I lived in India between the ages of 5 and 14. My parents were missionaries and we lived in a Bible college in a little Indian town in the middle of India. Between 9 and 14 I went to a British boarding school for missionary kids which was a two day train trip away from home.
When I was almost 15 I started attending school in Australia. I had a posh accent and soooo desperately wanted to assimilate - quickly. I lost that accent fast and started to try and learn about life in Australia. What it meant to be Australian. A real Australian. Not just one that celebrated Australia Day and ate Vegemite. It wasn't easy. I found the later years of high school a long journey of regaining confidence in myself and my place in the world.
By the time I got to university, I thought that I had cracked it. I knew what it meant to be Australian and so I moved forward. I really didn't want to talk about India. I wanted to just be Jenny - the normal Australian girl.
And in my 30's I've been bringing up these great Australian kids - with a childhood so different to my own that I've had to regularly check with my husband 'Is this normal? Is this what we do in Australia?'.
But I can't get away from my childhood. It has impacted how I think about my life and my parenting (even though Rowan does keep saying that I can't blame everything on my childhood!)
Here are some examples:
- It's fine for my kids to share bedrooms. Most families in the world sleep in one room or in one bed. Complaining about a three bedroom house seems a bit much to me.
- You don't need a lot of 'stuff' to have children. I've been told so many times that I was lucky to have children young but 'we haven't been able to do that because we just don't have the money'. We've never had any money. Kids don't need a lot of stuff to be happy. They need you.
- I could have been born into a very poor family in India. Instead I'm a white, middle-class Australian. There is nothing I personally did to make that happen - I didn't earn my place as an Australian. But I do have a responsibility to think hard about what I do with the wealth and privilege that comes from being born into a first world country.
- It doesn't matter to me if a friendship I form is going to be short-term. The length of a friendship is not how I measure the value of a friendship. I lived a life when friends came and went very quickly. We didn't have a lot of stability. But it meant we formed friendships fast.
- My kids are very rich, even though we maybe don't have a lot of money when compared to others in Australia. Our family is rich in a monetary sense but we are also rich because we have high levels of education. We have much to give our kids from our own educations. I never want them to believe that we are poor. We just aren't.
- It has made me think about the schools I send my kids to. As we think about high school for next year I find it hard to justify spending money on private education when the government provides it for free. So many children around the world don't even get past a primary school education, let alone having compulsory, secondary education provided by the government. With university educated teachers. With computers and electricity and libraries full of books.
What's ironic in sharing all this is that I know that some of this might make me seem a bit different. What I've spent so long trying to get away from! And I don't care so much anymore. I'm just getting old!