Despite being citizens of a country that has been at war for over a decade, we embarrassingly never really stopped to think of what the Memorial Day weekend truly signifies. For our family, it signaled the start of summer, quieter weekends in Manhattan and a cue to dust off our bikes.
Over the past seven months, in almost every country we have been, we have seen reminders of war and of those that have given their lives during service or lost their lives caught in the middle. When we were in India we also learned more about the roles our family has played in war and defense.
Sandeep’s grandfather was in the Indian Army and served in places such as Penang and Burma. In his honor, we visited the Penang War Museum. Our starkest learning was that living and dining quarters were divided on nationality. The British had real bathrooms and things got progressively worse the further east or south one hailed.
We also stopped by the World War II Cemetery outside Yangon, close to where Sandeep’s grandfather almost lost his life fleeing air raids towards the end of the war. We read the names of his battalion members who had fallen that day.
My grandfather retired as Commodore of the Indian Navy. In his earlier years he captained mine sweeping expeditions. After his formal retirement, he served as the naval point for RAW, India’s external intelligence agency.
Both our grandfathers participated in wars though luckily both lived well past their duties. If they were alive, would they have war lessons to impart on their great-grandchildren? Being defenders and ultimately men of peace, we’d like to think they would support us in how we are raising our children to promote peace.
We are trying to raise kids who make every effort to understand other people’s points of view. It’s hard enough to understand people when they speak the same language and follow the same customs. Try understanding someone when they speak a foreign tongue and act in seemingly strange ways. We want Ava and Kayan to be comfortable in these situations. Our babysitter in Thailand spoke no English and our babysitter in Greece speaks only Greek. The kids have been to pre-school in India where their classmates only spoke Malayalam. Not only did the kids keep an open mind and figure out a way to find friendships in these situations, they actually form bonds that last after the goodbyes.
We are also trying to raise kids who don’t pass judgement on nationality, religion or orientation. We have successfully confused our kids into not being able to answer the question “Where are you from?” When asked this the other day, Ava answered, “Vouliagmeni“. We’re thrilled. It shouldn’t matter where you are from. Our geographical boundaries are increasingly porous, our environment interlinked and our social, political and economic decisions have contagion effects that Ava and Kayan’s great-grandfathers never experienced.
We never lose wonder at watching our kids adapt to and navigate our world. The very fact that we, as parents, think that personal differences are something to be acknowledged and actively respected tells me that we are more judgmental than our children. Our kids, being at an age when they are so young and so innocent, just accept differences. Any questions are out of curiosity and not judgement. The reality of age is that these traits will not last forever. However, as the world gets closer, hopefully Ava and Kayan’s generation is encouraged to be more comfortable with personal differences than the generations before. It is an idealistic view but what better day to have this hope than today.