The Hanukkah-only Hindu (also Mamamia! – Part 11)

Hope you like this one, posted on Mamamia yesterday as:

Today I took our four children to the temple to celebrate Tamil New Year. This was one of our rare visits to a Hindu temple and as I sat praying that my three year old Tercero wouldn’t break, steal or set fire to anything, I wondered what we were doing there. In my teenage years my parents took us to temple every single Friday night. Whilst my friends were getting drunk down at El Rancho in Manuka (Canberrans, you know the place), I was sitting in a small, cold temple, stumbling through Tamil hymns that I didn’t really understand. I didn’t want to be with my friends getting drunk. I actually wanted to be at home watching Beverly Hills 90210. Mostly I just wanted a choice.

Twenty years later, I found myself at the temple again watching my children run around with their cousins, and I felt disconnected from the building and the deities that I don’t visit very often. I felt disconnected from the ethnic community that I no longer know very well. I felt like praying but was distracted by my children stealing the sweets that were meant for God. So I watched the congregation instead: marriages were negotiated and arranged; the HSC scores of young Sri Lankans were compared; rumours were started and scandals exaggerated; births were celebrated and divorces whispered about; Sri Lankan politics were debated and more marriages negotiated. People prayed, they connected with God and with each other. It was a normal day at the temple.
A friend of mine once described herself as a Christmas-Only Christian, and sitting there, I wondered if I might be the Hindu equivalent.  It occurred to me that in another twenty years time, none of us would be attending temple, especially if I couldn’t work out what we were doing there in the first place. As I sat there being dramatically disconsolate about the death of culture and community, my grandparents walked in. Tercero ran up to them and offered them a handful of sticky, sweaty sugar candy. They laughed and accepted his gift, recognising him for the little thief that he is. And suddenly I felt connected to something even if it wasn’t the building.
We pray, we believe and we live as Hindus. We just don’t attend much. The children and I are philosophically practising but increasingly culturally lapsed. I think I will continue to take them to temple a few times a year – not out of obligation, but more out of a sense of history and my connection with it rather than the temple or the rituals of worship themselves. I would like the children to learn where their religion and values started thousands of years ago and celebrate that with 100million Tamils around the world. And when they are old enough, they can choose what to do on a Friday night with those values. Dear God, please let them just be watching 90210.

Am I wasting my education?

Hi there, this is a repost of an article that I wrote for Mamamia. I am reposting in case the MM site collapses one day I can’t retrieve a copy of this. It’s weird the things you think about at 2am.
Am I wasting my education?
Last week my 6 year old son Secundo, stood up in assembly and said: “That concludes our assembly. Please wait quietly for your teacher.” It was one of the proudest moments in my life. Until recently, Secundo suffered from selective mutism and the challenge of speaking to people sparked an anxiety attack which rendered him “mute”.
No one will thank me for my part in this small victory. On the contrary, Tercero (my three year old son) told me he hated me the whole way home because he didn’t like the way I put his seatbelt on. I won’t receive any awards and recognition and I certainly won’t be paid for it.
Indeed, according to the Prime Minister of Denmark, I am actually wasting my education and career by choosing to be a stay-at-home mum. I hear you sigh: not another article by a militant stay-at-home-mum. No, please keep reading.
My education, career and intellect shape my mothering every day. I mother like a lawyer – I have checklists for the children and flowcharts and SMART objectives for me. The children know about social justice and the responsibilities of citizenship. I teach them to negotiate their own settlements and do their homework by the close of business.
I also used to lawyer like a mother, with multi-tasking and time management skills that outperform the KPI’s of any law firm. I have enormous patience (for partners that constantly behave like three year olds) and a deeper concern and empathy for the future wellbeing of my clients. Being a mother has made me a better lawyer, and being a lawyer has made me a better mother. Until recently, I managed both these careers concurrently. For the last 2 years, I have been a full time stay-at-home mum.
Am I wasting my education by investing it and myself into my children’s development – a task no one else is more qualified to do? I don’t think so. Am I overqualified for the task? You obviously haven’t met my four children. The value of my education can’t be assessed or quantified, any more than we are able to assess or quantify the value of motherhood, despite the endless debates on the matter.
I find motherhood, and in particular teaching my children and watching them become confident, independent people, very satisfying. It is exciting, interesting and challenging to help them realise their potential. I find the relentless domestic servitude of motherhood exhausting and the lack of social recognition (from any one other than stay-at-home mums and child psychologists) disappointing.

And I find the criticism of others, as well as my own intermittent self-criticism, confusing. Nobody seems to mind when PhDs become school teachers.
Apparently the Prime Minister of Denmark is very clever. She’s worked out that feminism is a social, institutional and legal change that enables women to make the same choices as men, whilst enjoying the same freedom from judgement, recrimination and retribution as men. She’s even clever enough to tell us what our choices should be.
Obviously I’m not that clever because I missed the bit in feminism where women are allowed to judge the hell out of each other when they exercise the rights and opportunities that feminism has afforded them.
When the Prime Minister recently slapped it to educated, full-time stay-at-home mothers in Britain, they rose up in arms to extol the virtues of their choices. However, in defending those choices, these mothers again judged those that had chosen differently.
If they’re all so clever, why are they still arguing over the false dichotomy between working and motherhood?  All this seems to do is set women against each other – couldn’t we all just agree that:
–          mothering, working and every combination in between, are valuable to society; and
–          in a world where millions of women still strap their children to their backs and head off to work, having a choice is a privilege.
The recent debate has engaged some of the brightest minds in Britain and Denmark. I think that instead of criticising educated stay-at-home mums, these minds should think about how to make parenting more socially valued, not just in the playground (where everyone already knows the words to that song) but back in the workforce where real change is required. Despite the Prime Minister’s personal views,  Denmark actually seems to do quite a good job of this already, with some of the more progressive policies in  Europe. Share the love  Denmark.  And instead of criticising parents that want (or have) to go back to work, these minds should think about how to help parents make the transition and respect their personal balance, wherever it may lie.
And finally, I think both sides, and every one in between, should leave each other alone, otherwise you’re all going to get a time out.

Mamamia! (Part 9) – the one about porn

I’m sorry, that title is unnecessarily sensationalist but occasionally I like to pretend I’m a tabloid journalist. No seriously, mostly I like to pretend I’m a Jedi Master or Tina Fey’s best friend. She wouldn’t be my best friend back, because I already have one of those and I am very loyal. Nice try Tina, you would be my second best friend.

Mamamia has just upgraded me to columnist which is very exciting. I’ve never been a columnist before, although my thighs are joining more and more, resembling a column, but I’m not sure that counts.

This is the first piece they published after I got my new badge, so I am really hoping for a good response. I would love it if you would have a look and Comment on Mamamia’s site if you like it.
xxx shanks

Mamamia! (Part 8)

Hi guys, Mamamia just published this one about my parents’ garage sale last year.

I would love it if you would take a look (and as always, go onto the Mamamia site and Comment or Facebook Like it!)

Thank you again for reading my work,

Much love,  Shanks x

Mamamia! (Part 7)

We have just returned from a lovely holiday at the coast where Tercero (aged 3) overcame his fear of sand but Newborn (aged 21 months now) decided the beach was far too dirty and windy for him.  Prima and Secundo could not get enough of it.
Mamamia published this one whilst I was on hols – hence my delayed post. I would really appreciate it if you could Like/Share/Comment on it (even just a “love your work” comment) as this one was not as widely read (I am attributing this to the holiday season….). So I am once again relying on family and friends to artificially boost my readership.

Much love and looking forward to seeing some of you in 2012,

xxx S

Mamamia! (Part 6)

I hope you all had a lovely Christmas and Hanukkah – Husband did the traditional English roast with all the trimmings on the BBQ no less.  The weather was hot after several weeks of surprisingly London-like rain here. The biggest highlight of Christmas for us was that my brother and his wife had a baby boy on Friday. He is healthy and exquisite and clearly robust enough to handle the physically demanding attention of his four older cousins. 
Wishing you all the very best for 2012 and I hope to see some of you down under.  Here is my latest article that Mamamia has published – please feel free to Comment on it, even just a one liner if you have the time (yes I am still trying to convince them I have a following, even at Christmas when every one is at the beach rather than on the internet….). xxx

The Gift That Keeps On Giving

This is not a post about buying livestock in the developing world instead of an i-Microwave for Christmas (although, imagine the touch screen possibilities – Tercero could be trained to make his own porridge at 5am).

Nor is this a post about the rampant consumerism that is destroying the true meaning of Christmas. I wrote that post last year and no one in my family read it.

This is a post about regifting.

According to Wikipedia, regifting is the act of taking a gift that has been received and giving it to somebody else, sometimes in the guise of a new gift. Wikipedia sets out the following etiquette for regifting:

  • rewrapping the gift;
  • not using the gift before regifting it;
  • and not giving the gift back to the original gift-giver.
Sri Lankans are almost compulsive in their dedication to regifting. I once had what I thought was a brilliant idea for an art-house film. The film would follow the path of a box of Lindt chocolates from its purchase on sale at Coles, to its gifting and re-gifting and re-re-gifting throughout the Sri Lankan community. If you GPS tagged the chocolate box you could actually plot an accurate map of most of the community’s location in Sydney. I got so excited by the idea I even wrote an outline for a Deepa Mehta-esque trilogy called Coriander, Cumin and Lindt.  Strangely, the Arts Council never emailed me back.
I regift. And, as the concept has finally featured on Oprah, I am not afraid to admit it anymore. Every year at my children’s birthday parties, I can be found surreptitiously squirrelling away a few presents before they make it onto the children’s present-radar. I do this because:
  • the children have too many toys and more toys only make them want and feel entitled to more toys*;
  • I loathe Westfield and anything that minimises the number of trips I have to make to Toys R Us is a good thing, even stealing from my own children;
  • some tenuous environmental reason (landfill, recycling, etc etc).
I am highly selective about which toys I regift. I only choose toys that:
  • require batteries that cost more than the toys themselves;
  • are possessed and make uncontrollable noises in the middle of the night;
  • perpetuate unhealthy gender stereotypes (eg. Bratz dolls and heavy artillery); and
  • require surgical pliers to be removed from their box.
“Doubles” are also regifted unless it is another light sabre, because you can never have too many of those.
These toys will then make their way around the birthday parties of the North Shore and the Christmas parties of my extended family, finding other children to love/under-value them and saving me time, money and tantrums at K-Mart.
This Christmas, as we stock up on Cars 2 merchandise for the children to add to their original Cars merchandise (thank you again Disney Pixar), I will also be:
  • making a donation to and its Christmas appeal to buy useful gifts for unaccompanied children in immigration detention centres; and
  • squirrelling away the multiple Finn McMissile cars with all its accoutrements that my children will inevitably receive;

because I like gifts that keep on giving.

 * Seriously Prima and Secundo, we currently have a Zhu Zhu Pet plague in our house – how many mechanised kung-fu hamsters do you need?

Mamamia! (Part 5)

Mamamia published this one about my little Prima and her career choices today.  I really hope you like it. Thank you for reading and please feel free to comment on the Mamamia site (my silent campaign to convince them that I am a widely read writer continues….):

Mamamia! (Part 4)

Once again, I forgot to post this piece to my blog. Mamamia published it awhile ago (regular readers of my blog – ie. me and Husband – will recognise it as “My CV”). I thought better late than never, here is the Mamamia link:

I am really proud of this one, especially as the end of the year draws near, I am starting to think about returning to the (paid) workforce and how that would logistically work for our family. Hmm…

Any advice or offers to babysit are welcome. xxx

A Fairer Shade of Brown

The children and I recently read a Hindu myth together about how the Goddess Lakshmi (the goddess of wealth) hid from an army of demons in a celestial ocean of milk. When she was eventually rescued by Lord Vishnu, the Protector in the Hindu trinity, she emerged with a milkier, fairer complexion and therefore (as the myth goes), more beautiful than she was before.

And so I had to ask myself – seriously? That was the moral of the story? She couldn’t have emerged from her milky grave with a reduced risk of osteoporosis; a renewed commitment to the humane treatment of cows; and an advocate for an end to EU subsidies of dairy farmers? No, the Goddess Lakshmi emerged from the ocean of milk, still lactose tolerant but now “fairer”.

Suddenly it all became clearer. As clear as crystal. Actually as clear (or as milky) as the sunblock I liberally apply on my children. As clear as the sunblock that was excessively applied on me as a child. Sunblock applied the Sri Lankan way is not for prevention of skin cancer, but for preparation for marriage. To the Sri Lankan, beauty is not in the eye of the beholder, but in the fairness of the beheld. It’s hard to escape it when even the mythology is embedded with complexionist propaganda.

My grandmother was allegedly renowned throughout Sri Lanka for her fair complexion. It’s a small island and admittedly our only source for this important piece of historical information is our grandmother. Husband finds it amusing that my grandmother’s fairness (and indeed the fairness of any Sri Lankan) may well be caused by the presence of unaccounted-for colonial genes. My grandmother finds that theory less amusing.

Social anthropologists would have many things to say about the origin of a complexion-linked notion of beauty and the interaction and influence of gender, class, caste, conquest and colonialism in its development.

I have no such insights but I have observed in the Sri Lankan community (Gen A through to Gen W), that a fair-skinned woman is considered a more attractive “catch” than a dark-skinned woman. In fact fairness (of skin) has been known to negate all manner of personal failings, including meanness, foolishness, poor dental hygiene and the inability to deep fry an aubergine.

For generations Sri Lankan mothers have been keeping their daughters out of the sun in case they Slip down the marital hierarchy, have to Slap on a serious amount of incongruously lighter foundation and be forced to marry the Slop that the fair-skinned girls left behind.

When Prima started kindergarten in London she was the only dark-skinned child in a class of fluorescently pale Brits. Understandably she went through a phase of feeling uncomfortable about her skin colour. She thought it was “ugly”. Prima’s skin is the colour of the finest milk chocolate. The Belgian or Swiss stuff, not that Hershey’s crap. Her skin is divine and it made me sad that she hadn’t realised it yet. Now as her colour deepens under the Australian sun, I can sense that without saying anything to her, I put more sunblock on her face than I do my sons. Damn that propaganda.

Last night, concerned that by reading this particular Hindu myth, I had unwittingly passed on a ridiculous (and at times destructive) cultural idiosyncrasy, I asked the children what they thought about the story of the Goddess Lakshmi (who incidentally, with her new milky complexion, goes on to marry very well). The children laughed, seemingly unscarred, and they sang a little rhyme they had composed about it. It went like this “Lakshmi and Vishnu sitting in a tree, K-I-S-S-I-N-G.”

It’s now a couple of years since Prima was in kindergarten and she has changed. She seems a lot more comfortable in her skin. She starts taking off her clothes as soon as she enters the house after school and by the time she gets to the pool she is all naked milk chocolateness. She slips, she slaps and she slops but for all the right reasons, immune to antiquated notions of beauty and unaware of how truly beautiful she is.