My paternal grandfather passed away on the day of Diwali. I had never known him. He passed away long before my parents got married. Every time I think of him, I feel a soft gentle wave of love from his heart and a hidden smile on his lips. I have heard from a few relatives that he was a short-tempered person, but nevertheless a gentle one if you know what I mean. My paternal grandmother’s sister (who passed away just a few years ago, and she is another beautiful soul about whom I shall write another day) used to talk a lot about him, and all the wonderful stories I have heard about him are through her, and a few of course from my own father too.
However, I could never mourn my grandfather. Because I never knew him.
I only knew of him in a celebratory sort of way or as a legend, the way my paternal grandmother’s sister spoke about him. As a child, I did not understand why my (joint and extended) family never celebrated Diwali when all my friends did. My brother was more vocal about it. He asked questions and finally, our father saw through our confusion, and also our need to feel belonged to the community we lived in. My father also is a very soft, gentle, and compassionate person who puts the other person’s needs in front of his. He probably did not want to disappoint the family he was born into by disturbing their day of mourning. But now with two extroverted and high-spirited children, he did not want to disappoint them either.
So finally we started celebrating Diwali.
We burst crackers, hung out with friends, shopped till we dropped dead tired, decorated the house. Having done everything people did on days leading to, and on Diwali day, we felt better about the whole thing initially. We are not a religious family. In India, Diwali is all about a spirit. It is not about religion – well though of course it is a festival of lights, and signifies good over evil, the day the Lord won over the demons, and so on.
But Diwali is more about the spirit of community, celebration, unity, love, and light.
It is like Christmas in India – that is, you just celebrate it because it feels good, it feels happy and it is in the air.
A lot of times, on Diwali we used to travel to Chennai, and spend time with our extended Heartfulness community in the Heartfulness center because that was also so much fun for us as children. As we grew up, we did that more often, and that was more joyous, as we had a nice reunion with a lot of family and friends in Chennai in the Heartfulness center, where we used to spend a couple of days during and after Diwali.
After I got married, the idea of Diwali changed.
My husband’s family believed in celebrating Diwali more traditionally, and I felt I should honor that, to the best of my capacity. I did what I could in my wisdom and knowledge at that time. Earlier, our father went out of the way to make us feel happy, cherished, and give us a sense of belonging. I remembered our father making sure everyone felt the spirit of love, light, and kindness. And well, I felt inspired to emulate that, in my current small capacity, at that time.
This year and the past one have been tough for all of us including me. Today, our son, his friends, and our community refuse to burst crackers, and I appreciate that so much. He says he has taken the ‘green pledge’ in his school and refuses to pollute the atmosphere with the fumes from the crackers. I think I honor this more than anything else. Diwali is yet another day in his life. My son’s friends just hang out and play Minecraft or football. Or they just spend those extra hours of the holiday in their Lit-club or Debate-club. Or sometimes, just switch on the AC, close the door of the room, and make some music album covers. And what do we do as a couple? It is a day of rest and respite, a day for catching up with each other.
The spirit of Diwali stays on, in spite of things that have changed so much in our respective lives.
The spirit of Diwali, is about leading us from ignorance to knowledge, from darkness to light, from death to immortality. The Sanskrit verse which signifies this truth is from the Upanishads, one of the ancient texts of India. Once, I had this most inspiring moment of feeling belonged to this extraordinary heritage and rich culture. That was when I heard the lyrics of the background score from the movie Matrix. Those lyrics which signify the spirit of Diwali made me feel part of this ancient wisdom and evolutionary path too.
So, whatever you do on this Diwali day, enjoy the light in your heart, the love in the air, and peace in the universe.
And of course, listen to the background score from the movie Matrix!
Purnima Ramakrishnan is an UNCA award winning journalist and the recipient of the fellowship in Journalism by International Reporting Project, John Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies. Her International reports from Brazil are found here .
She is also the recipient of the BlogHer '13 International Activist Scholarship Award .
She is a Senior Editor at World Moms Blog who writes passionately about social and other causes in India. Her parental journey is documented both here at World Moms Blog and also at her personal Blog, The Alchemist's Blog. She can be reached through this page .
She also contributes to Huffington Post .
Purnima was once a tech-savvy gal who lived in the corporate world of sleek vehicles and their electronics. She has a Master's degree in Electronics Engineering, but after working for 6 years as a Design Engineer, she decided to quit it all to become a Stay-At-Home-Mom to be with her son!
This smart mom was born and raised in India, and she has moved to live in coastal India with her husband, who is a physician, and her son who is in primary grade school.
She is a practitioner and trainer of Heartfulness Meditation.
In India, when a girl is born, her parents start saving up. Buying gold, opening fixed deposit accounts, you name it. You’ll now be thinking, “That’s wonderful! Such loving parents❤“. Well, think again.
Here’s a clue – this is NOTher college fund.
They are saving for her (eventual) marriage!
Amusing, right? Why would parents worry about a wedding, when a baby is just born? Shouldn’t they be thinking along the lines of, “Who will wake up for the 3am feed?“, ” What are we going to name her?“, “Look at her tiny nose and fingers and toes!“, “Oh, she is sooo cute!” 😃. Sure these thoughts are in their minds. Along with gems like, “OMG! How do we pay for her wedding?” and “I must guard her like a hawk so she doesn’t ‘besmirch’ the family name“. Because, in India, a family’s reputation rests solely on the frail shoulders of the little baby girl!! 🙄
A vast majority of the Indian subcontinent still prefer a son. I know some folks whose faces fell, right after hearing they had a healthy baby girl. And some others, who preferred not to marry from a family consisting entirely of daughters – because – the women may not be capable of producing a male child! Imagine such thoughts, in this day and age!
A girl is a responsibility to the Indian family. Even if her parents don’t see it that way, the relatives will ensure that her parents eventually fall into this line of thinking. She is on ‘loan’ to them, and her ‘real home’ is supposedly with her husband (and in-laws). Her parents’ duty is simply to ensure she is brought up a well-mannered woman, who doesn’t bring a ‘bad name’ to the family.
From the time she can walk and talk, she hears – “Sit properly!” , “Cross your legs when seated!“, “Stop playing in the sun, no one likes a girl with dark skin“. If she fools around too much, then it is, “You are a girl! Behave like one“. I am curious – is there an instruction manual to explain life rules that apply to females of Indian descent? 🤔
According to local wisdom, an educated girl may become too ‘difficult to handle‘ after marriage 🤦. Subscribers to this archaic theory believe that, once educated, a woman may begin to think for herself and not silently accept everything dumped on her. When educated, it is often so she can secure a good match (read ‘husband’), rather than for her benefit or so she can support herself in life.
At home, she is ‘privileged‘ to learn the secrets of cooking and cleaning along with her mother. Her brother is frequently given a free-pass by parents citing, “Oh, he has lots to study“. Obviously a boy’s education is more important than a girl’s, and he doesn’t need to spend time learning life skills! And this ideology imparted to him in childhood towards girls, carries on for the rest of his life.
After working so hard for an education, does she get to pursue a job? Not necessarily. She may have a great job before marrying. After marriage, her holding a ‘job’ may be deemed unsuitable to her husband’s family circumstances. So much so that in India, this is a question of paramount importance to ask the groom’s family when they come to ‘see’ her as part of the bride-seeing ceremony. A strange family decides whether a woman gets to go to work while her own family watches in silence, and tells her “Just adjust my dear. It’s for your good future”.
I know women who were brilliant at their jobs, and then settled down to a life of domestic duties after marriage. Why? Because their husbands didn’t want a wife who went out to work. I know girls who were stopped from learning to dance – all in the name of “What will others’ think?“. Choosing to stop doing something that brings them joy, or to stop working and supporting themselves as they no longer felt fulfilled by it, is something the woman should be able to decide. But having to cave in to pressure from others, and then being made to feel like it was their own choice and for the good of the family – this is how many women are put under invisible shackles by society.
What of women who decide they want to choose their own partner? God forbid! Either cast out, labelled black sheep of the family, or both – she is forever a warning to future generations.
Alright. Now the Indian daughter is (presumably) enjoying wedded bliss. What’s next?
A month into marriage, well-intentioned relatives descend like locusts and ask that dreaded question – “Vishesham vallathum undo?“. Apologies for reverting to my mother-tongue, for there is no other phrase that sounds perfectly innocuous and yet deadly to the new bride! The literal translation is “Is there any news?”. The so-called ‘news’ everyone is awaiting is that of her pregnancy. Regardless of the answer, there is nothing for them to do; but they will persist in asking the question every time they meet the girl or her parents. Strangely enough, they don’t usually ask this to her husband. Hmm….must be because human pregnancies are achieved via parthenogenesis*🤨
Continuing the family line also seems to be the sole responsibility of a woman. Women are often blamed for failing to give birth to the all-so-desired male ‘heir’. This must be why women are referred to as ‘goddesses’ by the Indian media, since a woman can apparently choose the sex of her unborn child. Many families have persisted in producing progeny till the desired gender (i.e. male) could be achieved, regardless of how many times the woman had to give birth to attain this state.
And thus the vicious cycle begins anew.
Sometimes, the sole purpose of an Indian woman appears to be: be born, stay home, be good and obedient; marry; stay at her ‘real home’ and be good and obedient; and bear sons.
I’ve heard it on a movie once – “Akeli ladki khuli tijori ki tarah hoti hai” – meaning that a girl by herself is like an open safe. She is (supposedly) game for anyone. She must virtually fear for her life if she goes out after dark. In spite of being a country that prides itself on its cultural richness, many men haven’t imbibed that ‘culture’. To them, culture is a woman who stays home after night, has no boyfriends and marries at the right age to someone chosen by their family. If ever found alone or with a member of the opposite sex (maybe she is hurrying home after a day of classes or work, or after buying groceries, or even after a movie with friends) at night, then she is the antithesis of their ‘culture’ who must be punished and ostracised.
What I’ve described here is merely a tip of many icebergs faced by women in India everyday. There are visible and invisible restrictions imposed on them – through family, society, religion, employers, legislation, and even by self.
Is there an escape? Will anything ever change?
Maybe. If parents mold sons into men that respect women, and do not objectify them.
Maybe. If women of the country stop accepting the current state of affairs, and try to change the system by being the change.
Maybe. If men were to challenge the patriarchy that diminishes a woman’s rights, and support them more.
Maybe. If society stops accepting men/boy with the adage “Boys will be boys”, and instead hold them accountable for their actions.
It will take the concerted effort of several generations and education, before women can even hope to be freed from several of these confinements. But most of all, I think, women must begin standing up for themselves and other women to break off the chains. Unless we want something for ourselves, no one else will want it for us.
Be the light for others to follow.
*parthenogenesis: human conception without fertilisation by man
Would you raise your child differently from the culture you grew up in because of his/her gender?
This is an original post for World Moms Network by World Mom Veena Davis of Singapore.
Veena has experienced living in different climes of Asia - born and brought up in the hot Middle East, and a native of India from the state known as God’s Own Country, she is currently based in the tropical city-state of Singapore. ⠀ ⠀ ⠀ ⠀ ⠀ ⠀ ⠀ ⠀ ⠀ ⠀ ⠀ ⠀ ⠀ ⠀ ⠀ ⠀ ⠀ ⠀ ⠀ ⠀ Several years ago, she came across World Moms Network (then World Moms Blog) soon after its launch, and was thrilled to become a contributor. She has a 11-year old son and a quadragenarian husband (although their ages might be inversed to see how they are with each other sometimes). ⠀ ⠀ ⠀ ⠀ ⠀ ⠀ ⠀ ⠀ ⠀ ⠀ ⠀ ⠀ ⠀ ⠀ ⠀ ⠀ ⠀ ⠀ ⠀ ⠀ ⠀ ⠀ ⠀ ⠀ ⠀ ⠀ ⠀ ⠀ ⠀ ⠀ ⠀ ⠀ ⠀ ⠀ ⠀ On a professional front, she works in the financial sector - just till she earns enough to commit to her dream job of full-time bibliophile. ⠀ ⠀ ⠀ ⠀ ⠀ ⠀ ⠀ ⠀ ⠀ ⠀ ⠀ ⠀ ⠀ ⠀ ⠀ ⠀ ⠀ ⠀ ⠀ ⠀ ⠀ ⠀ ⠀ You can also find Veena at her personal blog, Merry Musing. ⠀
Sure, we all feel it now and again. But recently, I seem to encounter this word more than usual. It pops up on my Instagram feed and lingers in the air from overheard conversations at work. A few weeks ago, Singapore was even cited in an article as being the most fatigued nation in the world. This article, by a UK bedding manufacturer, based this by calculating working hours, time spent in front of a screen and sleeping hours; it concluded that Singaporeans have the highest levels of fatigue. Now, while my competitive, cosmopolitan city loves coming in at number one, this is a ranking that we should be concerned about. Do we really not get enough rest? And do we even realise it?
These days however, the fatigue I hear about and which is more detrimental, extends far beyond work hours and screen time. It’s an exhaustion that has recently set in, an exhaustion brought about by battling the Covid pandemic, an exhaustion that we cannot so easily remedy with some extra rest or time off from work.
As I thought about the kind of fatigue that I experience (because it’s not a matter of ‘if’ but ‘how much’), I asked some friends if they felt this way and the majority of them answered with an overwhelming ‘YES!’ The most common factor was the inability to travel. We probably took spontaneity for granted, underestimated the freedom to travel, and never truly appreciated how some time spent abroad was like a magical reset button. The friends who find the county’s closed borders much harder to bear are my expat friends who have not been able to return to their home countries in close to two years as well as those with families living abroad.
Having been an expat, I truly empathise with these friends as the trips back home are necessary to re-establish familiarity and comfort, to reconnect with your loved ones or just to be around for important life events. I appreciate that this is an essential part of an expat’s life. So it’s understandable when my expat friends commented that they were tired of waiting for big changes. There have been many smaller targets in Singapore, for example, of breaking transmission chains, controlling the cases in the foreign workers’ dormitories, or achieving a national 80% vaccination rate. But for many expat families, these provide little concrete relief or hope that they will get to go home for a visit anytime soon, and I can sympathise with their tired frustrations and impatience.
The exhaustion could also stem from an imbalance of work and home time. Many people here have switched to a default work-from-home arrangement. While working from one’s laptop at home, it seems even harder to tear ourselves away from our work. The overlap of spaces creates an inability to properly draw a line and cease working. Just yesterday, I had to stay home and conduct lessons remotely from my dining room table. Between lessons, marking and the preparation of examination revision material, I sat in my dining room for the most part of twelve hours.
On usual days, I try not to bring any work home when I leave the school. I feel like the extra hours I put in may have resulted from an overcompensation on my part. Since I was not in the classroom and teaching the students face-to-face, I felt like I had to make up for it by preparing extra notes. This overcompensation has been obvious among my other colleagues after each lockdown or period of home-based learning. While we comfort our own students and try to ensure that they are coping well with the changes of this pandemic, we attempt to make up for precious lost curriculum time and interaction with students, forgetting that in the end, we’re overloading ourselves and the kids. And as I say this, I will guiltily and sadly admit that in doing this over the past year and a half, I have had much less time, energy and patience for my own child.
Emotionally, I think many people are exhausted too. We’re all tired out from trying to be positive all the time and hoping that things will turn around quickly. As part of a bigger community, people living in Singapore have rallied together to abide by restrictions and measures, minimised social interactions and worn our masks faithfully. It’s amazing how we’ve been plodding on in the hope that life can soon return to normal. But with recent spikes in cases in May and with another surge in cases happening at the moment, our synchronised steps are getting more and more weary, and it is of no wonder that we are fatigued.
Do our kids feel this too? My 8-year-old daughter says she misses everything pre-Covid – fun celebrations in school like lion dances during Chinese New Year celebrations, running around with her classmates in the playground during recess, and most of all, she’s really sad that she hasn’t been able to visit her cousins and extended family in Australia for such a long time. Even though kids might not be able to fully process these changes and communicate this like we are able to, I’m sure they too feel these losses in their little lives. Kids and adults alike are facing both immediate and long-reaching effects of this unprecedented global issue.
No matter how well we are coping with the pandemic, there is no doubt that we are fatigued. Do you feel it? Maybe one way we can cope with this, is to share something that enables you to tend to your health, your mind and your heart. For me, yes I acknowledge that I am feeling burnt out, and I shall go text my sister in Melbourne and commiserate with her.
This is an original post by Karen Grosse from Singapore.
Karen is a Singaporean with an 8 year-old daughter who’s a little fire-cracker version of herself. She’s spent the last 15 years in her various roles as trailing spouse, home-maker and educator. Having experienced 5 international moves alternating between postings and her home country of Singapore, Karen considers herself a lover of diverse foods and culture, and reckons she qualifies as a semi-professional packer. She is deeply interested in intercultural and third-culture issues, and has grown immensely from her interactions with other World Mums.
Who are the World Moms behind the posts? This is the first of many mini interviews with our World Moms contributors that we will be posting! We want, you, our readers to have a window into the life of our global writers! 🙂 First up is a longtime writer for our site, Karyn Wills of New Zealand. Let’s see what she has to say!
World Moms Network (WMN): Hi, Karyn! First, tell us about where we can find you on the globe!
KARYN: I currently live in Aotearoa, New Zealand. Previously, I lived in London, England for four years in the 90s, before Covid.
WMN: What language(s) do you speak?
WMN: How many children do you have and what are their ages?
KARYN: I have three sons: a 19-year old, a 16-year old, and a nearly 12-year old.
WMN: How did you first connect with World Moms Network?
KARYN: I messaged Jen Burden to see if she wanted a contributor from down under!
WMN: Nice move! Jennifer Burden is our founder. 🙂 So, how long have you been a part of World Moms Network?
KARYN: Very close to the beginning of the original site. (World Moms Network originally launched as World Moms Blog in November 2009!)
WMN: How has your life changed since you joined World Moms Network?
KARYN: I’m now a solo mother, have been for six and a half years. I have my younger children 12 out of 14 days ,and my eldest full-time. But he’s likely to move out in the next six months or so. I work as a SENCo, basically the safety net for everyone at our local Rudolf Steiner (Waldorf) school. I live in town, not on the land. It’s practical, but I miss the bird song, especially in the morning when I used to have an absolute dawn chorus.
WMN: Karyn, that’s a lot of growing and changes! Thank you for finding the time to stick with us through it all. So, how do you spend your daily life in New Zealand? (work, life, etc.)
KARYN: I’m up at 5am to steal some quiet time for myself, if urgent emails and texts aren’t already coming in. We’re all out the door for school/work at 7:45am! Sometimes there are after-school hours meetings and/or after-school swimming for my youngest. I try to squeeze in some study time as I’m starting Hakomi Therapy training in August 2021 and then will begin talk-therapy training. I’m aiming to be a psychotherapist in six years time. The older boys and I share cooking & night time dishes, a few chores and then bed.
WMN: What are the top 5 places on your travel wish list?
KARYN: Back to Turkey and Europe; some of the Pacific Islands.
WMN: Sounds great to us! What is your best motherhood advice?
KARYN: Become trauma-informed and address your own stuff as soon as you can; if possible before you have your own children!
WMN: Wow. That is a great one! Tell us next, how did you get through quarantine/lockdown (2020/21)?
KARYN: We had a very strong (could only leave home for food, medicine, or for outdoor exercise within a close local area – nothing else, no excuses) but short (7 weeks) lockdown from the end of March, 2020 in New Zealand. We have been living normally, aside from overseas travel and tourists, since May 2020. I often think there are so many different experiences of lockdown that we often talk past each other because we’re using different reference points.
I baked a lot of bread and made pasta, and put on 8kg! I helped the kids to stay sane and tried to get some work done. My youngest and I walked every day to a nearby river, while the older two had full control of their schedules as long as they stayed polite, did their chores and finished all their studies, which they did.
WMN: Thank you for sharing your pandemic experience so far with us! It’s been so interesting to hear how all of the World Moms have experiences that are both, different and very similar, from around the world! Ok, next we have to ask, because WMN is always on social media, do you have a favorite social media platform, if any?
KARYN: Facebook got me through the last few years of my marriage and the first few years of separation. There, I also made a lot of overseas contacts who I like to keep up with as much as possible. I like Twitter for the politics.
WMN: Ok, here’s another question we’d like to know…what brings you joy?
KARYN: The usual things, I’m guessing: my kids, quiet time, my friends, dancing.
WMN: And finally, as you know, Karyn, World Moms Network contributors often align to support the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). So, we must ask, what SDG are you most passionate about?
KARYN:#3, Good Health and Well-Being. If we got this sorted, everything else would fall into place. Suggest everyone read Resmaa Menakem’s book ‘My Grandmother’s Hands’. Most of humanity carries a history of trauma in one way or another, and if we addressed this properly the world would be able to easily implement all the other goals. I also find it ridiculous that we have more than enough food but people are starving. I’m loving all the food-rescue programmes that are springing up around Aotearoa New Zealand.
WMN:And there you have it, folks! Karyn’s favorite SDG is #3, Good Health and Well-Being. We love it!! Karyn, thank you for taking the time so our network can get to know you better! 🙂
This has been an original post to World Moms Network of our interview with Karyn Wills who writes for the site from New Zealand. We hope you enjoyed getting to know more about a mom from down under! If you have any questions or comments for her, please comment below!
Tes Silverman was born in Manila, Philippines and has been a New Yorker for over 30 years. Moving from the Philippines to New York opened the doors to the possibility of a life of writing and travel. Before starting a family, she traveled to Iceland, Portugal, Belgium, and France, all the while writing about the people she met through her adventures. After starting a family, she became a freelance writer for publications such as Newsday’s Parents & Children and various local newspapers. Fifteen years ago, she created her blog, The Pinay Perspective. PinayPerspective.com is designed to provide women of all ages and nationalities the space to discuss the similarities and differences on how we view life and the world around us. As a result of her blog, she has written for BlogHer.com and has been invited to attend and blog about the Social Good Summit and Mom+Social Good. In addition, she is a World Voice Editor for World Moms Network and was Managing Editor for a local grass roots activism group, ATLI(Action Together Long Island). Currently residing in Virginia Beach, VA with her husband, fourteen year-old Morkie and a three year old Lab Mix, she continues to write stories of women and children who make an impact in their communities and provide them a place to vocalize their passions.
“Why aren’t babies born with their own unique manuals?!” used to be my constant refrain during the growing-up years of Abhishek, my science-loving, planet-conscious geeky son. As infancy, toddlerhood, childhood and the pre-teens of this bursting-with-energy boy, gave way to the tumultuous teenage years, I kept marvelling at the continual learning involved in being a parent – no sooner did I master a technique, Abhishek’s next stage of growth arrived!
Parenting over long distances, when Abhi left for his four years of undergraduate engineering studies for another city, became even more challenging – the added dimensions of missing one’s child, maternal anxiety, and little ‘gaps’ in communication, made parenting seem suddenly more complex. And, as if these were not tough enough, the pandemic has added an extra dimension of complication to the simplest of interactions and decisions.
“Have things really changed greatly?” I found myself wondering recently, after finishing a 15-minute video call with my son, who is currently studying for his Masters’ degree in the Netherlands. I live in Mumbai, India. Google helpfully informs me that the distance between his city and mine is 4276 miles or 6882 kilometres. My head may not quite grasp those numbers, but my heart recognizes the challenge of every little bit of millimetre. As it remembers every day since August 24, 2020, when, mask and gloves in place, this lanky boy-man, weighed down with heavy suitcases, waved goodbye to his father and me at Mumbai airport, to leave for the next phase of his learning.
This, then, is a little “slice of life” glimpse of my parenting story, about the changing equations of long-distance parenting in the pandemic…
Me to Abhi (WhatsApp): Abhi dear, we need to discuss the schedule for payment of your fees. What’s a good time to talk for 15 minutes? I can work with either 7 pm IST or 9 pm IST. Alternatively, let me know your preferred time-slots.
Abhi: *silence for 2 days*
Me: Abhi, hope all is well. I tried reaching you but didn’t get through.
Abhi: *silence for another 3 days*
Me: (Wondering what to do) Abhi, we are beginning to get worried. Please message or call back.
Abhi: (out of nowhere, on Whatsapp) I am fine, don’t worry. The phone was on silent for long durations / I was resting when you had called / I was out when you had called / There was a group meeting when you had called…*insert sheepish and semi-apologetic emoji*
Me: (a bit annoyed – now on a call) You still need to send a message you’re doing OK. After all, there is a pandemic going on. Are you eating and exercising properly? Are you using a face-mask in crowded places in public?
Abhi: Relax Ma, I am almost 23, not 3!
Me: Can we switch to a video call? Haven’t seen you for such a long while! (Mothers, please note – your child may baulk at any expression of sentimentality. Mine does. Any statement of “I am missing you, and it’s been a year since we met” is met with a truly bewildered response of “But I am fine and we are regularly interacting on the phone and over WhatsApp!”)
Abhi: (reluctantly) O.K. if you insist
Me: (after talking for 5 minutes, suspiciously) Abhi, why aren’t you moving the phone to a more comfortable position? Why do I only see a close-up of your face?
Abhi: (grinning, tilts the phone around – the room is in happy chaos and he’s only partially clothed) I didn’t want to scare you!
Me: Abhiiii! Are you 23 or 3 years of age?! Haven’t I succeeded in teaching you anything?! (In high-context cultures like India, parents, particularly moms, are held accountable by society for their children’s quirks, tastes and anything the child does that might be even a little different from the norm. Yes, I know – it’s peculiar.)
Abhi: (laughing) I am 3, I am 3! Who said I was 23?
Me: On a more serious note, won’t it help you to organise your things? And maybe you could wear a vest or a light T-shirt even though it is hot…
Abhi: (sighing) Ma, I need my own space. Don’t worry, I’ll manage. Was there anything else you wanted to talk about?
(Undeniably strong cue for me to drop my current line of conversation – I quickly switch tacks.)
Me: No worries. How have you been enjoying your Teaching Assistant work? Are you learning interesting things?
Abhi: (in a more interested tone of voice) Yes! It’s good and I am reading up on sustainability, in order to answer the questions of other students in the online teaching forum…
As Abhi continued this conversation, I found myself quickly mentally switching from the “classical mother” role to the “friendly parent / peers exchanging updates / teacher learning from a ‘student’” mode. I’ve realised that the classical motherhood tropes that my generation grew up with in India (“Did you eat your food?” “Why are looking so thin?” “Are you studying hard and scoring good grades?”) are almost completely redundant. Our children would rather discuss an interesting video they saw, a meme they chuckled over (Abhi and I regularly swap laugh-out-loud memes on Instagram), or why they think we need to conserve our resources on a war footing. Pandemic or not, daily reminders for careful living will boomerang. And yes, we cannot presume to claim their time, only on account of being their parent – we approach them for a slice of their day with the same courtesy we have for a non-familial, professional interaction – something that amazes the grandparents of our family!
Generation-Z shrugs off the use of labels of age and hierarchy, is unapologetically individualistic, unflinching in its gaze towards the truth of the planet in which we live, and more than willing to take a collaborative stance towards solutions. But provided the older generations are willing to speak in a peer-to-peer voice. With ample space for individual quirks and choices, and mutual respect for all, irrespective of the presence or absence of maternal or filial ties.
I chuckled when my ruminations made me realise there’s just one alphabet differentiating “mother” from “smother”! So now, I simply send a “Are you healthy and happy?” message, whenever there is silence for a while. And he replies with a “Yes” and a smiley emoji. And we both try not to think about when we will meet in person.
Perhaps, the secret to successful parenting over long distances, especially in this global pandemic, is to recognize our shared as well as distinct journeys, laugh over what we don’t control, build our tomorrows on hope, and allow sweet spaces to be interwoven through our conversations and hence, our lives. We live in trust, faith and hope and the acknowledgement of a shared vulnerability. And yes, sometimes, the far-away child will be “3” and sometimes “23” 😊
This was an original post for World Mom by contributor, Piya Mukherjee(India). Photo credit to the Author.
What has your parenting experience been during the pandemic?
My 16-year-old son left for a summer study session this morning, only to message me from the train station thirty minutes later. Oops, it had been cancelled. Now a long day in the oppressing heat and humid hell of Japanese summer stretches long and lazily before us. It is not what we were expecting.
But this has been a long season of not-what-we-were-expecting. Other countries seem to have the pandemic under control. Other countries return to life as normal, but not here in Japan. Life never shut down or locked down to the extreme of other places, but we live long, drawn-out half-lives under continuous states-of-emergency while the Olympics flash on TV. It is not what we were expecting.
We didn’t expect to wake up one day to find school cancelled, and for it to stay that way for months. We didn’t expect to learn the ins and outs of indoor ventilation or the effectiveness of different kinds of masks. We didn’t expect to be separated from our friends and loved ones for so many long, long months while simultaneously being shut-in with our nuclear families while trying to work and study from home.
For me, that became a stream that burst through the cracks of my marriage until the boat was no longer seaworthy. I’d always been what I call a “solitary mom,” since my husband left all of things kids and household to me. Now the kids and the household and the mom are in another building, and all things husband are left to him. It’s not what we were expecting. I wasn’t expecting to start graduate school; that was a dream I’d given up on, but when programs that required in-person segments changed their policies I saw my chance. I’m one term in. So far, I’m doing better than I was expecting.
I didn’t expect that so many old friends and acquaintances would have such different opinions on something as simple as a mask. We’ve worn them in Asia from before. It isn’t new. It also isn’t hard. These old friends and acquaintances are not the people I was expecting them to be.
I never expected to be relieved to the point of tears when my children were able to get an appointment for a vaccination. In this country, very few children have had that chance yet. I am still nervous and worried that something will go wrong with the supply or the appointment system, and they won’t be able to get their second shots. In efficient Japan, this distrust is also not something one would expect.
The anger is new, too: anger at people’s selfishness and silliness that puts other people in danger, anger at the government for not being more decisive, anger at myself for being powerless. It is new but not really unexpected. The unfairness of the world has always made me angry.
Some days I feel hopeless. I want to see my sister again; I want to meet my niece. I want to hug my friends and go for coffee on a cool autumn evening. I want to feel the breeze on my cheeks uncovered by a mask. I want to wear lipstick. I see pictures of friends and families from countries where these things are now possible, and the deepness of the envy I feel is unexpected and takes my breath away.
Beyond all of this, though, I have discovered that I am so much stronger than I expected. I have held the disappointments and the sadness and the loneliness of two little people along with my own, all of this time. But they have so much more resilience than I expected. We are all so much stronger than we were told. We exceed all expectations.
This is an original post for World Moms Network by Melanie Oda.
If you ask Melanie Oda where she is from, she will answer "Georgia." (Unless you ask her in Japanese. Then she will say "America.") It sounds nice, and it's a one-word answer, which is what most people expect. The truth is more complex. She moved around several small towns in the south growing up. Such is life when your father is a Southern Baptist preacher of the hellfire and brimstone variety.
She came to Japan in 2000 as an assistant language teacher, and has never managed to leave. She currently resides in Yokohama, on the outskirts of Tokyo (but please don't tell anyone she described it that way! Citizens of Yokohama have a lot of pride). No one is more surprised to find her here, married to a Japanese man and with two bilingual children (aged four and seven), than herself. And possibly her mother.
You can read more about her misadventures in Asia on her blog, HamakkoMommy.