This week my children came home with a letter about a ‘Grandparents Day’ at school. And of course, as is evident from the name, ‘grandparents’ were to be the guests of honor for the day.
One the face of it there does not seem to be anything out of the ordinary here and for most parents I know it would perhaps involve nothing more than a telephone call to coordinate and plan this day out with their own parents. For my family however, there wasn’t the remotest hope that either set of grandparents could visit. The reason for their conspicuous absence was not their unwillingness to attend but rather the geographical distance of more than 8000 miles between us that couldn’t possibly be bridged at the drop of a hat!
The apparently ‘simple’ contents of this letter, did set a chain of thoughts working in my mind.
As the world comes closer, opportunities open up that are perhaps thousands of miles away from the countries we grew up in. Thus, giving rise to a generation of parents like us who earn the badge of being ‘expat parents’.
Thus far I’ve been able to sum up my musings in the form below. Though I am sure that the purview of this topic can expand as far as you want it to. It is equally important to remember that this is a blog post and not a book. And I do not want to bore you to death with the emotional rambling musings of a mom raising her children abroad.
1. The smallest of things can make you homesick.
There are days and days which go by when emotions of ‘homesickness’ remain relegated to a far corner of any expat parents mind. But apparently, they are not hidden that far away either. The weirdest of things can bring a whole surge of emotions raging to the forefront. It could be as simple as a taste, sight or smell of something very mundane that instantly transports you across thousands of miles back into the familiar lanes and by-lanes of the city or town we grew up in.
On those very rare occasions, when my children are all asleep at night at the same time, even standing outside looking up at the stars twinkling brightly in a crystal clear inky black night sky takes me back home. I wonder if these are the very same stars I saw then. And at times like these I also wonder if perhaps so many miles away my mother would also be looking up at the very same stars I see from here.
2. There is ‘Culture’ everywhere.
It is true that culture is everywhere. It is all around us and in everything we see. Perhaps it has seeped into our very being and assimilated into our outlook to such an extent that we consider it to be an extension of ourselves rather than something foreign. When you become an ‘expat mom’ or ‘expat dad’ raising your children overseas you are exposed to cultures that are so different to your own. There is difference in food, in thought processes, in the psyche and yes even in the jokes. Much to my abatement I have sometimes been the only person in a group not to break out laughing!! And much to my chagrin sometimes no one has got the humor in my jokes!
Like my children I have also absorbed, assimilated and adopted a lot of this culture I live in today. Very different from my own yet one that has become an inherent part of ‘me’. The exposure I have gained whilst raising my children abroad has definitely enriched me. I have learnt so much and grown so much more. I have learnt to look beyond the apparent and try to reach for what lies behind.
Though the diversities are apparent to the human eye the similarities too ebb and flow not very far behind. I have seen that children and their childhood are the same. The games they play are similar to the ones we played just that the names are different. The smiles and laughter are the same the jokes are a bit different. And yes, I’m learning to grasp the humor behind the jokes and laugh along with the others at the exact same time!
3. We are sailing on two cultural boats and doing a damn fine job whilst at it!
When we made a conscious decision to move and subsequently start a family abroad we were fully aware of the fact that my husband and I would be the main connection our children would have with our families, cultures and traditions back home. Though we wanted them to fully embrace the culture they were born into, yet we wanted them to imbibe our culture too. To give them a sense of pride and confidence in who they are. In a nutshell, we were expecting them to sail on two boats at the same time.
Conflicts between these two somewhat parallel universes was a logical outcome and to a certain extent even inevitable. Their young minds are still to nascent to grasp the differences and from time to time they question the dichotomies that arise.
I feel it is only when we honor our past can we truly respect our current and the future.
4. It has forced an introvert like me to come out of my shell.
As an introvert, it is easy to retreat into a shell. Especially in a foreign country among people you hardly know. But as expat parents you realize that you are the only connection that can open the doors of society to your children.
So, palpitating heart, dry tongue and shaking hands or not, the fear had to be conquered and friends had to be made. Whilst other mothers complained of cliques I was grateful if I had someone to talk to or smile back at.
Being an expat Mom has brought to my attention facets of my own personality that had hitherto remained hidden. It has made me realize that resilience, perseverance and motivation are all attributes that have been present inside me. Perhaps the comfortable zone in which we hitherto existed had imposed upon them a sentence of solitary confinement. But in a foreign land, where the mind is slightly less afraid of being judged these features are nudged from the self-inflicted stupor. Finally, to some degree they feel secure enough to make an appearance and test the waters in which they stand.
5. Being an ‘Expat Mom’ has made me look at people beyond their cultural identity.
I can’t say that the journey has entirely been uneventful and smooth sailing. We have had our fair share of prejudices and weird conversations. But by far the positives have outweighed the negatives. I have gained a fluidity in approach. I have learnt to become a more relaxed parent. I have learnt that it is all right to make mistakes and learn from them. And this is what I try to pass on to my children today.
But the most important thing that emerges out of all of this is that mothers are the same irrespective of their geographical locations. Experiences of pregnancy, motherhood and the creation and rearing of life do not discriminate in its offerings.
The basic fundamental core in us is the same no matter where we go. The way this core is externally molded and eventually finds expression is perhaps different.
If you have made it thus far without nodding off I am extremely grateful for your patience. And, you have rightly guessed, I can go on and on.
As an expat mom I have had to parent mostly without the actual physical support of my family. It has made certain aspects of life tougher in comparison to others. But when has parenting and the responsibility of raising the next generation been easy for the preceding one.
And, as I always say my home country gave me the wings and my current country of residence gave me an open sky to fly!!