Along with the growing number of bi-racial families here in Australia, so too will my twin sons be raised in the surroundings of two diverse cultures. Without a doubt, their Indonesian grandmother will play an integral part.
Despite my own complicated relationship with my mother (Another story, another blog, another six years in therapy…haha), over the years I have learnt to accept and appreciate her endearing qualities that derive from the fact that she is Batak. Bataks are an Indonesian ethnic group hailing from Northern Sumatra. Their women are famous for being feisty, robust and hardworking. True testament to this is that my mother is well into her mid-70’s, yet she is still holding down two jobs (one being a night-shift employee at Australia Post and the other, a physically demanding cleaning job).
With her preference to being addressed by the Batak term for grandma, Opung (Pronounced: “OH-poong”), my mother makes no qualms over her disinterest in baby-sitting duties. Forever the working woman, my mother followed the standard set by Indonesian culture and whilst growing up there, my brothers and I were predominately raised by a nanny. (Being the fifth most populous country in the world, with 220 million humans, you’re gonna need some hired help !) Instead, Opung takes merit in other shapes and forms.
When my boys arrive at their grandparents’ house, there is great fanfare; They are flooded with LOTS of music. (Ask any Indonesian – Bataks are renowned for their love of singing). It’s not long until Opung starts passionately singing Indonesian nursery rhymes about balloons and rainbows. This is accompanied by animated dancing and rhythmic movements. Grandpa is in the background, either playing the ukulele or the electric keyboard. The lounge room depicts a Kuta Beach nightclub gone beserk. Barely ten months old, my twin boys are always amused by all the commotion. I swear I see them stare at each other as if to say, “What IS all this madness ???”
Along with her love of music and dancing, Opung is the foremost cook in our extended family. Indonesian friends and relatives will travel far and wide to come over and relish in my mother’s accomplished dishes – her Indonesian fried chicken and her beef rendang (an Indonesian dry coconut based curry if cooked correctly, the beef is so tender, it melts in your mouth). At the moment, her little grandsons are still adjusting to their bland chicken and veggie purees. But I can see she is waiting in anticipation for the day that they can enjoy her spicy culinary delights. As even my husband discovered – to please Opung means to reach for that fifth helping.
From the early days, our boys have for the most part, learnt to self-settle when it comes to naps or bedtime. But as every parent knows, nothing is ever certain and there are days when, for whatever reason, either one or both boys cannot, will not, sleep. Enter Opung. She rocks them. She cradles them. She sings to them. They are asleep in nano seconds. How DOES she do it ? I don’t know. It’s one of those unexplainable Grandma qualities, I guess.
Immersed in Indonesian song and dance, while being fed full with fried chicken and beef curry, my little half-Aussie, half-Indo boys will be taught by their Opung to be proud in their heritage and background. In this valuable lesson, I hope that they will also grow up to embrace and respect the culture and customs of others.