Wednesday, 23 November 2016

Parenting in a New World of Walls

All a parent ever wants is a better world for their children, safe and full of opportunity.  Over generations, my family has gradually bettered themselves financially and academically.  On my dad's side, he was the first to attend a university, juggling school work with weekend shifts at his parents' fish shop.  On my mum's side, daughter of a Punjabi Civil Servant, her grandfather travelled on a dhow across the Indian Ocean to find new opportunities in British East Africa; her parents had emigrated on British Passports to escape Idi Amin's racial purification programme in 1972.  My childhood was happy and comfortable in bucolic charm, with a colour television and piano lessons.

I was twelve before I really understood racism.  Growing up in Tory Lincolnshire, the current hotbed for Farage's Brexit fans, I was aware of being a little different:  I had a Granny and a Naniji; I worshipped in a Church and in a Gurudwara and my mum sent me to my friend's pyjama party in a salwar kameez- an etymological master move ("pajama" is Hindi for loose trousers).  At age seven, I heard the school bully, eleven-year-old Walker, call my brother a "brownie".  Misunderstanding his meaning, I proudly interfered, stressing that I was a Brownie and my friends are Brownies, too.  My gang of Girl Guides then chased the offender around the school field, rudely chanting "Walkers Crisps".  Later in detention with my shamed face against the wall, the racial slur swept under the carpet, the Headmaster simply concluded, "Well, Walker, you're hardly a Golden Wonder".  

My plucky confidence was undone by one single incident at high school.  I remember walking alone down the corridor at lunchtime.  Up ahead were a group of boys, but it was fine because some were from my primary school and I'd even been at one boy's tenth birthday party, joked with his mum and eaten pizza in their kitchen.  That same boy gestured at me and as I smiled, he sputtered, "Paki".

Wounded, I gave no rebuttal and quickly walked along the corridor that seemed to go on forever, bursting into tears as I finally turned the corner.  It'd never occurred to me that I was so different to him.  I felt humiliated by this loaded word; my ego was shattered.  I felt unwanted, exiled from my hometown, my place of birth.  A friendly face found me at the end of the corridor and ushered me off to the Head's office.  Later, I silently accepted a muttered apology, but I couldn't meet his eyes.  The matter was closed, but I have never forgotten that moment.

If the Head had been a known favourite of the KKK and Neo-Nazi party, would there have been an apology, a consequence, or would I have had to accept the abusive language of fear and division.  Would we have studied race, abuse and identity in Literature?  Would the History syllabus include Apartheid, American Civil Rights and the evils of European Fascism? Would we have been so sure that the future could be free from prejudice?

Twenty years later, we are a generation on and we feel lucky to be able to build on our ancestors' hopes of raising children in a better world: freedom of religion, LGBT rights and instant global communication.  Our two little boys have a mixed heritage from England, Kenya, Tanzania and India; Sikhism, Christianity and Islam, but what defines them more is their delight in the moon and the stars, swings, trains and dinosaurs.  To have openly xenophobic leaders is an uncomfortable truth and our path forward is suddenly unclear and frightening.  For the sake of our children, all children, we have to speak up against hatred, smile at strangers and perform random acts of kindness.  Little by little, we can dismantle the walls (or fences) of fear and make the world a welcoming place.

Monday, 14 November 2016

Super Loon

Like many in the world, I've found it hard to see a bright future with Mr President-Elect waiting in the wings. The romantic-comedy of Mr O's two terms is set to transform into a full blown tragedy: lunacy fuelling tyranny.

The task of bringing up two little boys into this new world suddenly got a lot harder. The democratic election of a self-professed molester has legitimised the sexism that we are fighting against.  The teaching of respecting women and men equally has always been necessary, but the weight on our shoulders just got a lot heavier.  I talked at length to both boys about the importance of gender equality, fair pay and how to be a true gentleman in all situations. At only two years old and five months young, I'm not sure how much they took in. But even without my guidance, my toddler already knows that his Duplo granny can drive the Duplo tractor just as well as the male farmer figure that came with it; the little Duplo girl who accompanied the gardening set can also fix the train just as well as the cap-wearing boy on the picture. When giving out pretend tea and food to his various soft toy picnic guests, all get an equal share of whatever imaginary delight is on offer.

Our boys may well see their Papa leave for work every weekday, but they also see him making morning cups of tea for the family, changing nappies at the weekend, cooking dinner when he can and folding the laundry.  They will also see their mum building intricate railway tracks, bowling a cricket ball and attempting keep-me-ups in the garden.

We should thank BBC's CBeebies for challenging our traditional expectations of gendered roles. Nina, the young female scientist, is the face of experiments, explosions and gadgets: a refreshing change to the bespectacled older white gentleman. In Andy's Dinosaur Adventure, Andy is the  young enthusiastic museum worker who is apprentice to Hattie, the older female dinosaur expert, a revered Doctor in Paleontology and courageous global fossil hunter.  Footy Pups is hosted by the talented star of  English women's football, Rachel Yankey OBE.  The Pirate Captain on the popular Swashbuckle game show is also female, a welcome alternative to the tired and worn out image of the Doctor Who- like relationship of the experienced and educated older male figure to a young, usually very attractive, female side-kick. Even Shakespeare had already started to challenge these gender roles with strong female powers on the stage: Titania, Olivia, Lady Macbeth as well as the historical Cleopatra and Elizabeth I, all with their younger respectful male servants. It's a shame that the Miss Universe-owning Business Tycoon and next US President seems oblivious to the worth of women beyond his own carnal satisfaction.

Pro-Trump women on a discussion panel on Radio 4's Women's Hour were asked whether they'd allow their daughters to work in Trump's office.  Their answers were resoundingly in favour of the idea, impervious to his proven track record, that makes a woman's worth limited to her attractiveness.  And some men would learn that that is acceptable, too. Calling women names like "pig, dog, slob, disgusting animal" would become commonplace, instructing other men on how to molest and over-power women and commenting on little girls' sex appeal will no longer be 'just' abhorrent "locker room banter" but discourse in the Oval Office.

Perhaps it's not so surprising that such political madness and lunatic Trump policies have coincided with the passage of the supermoon, the closest the moon has been to the earth since January 1948, the month of Mahatma Ghandi's assassination. The lunar effect on human and animal behaviour has long been tracked and analysed; law and enforcement report a rise in crime during a full moon and we all  know about werewolves.  I also find myself transfixed by the cratered face of the moon, periodically looking up to chart its rise from the ground to its zenith. My eldest stares out of the window and then bounces wildly on the bed, somersaulting and shouting "da moooooon".* Our baby's face turns to the warm glow of the east as the dusk sky darkens before bath time.

There's nothing like an enormous moon to bring you back down to earth.  The mighty moon has seen many triumph and fail, witnessed the creation and extinction of different species and is powerful enough to dictate the tides and correlate with the fertility cycles of womankind. Sitting aloft in his tower, Mr PEOTUS may well be in a commanding position of tyranny but he, like all of us, is a nobody in the eyes of the moon.  And if that isn't comfort enough, just know that the only trump that our toddler cares about is the funny sound and stinky smell that parps out of his bottom.

Tuesday, 8 November 2016

Wonder in mankind

Today was one of those perfect Autumn days.  Big cosy coats and woolly hats cocooned the little ones as the cold air rouged our cheeks.  The sun shone low through the trees; the crisp orange, yellow and red leaves crunched underfoot. The earthy smell of decaying leaves reminding us that winter is around the corner.

One of the many great things about becoming a mum is that you experience the world anew. Mundane objects become intricate gizmos as you try and answer the repeated "what's dat?" (potato peeler, measuring scales, dental floss). You can be moved to tears by the wonder of mankind's achievements as your child points out every aeroplane, waves at helicopters and cheers on every train. Basic science suddenly fascinates you again: magnets, fireworks, the sun going down and the shape-shifting moon coming up. The hope of a new generation getting to grips with the big wide world.

As well as such rediscovery, mankind seems more wonderful too. When you're flying solo, life's too busy to notice other people and you can manage by yourself perfectly well, thank you very much. However, there's something about having a little baby snug against your chest that makes total strangers smile at you.  For a fleeting moment, their kindly face connects with your contentment and there's a shared silent moment of simple joy in the world.  And you need those strangers, too.  While doing the shopping or posting a parcel, I'll also be pushing our snoozey toddler in the buggy while jiggling our baby to sleep in the sling. I am usually in need of an extra pair of hands and I am delighted to report that even without asking, shop doors are opened for us, hard to reach items are passed to me and particularly thoughtful humans have even offered to carry my heavily laden basket. When merely leaving the house can be such a major challenge, it's a relief to know that the world isn't such a bad place after all.

As Americans go out to vote today, whatever the potential outcome may be, I want to register my good fortune to live in a place that shows everyday respect, kindness and care.  Autumn always brings change, but after the rotting of beautiful leaves and the dark cold of winter, spring will soon be here again. Whatever the outcome, the world will still be full of love, peace and wonder.