I love to embarrass my kids. One of my greatest joys is to see the look on their faces when I do something silly in front of their friends. I’ll say things like “YOLO,”an acronym for ‘you only live once’ used by the teens. I greet their friends with “Yo, Dawg,” and I dance. Oh yes, I dance. To their rap, to their pop, to whatever is playing at the time. They look at me like I’m an alien, and if we are in public, hide, pretending that they don’t know me. But, yet I continue, not only because it is fun, but for another, more profound reason.
They can be who they want to be, regardless of what others think of them.
In the beginning, Indian social decorum bewildered me. I would be in a room full of Indian people, and not know how to relate. Especially with the older generation, this is how it would go down.
“How are you, Sheryl?”
“Good, thanks. I’ve been working a lot lately, and the kids are starting school, so I’m busy, and we are looking for a house…”
The other person’s eyes would glaze over, and I would know to stop talking. “How are you,” was basically a rhetorical question, I learned quickly. Compared to my white family’s dynamic, where we all spilled our guts out in the first few minutes of meeting up with family or friends. It would go like this.
“Hey Sheryl, how ya’ doin’?”
“Good! I’ve been working a lot lately and the kids are starting school, so I’m really busy, and we are looking for a house.” I would stop to take a breath, and the other person would jump in.
“I hear ya. You know we’ve been doing the same thing, too. Boy, it’s hard, isn’t it? Did you know I talked to so-and-so the other day and she said…” and off would fly the conversation.
So, unfortunately, I learned to change who I was when around Indians, keeping the real me hidden. If they weren’t going to accept me into their “club,” then I would stay under the radar and not make any waves. And my kids have learned a bit of the social code as well, but in a good way. They are accepted and loved, for sure. No doubt in my mind. But, there is certainly the understanding that there is a way to behave around Indian family, and another way to behave around others.
When we visit our Indian extended family, the kids understand the structure to the visit. Family members welcome us with genuine warmth. There is always a meal prepared for us, the women of the house always serve it, and we sit down together to eat, and make small talk. Afterward, the men retire to the living room to relax, while the women clean up. My kids are always polite, and sweet to aunts and uncles and cousins, because Ba, Dada, my husband and I have encouraged them to be more calm and subdued than at home. When we get together with non-Indians, however, things are very different. We mill around, serve ourselves, and chat boisterously and openly, telling jokes and sometimes ranting.
Neither way is right. Neither way is wrong. They are just different.
The other day, one of the twins was watching TV with a friend. I walked into the room, and started doing the dance from the YouTube video, “Gangam Style.” I skipped around a little, singing the song, and the boys cracked up. My son told me, “Go away, Mom!” and hid behind the sofa in embarrassment.
Later, he came to me and said, “My friend told me you’re pretty cool, ya know. You’re not like other parents. You let loose.”
I realized at that moment, how important it has become to make people feel at ease around me, especially children. I want them to know that they can be whoever they want to be around me, no matter how silly they look. Now, I would never go into my husband’s uncle’s house and start skipping around like a fool. They would call the men in white coats to come take me away. There is a time and a place for everything. But, it feels good to be able to have fun, and be silly around people at other times, because that is who I am.
And I really hope that my kids will learn from me that it is okay to be different, it is okay to express yourself, and it is okay to be yourself.
Until then, I think they will probably keep hiding from me.