Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Rear Garden: Stress Release Valve

It's not warm and it's not sunny today, but my kids are in the rear garden regardless. Thank you, Lord!!! I'm starting to realize a big part of my frustration these past few months was probably due to having my 3 loud, active children crammed into my small house with me. Having some peace and quiet as they play outside is just wonderful!!

Our garden is all gravel, but a horse pasture adjoins it and there is a bit of dirt by the fence. It still amazes me how creative my kids can be with so few material things. Today they're collecting supplies to build a house (gravel, rocks, pieces of wood, "concrete"), and yesterday they were working on creating their own pond. Perhaps they were inspired by the presentation on amphibians we went to last week, in which it was stressed over and over again how important ponds are.

They come back in with filthy clothes, and manage to get dirt all over the floor. But it is so worth it!!! They're happy and I'm happy! You can't beat that!

Thursday, February 19, 2009

The Namesake -- a review

If you have not yet watched the movie, “The Namesake” (rated PG-13), and think you’ll want to, do not read beyond the section break below – it will spoil the story for you! But if you have seen the movie, I’d love to hear your feedback. And if you haven’t, do watch it and then let me know what you think!

A friend recommended and loaned this movie to me, and I watched it last night. It is based on a book about an Indian family living in America, beginning with the new marriage of the mom and dad and their emigration from Calcutta to New York. We see a bit of the culture shock, the birth of their two children, and the beginning of adjustment to Indian life in the States.

Then the movie skips forward 13 years to the graduation of their elder child, a son, from high school. We see a glimpse of normal parent/teen struggles, compounded by cultural issues, but also the beauty of family and heritage. And finally the movie skips another few years, until their son is working as a twenty-something architect, and dating an Anglo-American. The focus then is on marriage and the value (or not) of furthering Bengali culture.

I really enjoyed this movie! The glimpses of Indian culture were fascinating and the Indian music was beautiful. I even thought of going out to buy the soundtrack.

The development of a loyal, loving marriage between mother and father (previously strangers to each other) is unusual and inspiring. To me, it was the most redeeming part of the entire story. The couple faces life in a new country, separation from extended family, raising children who think and behave within a different cultural worldview, and yet they stay together and grow stronger through the years. Their love truly deepens and their commitment never wavers. This provides a rock for their children and a beautiful role model for all around them.

Though not dealt with in-depth, cultural adjustment is fairly portrayed, showing both the struggles and accomplishments, the joys and sorrows. Having lived overseas myself for half of my life, I felt keenly the loss of living so far from one’s relatives. I also resonated, though, with the closeness one can feel with “adopted family” when one establishes deep friendships.

The topic of one’s split identity – between one’s past heritage and one’s new country – is portrayed more at length. It gave me more insight to immigrants and their children who are raised in a western culture. It seemed fairly portrayed and not sensationalized, though the son does participate in smoking and sexual relationships (for those who care, there is a scene of rear nudity, and two implied sex scenes).


My disappointments in the movie came in the last ten minutes or so, and almost spoiled the whole story for me. Two critical things happen at the end: 1) The father dies of a heart attack, prompting the mother to move back to India; and 2) The son’s Bengali wife admits an affair and leaves him.

I think the divorce was so troubling for two main reasons. Firstly because of the way it contrasts with the lasting marriage of mother and father. And secondly because of the struggle the son went through in deciding between marriage to an Anglo or a Bengali.

But the final thought voiced by both son and mother is the most troubling. After his wife has left him and her husband has died, son and mom agree that they only now finally feel free. The emphasis on freedom flies in the face of the values and sentiments explored earlier in the movie – the importance of family, the strength of cultural roots, the love of marital relationships.

Perhaps freedom was not intended to overpower the story’s other values, but because the movie ends on this note, it’s hard not to interpret it this way. I don’t know how I’d evaluate “The Namesake” if I had to rate it using a score. I went to bed feeling sad, confused and disillusioned. Maybe I’m too much of a romantic, and the movie was just being realistic. I don’t know… I’d love to know what you think!

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

February '09 Update

My 2 year old Ethan is still not talking, but he sure can communicate. He has the most priceless facial expressions and ingenious ways of getting his thoughts across to us. Ethan also is ga-ga for trains and makes the loud tooting sound every time he sees a picture of one. When he draws, he likes to do complicated “train track” loops while making train sounds the entire time!

Ethan also loves hot drinks (tea, wassail, hot chocolate), clementines, reading books (often upside-down), nursing, going for walks, and taking baths. The other day he was in the tub for almost 2 hours while I got stuff done in the kitchen (I can see and hear him the whole time). It was great! He loves to help people – bringing them things that belong to them, setting the table for me, cleaning up, etc. He’s a sweetie!

Josiah (5) is great at geography! He can identify all the continents, several countries and several states. He loves to point to the map and show you what he knows! He also loves riding his scooter, learning about the ocean, and playing make-believe with Naomi. They create all kinds of scenarios with their mega-blocks, Wow toys, and stuffed animals.

Last week was a special one for Josiah (and Ethan) since it snowed on four different days. (Our weather was the worst in 20 years, I heard!) Josiah was an expert snowball-thrower and never complained, even when his pathetic gloves were soaked through. He also continues to be patient with his little brother and teach him lots of good things. Ethan copies everything Josiah does.

Naomi (6 ½) is really taking off with reading. She reads more smoothly and cheerfully, often picking up random books or papers and figuring out what they say. (Josiah is doing this, too.) She loved watching the snow fall last week, and played outside in it for a little bit, but does not like cold and is more sensitive to it than the boys. She constantly asks me to read the next chapter of whatever novel we’re on (we just finished “The Stream that Stood Still” and “Dolphin Adventure: a True Story.”) I have the feeling that once she reads fluently, I’ll never be able to get her nose out of a book!

Naomi also loves make-believe and if she’s alone, I can usually hear her singing her pretend conversations and stories. Just recently she’s begun helping me cook more often. She actually comes to me asking if she can cook with me, so I let her work on whatever I’m doing. It’s nice to have company in the kitchen!

Steve is making progress in Arabic and just completed the last essay for his Islamic History class. He’s grateful to have more time now to devote to studying Arabic, as it really does just take so much time. There’s no way around it!

I’ve been enjoying having at least one family over for a meal every week for the past month or so. I appreciate getting to know some church folk better that way, and I also enjoy trying out new recipes on everybody! I worked in an office at Steve’s college for 20 hours during the last two weeks (as a temporary fill-in) and had fun being with other adults, doing administrative grunt work. It was a good break from parenting and housework!

We’re all looking forward to Steve’s parents coming to visit us at Easter time, and we’re also hoping winter ends soon so our house warms up a little. Happy Valentine’s Day!!

Sunday, February 1, 2009

The Ugly

Well, I’ve been happy for a while, and especially in blogs and facebook, trying to keep a stiff upper lip. But I’ve hit a low again. Today I just want to buy a plane ticket “home” and leave England for good. Can I whine a little here? You don’t have to continue reading if you don’t like the good, the bad and the ugly!

It’s cold – not as cold as in Illinois and Virginia, but it feels colder. My house is terribly insulated and I never feel comfortably warm in it unless I’m doing physical labor (or with Steve under a comforter, with a hot water bottle at my feet!). I’m also cold most days when I have to go outside to walk or cycle to work, the grocery store, the library, a friend’s house, church, etc. I’m tired of winter, of cold, of not having a car to warm up in and central heating to keep us cozy at home.

I’m also tired of living in cramped spaces with lively and noisy kids who bounce all over the furniture because they have no yard and no jungle gym. My home here is probably not any (or much) smaller than my apartment had been in Virginia. But it has no front porch or expansive yard of grass for the kids to safely romp in. And the rooms are all divided from each other, shut off with doors, so it has a more cramped feeling.

I had expected small because I thought everyone had small in the U.K. I’ve discovered otherwise. All the privately owned homes I’ve visited have been remodeled with extensions and feel just that much bigger. My friends are always amazed when they come over and see the space I have to cope in. To know that my English friends think my home is small makes me think: hmmm, yes, maybe my home is SMALL!

And then I’m tired of a myriad of other things … Naomi’s whining and crying (about walking too far, or getting hurt, or her brothers bugging her....); the kids fighting; worrying about money and future plans; such an irregular schedule that I feel like I can’t get into a routine of school and cooking; hearing people tell me I should put my kids in school; Naomi’s debilitating shyness; Naomi’s latest hearing difficulties and illness; not having a dryer; doing my shopping in frequent small bits (because of being on foot); having a messy home (mostly my own fault), etc.

I know it’s all relative. I have a lot compared to most of the world. I am wealthy by their standards and have a safe home that fits us. I know this all in my head. That’s probably why I try to focus on the good and be thankful. God has blessed me in countless ways. But today I’m down. Today I’m fed up and don’t want to be cheerful. Like I said: the good, the bad and the ugly. Sorry to give you the ugly!!