We moved to US when my older one was three. I had some schooling experience with him in Bombay, but what I did not realize was that once we moved here, it was not just him who was going to be schooled!
I have always been pretty outgoing and never ever gave a second thought to how I looked, spoke or smelt. I was quite comfortable being me. My husband and I had been to US on multiple occasions before we had a child. The trips were great each time. But it never occurred to me that how different it would be, for me, after having a child.
It was different after having a child, as before I had Shreyas, there was only as much need for interaction with the Americans as I wanted. So there was no need to worry about accent and being understood. My main interactions were during sight-seeing and shopping. I was very content with my Indian friends till then.
This was the first time I had to talk to an American as a need! I also had the stress of making my child understood. Shreyas was born in India and he knew just Malayalam when we moved here. He learnt English only after being enrolled in a school. That all added to the stress along with a complex I had developed about me; the way I smelt and spoke.
I remember the first time we took him to a playschool to enrol him. The whole idea of speaking with teachers, who were going to be involved with my son, was somehow nerve-wrecking. I fumbled on my words, which was unusual for me. The teachers, for their part, were very understanding and patient. They had to make me repeat what I said a couple of times in order to understand. It was never their intention to make me self-conscious, but I felt it all the same.
When I picked up my son from school, the whole time, I would hope that no one talks to me or comes near me. I was now so conscious of the way I talked as well as the way I smelt that I would hate the curry smell that stuck to my clothes! I would notice other moms making play dates at the school pick-up lines. I never found the courage to ask and organize one for my son. The moms were always nice to me though.
I was then pregnant with my second child. They would never fail to ask me if all was ok. I knew I was creating imperfect images of myself in my mind, but it never occurred to me to change. One of the moms, after a while, asked me to take my son over to hers. To this day, I am grateful to that mom (who is now one of my closest friends) for taking the first step. Amy, my friend, knew a few Indians after living in the city and was also a huge yoga fan. She said that she felt I was lonely and always noticed me standing alone. One day she came up to me and asked if Shreyas could go over for a play date. While we were at her house, she talked to me and something about our interaction made me feel very comfortable with her and with myself.
But that wasn’t enough to get over the delusions in my mind about me. I had never read for my son’s class and would always avoid it because I felt I couldn’t communicate well. I had to read to his class on his birthday in the first grade. I was in two minds about it; I was scared as hell but I also wanted to do it. When I told my son about it he was initially quite unhappy as he felt his friends wouldn’t understand me. That completely broke me because I was trying to gather confidence and him reinforcing my fears did not help at all. I anyway decided to do it and ensured him that his friends would understand me although I wasn’t sure of it myself.
I had all alternatives in place before I read. I emailed his teacher asking her to take over from me in case I faltered. I also called Amy from the parking lot for assurance and she told me that I spoke perfectly. Finally I did it, and the kids had fun! That changed everything for me! I knew that I could communicate effectively, I saw me do it. I had overcome my mind!
It just took some time, to be more articulate, to let go off my slang, to ask, to offer and to simply accept being me. I am glad to have gone outside my comfort zone. It helped my son have a better experience too. And by the time my second son came, I was schooled, I was over my obsession with being perfect.
I think it all boils down to exposure. I don’t know if there are other desis who went through similar phases, but I have seen Indian moms who stay at home are usually more comfortable with other Indians than moms who work. Overcoming being conscious of self also came with being here for long. And when you have kids, you are automatically schooled because you have to interact with teachers, doctors and birthday parties where you meet other moms. It also helped that my town has a very low population of Indians, so dealing with non-Indians becomes mandatory!
When you graduate you start ‘seeing’ and I did too. I noticed the beauty in people and things around me. In my few years here, I must say that I haven’t had any bad experiences. I love how people always greet when you are out for a walk, and how the cashier at the store always smiles, and how other moms never fail to enquire about your child. Of course there are always things to learn, having a child keeps you in school in a lot of ways, but I must say that schooling does help, It helped me start life all over again!