Indian Expat Parent: Elementary School Love
They say, “Don’t ask the question if you’re not prepared to hear the answer.” But I never thought that my question, “So, how was school today?” would leave me unprepared for the answer. Definitely not when the school is elementary and the daughter is a kindergartner.
My daughter’s response to my completely innocent question was, “I don’t want to marry John*.” My face turned into a question mark. How can that even be a response?
“What happened, darling?” I asked, like any responsible mom would, pretending to be completely in control of the conversation.
“John said, ‘I love you.’"
“Aah, that’s so cute,” I said. Why do kids have to be so cute? I completely ruined the seriousness of her comment.
“No, Mamma. I don’t want to marry him,” she said in all seriousness. “And it’s not cute!”
“You don’t have to, darling.” I tried comforting her, attempting to make up for my faux pas. She was obviously agitated about John vocalizing his feelings.
“Are you sure, Mamma? Because in the movies, whenever somebody says, ‘I love you,’ the boy and the girl get married.”
“Ah-ha… ” I finally exhaled. It’s always the darned movies! “No, honey, you don’t have to,” I assured her. “In fact, you should not get married ’til you are at least 25. Besides, both the boy and the girl need to be in love to get married.”
“That’s not true,” my mother would later argue with me over the phone. Her marriage to my father was arranged; she didn’t know her future husband until the day they were married. “You don’t want to give away your chance of finding a match for her! Now she’ll think finding her soul mate is her responsibility.”
“Come back to India!” My father demanded, snatching the phone from my mother. “She should not be talking about marriage at 5.”
I hung up the phone. They were overreacting. My father is way too protective and will use just about any reason to get his only grandchild back to India.
She will need to be spoken to about love, life and marriage. But this is not the time for it. . . This is the time for her to be a kid, and I want to let her be.
When my husband came home and I told him our daughter’s story, his reaction was completely in sync with the typical Bollywood father. “Who’s this John, and why does he want to marry my child? What are his intentions? I want to talk to his parents.”
Meanwhile, in a totally different galaxy, on the upper floor of our house, our child was busy sprinkling glitter over her favorite princess’s long hair. Clearly she had moved on and left her parents to wallow in the emotional intensity of her situation.
But my husband’s reaction stopped me in my tracks; I wouldn’t be discussing our daughter’s love life with any other members of his blood line. Was I the only sane one here? I found it hard to believe. Was I finally the calm one? (I wanted to jump for joy, but then that wouldn’t be in keeping with my newfound composure.)
I spoke to fellow parents to find out if they’ve also had love stories narrated to them by their elementary school students and how they handled it. I wanted to make sure I wasn’t missing any important pages in the parenting book.
“Oh, yes!” said Miga, mom to 6-year-old Kai. “Kai wants to get married to Laila*, Ethan, his classmates and Ethan’s dad. It’s just so cute!”
C-u-t-e. She said “cute!” I was ecstatic. So either I was having a normal reaction to my daughter’s story or both Miga and I were flawed in our approach to handling this “sensitive” issue.
“My daughter has been consistent in her love for Sophie,” said Bill, dad of 7-year-old Maya. “Sophie’s her best friend from preschool, and Maya wants to marry her. She’s very clear that she does not want to marry any boy.”
“My daughter has been talking a lot about girlfriends and boyfriends,” responded Elena, mom of 6-year-old Lourdes. “She thinks that boys and girls who sit together become boyfriends and girlfriends. She hasn’t especially spoken about her love interest, but she has at one point expressed interest in marrying the only boy she spends a lot of time with. It’s so precious!”
Precious — a variation on “cute.”
From my research and data analysis, it’s clear that parents feel it’s important for kids to learn and understand emotions. It is important that they are taught, but sometimes, it is better that they learn by themselves. My daughter hasn’t spoken about the marriage again. She’s more excited about her wiggly tooth: “I’m going to become a big girl, Mamma!” she exclaimed. She will need to be spoken to about love, life and marriage. But this is not the time for it. This is the time for her to be excited about the tooth fairy’s visit, about Fancy Nancy’s tea party. This is the time for her to be a kid, and I want to let her be.
My husband, the logical guy at home, understood my analysis and appreciated the conclusion. “You are growing, too, aren’t you?” he remarked, surprised. “I thought you never would.” I almost appreciated that comment.
As for my father, he’s apparently forgotten about it, too, since we haven’t spoken about it since. But he still says my daughter needs to come back home to India, to bury that tooth to ensure that her permanent one is awesome!