Mother’s Day from Miles Away

Holidays were my favorite part of being a TCK because they were often celebrated uniquely. We spent Christmases in the dry heat of Nairobi, Kenya, Eid with our Bangladeshi community from Jakarta, Indonesia to Charlotte, North Carolina, birthdays renewed on breathtaking islands, riding elephants, flying in the air or surfing in the ocean…but always, always, my family was together.

Not this year, though.

This is my first year of being an “official adult” which means yet another transition. I’m used to them by now, but transitions still irk me. Not always, mostly on days like today, Mother’s Day 2018, when I am 470 miles away from my family. This is, of course, the way life evolves. But it doesn’t make the pain of missing people lessen by one percent.

This morning I FaceTimed my mom so I could see her face and pretend I was home. She was being pampered by my dad – banana-apple pancakes and watermelon juice, bright flowers, eating breakfast on our gorgeous patio at home in Charlotte. I put on a big smile and partook in festivities from this great distance, but internally, it utterly devastated me to not be there, making breakfast for her myself, gifting her a bouquet with purple flowers, enjoying heart-to-hearts with the sun beaming around us. My dad does a wonderful job, don’t get me wrong; regardless, it hurt not to be there.

That being said, Mom and I did get a chance to celebrate an early Mother’s Day a few weekends back when she came to visit me in Baltimore. Even though we had that awesome girl’s weekend together, it’s not the same as being there in person for the people you love.

I can’t speak for all TCKs, but for me, missing people is triggering as hell. It zaps me back into this uncomfortable limbo where I have to deal with the wounds Goodbyes inflict, while simultaneously reminiscing on warm memories. The juxtaposition of those two things is exhausting. And yet…glass half-full: “how lucky we are to have so many people to love and miss,” right?

While that’s absolutely true, sometimes I get tired of looking at things with optimism. I think it’s okay for people to just feel how they feel and not be pressured to feel anything other than whatever emotion holds them hostage in that moment. We need to normalize the release of emotions, validate them and let people thaw out in their own time. If my job (that I adore) has taught me anything, it’s to let the pressure gauge release slowly. It’s healthy, actually.

See, I miss my family every day, and that’s okay. I am still a high-functioning adult with responsibilities, job security, building a network, being social, trying to do my best on a daily basis. And because of that, I get to be tired and upset on days like this because it’s normal to not be okay one hundred percent of the time. In a perfect world, we would have the technology to beam across space in mere seconds so we could be back with our loved ones, then travel home to reality all in the same day. But we’re not there yet. So instead, we are responsible for facing and digesting our emotions. Pushing them down and ignoring them is not the answer. Feel what you feel so you can move forward.

I wanted to share my normal with you all, so if you ever doubt yourself, you have proof that what you feel is valid. Miss your family, miss your friends, miss your pets, miss your Life The Way It Was Before. When you do that, when you truly let yourself feel the intensity of your emotions, you will reach a peak, and then you’ll be able to descend into Acceptance. Liam wrote a post earlier this year on The Five Stages of Grief as Told by Moving, and I agree with him 100%. Moving = missing, and missing people is natural. So be natural, be normal. We are human, after all.

UN Day

One of my favorite events every school year was United Nations Day. It was a day where students directly participated in multiculturalism rather than sitting in a classroom reading about it. Students were encouraged to dress in their country’s traditional clothing (ex: saris, dashikis, hanboks, sarongs, etc.), wave flags of their country of nationality – or wear them, and not in a disrespectful way, and even dress up in cultural clothing that was not of their own heritage. This does not mean cultural appropriation – in fact, it was an appreciation of a culture other than your own.

My childhood self was thrilled when UN Day came around. I was excited to choose which country to represent, what new foods to taste, and what my friends were going to wear. I realize as an adult that I am the minority in most spaces, which is a label I am happy to be. I came to realize it’s not common to meet a chick with a white dad and a brown mom, who is one third of a biracial, multicultural, interfaith family. As diversity is one of my biggest values, I am fully comfortable in my own skin. UN Day was a chance to wear that skin proudly. As a Bangladeshi-American with a Muslim, Bengali mother and a Catholic, American father, there was plenty of room for creativity. Usually, I chose to sport a sari or salwar kameez – traditional Bengali clothing. A sari is a long cloth that desi (which refers to South Asian) women drape around themselves, over a petticoat (similar to a crop top) and accessorize with heavy jewelry. A salwar kameez is a two-piece outfit: typically ankle-length pants (that look similar to what someone who is unfamiliar with this desi culture would see on Princess Jasmine from the Disney movie, Aladdin) and an intricate shirt that comes to upper thigh lengthwise. Stick a bindi (traditional accessorized mark) to your forehead and voila! – I felt like a brown princess!

The day would be spent circling around a massive food festival (thank you, moms and dads for cooking!) and trying delicacies from at least 40 different nations – chicken satay on sticks, rice wrapped in banana leaves, beef bulgogi, flavorful pasta, funnel cakes, simmering curries, samosas, vegemite on tiny toast, bratwurst, Swiss chocolate…you name it. We would then traipse into the auditorium to watch a slew of cultural performances like bhangra dance, Korean mixed martial arts, a flag waving ceremony where students would saunter onto stage with a flagpole from a different country, and finally end with a chorus of “We Are the World.” Living in India and Indonesia, there were often spotlights on the history of those countries during UN Day. At the American Embassy School (AES) in India, students from over 30 countries would gather to hear the ferocious tale of the Ramayana. At Jakarta International School (JIS) in Indonesia, we would watch in awe at performances of Wayang puppets, accompanied by gamelan – percussion and gong instruments. The point was to appreciate the country we were residing in at the time by being immersed in their traditions.

The beauty of UN Day was celebrating diversity and multiculturalism in such an engaging way. There is nothing like an open environment that welcomes questions, allows for you to try new things, and most importantly, emphasizes that differences should be celebrated. It was remarkable to walk onto school grounds and see the pop of color from people sporting their traditional dress from their country, hear the excited chatter as kids darted to-and-from food stalls, giggling and slurping down whatever delicacy they had chosen.  It was beautiful to see parents of all skin colors and nationalities intermingle, to be in classrooms where teachers came from all corners of the world so being taught in accents that ranged from American to Japanese to Australian was normal. When I moved back to the US, it wasn’t that culture lacked in any way here, it was that it wasn’t part of the curriculum at the school I attended. I missed hearing people converse in their native language, of  lunchtime filled with intriguing smells as peers indulged in food that ranged from chicken katsu to burgers, of seeing people from different backgrounds interact – because it was normal. It was our normal. And that is something I took for granted at that age.

It was my favorite day of the year, and an event that I try to bring into adulthood so that people can enjoy culture in a way that is open, warm and welcoming. JIS was the final international school I attended, so UN Day in 2010 was my last one. The most impactful idea that I brought back to the U.S. with me is the official national motto of Indonesia: bhinneka tunggal ika which translates to unity in diversity. There are some things that as a TCK you are lucky to bring into your new life, and for me, celebrating culture with my friends is just that.