something different. “OK, you remember our friend in Koh Samui? He has very long hair. Sometimes he used hair bands to tie it up. Remember?”

She laughed and agreed.

My daughter is going through a phase where she needs to define herself as a girl. Quite normal I suppose.  It was after she repeatedly heard an older girl telling Rahul, “but that’s for girls,” as the doll and hair clips that he was playing with were snatched out of his hands, that it became as issue.

Since then, L often says similar things to her brother. I have a feeling that other than it being a gender identity thing, the issue is magnified because they are boy / girl twins who are almost always together. I am not yet sure how or if I even need to do something to help Leila with this question.

On a walk around the mall one day, Leila saw a shop full of pink things, she half stated, half asked if it’s only for girls. I disagreed. Rahul has often asked me the same question, “This is only for girls, mum?” He used to like pink. I doubt that it was a natural instinct; it was probably because his sister liked it. And then I’m not so sure that her obsession tendency for pink is natural either. More recently Rahul has constructed that “yellow” and “green” are his favorites. I see him consciously choosing those colors because he is a “boy”, and then also maybe a bit because it sets him apart from his twin sister.

“But I only want yellow nail polish,” he begged in their fight discussion this afternoon. He looks at me, almost in tears.
“NO, it’s only for girls,” she barks at him. A moment later she turns to me, “It’s only for girls mum?”
“Boys can also use nail polish guys, but neither of you can until you are older.”

A few days ago it was about toy make-up. “I want to play with this,” Rahul said as they were tugging and pulling on the toy eye-shadow. A man in the room, probably just trying to ease the tension, said, “Make-up is for girls Rahul.”

“Hey come on guys,” I couldn’t help myself, “some men use make-up.” I got some questioning looks from the men in that room. “Men who dance, act on stage or in movies use make-up.” I didn’t even touch those who might use it just because they enjoy it. Our home is a rather gender neutral space, the children have a range of toys, but we are immersed in a host of cultures all of which segregate gender roles and behaviour in the obvious, traditional sense.

An openly gay friend of mine in Lebanon, oriental-dance performing artist and teacher posted this little story on Facebook about a man who wears dresses in solidarity with his little boy. It reminded me of a conversation I overheard between my children and a couple of close Swedish friend. “Boys can wear dresses too,” my friend’s husband explained to them.

My children will have many influences in their lives and they’ll make their own choices. I still try to play my bit in keeping them open. I’ve always been grateful to the exposure I had growing up, to people of different cultures and way of thinking. My own parenting decisions and choices come from imitating those I respect and trust, as well as trying to realise my own mistakes.

A few weeks ago I saw a couple of sticker books that I thought my children would love. One was of an Indian girl, the other was an African girl. The idea is that the child plays designer. She can stick bags, and necklaces on the girl, colour in the clothes the way she wants. I bought both. For Leila. How was I to choose between an Indian and an African princess? And I had an inkling that Rahul might want to play with one at the same time. To be fair though, I bought Rahul a couple of finger puppets.

Rahul enjoyed his puppets, but luckily Leila agreed to share one of her princess design books with him. They both enjoyed sticking the bangles, bindhis, and chitenge prints on their models. In the sense of learning alone, he was doing well with focusing, sticking the handbags on the girl’s arm, and the flowers in her hair. So just because it’s a girl in the picture why can’t he play with the book? Maybe he’ll become a clothes designer one day. Why didn’t I just buy one princess book for each one of my children?

Over the weekend we went to a toy shop. Rahul chose a baby doll. He likes to change dolls’ clothes, rock and kiss them goodnight. Of course, he was shown the transformer cars and the Lego, but he was adamant about the baby doll. Only at the very last minute did a laser sword change his mind. Regardless of the outcome, I was glad that I would have proudly walked out of that shop having bought both my children dolls.

Related links:
From TV to toys: What shapes boys into boys and girls into girls             
Parenting the Enemy
– blog post by Janice Lindegard of Snide Reply
Boys Will Be Boys? – blog post by reanbean

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.

“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.

The “Grand” Magic

25 Aug

There is much to be said about raising kids these days in our nuclear set ups. We are so wound up in the rights and wrongs of our parenting styles. But take a look back at just one generation before us and see how much help our parents had raising us. They did not refer to forums, blogs, manuals, educational toys and billions of other resources that we have at our disposal today. They did have one very important tool though their parents. Yes our “grand”parents. Would it sound very presumptuous of me to make an observation that we had many more interactions with our grandparents than our children today do? Well if so then speaking strictly about myself, I had the rare opportunity to be primarily raised by my maternal grandmother. Both my parents had full-time jobs and my grandmother spent most of our waking hours caring for us.

Grandparents have an insight about child rearing that we as parents do not. I see my parents reacting so differently to the same temper tantrums that my children have than they did when we were younger. Their patience levels are higher, they are keen observers of every little aspect of my children’s development, and they point out qualities about my children that I overlook. I love watching them interact with my kids….it is pure magic.

Why is this so magical you may wonder? We as parents are so caught up in the moment, we are rarely are able to take a step back and wonder at the marvels we created. But our parents are able to do this, they have the time the patience and most of all the experience to watch and enjoy. This might be the key to why raising kids around grandparents is crucial. Keeping them involved and close is essential. I see so much positive in my kids around my parents, I take more pride in my kids when I see them around my parents. There is of course one down side to this in my case especially, my mother cannot hide her joy seeing me lose my cool around my kids, she secretly chuckles to herself thinking of the hard times I gave her when I was their age. But all that is in good humor.

I know now why I am here in China so close to home in India. A year ago I might not have believed the theory that everything that happens has a solid reason behind it. I have had days and days of pondering, brooding and sulking about being away from home in Dallas and stuck here in China. I have had depressing days about my stay at home status but slowly and surely I have come to one conclusion. I am here because it is close to where my parents are, my kids have spent quality time with their grandparents and their great-grandmother (who is still creating her magic at almost 90) l. Together they are creating their own magic much like I did with my grandmother.

So this one goes out to all those grandparents and their magic. Keep doing what you do because it works.

 

Renu Venkataraman: 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.