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A good number of our children have found a niche in foreign shores and from a distance everything looks fine. Children come with huge suitcases and neighbors cannot wait to know what they actually contain. I had a prying neighbor who would walk into our house minutes after my daughter arrived from college – even if it was 10 at night – much to her irritation. That was nearly 20 years back. When my daughter got married and went to the US of A, her arrival with huge suitcases was cause for our neighbors’ envy and husband’s frustration. I digress. Let me get to the point.
However satisfying it may be to see children well settled in foreign countries, there are sore points in the arrangement whether it is the parents or the children who visit. My daughter who had her in-laws staying with her oft and on was surprised that her children bonded well with me although they saw much less of me. She was on a very short visit to our place and the children took to me instantly.
“My MIL cannot entertain children where as you play games with them and tell them stories.”
Everyone likes to be praised and I am no exception. I felt proud of my grandparenting skills and promptly decided to brush up my limited knowledge of long forgotten fairy tales to be better equipped the next time I met them. Very soon my daughter’s MIL called me up. She had seen a video that my daughter had taken and her words told me the other side of the story.
“I see that the children had a nice time at your place. They don’t come to me at all because I am not able to talk to them in English the way you do. I too would like to tell them stories but the language barrier is always likely to limit my interaction with them and I feel helpless.”
My heart went out to her. Her simplicity made her stand tall in my eyes and I was ashamed at being puffed up with pride that the children took to me. It was purely chance that the children had been brought up in USA and I could communicate in English – a language that they understood. What if they had been raised in Japan or Germany? Or for that matter in Assam or Nepal and spoke a language I could not understand? I too would have been in the same predicament as my daughter’s mother in law, feeling inadequate and unwanted.
I promptly decided to ask my daughter to take care that her children understood Tamil and/or Hindi even if they could not answer back. They would soon get familiar with a language that their paternal grandmother spoke.
A friend of mine spoke of her grandchildren’s food preferences. They had been brought up in Japan and loved seafood. Sushi cuisine available in India did not taste quite the same, said the daughter. They wanted to have pizza for lunch and would not eat rice or chapattis on daily basis. My friend would have a fight with her daughter over her children’s unhealthy food preferences and suggest that she make them eat ‘proper food’ before letting them have junk.
“What is so improper about the food they eat? And pizza or seafood is not junk. In fact seafood is more nutritious than the stuffed paranthas that you make. Why don’t you let them be? If you stuff your kind of food down their throats they’ll never want to come to India,” the daughter would argue.
My friend was almost in tears over the term ‘your kind of food’. Wasn’t it the kind of food her children grew up on? Why was the very preparation relished by her daughter declared unsuitable for the grandchildren?
I had no answer. I too face similar issues when I visit my children. I am okay with multi-grained bread for breakfast but my husband prefers Indian (read Tambrahm) items. He does not complain thinking that it is only a matter of a few months and once back in India he would have his preferred food items. But I can see a slow cultural shift taking place and with the best of intentions parents and children seem prefer their own space.
The times when a daughter in law was initiated into family customs are now History. Clashes may have reduced and a cordial and civil relationship may have been established. The truth remains that whether it is with one’s son or daughter or the other way round each group is careful not to annoy the other. The warmth in the relationship is perhaps missing.
The Hip Grandma lives in a small industrial town called Jamshedpur and despite all its
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