Mama Ginger Tree doesn't live here anymore.  I have moved to The Norwindians.  The names have changed, but we're the same family.  Please add The Norwindians to your reader!

Thursday, January 31, 2008

A little background

Princess Lolly and Princess Frostine have a playdate over this afternoon. After spending the first hour dancing with each other and getting dressed up in princess attire, they got hungry. I supplied them with a smoothie (chocolate soy milk, banana, ice and peanut butter) and now they are making bead necklaces. While they chat and string beads I have a few moments to myself.

Gloppy the Chocolate Monster is at King and Queen Kandy’s house (otherwise known at Ba and Dada or my in-laws). They live about 20 minutes south of us and every Thursday after I pick him up at Tiny Tots I drive him down there to spend the night. Usually the whole family drives down on Friday to pick him up. It is a nice perk of having family so close by. It had been a long journey for my with my in-laws. I wrote an article for my local mother’s club newsletter about it about a year ago.

Here is the article:
To say I got off to a rocky start with my in-laws is a bit of an understatement. My husband is an East Indian from London whose parents had a traditional arranged marriage. I, on the other hand, am a blond-haired, blue-eyed white girl with Mid-Western parents, who had never even tasted Indian food. Let’s just say that I wasn’t exactly what they had in mind for their only son. For fear of their reaction my husband didn’t even tell them he had a girlfriend until after we had moved in together. Even after our relationship was out in the open and going on 4 years, they sent him a list of potential brides complete with bios and pictures. Once we got engaged, they realized I wasn’t just a phase. They made an effort to get to know me, but it’s accurate to say that things were still chilly between us.

After the chaos of wedding planning, they began to soften a little. We had a traditional Indian ceremony as well as a Christian church ceremony. The wedding also brought out a lot of the differences between our upbringings. My family is small, and I was never really very close to either sets of my grandparents. My husband on the other hand has several aunts and uncles, tons of cousins and was clearly the favorite of his Ba (grandmother). Each new “aunty” I met told me that Mr. Mint was their favorite. My in-laws thought 800-1000 wedding guests was a good number. I don’t think I even know this many people, let alone that I would invite to my wedding. I felt a little bit like a fish out of water during the Indian ceremony, which was conducted all in Gujarati and lasted about an hour. My girlfriends loved dressing in saris though and my whole family thought all the rituals were fascinating.

Even after we’d been married for a year and I became pregnant with twins, things were still a little strained. Whenever we were at their house, they only spoke in Gujarati leaving me feeling out of place and more than a little bitter. After the girls were born, I became fiercely protective of them. It started in the hospital, when they came into my room with a bag full of Indian food and a few relatives I had never met. My in-laws were full of advice about everything from what I should be eating to how to get Princess Lolly and Princess Frostine to sleep. I was so overwhelmed with taking care of my twins that polite responses to their inquiries about why my babies cried so much were beyond my capabilities.

As the girls got a little older, my in-laws grew into typical grandparents. They gave my toddlers all the M&M’s they wanted, spoiled them with way too many loud, plastic toys and called every day. They often got annoyed with me if I was too busy to answer the phone or we didn’t visit them often enough. Every time the girls were ill they had some new home remedy that I thought was nuts, like putting onion slices around your house to help cure a cold. When they babysat, I knew the girls would be up past their bedtime. Looking back I wish I could have been more relaxed about it all. But I was a first time mom and religious about the girl’s routine. Every time they didn’t follow my instructions it felt like a personal insult. I think I also still harbored feelings of resentment toward them and didn’t quite feel like part of their family.

Right after the girls turned two, I got pregnant again. I was exhausted taking care of two toddlers while pregnant, and I started to take my in-laws up on their offers to watch the kids more often. The more time they spent with them, the more I started to notice how much fun my girls were having with their Ba and Dada. My mother-in-law has endless patience with children and always gets right down on the floor to play with them. She bought them saris complete with lots of matching bangles and they had so much fun dressing up and dancing. She got them involved in whatever she was cooking and they were much more willing to try new foods at their house than they were with me. Whenever they came back from Ba’s house they were a little cranky, but I was so grateful for the help.

I agreed to let my mother-in-law stay at our house and take care of the girls while I was in hospital recovering from my c-section with my son. When I came home, all the laundry was done, the girls were happy and my husband was thrilled to have a fridge full of home cooked food. She stayed with us for a few more days. Though I was annoyed by her comments about how I feed my kids, the right way to give a baby a bottle, etc., as a I watched her with my kids I realized I needed to lighten up a bit.

The real turning point for me was a trip to Disneyland. My son was only six months old, and my girls were three when we decided to make the drive to LA. My husband suggested that Ba come along and having an extra pair of hands sounded good to me. The trip turned out better than I could have imagined. She sat in the back of the minivan for the whole drive down and happily fed and entertained all three kids. She really bonded with my son on that trip. She went on the Winnie the Pooh ride five times in a row with the girls, took my son back to the hotel so he could eat and have a nap, and my husband and I even got to go out to dinner two nights in a row! But more importantly I really noticed the relationship she was building with my kids. All three of them light up when they see her and her instinctual way of knowing how to calm a tantrum or sooth a boo-boo continually amazes me. During the trip, I came to realize that I was also a little sad knowing all that I had missed out on by not having a similar relationship with my grandparents.

After we got back I felt like I had finally found some common ground with my mother-in-law. We began to feel more comfortable around each other as we bonded over the drudgery and the joy of childcare. My in-laws are incredibly proud of their grandkids and even though they don’t articulate it, I know they think I am a good mother. That fact alone has really helped me put any past resentments aside and move forward. They must know something about parenting, after all they did raise the man that I fell in love with and married.

We recently moved and as a result are even closer to their home. Moving with three children under the age of four was stressful to say the least. We lived with my in-laws for a week while our new house was being painted and I left all three kids there for a couple days while we got settled. That alone has made me realize how truly fortunate we are to have them so close by. My son, Gloppy now spends the night with them one night a week. At 20 months, Gloppy knows more Gujarati words than English. If you ask him “Whose boy are you?” he’ll answer “Ba.” He’s treated like a king while he’s there and gets valuable time playing without his older sisters in his space. I get to spend an afternoon alone with Princess Lolly and Princess Frostine doing things we can’t do with their little brother around. I also get one morning alone in my house while the girls are at school (I know I don’t have to explain how priceless that is).

My three little children have helped me finally do what has been a struggle for the past ten years -- become a part of their family. Princess Lolly, Princess Frostine and Gloppy have something invaluable…loving grandparents that are near by to spoil them. I can only hope that my kids realize someday how lucky they are.

A couple of weeks ago my husband and I were going out to dinner in the city and my in-laws were coming over to watch the kids. My son has bad separation anxiety sometimes and he could tell I was putting on my “going out” clothes. He started to cry and pull on my pants every time I left his sight. As soon as Ba and Dada got there, he started laughing and waving good-bye to me. I know Gloppy stayed up way past his bedtime that night,. Even though Princess Lolly and Princess Frostine had already eaten dinner and were in their pj’s with teeth brushed, they had a second dinner of their favorite Indian dishes and glasses of milk right before they got in bed. This might have bothered me at one point in time, but not now. Mr. Mint and I had a night out without worry and without having to pay a babysitter. My children had their fun and attentive grandparents to themselves and got to watch Deal or No Deal. God bless in-laws.


Jill said...

When I saw on Marinka's site that she was guest writing here... and gave the background of your family, I had to read more.

We're an American family currently posted in Chennai, India for 3 years. I'm always interested in reading about multi cultural kids.

BTW - gorgeous kids!

Susie said...

I LOVE the term Norwindians! Since I'm nothing more interesting than white, I'll have to play around with the term "Whindians?"

Anyway, it was fun to find this background post. Wish we could sit over chai and laugh and tell mother-in-law stories knowing that underneath all the frustration (and boy is there still that!) is a love and thankfulness for the richness of our lives from being caught between two cultures.

Nice to "meet" you - I'll be following your new blog.