These thoughts have been gathering in my mind for the past month or so and trying to put those in a cohesive manner was a bit more challenging than I had anticipated. They have ranged from the rights and wrongs of raising kids in my house to the precarious state of affairs worldwide. Hence the title of this piece!
The saying goes : ‘It takes a village to raise a child’. With a shared value of wisdom and experiences grandparents, aunts and uncles, the neighbors all join in, in their own way and try to make sense of the art and science of raising a child. Clueless parents are only happy with the help, I am assuming. Or may be this was a thing of the past.
Raising kids in a culture that is quite different from the one my husband and I grew up in is a challenge to say the least. Well, it is always a challenge for any parent to raise a kid and is probably more so in today’s world where, at times, humanity seems to be up for discussion. To that when you add stark cultural disparities, you can find questioning yourself more, with added layers of complexity.
There’s no secret formula, a fool proof plan to raising kids and neither are there 20 easy steps. And I know that. All parents know that. So do you wonder, like I often do, why are there so many books which aim to guide parents navigate the challenges of raising ‘good’ kids. That ‘good’ encompasses a great many number of attributes that basically cover everything from academics to athletics, daily drama to discipline and character to common sense (that seems to be on the decline more than ever before). In the recent past, I ended up, what can be only described as ‘panic buying’ , a few of these and have around three more on my Amazon ‘Save for Later’ list. I started reading and when I realized I was doing things differently, I panicked a bit and now the books are on the shelf waiting for me to calm down a bit. While I will probably be returning to those books, I am unsure of how practical their guidelines are going to be, for the simple fact that culture plays a huge role in upbringing and these books omit this crucial part. But I am also curious to find out. Maybe I will find books written by and for parents like us who are trying to raise first generation kids in their adopted countries.
Dreams for our children are limitless and pure…possibilities are endless. And I can’t help but wonder if that’s where it all starts- that mythical pool of endless possibility. Or probably the idea of that in our heads, reinforced by society that dictates the terms of success and the lack of it, more and more with every passing day. Let me explain and I might be wrong, as I am not a professional but I will take the risk! When my kid was about four and a half years old (he is five now) there were curious moms asking about the clubs he was attending. My answer of none was not the one they were expecting and while most were polite enough to not probe further, I was stumped when asked by some, “but why”? Why was a four and a half year old not taking piano lessons or taekwondo or soccer or art classes or one of the many other ‘endless possibilities”? I really did not know how to explain except for that I thought it was too early. For some time after that, my husband and I would often find ourselves engaging in in -depth discussions, if we were doing a disservice to our kid, by not enrolling him in these activities, who could shine if only we had started early; whether he was going to be falling behind his other Pre-K classmates; whether he would be able to catch up. And then it struck us…he was not even five! When did this become a thing- that a four year old was required to be in a certain number of activities that ‘would be’ instrumental in his development in life? I still have a hard time with the idea of extra curricular activities for toddlers and little boys and girls who should be able to run around and day dream and use the power of their imagination to play and basically, be little boys and girls.
I realize that parents often have to make choices that are in the best interest of the kid. And more often than not, such choices make kids sad! Curfew may be set at a time that is different from those of the other kids, some may be allowed to go out to movies with friends while in some families sleepovers may be frowned upon. I remember, growing up, not being allowed to go to movies, go out with friends in the evening without adult supervision. Sleepovers were always a big no no. And I resented my parents sometimes for these restrictions. There was this feeling of being deprived and it felt like a huge deal at that time. I realize that there are going to be similar things as my kids start growing older and I too, will be disliked, by them. How to deal with that ‘rejection’ is something I guess I will figure out when the time comes. Till then I will gladly indulge in as many squishy hugs and runs at the sound of every “Maa” , and snuggle with them and have tickle fights till our sides are aching from all the silliness and laughter. Along the way mistakes are bound to happen as we are all flawed. And what is perfection anyways? If we can hold each other, hear each other, respect and grow with each other, love each other and be there with and for each other, the voices of doubt, of dissent and of displeasure will probably fade out.
It has been an interesting few months to say the least and I say interesting because the good, the bad and the ugly side of the species known as ‘human‘ has been in full display for the whole world to see, to learn and unlearn and re learn from. The pain of losing loved ones, of not being able to say goodbyes, of living in fear, of not knowing what will stop this lethal virus, of losing jobs, of waiting for hours in line for food -to say a few -has resonated with people across continents. And then the whole world witnessed George Flyod gasping for breath and with that sweeping movements started uniting people across nations, with movements that are powerful and inspiring beyond words. The other day, on Instagram I saw this emotionally charged video of a little African American girl raising her hands up in the air as she sees a white policewoman get down from the patrol car and walk towards her. I felt my eyes fill up. The video is a beautiful example of the fear these little kids have probably internalized and will always live with. It is also a wonderful example of how this policewoman, who also breaks down as she sees the little girl’s hands, has a conversation with her and tries to assure her that not all hope is lost in this world. I cannot even begin to imagine what conversations that little girl’s parents and countless parents like hers have had with their children and how are we humans if we let our skin colors define us.
Raising kids in a culturally different environment is a challenge for sure. The focus is often on the dichotomy of the right and wrong, when it comes to adaptation of cultural practices. There is an identity confusion of sorts and the dilemma of trying to fit into a culture that is not inherently theirs and at the same time, celebrating and internalizing the cultural aspects of the one they are part of. And before I proceed further, I should say that I am talking about people of South Asian descent who are raising first or second generation kids here in America, though I doubt the choice of adopted country would make it any different. So, Diwali, Eid, Christmas are all celebrated as are Halloween and Poila Boishakh (the Bengali New Year) and kids learn to play baseball and take ‘tabla’ classes. They are in acapella groups in their schools, belting out American classics while in the evening they take Bharatnaytam classes. These are wonderful examples of how we are all part of this big wide culture known as humanity and all of these individual bits, be it playing in a jazz band or taking tabla lessons, are celebrations of our uniqueness as well as similarities. But I also can’t help but wonder if this can be confusing for the child. I don’t know. And then comes the issue of race. Of skin color. Of being brown. As brown parents of brown children, I too need to have a discussion about race with my 5 year old soon and then with the younger one when she is a little older. I am terrified, if I am being honest. To raise kids who are not only mindful of different cultures and race, are aware of history that has been unkind (to put it as mildly as possible), to be able to know when to stand up and what to stand up for seems daunting and something I am scared of being not able to do correctly. I am scared to burst their bubble of ‘we are all friends’ and though we are different but we are the same…because clearly that seems to be just a bubble. But that bubble needs to be burst and that needs to happen sooner than later. I don’t want to tell my kids yet that they may be subject to occasional bursts of ‘not nice’ behavior and how should they react. We have been subjects of such behavior a few times with things like ‘you should go back to the country you came from’, ‘ you come and ruin our country’ and a few other choice sentences of hatred. We have had police called on us in the parking lot of a Target for an offense that was the person’s who had called the Police (who, thankfully, knew the right from wrong). And those have left us shaken and saddened. But we have also had wonderful people who we are friends with and who have welcomed us with open hearts. And that’s the world the little kids know but the fact that the reality also has elements of the ‘not nice’ is something they would have to be made aware of soon. I hope with all my heart that they are able to navigate the ups and downs of growing up, when the time comes.
Meanwhile, my plans of enrolling my son in swimming and soccer classes will have to be on hold for another year! He and his friends and the school going kids all over the world have been out of their little world for months now. While there are plans in progress of in-person instruction here from the new academic year starting in Fall, I am unsure of whether I will be sending him to Kindergarten. As are many others. To expect 5 year olds to wear masks and maintain social distancing, while navigating the big scary new school and trying to hold back tears at being away from home after a long time, is not realistic. So, while we have been ‘training’ and wearing face masks when we are out and trying to not touch our faces and practicing social distancing, I guess we also have to make plans for homeschooling for this year and I am absolutely unsure of how that might unfold.
Fields remain empty as of now and the usually busy walking trails are either empty or sparsely populated. Greetings have become mere nods and there is nowhere to go. My hometown of Kolkata has never seemed so far away as it has in the past few months. That home and hope glimmer like a distant mirage. The thought of being able to hug my parents seems like an illusion, as the unknown looms large in thoughts. Till the time we can hug each other again, I continue with my video calls and they soak up the joy the sight of their grand kids bring them. But the world is in the cusp of something bigger and brighter is what I am choosing to believe in, when humanity will not be up for discussion and we will be more informed; our actions will be less selfish and guided more by empathy; where choosing to wear a face mask will not be spun around as making a political statement; where common sense will be more common. Till then, stay safe you wonderful people.
As always, thanks for stopping by.