of gifts and feeling small

LadybugShe moves slowly at the sink. It’s Monday and there’s two days worth of dishes to wash by hand. She rubs her head, but it’s not the dishes that bother her.

We spent the weekend thinking and praying about what we needed to do next. What sort of responsibility were we willing to bear for our house-helper’s son’s education? We went back and forth about how financially it didn’t make sense to do it; but in our hearts it didn’t feel right not to.

Monday came and we had made a decision. We wanted to help her son go to the same school our kids did. For the next few years we would pay tuition, books and bus fees for him. It’s what felt right, would be easy to get him in since we were already paying for three and we both agreed.

When she arrived that morning we told her the news. She seemed happy, but not overly so. I assumed it was simply a matter of personality. But later, when I had a friend over who speaks Hindi, she had some questions that needed translating. Things she wanted clarity, with no chance for miscommunication.

Her head had started aching badly. Stress. Tension, which is her typical word of choice when she’s feeling overwhelmed. She appreciated the gift, but after three years, then what? Where would her son go then?

We talked back and forth. Our thought was not to leave her completely on her own at the end of the time, but I wanted her to feel some responsibility for this as well. In my mind three years was a solid foundation and enough time to save and make a plan. Even if it wasn’t this school, that should be enough time to sort out a new one. And it’s India, anything is possible.

But she felt overwhelmed and fear had started to creep in. The next day was no better. Her head still ached and all day long she was distracted, to the point I couldn’t focus either. She had talked to other people. Formed a new plan– one that involved me helping her to find a new school, a cheaper one that still met all of her hopes and expectations, but one she could afford if we were no longer in the picture.

I wasn’t as keen on this plan for a variety of reasons, but today we decided minutes before she arrived to take her around to a few schools. Buy applications, see the schools and talk with the administration about possibilities. Honestly, she had never seen anything except a government school and her eyes were opened at the opportunities available for her son. By the third school, our kids’ school, she started to feel overwhelmed again. She became so overwhelmed her headache returned and she felt nauseated so we took her home.

To say this was not the reaction I had hoped for is an understatement, but I’m trying to put myself in her shoes. Though I know that’s impossible. Still, it feels so strange hold out a gift that I’m not sure she wants or perhaps she simply doesn’t know what to do with it.

Maybe she feels very small right now, even if she can’t express it, as she enters a world that is as foreign to her as a slum would be to me.

Anyway, we sent her home and I’ve felt drained all day. Wanting to help and knowing how to is such a challenge here. So let’s see how the next few days will work out and if we can figure out a solution that makes everyone happy.

Let’s see.

day in the life

There is always reverse culture shock when you go from an extremes– like from India to the US or the US to India. Having just been back earlier this year I didn’t expect I would need “transition” time, but I as is the case often times, I was mistaken.

It has taken me a few weeks to get back into “American” mode and even by that I don’t exactly mean it in the fullest sense–I’m not sure that’s even possible anymore. When you live somewhere for a time, not just visit, whether you like it or not it becomes a part of you and it is not easy to jump back into being (nor should you) the person you were before you left. Clear as mud, right? Perhaps some over-pondering has gone on as well.

Anyway. It’s been several, um, say about nine years since I’ve been in Georgia and around family during this time of year. When I arrived the leaves were beautiful and the skies were blue. I have to say how lovely it was to soak in the climate and sleep without the nuisance of mosquitoes buzzing around my head. But the holidays bring out so much of the materialism in our culture, it’s hard for me to wrap my head around what a balanced approach looks like in this area. It’s been a little stressful honestly for reasons I can’t fully articulate, so I’m just going to leave it at that.

But the food has been another story. Yes, the food has been wonderful. That may sound quite shallow, but there is something about my mom making biscuits (American ones, not cookies), gravy and bacon for breakfast that makes my heart happy, if not also clogged by all the grease. I’m also very pregnant, which doesn’t help either. Cravings can now be fulfilled and believe me I’m making the most of my A) ability to drive myself places and B) the beauty that is the Publix Bakery. Cherry Danish anyone?

I’m also resting. Which is something I’m not always good at doing when we come into town for visits. But this seems like a time in life when I’m not overly concerned with taking care of anyone but me and this little baby boy who should be making an appearance any day now. My current goal is to make it through the next week after that… well, I have no idea. I’m learning to live with the tension that exists in life or my life at least. That’s probably not very American, but it seems to be human as none of us really know what tomorrow holds no matter how much we plan.

Life really is just moment-by-moment.

So in this moment, I’m finishing my lemonade, eating a peanut butter cup and enjoying a pumpkin spice-scented candle. Perhaps tomorrow I’ll do some more nesting-type things like cleaning bathrooms, sewing and vacuuming. But probably I’ll just eat a bag of Doritos, watch a video with my daughter and monitor the flight status of my boys who will be arriving here, finally, tomorrow night after five weeks of separation. I’m very much looking forward to the moment they arrive and the big hugs from our guys. Being together again will be good for us all.

birthday blues

We asked our sweet almost six-year-old what he wanted to do for his birthday– a party at McD’s, perhaps? But alas, he wanted his birthday at home with his friends. So we decided to switch things up a bit: we invited only school friends (to meet some new people) and we did the party on a week-night, which was his actual birthday. Sounds simple enough, right?

I made the invites, he chose the friends he wanted to come and all was well. Everyone had a week to RSVP. However, by the date given for the RSVP I began to get nervous. Only a small number had replied and so far it had only been the girls, which made up about half the list. Well, that day came and went so I asked Ben to ask some of his classmates. Why did I do this you ask? Does a five-year-old asking another five-year-old really know what his parents are planning? I should have known of course they would all say they were coming, but I chose  optimism instead of my usual go-to-move which is realism.

The day of the party came. I am currently approaching 34 weeks pregnant and very uncomfortable, but for him I persevered through an uncooperative sciatic nerve and worked all day cooking, game-making and trying to have everything perfectly vegetarian for our guests, something I would have never even considered in the US, but it’s a must here.

By party time everything was ready and our first guest arrived. A sweet girl who doesn’t know a word of English. Ben adores her and they are good friends even though she’s a head taller than him. Then, forty-five minutes later, the next guests arrived. Yes, forty-five minutes and several mosquito bites later (we were standing on the porch and outside the gate looking for party-people) another girl from his class and her twin brother who is in another class showed up. Then soon another girl or two– all dressed to the nines for an Avengers birthday party. They looked more like they had dressed for a Barbie or Disney Princess party.

I started to panic. We played a game involving Captain America’s shield. I panicked some more. Where were the boys? Where was his best friend that he had wanted there so badly? Why did these kids look at me like a bunch of deer in headlights when I was trying to be fun and engaging? Panic had set in indeed.

I decided we should eat some dinner since it was now past seven and our American bellies were growling. The hubs and I started making plates of food to give to the kids– just pasta, sauce, fruit salad and veggies with dip. The first child said no thanks and it was a domino effect after that. I should have gone for the deep-fried nuggets and potato Smiles that everyone else serves at these things. Rookie mistake.

Utterly defeated by this point (and wondering how the five of us were going to eat an entire pot of elbow macaroni) we moved on in my well-crafted-kid-party program. I pulled out the shortbread cookies, colored icing and sprinkles. Like everything else, the cookies all started crumbling before we could get the icing on. One child dressed like a small bride refused purple icing, along with everything else. Truly, I did not understand these children.

By this time parents had started showing up to collect their children–yay! We hurriedly put candles on the cake and sang a Happy Birthday to our special boy. He looked happy. I was still in panic mode, but I willed myself to enjoy the moment. The kids did eat cake–the white part at least. Some weren’t sure about the layer I had tinted blue so they left it. Then, one mom couldn’t believe her kids had not eaten anything else, started asking the other kids if they were hungry and for some reason they all decided now was the time, after dessert, that dinner sounded better. Some ate a little– at this point I just wanted it over. I didn’t dare mention the last game involved popping balloons. Neither did the hubby. We were done.

Two hours from start to finish, but there were moments that felt like an eternity. The parents all showed up and I learned to never have a birthday party on a week-night with people you don’t know, especially when you are very pregnant and when RSVP means call only if you can come since most people don’t like to tell you no. The last guest left so he opened his gifts, took some photos and said goodnight to the birthday boy who said he’d had a fine birthday and seemed genuinely happy.

Mission accomplished.

things I saw this weekend

When you drive around the city you never know what you’ll see. This weekend was no exception, only it wasn’t only while driving. And in typical Indian fashion some things were funny, others are just downright heartbreaking and unbelievable.

Anyway, here are a few things that captured my attention for various reasons and have contributed to me be being fully over-stimulated and in serious need of chocolate and an early bedtime.

1. The first thing, which completely broke my heart, was a woman who was standing outside our church asking for money who had no tongue. We typically don’t give money, and afterword I wondered if we made the right decision because perhaps this was done to her just so people would give and bad people were benefiting from her pain (reminded me of Slumdog Millionaire). But in any case we gave her a little and felt terrible there wasn’t more we could do.

2. As we drove home we happened to see three camels on one side of the road and on the other, an elephant. The kids love this sort of stuff. I’m still astonished that a camel is considered a legitimate travel option in a city this big. Hey, whatever floats your boat!

3. A man on a motorcycle with his shot-gun strapped across his back without a case. We decided not to honk at him when he cut us off.

4. Another sad case. A lady at one of intersections close to home who was on crutches and had an ex-ray pinned to her dress to show she was legit.

5. In Big Bazaar (grocery store) tonight a bunch of people were waiting for the elevator. We had a cart with five heavy bags and our three kids behind a couple who had a four-year old and a small pack of diapers in a huge cart. They got in and no one else could fit. I guess that 1lb pack of Huggies was a little too much for the mom and dad to manage.

6. A Westerner driving a motorcycle. Now, I know this doesn’t sound weird, but here it’s not something you see every day. The Hubs told me that last year alone about 750 in our city alone died in two-wheeler accidents. They aren’t the typical transport of choice for the safety conscious, i.e. Americans.

Okay, so there’s a few glimpses from my world this weekend. I’ll go now and enjoy my chocolate cake. Feel free to pick your favorite or share something you saw this weekend.

getting an education

When we moved here we decided that putting our kids in a national school. We thought it would be the best way for them to gain cultural exposure and perhaps learn a bit of Hindi along the way. The Hindi is slowly coming along slowly, and our oldest has done as one of only two Westerners in his class.

Recently, our second child entered school this year, and while it was a little bit of a challenge for him the first couple of weeks, he seems to finally be coming along. A meeting with his teachers today confirms he has used his charm to make friends and melt the hearts of his teachers and we are glad he is adjusting to the long day away from home.

We are glad they’ve settled in, even if sometimes we aren’t exactly glad about what they’re learning. A few days ago our oldest said, “Sh*t” and my husband and I looked at each other–I knew he was probably thinking I had let it slip that day and our son was repeating me. But we both asked him where he had heard this word and he told us that everyone uses it at school. Even the teachers. Like the equivalent of “darn” or “shoot.” So then we had to discuss why we don’t use that word and of course they wanted to know what it meant. Fun conversation.

Sometimes it’s hard to explain to them why we don’t do certain things when they are common practice here because we don’t want it to be like an “us” and “them” sort of thing. But ultimately we don’t want them to go back to their home culture and be completely clueless. Being what’s called a Third Culture Kid has enough challenges as it is. I’m sure all this can be quite confusing for them at times–it sometimes is for me and I’m old enough to know how to process it.

I thought about when I was in third grade and my best friend at the time taught me every curse word she had gleaned from her older sister. I knew those words were just for the playground or the bus and not to be uttered in front of my parents. Forbidden words said to impress boys. My kids, on the other hand, are having to learn that what might be okay culturally is not okay in our home or in front of their grandparents and cousins when we see them in the near future. I’m not sure they have a filter yet for what is appropriate and what’s not and I’m just waiting for the moment when a colorful word slips out.

So what have I learned from this process of trying to navigate the Indian education system and the little things that spring up from time to time that we have to gingerly address? Well, it’s basically like navigating the roads, the markets, and everything else. Flexibility. Without it I would spend every second of my life here in a constant state of frustration. And I do still get frustrated–believe me. But hopefully not as much as I did when we first moved here and I had too many unrealistic expectations. Wait, I still have unrealistic expectations. Maybe someday I’ll get there.

I like to think that what my kids are lacking in knowledge of American History they make up in unique life experiences. Should I also mention my son knows how to sing the Indian national anthem in Hindi, but not ours in English? Gasp! So the adventure continues. As does the education–formal and informal–for us all.

to the scowling man

Dear Scowling Man-

Today I took my kids to our neighborhood park so they could fly a kite and play on the rusty, um I mean newly painted swings, slides and jagged-metal, edged see-saws. Kids like that sort of thing, so I thought it would be fun.

We had tried to take them to see a Modern Art exhibit, but as I read the tickets more closely on the way over I sadly realized we were two hours early so we had to go back home. Not my finest moment as I was in charge of planning the outing. So since that didn’t work out, I thought I needed plan B to give my little darlings something that they could do in lieu of spending this lovely day cooped up indoors.

So we trekked down to the park and were having a grand time when you and your friend showed up. It’s a big park, but you and your buddy chose the bench we had put our kite bag on and used it to wipe off the pigeon poop. Then you proceeded to study said plastic bag with scientific curiosity. No more kite bag for us.

Okay, no big deal. But that’s not all. You also kept looking at us with a scowl that would, in my home country, make me think you were going to attack us with a machete at any moment. I didn’t see a machete, but who knows, there could have been one tucked under your coat. I wasn’t sure.

Then your friend must have gotten a little sleepy since it was such a lovely day and decided to find another bench so he could take a little nap. I had hoped you’d do the same, but no, you seemed set on making me as uncomfortable as possible by watching me and my kids with that grave scowl the entire time. It was creepy.

Now, there were others in the park and I hadn’t seen a machete yet, so I felt moderately safe. I’m also familiar with this scowl, so I choose to interpret as partial curiosity as opposed to deep-seated hatred–which is typically what a scowl like that communicates, FYI.

So next time you’re taking a break at the park, try to smile a little at people so they don’t think you are threatening their personal safety. Or better yet, ignore them completely and take a nap–you probably need it. But please stop staring at strangers and wearing the I-just-sucked-on-a-lemon face. You’ll feel better about yourself and so will others.