Third Culture Mothering


Something that started fascinating me when I started my degree in Visual Communication was Semantics, the branch of linguistics and logic concerned with meaning, or as Humberto Eco says “the science of meaning”. Growing-up bilingual, I became very connected to analogies and coding words to others in order to find meaning, as opposed to translating directly, for some words do not have the same literal meaning in different languages. Then we have the connotation which is given through culture, a “wholenother” beast I will not discuss here. My husband also talks about how the use of stories and parables assist in the development of concepts, in order to give a deeper meaning to a word. I have to agree with him.

At the age of four we think children will be more reasonable because they can communicate more. In fact we continue to have hopes that the parenting job will get smoother. But it doesn’t… At four, children become more challenging as they start to hit that pre-school age of seeking independence, screaming for individuality, and claiming a system of their own. I read an article about how fours are called “ferocious fours”. I agree with this too. At least in our experience.

For the past weeks Gaia has been telling little lies [not often though]. Perhaps white lies, but lies which lead to stressful and doubtful situations at home. Then again, you wonder how good of a parent you are and where did you fail to fill in the gap of integrity. 

As we explained the situation of telling the truth, explaining this concept and going forward to reiterating that we will not believe her if she kept saying things that were not true, or what actually happened, as opposed to a made-up situation, Gaia replied without hesitation, “what is believe?!!”… and then I stuttered, I kept thinking quickly, I tried to find synonyms, kid friendly phrases… my Spanish and English vocabulary juggled in my mind, as I surrendered to not being able to define this strong word in kid-friendly terms. Drowning in doubt I looked at her, and then my husband talked about the story of “The Kid Who Cried Wolf”. He took the lead to this enlightening moment of “truth” and then I asked myself, “what is believe?” How do I define this complex semantic concept to my four-year old child? If I think of this word, I think of well… believe!!! I believe what you say because I believe you, or I know you are telling the truth, or I believe what my values dictate as positive for my life. Hence, truth and believe go hand-in-hand, but one builds on the other and then we have the scientific part as cause-effect like Eco says, behind them, the concepts each carry to make a frame model. Communication then becomes a struggle, an exciting, yet dark path, perhaps an obstacle that challenges me to become patient and a more mindful parent. How do you define believe? it is a bold word, a concept we [sometimes] take for granted, but we use so often, daily. 

So I looked it up. The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines this words as: to accept something as true.   I then picked the clue word for Gaia to establish a connection: TRUE. And then we get on the rollercoaster ride of what is true… question after question. I used to think I was going to be that kind of mother who would always have an amazing, genuine, creative answer… but I am not. I am an ordinary mom, trying to live an extraordinary life. Often I am too tired, too frustrated, and too sleepy to come up with mesmerizing questions for her answers. These which become a “porque si!” [in Spanish], or a “because that is the way it is Gaia”, a mediocre answer that lashes my heart every time the phrase projectiles from my mouth in the midst of a foggy frustration. And then I reflect… yes, this is not the way it is supposed to be, the way I want it to be. I failed her one more time. As parents we have the power to shape them, we can break them or strengthen them with our actions more than our words. 

The conversation continued some days later as I put my semantic puzzle together. “So something true, Gaia, is something that is real”. But isn’t everything real in a 4-year old imagination? Oh the magic of subjectivity! I continued, “True is when something actually happens, like your baby sister, so then you believe you have a sister.” This is what my conclusive episode of finding a meaning for believe turned into. So what did she say? what does she think… this is what her conclusion on believe is: “my baby [Eelan] is believe, a family, Mother Earth… and OUR FRIENDS!” ok, perhaps we are heading on the right direction. I can see she is codifying believe with reality, especially through positive entities. These four concepts [the ones she picked], actually are the building foundations of a support system in an individual’s life. Mr. Rogers [host for Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood] says that, “one of the first things that a child learns in a healthy family is trust”, a concept that to us is directly related to truth and believe.

In between my daily meditation and yoga practice, my reflective reading of the Yoga Sutras and other texts, I keep trying to be a complete [understanding] mother. One with answers than will awaken more questions, one whom will challenge her to seek further understanding, and one whom will foster a believe system that will allow her to be non-judgmental and a more compassionate individual. Because as George Carlin says, “Don’t just teach your children to read… teach them to question what they read. Teach them to question everything!”

Keep calm, and keep parenting.


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