Dinner and a Puja: The Balancing Act
By Anjum Choudhry Nayyar
October for me is the busiest time of the year as we immerse ourselves in the numerous festivals that our South Asian heritage has to offer. It begins with the Navaratri, the nine-day festival running from the end of September to the beginning of October or the time for Durga Puja or the time for kanjak (when we pray the Goddess form manifested in the girl child). For many of us, depending on which region our parents hailed from, it’s the time to dance like a rock star to Garba music, or carve out time for Durga Puja or celebrate kanjak (when we pray the Goddess form manifested in the girl child. The navaratri culminates into Vijaydashmi, the tenth day called Dusshera.
Karva Chauth comes next. The tradition involves starving yourself, ahem, sorry, fasting, from sunrise to moonrise for the safety and longevity of our husbands. It’s mostly celebrated in North India and parts of Pakistan.
Diwali the festival of lights follows Karva Chauth. The beautiful festival of lights involves performing family pujas and lighting diyas or candles around the house. Thanksgiving ends this month of hyper activity, family gatherings and tradition. All this in a month where there’s Canadian thanksgiving AND my daughter’s birthday.
Sounds exciting, huh? Yes and no. As South Asian mothers, our constant endeavor is to immerse our families and especially our children in our culture and that poses numerous challenges to us. Don’t’ get me wrong, I’m all for instilling culture in our children. But, as a South Asian mom, it’s a constant challenge to do that while striking the ‘the right’ cultural balance in a modern day family. Especially, when the rest of the country is not necessarily rejoicing in our celebrations. For most of us, our festivals are on working days, which compound the problem. For me, it involves driving 1.5-2 hours from downtown Toronto where I work, to my home to lug my two children below the age of 5 and my big fat diaper bag to my mother-in-law’s or sister-in-law’s house during rush hour. A quick stay at my mother-in-law’s house for 2 hours and we are ready to head home with our two mother lodes one of which usually has a conniption fit by 8pm due to fatigue, aka the witching hour.
As we try to steep our children in our cultural heritage – juggling the dinners, the pujas, the evenings out during the week, I must say take away the sheer happiness that these festivals are supposed to bring – the joy of togetherness. As South Asian moms, we have certain expectations from ourselves as mothers. And as if the responsibility of parenting on a daily basis and working full time wasn’t enough, we have a slew of cultural expectations thrown in.
Growing up, I was rarely exposed to ALL of the Indian traditions, as my mom was an immigrant at a time when her own parents were still in India. Even after they moved here, her network of friends who were South Asian was very small and life as a working parent didn’t leave much time to devote to the acknowledgement of annual cultural events. However, marriage made me walk into another South Asian family, which was more steeped in tradition and the numerous expectations that come with it. And when my first child was born, boy, did my bag of obligations suddenly get bigger. So while my parents might have celebrated Diwali on the weekend even though it fell on a weekday, my in-laws would celebrate it on that weekday. I know many of you masalamommas out there will feel my pain. It’s a tough task of balancing your obligations as a mother, a wife, a daughter-in-law and above all, a working woman. We owe it to our kids an understanding of our heritage and at the same time we also owe something to ourselves.
I can’t host a prayer ceremony or make sweets; I will let the grandparents take the lead but at the same time work around it to keep my sanity. The precipitous wall of expectations that come with our roles as the “Masalamommas” is easier when climbed on our own little terms. I am not undermining the importance of tradition but at the same time we need to do a balancing act.
Truth be told, I’m not sure if I have any tips to share when it comes to this problem but here are some from my own diaper bag:
1) If a child is sick, we will not be going anywhere no matter what the occasion.
2) If big cultural celebrations like Diwali fall on a weekday, we will celebrate it as a family on the weekend.
3) If possible try to balance out cultural events on weekdays with dinners and prayers provided they’re close to home
4) Celebrate a few festivals together and try to acknowledge others in some other way
5) Go easy with the puja and focus on the joy of togetherness and the family dinners
6) Try to bring the best of the western and the Asian culture together. For example, engage the kids. Let them make Diwali cards or get them to help decorate the table with decorations. Finding great sites that offer creative ways to incorporate culture into our family lives has been helpful. Gnaana has become one of my favourites in this regard.
Happy Diwali to all our readers and best wishes for the new year!
How do you juggle cultural obligations with your parenting routine? Would love your comments and suggestions!