Being Generation 0

“And, anyway it’s not always about fitting in.”
“It’s not?”
“Nope. Sometimes, it’s about reading your environment real quick, and then finding the bits that fit you.”
Melissa Keil – Life in Outer Space

My daughter is a first generation American, which makes me Generation Zero. (If I have to pick a label, I’d prefer something that sounds cool and original, like Gen Zero, or Gen Z or Gen 0!)

The most striking difference between the two generations is this: Gen 0 is very much about assimilation – we love the idea of a melting pot, of blending in. But then Gen 1 comes along and makes a genuine effort to understand what sets them apart – their roots, culture, and heritage. And the melting pot now has pockets of sub-cultures, and we start calling them “Indian Americans”, “Italian Americans”, etc.

As a Gen 0 I have the luxury of being intimately aware of two very different worlds. My daughter, however, only has second-hand knowledge of where I come from, and how she sees that world (or any world, for that matter) depends very much on how her father and I view it. Now that she is watching and listening we measure our thoughts and weigh our reactions and worry about how we come across – about everything from India to Barbie to world peace.

Whatever we tell her, we hope it’s true, honest and real.

An old post and A lesson in humility

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It was my very first post. I worried that it would send the wrong message. I did not want my blog to be about race or skin color or any of those things. I wanted to talk about children and parents, my child and my parenting. In the most universal way possible. And yet here I was, with a brand new blog and a brand new post with two “color” words in the title. I published it anyway, and hoped other parents would see the “universal”-ness behind it. It really was about insecurities that children feel so easily; and how we as parents have this incredible superpower to make them feel safer and stronger. I created 23 drafts before publishing it, and then updated it several times after that!

I did manage to get several hundred hits, and even a few comments that were encouraging and uplifting. But it was all pretty low-key until I sent it to Medium and they agreed to pick it up for their “Human Parts” imprint. Suddenly people were tweeting it, recommending it, liking it. And then the comments started to pour in. As every blogger knows, the 5 seconds before you open a comment are nerve-wracking.  You imagine the worst, what if it is an angry or hateful comment? What if it is criticism you are not ready to hear?
But there was no anger or hate. My cynicism has been severely tested in the last few weeks! The feedback I received was unexpected and surprising in ways I had never imagined:
1) Several parents from the Indian/Indian-American community wrote to say they can relate. Nothing surprising there.
2) A few comments came in from the African-American community – this was also not supsrising.
3) Two people from African countries responded. This was very surprising because I did not know I had an audience there! The comments continued to be along the lines of “yes we go through the same thing”.
4) A few parents from the hispanic community chimed in. There was a lot of conversation here about the “accent” complex that hispanic children develop.
5) I thought that was about it, until I started hearing from an expected group of people – people I assumed wouldn’t have to worry about this particular aspect. In other words, people referred to as “caucasians”. And in the most unexpected turn of events, they were also telling me that they could relate! Their stories were about themselves as well as their children. They talked about their own insecurities with pale skins, and worried that their children are growing up wanting fake tans. They wished their own parents had had this conversation with them. They told me about fears that transcend hair or skin color – the pressures of social media, about bullying, about gender stereotypes.

It was an overwhelming experience over all, and I came away with a few epiphanies worth sharing:

1) All parents worry about the exact same thing. Maybe the context is different, maybe the parenting styles are different, but we all want our children to grow into happy, well-adjusted adults. That really is all there is to it.
2) We are more alike than different. That is an over-simplification, but it’s true. Unfortunately, it’s a truth that is almost impossible to embrace. Everything in my environment seems to be aimed at clouding that view – the news, the mommy wars, pop-culture, stereotypes – everything is telling me that we are doomed to a future of conflict and differences. After all, I wanted my post to appeal to “everyone”, but I was still surprised that there were so many different kinds of people who could relate to it. But like it or not, we are all the same – in more ways than one.
3) Words are more powerful than you think. Millions of bloggers are throwing out simple words every day and it is all making a difference. You may not see it, but what you write is out there, making its way into people’s lives and affecting them. It is an incredible responsibility.
I have had the unexpected honor of knowing that I have been able to touch people’s lives with my words. As far as I know, it was all positive – it gave people hope, it made them nostalgic, it even made some people happy. And I hope I can always do that. I hope I can generate conversations, even arguments, but within a framework of kindness and acceptance.
When we were mouthy teenagers, my mom loved to throw this metaphor at me and my brother “Words are like mustard seeds, once they fall you cannot gather them back”. As always, I hate admit it, but my mom was right!

Musical Journeys, East and West – Cultural exposure and children

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A few weeks ago, we spent a good thirty minutes taking stock of the cultural situation in our lives. More importantly, the amount of Indian culture my daughter is exposed to. The alarming conclusion – almost zero.  There are many ways to “teach” culture, and I have always felt that the most effective way to narrate heritage is through music, language and food.  Let’s asses: Continue reading

Courage, Fear, Safety And Things In-between

As a little girl I was obsessed with climbing trees. It was an odd thing to look forward to every morning. But that is what loved. There were plenty to choose from in my neighborhood, and once I had mastered one tree I moved on to the next, more challenging one. My favorite one was a guava tree. The best fruits hung from the top most branches and I did everything I could to get every last one of them before the other kids did. Continue reading

‘How To Blend Spices’ And Other Life Lessons From My Mother

 

indian food

I stand in our shiny new kitchen in our little corner of suburbia, and chop the red peppers with a less-than-satisfying Ikea knife. It’s Sunday – cooking day. My daughter, who is almost 5, sits on the bar stool across from me and is concentrating hard on the “problems” at hand. Her father has given her some Continue reading

‘Such A Girl’ And Other Outdated Phrases

girl trees

1) ‘Such a Girl’

My daughter is almost 5, she is the COO of our house, and she loves pink. I am not going to allow anyone to shame her for that. She lives her life without apology or explanation. She loves the princess clothes but thinks Barbie is too boring. She holds these and other views Continue reading

#1000Speak Nature and Nurture – What can I take credit for?

 

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Nature: “the basic or inherent features of something”

Nurture: “the process of caring for and encouraging the growth or development of someone or something.”

My daughter is 4, and she is our only child. This means every piece of attention her father and I can spare zones in on her. She has no competition; there is no Continue reading

9 Questions vegetarian moms never get tired of answering – over and over again

I was born vegetarian; I have chosen to stay that way. Over the years I have answered many curious passersby on the hows and whys of it. But now that my daughter is getting the same questions (as in – I am getting sufficiently judged on my efforts to feed her a “decent” meal) I think it’s fair to say I am quite done. No More Q&A necessary. I am compiling an ultimate, final and conclusive list of 9 questions you never need to ask a vegetarian mom again. As much as I love answering these questions over and over again, I do think a definitive list of answers is in order. Continue reading

4 Promises, 35 years in the making

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A snapshot of my childhood circa 1980, in a small town in India….I am almost 7, maybe in 1st grade. We live in a two bedroom home with a small backyard. There are several streets in this neighborhood. Continue reading

6 Stages of Tennis Mom Guilt

Case in point: Preliminary Tennis lessons for 5-year-old “Munchkins” at 10.30 AM on Saturdays.

Stage 1: Hope

Continue reading

In a room full of tigers and dolphins, a round of applause for the human mom (and dad!)

Back Camera

In the beginning of time there were a bunch of parents walking around with a warm and fuzzy notion that they were doing everything right by their kids. Until Continue reading