the weight of privilege

JournalsI pull all the kids’ notebooks down and begin scribbling. I won’t remember details years from now, so I write them down. Month-by-month, marking time in these journals so one day they will read them and smile or cry, and hopefully remember.

Stringing words together is something I’ve done so long I can’t remember a time when I couldn’t.

I’m writing in one of the books when our house-helper  stops me and asks what I’m doing.

In our unique brand of broken English and gestures I explain these are books I’ve kept for the kids since they were born. I write in them to remember milestones and funny stories. She thinks this is a good idea, but not possible since she doesn’t know how to read or write. I knew she couldn’t read, but I didn’t realize until earlier this week that she couldn’t write anything. Nothing in Hindi and definitely nothing in English.

She’s incredibly kind and bright and can speak 2.5 languages, but has had no formal education. For some reason I thought she had gone to school before marrying at eighteen. Apparently her parents couldn’t afford school for her and her older brother. So at seven she took over household chores for her working mother. She made meals and did laundry while most kids at seven play video games, learn how to read and write, and play outside.

We talk about her son. He’s four and she’s trying to get him into a proper school so he can learn English–everyone wants to learn English. Her husband is a tailor, she’s a maid; she wants her son to have the freedom to choose what he wants to do. Like many Indian parents she has pinned high hopes on her only son, but getting him accepted into a school is proving difficult.

Education is a business here and so the more money you make the better schools you can afford. An English medium school is what she wants for her son– like the one my kids attend. But it’s out of her price range. She applied to one school, a less expensive one, but because neither she nor her husband can read or write the school denied him admittance.

When she told me today that he had been denied, Jon and I revisited the “what if” we’d talked about last summer when she was a new employee. Back then my husband and I weren’t sure of her character, but now we know her to be a sweet spirit and perfect fit for our family and we try to help her when we can. One way is to teach her how to read and write in English. Something we’ve talked about before, but plan to start Monday.

I leave my writing and go into Jon’s office to talk out the questions. What if we pay for her son to attend the same school our kids attend? What if we do for her what we can’t do for millions of other kids who linger around our neighborhood during the day without supervision or any chance for education?  What if we start this and have to leave suddenly? Can we bear the financial weight of one more child in school at a time when we’re trying to do so many other things that right now? Is this what’s best for her in the long-run? Always so many questions.

We think back to our home church in Atlanta and the message of doing for one what you wish you could do for others. And we feel the weight of privilege on us. Privilege in that our children will probably never know what it’s like to do without education, food, clothing or shelter, while so many others go without. And living here, we see it daily. Right outside my back window, in fact.

The questions linger as we try to sort out what’s best and how to help without creating a dependency that isn’t sustainable in the long-run. So we’ll see what happens in the next few days as we meet with the school about possibilities. I have no idea what to expect, but like everything else here, we take it one day at a time and see where it leads.

Tomorrow I will be blogging over at my friend Lori’s place. She’s a deep well of encouragement so I hope you’ll pop over there and have a look around. 


in which I blog after a very long hiatus

I scratch the new mosquito bite on my foot and wonder… Is this the one that will give me dengue and propel me and my family into a two-week battle to keep our sanity and our platelet count up?

Even though the media is only reporting about 1,300 cases, the numbers can’t be true. It’s not possible. Everyone knows at least one person who has it. I know several people who’ve had it or have it now. And there are 23 million people in this city, what are the odds if it’s only 1,300? But apparently politics and an election year is playing a role in keeping these numbers down, though full hospitals that have to turn patients away indicate otherwise. 

I hate mosquitoes. When they’re not infecting people with life-threatening diseases, they are keeping us awake by buzzing in our ears and biting us at night. Me and the kids can’t see that they actually have a purpose in this world above being annoying, though I suppose there is one. Just like there’s a point to this blog, though sometimes I’m not sure what that is either. I digress.

It has been quiet on the blog for a while now due to my utter lack of inspiration and overwhelming exhaustion. The last post showed a very cute, cuddly pup. That cute pup was almost the end of me. What a mess he was, twenty-four hours a day. Peeing, pooping, biting, barking. I think I lost seven pounds and three years of my life in the six weeks we owned him. Yes, I said owned. I’m the mom who gave the dog away. I need to start saving for my older boys’ therapy sessions because I’m sure it will come up some day sounding like this, “I can’t commit because mom gave our first pet away.”

But, you see, it was either me or him, so the kids narrowly decided Kenobi had to go because they like my fried chicken.

The hubs was out of town and I gave the dog and all of his belongings to a family with bigger kids and as of today I hear he still poops all over the floor and has grown a foot or two. At least it isn’t my floor anymore.

So perhaps I’m back to blogging again. It’s my plan. Seriously. With so many things that I feel are sucking the life out of me, it’s something that actually energizes me. It’s my way of dissing on mosquitoes, politicians and naughty street dogs that I try to domesticate. 

Let’s see if this inspiration sticks and where it goes. I’d like for it to go somewhere. 

Stay tuned.

the problem with never and evidence of my insanity

When we moved here I said “I’ll never…” many times. Too many times. I’ll never ride that, let my kids do that, eat that; the list goes on and on. And as a result many things on my “I’ll never” list have come back to bite me in the, well, you know what.

One such thing has happened and it’s a pretty big NEVER. If you know me you know that I am not an animal person. I don’t like animals, mostly because I’m terrified of them. And they smell and make a mess, and I like things pretty clean. I’ve only had one pet that I was sad to lose, Fluffy my gray cat that lived outside who died when I was a teenager. And unfortunately now I hate cats because I developed an allergy to them and can’t be anywhere near them without sneezing and breaking out into hives. No more Fluffy, ever.

And dogs. Don’t get me started about dogs. I’m terrified of dogs, I always have been. Last summer we were at a friend’s house and the dog started running around frantically and barking (at me I thought) and guess who ended up on the dinning room table clutching my three-year-old so we could escape? You guessed it. My husband still cringes at the memory.

Imagine my horror when we decided to move to India and what do they have an overabundance of? Dogs. Yes, lovely street dogs who sometimes turn nasty and bite people, but mostly just poop everywhere and take baths in the drains. Lovely, lovely, street dogs.

But India has changed me in many ways, it does that to people whether you like it or not. When we arrived one of the things I lamented was that our children could never have a pet. I would never, NEVER, have a pet in India. It’s too complicated with us traveling for long periods of time and there was no way I would ever want to walk a dog here (you have to carry a large stick to keep the other dogs away). The street needed to stay on the street– which included the dogs on it.

A few weeks ago a very pregnant dog showed up at our church (do you see where this is going?) and had a litter of puppies. They were so cute, but I never wanted my kids to touch them for fear of every possible disease being passed along. There was one dog in particular that had blue eyes that my 2nd born loved, animal lover that he is, but sorry kid, because we’re not having a dog. In India. Never ever.

The little guy looking for a shady spot.

The little guy looking for a shady spot.

Yesterday my husband had gone to a meeting at our church. The little dog that had been so cute and full of life no longer had any energy and had lost weight. He looked like he was dying. I cried when the Hubs told me. Death on the street happens every day to dogs here, why was this one any different? I couldn’t explain it, but my heart felt heavy.

Maybe I’m just tired of all the suffering around me that I can’t change. Maybe it’s the heat. Maybe I’ve finally gone crazy or soft or both. Heaven knows I don’t need one. more. thing. to look after, right?

The Hubs trying to get medicine into him.

The Hubs trying to get medicine into him.

We decided to go for it and take him from the street and try to help him (totally my call). One I couldn’t believe I made because I’m not an animal person, I have no idea what we’re going to do with a dog or if this dog will even make it. He’s very sick. While his brothers and sisters were bouncing around, he lay dying from various infections, malnutrition and dehydration.

Sugar Baby's tub has a new owner.

Sugar Baby’s tub has a new owner.

It’s been a long day, maybe an even longer night. The Hubs has been to the vet three times and has to go back in the morning. The dog can’t stay outside and I don’t particularly want him inside (he still smells quite bad and has other issues I’ll not mention here), but he’s a baby and he cries when we leave him.

This is not going to be easy.

So tired.

So tired and missing his mom and siblings.

Our first pet and it’s not what I would have imagined or chosen, exactly. We don’t even know what to name him. But here we are, doing what we can for a little guy who would be dead tomorrow if we did nothing. This is so not me, not my normal, but maybe normal is changing and that’s not a bad thing.

looking back on the journey

My four-year-old just ate her third cream cracker covered in artificial jam and started her second viewing of an alphabet cartoon. It’s educational so I’m okay with it. She’s occupied for thirty minutes and Sugar Baby is sleeping so this might be my only chance today to think clearly  so I’m going to take it.

I’ve ruminated on the journey I’ve been on– moving to the other side of the world; having our fourth child; losing my mind, then getting it back (somewhat).  It’s not been what I’ve expected in many ways.

We have been in India for 2.5 years and it’s been quite the adventure. One I never dreamed of and one I’ve fought. Hard. Before we came and even after we arrived I fought it because I knew it would mean a different life for me than the one I had envisioned. And the fighting added to the struggle instead of making it easier. Funny how that works, isn’t it? Wrestling with something for years takes a toll on a soul. At least it did on me and those around me.

But it feels like I’ve had an internal shift. Now don’t get me wrong, I still have what I call too-much-culture days when I need to recharge in the privacy of my own home for a few days.The differences between here and home are vast. But those types of days are not as frequent and they don’t completely undo me like they once did. And by undo me I mean anxiety, depression and sometimes panic attacks. THAT kind of undo.

Life is better now. Not easier, but better because I’ve given up trying to control everything.

So why was life such a challenge here at first, you ask? So imagine you are an overly critical American who has moved to India and had your worldview challenged at every turn. You have no control over anything (or so it seemed). When you have to cook solely with a microwave for several weeks and don’t know where to buy chicken or cheese because there are only a few stores where you can buy meat AND groceries and we live nowhere near them. Where I couldn’t even cook a proper meal for my family, keep my house clean or drive a car anywhere. And the monsoon rains arrived with us and I thought I might melt from the heat, humidity, frequent power outages and no inverter to even run fans. And not to mention the sensory overload every time I walked out of the house. Yes, I became a bit critical those first years.

Okay, very critical. And alone. Life had challenges I felt unprepared for and quite frankly didn’t want. I don’t like hard places, most of us don’t. BUT…

While I would not relive our first two years here for any amount of dollars or rupees, I can say now that I’m glad I lived through them and they are a part of who I am. And hopefully I’m a bit stronger for it. Hopefully. Now that’s progress if you ask me.

So that’s where I am as we approach the halfway point in year three. And I still need to find a place around that sells tender (not chewy) chicken and possibly bacon (I miss bacon!). And we still have mosquitoes biting us at night and I still try not to make eye contact with roaming wildlife. But on a positive note I have working AC’s, mosquito wands that zap and decent cheese. I think I can manage with that.

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.

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.