Indian Expat Parent: Vacationing Cousins

Two cultures collide as summer travel spans the globe

My husband’s sister and her family came to the U.S. from India to visit us recently. My daughter was super excited because she was going to meet her cousin, K. She kept counting the days to K's visit, and we heard that 8-year-old K was doing the same in India, excited to meet her "little sister." K’s vacation had begun back in May, and she was eager to spend the rest of her vacation time with her cousin befor heading back to school.  

As soon as they landed, there was a clear overflow of sisterly love and we the parents were very happy to see the two girls drowning in all the hugs and kisses. My daughter imitated everything "K didi" (older sister) did and listened to everything she said, and K loved playing the little girl’s idol. It was absolutely touching seeing the girls bond so effortlessly — until the next day.

That’s when the differences became more pronounced. My daughter sang Let it Go all the time. K sang the latest Bollywood songs. My daughter would ‘Roar’ while K would dance an Ulfat. When they played the memory game by recalling the cartoon characters in the movies they saw, my daughter offered Elsa, Anna, Mr. Peabody and Hiccup while K spilled out the names of all the Hindi cartoon characters until she was breathless. At one point, we worried that the girls had nothing in common — until it was time to dress up.

Soon K taught my daughter to speak a few sentences in Hindi. Our daughter doesn’t like, or as it now seems, didn’t like speaking in Hindi until "teacher K" came along. Big-sister-like K started belting out "The cold never bothered me, anyway!" in a deliberate American-Indian accent. My daughter then taught her cousin about the importance of sitting on car seats and wearing seat belts in 'her' Seattle. K taught the little one how hair is worn in 'her' India.

Food habits began to change — the kids explored each other’s tastes and made life so much easier for both sets of parents. Our daughter could not have asked for a better connection. K emptied her suitcase — and our girl her closet — every morning to figure out matching dresses the two could wear. K even managed to get our kid in shorts, a feat I’d given up on a long time ago (she insisted on only wearing dresses with tights or leggings ... and I can never tell which is which). And K was successful in getting the kid into jeans, too! They would then pose very similarly for the perfect shot to any obliging photographer of the four grown-ups.

And, of course, there were quarrels. My daughter didn’t listen to everything K said, sometimes even questioning her authority. K did not like that this girl was arguing: She was the older sister! There was crying and howling and whining and complaining. While I initially did indulge in resolving their fights, I soon realized the best way to preserve my sanity was to let them resolve it themselves. True enough, they did. However unreasonable and illogical the solution seemed, it worked for them and they stopped all the high-pitched drama all by themselves.

My daughter didn’t come to me once for anything she needed. She went to "K didi" or her bua (aunt). K came to me to get her hair done, which gave me quite an ego boost because my own daughter had declared I was the worst at it and didn’t know how to create the latest styles without pulling her hair apart — a sentiment K shared about her own mom. The baby swap seemed to work for both the moms.

Blood is thicker than one’s taste of music, cartoon preferences or geographic location.

I don’t know how the three weeks just flew by. On the day they were to leave, my daughter did not talk to any of us. She was just busy with her stickers and coloring book. She didn’t hug K or kiss her beloved bua. She shut herself in her room with her crayons and markers.

“Won’t you hug me?” K pleaded.

“No. I am too busy,” our daughter responded.

“You can do that after they leave,” I tried.

“I’ll say bye after I finish this page.” 

In her mind, her didi wouldn’t go if she didn’t say goodbye. She refused to come down from her room. She just said, “I don’t want to come down.”

Very disappointed, K picked her backpack and headed to the car.

“Didi is going to the airport now. You have to come down,” I tried to force y daughter one last time.  No response.

But just as K was about to shut the door, my girl came running.

She hugged her cousin-sister for five full minutes. We had to pry the girls apart, lest the flight takes off without the Singh family.

“I’ll see you soon,” K said to her cousin. “When you come to India.”

“I’ll come soon,” my daughter promised as I pulled her out of the car.

“Mamma, I love K didi the most,” she said. “Let’s go to India. I want to spend my vacation with her.”

It's true — blood is thicker than one’s taste of music, cartoon preferences or geographic location.

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