Indian Expat Parent: Influence and Outfluence

Tiger CubWhen I was pregnant with DD, about 5 years and 9 months ago (wow! It’s been that long already?), I was thrilled. I’d always wanted a baby — it was my life’s mission. While my friends were making plans to get promoted and move ahead in their careers, I was making plans to hold a soft and cuddly baby.

I had no idea about the screeching, the voracious appetite, the incessant pooping and all the peeing. In my head, a baby was a sweet, precious little bundle you’d just swaddle and hum and sing to. Lame, I know. So when DD actually came out, it was a shocking introduction to reality.

Throughout my pregnancy, I was the princess, the undisputed ruler of my little queendom. My wish was everybody’s command. I didn’t have any special symptoms of pregnancy except the expanding belly, but I felt like I owed it to friends and family to deliver some drama. They were expecting it: asking me if I was experiencing uneasiness, nausea, anything at all. I’d always had mood swings, so my pregnancy moods didn’t stand out; I thought I was letting my loved ones down. So when I hinted at feeling nauseated while cooking one day, I had a cook the next day — a cook who stayed with me till we moved here. I had a maid, a masseuse, a driver. Oh, I’m so jealous of my pregnancy days!

When you’re pregnant, almost everyone you meet offers advice — at least that’s how it was back in India. “Don’t bend too much”; “Don’t eat papaya”; “Don’t exercise too much” (yeah, like I ever exercised anyway). But one piece of advice I did heed was to listen to a lot of Vedic chants and soothing music. It influences the temperament of the child, I was told. And I listened to my own advice: Read tons of Calvin and Hobbes. I loved the boy and his tiger, and I wanted a child as naughty and mischievous as Calvin.

My parents wanted a child with a calm temperament, like my husband’s. They probably prayed to all 330 million Hindu gods for a grandchild whose genetic makeup was nothing like their daughter’s. Given that I was reading volume after volume of Calvin and Hobbes and listening to all the Vedic chants my dad could lay his hands on, my husband was really confused about what kind of child we would have.

In my pre-mom days, I assumed girls would be soft-spoken and kind and gentle, and boys would be noisy and troublesome. (Pregnancy brain did not let me see myself in the mirror.) I figured if I knew the sex of the baby, I’d know the temperament. In India, however, it is illegal to find out the gender of the baby before birth, so I read everything there was to read on the topic. But like most information from the Internet, the answers were inconsistent and led only to greater confusion.

Some sites talked about the shape of the belly: basketball or football. I’ve always stayed away from sports, so reading about the sizes and shapes made little difference to me. I couldn’t figure out the shape of my belly to save my life, and DH was growing suspicious of my sudden interest in athletic equipment. We had an understanding that we were going to leave the gender of the baby as a surprise. And because he trusted me so much, I decided not to let him in on my research. Was my bellybutton popping out or sucked in? Was I glowing or was I ugly? I always had contradictory answers to these questions. One test indicated I’d have a boy; another, a girl; and one test even concluded that I was having twins — what did the doctors know?

Today, with an almost-5-year-old, I know that Calvin has left his indelible mark on both my daughter and myself. DD likes to test out her theories of relativity on me. If she breaks the laundry basket, how does it relate to the bulging vein on Mama’s forehead? If she “swims” in her tub and splashes water out, is the seamonster dead? And for me, she has broken all gender stereotypes.

I guess the chants played a part, too. She is very calm and controlled when she’s out on the job.

DD, where are you heading with that hammer now?

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