Monday, November 10, 2008

Everyday lessons

Cantaloupe came from school last week and exclaimed, "My friend A said my food is yucky". I was red in anger and wanted to shout at A at the top of my lungs .. how dare she labelled our food yucky?? Sanity prevailed and I instead bent down to meet Cantaloupe's eyes and said, "Never mind what she says or thinks. Be thankful to God that he has given you food and always remember to not waste the food. Food is precious and never say yucky to food."
Cantaloupe continued, tomorrow I will look at A's food and say "Yucky" ... though that would exactly be the way I would do things some 20 years back, I reminded her again that "Food is precious and No food is yucky". But she protested, "She eats meat amma ... that is yucky". I explained to her patiently "Chinni, never say Meat is yucky because it is food for some people. We are vegetarians and we don't eat meat. But there are other people who eat meat and they like their food. So remember to never disrespect food".
Cantaloupe stopped the argument at that point. But I could see it in her voice and expression that she was really hurt with her classmate labeling her food "yucky".
Cantaloupe is getting older by the day and she is bound to meet more people who may or may not share the same principles as we do at home. BP and I try our best to remind her of what is acceptable in our house ... but every now and then there are arguments as to how some of her friends are different. Like, her friend S. Her mom, is OK with her kids watching TV. The kids tell me that they watch TV all afternoon since they are not allowed to sleep. They ask me to switch on the TV when they come to play in our house ... of course I refuse the request and remind them of all the wonderful toys they can play with.
Sometimes I wonder if Cantaloupe thinks we are uncool parents ... rather strict parents. Perhaps she does ... but I hope she will appreciate us some day.

How do you parents tackle questions like "Why can I not eat chocolates / ice cream everyday when S can eat?" or "Why do I have to write my alphabets everyday?" or "Why do I have to clean up after playing by myself?" (I insist that she clean up the toys even when we visit her friends and they end up spreading toys all over the place ... but I have seen very few parents doing the same with kids when they visit us. Obviously Cantaloupe wants to know why she has to clean when other don't do it in our house. And the answer I give is well, if you let your friends go back without cleaning, YOU will have to clean all by yourself... so better get help from friends)


mnamma said...

M and N had the exact same situation like you described a few days back regarding eating meat. They asked me if I would bake a turkey for Thanksgiving because their teacher had talked to them about the history of Thanksgiving and said people cook turkey and bake pumpkin pies for Thanksgiving at home. I just said that I'll cook them something special (vegetarian) at home on that day but we don't cook or eat turkey. I think it is kind of a difficult situation to handle and have often wondered how to answer it better. Regarding eating chocolates/icecream daily I just say how harmful it can be to their teeth and they do seem to understand it better. Same with limited TV and cleaning up after playing. I am usually strict with both the issues. Cantaloupe will sure appreciate it when she is older - thats for sure :)

Pixie said...

I have no clue how to handle such situations, yet!
I hope I have the same clarity and patience which you have when I get my turn to deal with such questions...

Desimom said...

Hi there,
First time reader of your blog. I assume you're in the US to stay for the long run? My parents brought my family over when I was 6and the same food event your daughter relayed to you is what I experienced some 30 years ago! I remember vividly that I had brought a potato sandwich to school and was teased. I didn't have an angry reaction, just a sad one. And I didn't tell my parents.

So there's the first kudo to you and your daughter's relationship...that she tells you her feelings! Sadly, after 30 years, you'd think society would have grown up too.

My parents allowed my brother and I to choose our eating style. I chose non-veg and my brother remained a strict veg. No worries, we're both good people who respect our culture equally. Just made different choices.

Teach what you believe is right for your family. But let your kids make decisions based on accurate info. as they grow up.

Yes, it's a different culture than what you'd grown up with, that has it's negatives, but many positives too. Find the positives and speak of them often.

Embrace your heritage and pass it along. Continue celebrating Diwali in your new US style as energetically as your recall in your past. Recount your childhood days and special religious days to your children. Your kids will remember and will be grateful for the knowledge of who and from where they came, just as I am now. There's a backlash for Indian kids raised in the US and it's so sad that it often comes from other Indians. I, for one, am not a confused Indian rather a very lucky American who has such a rich culture to love. Something I learned from my parents. You seem like an earnest woman who is doing her best and I applaud you for teaching your kids your values and what you find important in life.

Sorry for the long post.

Anonymous said...

long comment ahead, sorry ina dvance!

My kids have both faced the your-food-is-yucky issue. We're in TX - pretty much meat heartland, so while the schools themselves are very veggie-friendly and adults in general are open to a veggie lifestyle, meat is still the default option here.

We told our kids, as soon as they were old enough to understand, that we were not comfortable with killing animals for food, since we did have other options. This did lead to questions about whether friends who ate meat were bad people for killing animals. So we explained about different folks having different ideas about the purpose of animals and so on.

When faced with the yucky statement, my son was able to state in a very matter of fact way that it wasn't - it was his food and that the other boy was rude to say it was yucky (this was in first grade, in a private school). When this continued, everytime he brought something a little different, we informed the teachers via a pvt email.
The school had regular sessions on social skills (ex. Bullying - how to recognize, what to do etc.), so at the next session, they brought up differences in food and eating habits and clearly stated that dissing someone else's food was not acceptable behaviour. The comments stopped after that, and actually that boy and my son became fairly close friends - he got curious about the different things my son took to school for lunch and so on.

Now, both kids are in public school (3rd and 1st grade) this time, son is well equipped to handle comments - he states, loudly and clearly, that such statements are rude and that he doesn't comment about the food habits of the person commenting, though he doesn't think killinga nimals for food is right! We talked to his teachers to see if this was an acceptable statementto make in a public setting, and they were fine with it. Daughter is more timid in general, but is more vocal about her beliefs. When she first heard this statement, she prompt;y shot back that the other kid's food was the yucky one, since it was flesh from an animal that was dead! (and yes, we did talk about not calling meat yucky, but she hasn't accepted external politeness in this issue yet) - as I understand, her table fell silent at that statement, and some of the meat-eating kids were taken aback to hear that. Her teacher said she heard her (she wasn't loud, but the teacher was nearby) and said she handled it fine.

This school also has sessions on tolerance etc. so brought up the food issue. There are about 5% veggie kids in the school I think.

All this apart, I make the effort to not send something too alien in a school setting - Indian food includes idlies, dosas, upma, pulao and occasionally curd-rice. We average 2 days Indian food, 2 days pasta or mexican food, with pizza on Fridays.

With my kids, treating all this as a matter-of-fact happening, has helped them the most. They have learnt to state the don't-kill-animals-for-food line when asked for reasons, and don't seem traumatized by lunches at all...they ask for specific Indian dishes for lunches, even when I have asked if it would elicit comments (bisi-bele-bhath for example) - but they've been confident of dealing with questions, if any.

Again, sorry for the dissertation!


Cantaloupes.Amma (CA) said...

@mnamma: We have given the same health reason for chocolates /icecreams ... but kids being kids, she gets tempted when she sees some of her friends not bound by any such rules at home. But I have to give her some credit that she doesn't throw a fit about it. (she just takes a chance with us ... but we have not not give in) She knows that she gets her bit of goodies in the weekend and patiently waits for the same.

@pixie: I am sure you will handle it just fine when your turn comes. :))

Cantaloupes.Amma (CA) said...

@Desimom: True words of wisdom I see in your words ... I will definitely make note of everything you have said. I have been trying exact same philosophy you have stated ... but like all parents I'm always re-evaluating my beliefs and parenting styles every now and then. I know that chosing veg / non veg food habits is the least critical of all the other challenges ... I am preparing myself to accept that one day my daughters may choose to go the non-veg way. I think I will be ok with that.
We try to celebrate American festivals as well ... but I am still learning about the same and so it may not be the same way as Americans. But when my daughter is born here and a citizen of this country, I do not want to deprive her of the culture this country has to offer.
Thanks for your kind words again .... please do keep visiting and sharing your experiences :)

Cantaloupes.Amma (CA) said...

@M: Please don't apologise for the long comment.
In fact thank you for sharing your experience. I am so glad you shared it. I am still learning about school policies here ... its nice to know that these concerns are addressed. In fact I was considering discussing the same with her teachers ... but I wanted to give my daughter a chance to handle the situation once on her own.
Cantaloupe in general does not feel out of place with the "Indian food" she carries. It helps that her class has a good mix of Indians, Mexicans, Americans and Chinese. She loves her pasta ... which I prepare quite often. She is not fond of other cuisines, though we have taken her out to try different cuisines. May be she will eat them over a period of time ...

Thanks again for visiting :)

Anonymous said...


thanks - I was certainly embarassed at the lengtyh of my comment...but it dealt with an issue I haven't seen on other desi mom-blogs so far.

Just wanted to add, I grew up in India (B'lore) and faced the non-veg-is-cool attitude all the took me until high school I think, to be OK with my food and lifestyle. This in the 70s/80s.

BTW, an unexpected consequence this past week - son was asked why he wouldn't buy a burger from the cafeteria instead of bringing a veggie burger from home - he said he didn't eat meat, explained why, and the other child was horrified to learn that the burger patty was meat from a cow. Many kids here have no idea that meat is animal-flesh, thinking of it instead as something like bread, I think!


Cantaloupes.Amma (CA) said...

You from B'lore ??? Hmm ... we can exchange some Kannada anecdotes :)))
Kids didn't know they ate meat ??? Thats surprising !!!

Btw, self from Mysore :))

Imp's Mom said...

wow! I hope I can do half the great job that you have done with Cantaloupe. I have adults thinking I am denying my child her right to indulge in chocolates, cakes, ice cream and biscuits.

I'm an occasional non-veg eater( meaning only we eat out), don't cook meat at home, and my kiddo's choice will be her's to make. Desi-mom and M have said it beautifully...

Anonymous said...


heh, I went to college in Mysore, so familiar with that city as well, and love it...maybe we know each other IRL? (Doubt it, I think I am much older :-))

Meat - well to so many kids,the connection between meat and animals is not made at all, since they are only aware of packages meat from the store. There are movements here to actually educate children on the sources of their food, (like 4H organizations) but the average kid really doesn't make the connection until they are older, IME.

As for celebrating American festivals - there are only 3, (halloween, T'giving and Xmas)right? What's 3 more when added to the round of Hindu festivals we attempt to celebrate! :-D

We do T'giving with a vegetable lasagna as the main dish - the rest of the traditional T'giving dishes have veggie versions or are veggie already, so no issues. Green Bean casserole is a huge favourite anyway.

Xmas - we bought a tree when the kids were old enough to ask for one. The kids get to decorate the tree. They understand that Xmas is really celebrating the birth of Christ, and so don't bother abt presents/Santa Claus etc. I did warn them not to tell their school friends that Santa was imaginary, as many kids believe so wholeheartedly in him until they are 6~7 years old. The desire for presents - they know that post-Xmas shopping is when they get good stuff on sale (I have practical minded kids) and so wait and mark off stuff they want, we negotiate what they can get (usually one "play" item each) and they're fine with it.


Cantaloupes.Amma (CA) said...

Your kids are quite practical !! I hope mine grow up the same way as well :))

@imp's mom: I read about imp's food habits from your post. Its a pity people don't respect the choice.

GettingThereNow said...

S faced such a situation too - someone said her food was yucky. More than once. I told her to say this the next time "Show some manners. Don't call my food yucky. How would you like it if I call YOUR food yucky?" That gave her a sense of empowerment - that she didn't have to listen to such comments quietly and she had some smart comment to return too. And I feel if she says it in a calm, firm voice, the other person WILL listen. I have taught her to say this (Show some manners. How would you like it if....) for various situations.

As for when S asks me why she isn't allowed to do certain things her friends are allowed to do (like watch endless TV or eat candy whenever they please or even stay up till late) I always reply "Those are THEIR parents' rules. You have to follow YOUR parents' rules." She accepted that fairly easily. I do impose some of my rules on her visiting friends. As for cleaning, I used to tell S to help her friends clean up before we left but none of her friends returned the favor. So I set down one rule when someone comes over - they can take out only one game at a time. If they want another game, they have to put the first one away. That ensures there isn't much clutter when they leave. And I have told S that she can ask her friends to help her clean up before they leave. If they don't then she can remind them that she helps them she comes over. If they still don't help, I tell her to let it go. They have forgotten their manners but she mustn't forget hers. She accepts that fairly easily.

Whew!! Sorry for the long comment.


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