Friday, December 30, 2016

Parenting Month 74: New environments

The highlight of the month has been two weeks in Thailand. We have had a desire to make sure that our kids experience a world that is different than the upper middle class suburbia we live in.  In contrast, our family in Bangkok, Thailand is in the middle of a city of 8 million people and is a place where wealth lives side-by-side with poverty, much different than the U.S. where we are very segregated economically.

Jumping on the boat at the pier
Someone jumping onto a riverboat before it leaves the pier

T experienced a number of new experiences.  He used a river boat that was a means of transportation (not just a tourist boat), he rode a tuk-tuk (2 stroke engine powered tricycle-cab), and walked down a street market daily.

Wai phra at the local street market
Wai Phra to a monk on the street market on Petchburi Soi 5
Dodging traffic on a Soi
Letting some cars go by in the morning street market
Our general approach to raising our children has been encouraging competence. This has included skills such as woodworking, using tools, and generally toys that involve building. But we also want to include social competence, meaning that they can function in a world different than the suburban upper middle class world we live in.  So on this trip we did some normal tourist things like going to the malls and temples, but we also did things that were closer to how life was lived, like going to the local street market every day to get food for breakfast, or traveling by river boat on commuter boats (as opposed to the tourist boat). We taught him how to read maps for train and boat, to practice social curtesies with everyone, and to become more aware of his surroundings. 

He obviously stands out. The very casual dress compared to school kids, the fact that he bounces along as he walks would make him stand out even if he was not speaking english. And in social status conscious Thailand, this particularly makes him stand out as many service personnel have gotten used to not having their curtesies returned by those of higher social class, so my six year old stands out from greeting everyone he interacts with properly.

When I was in Afghanistan, I had spoken frequently with a former CIA officer on a range of topics. One day he commented that I was someone who could go anywhere in the world and learn to interact with anyone. Now, that is not true, I spent much of my growing up years just trying to reduce how much I got yelled at instead of building competencies, and I was still getting used to being in a place where it was acceptable to act when lives were in danger. But being a parent, I can think about what it would take to actually be such a person. And that would include learning to function in new environments, with new social rules and requirements, and new patterns of life. Even now as someone this young.

We hope that he will experience three cultures growing up: the U.S., Thailand, and China. And that this could be a springboard for being the type of person my colleague talked about. 

Riding a river boat on the Chao Praya river
Riding a river boat

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