Tuesday, November 10, 2009

raising a little citizen of the world

There are so many dreams that I have for my baby girl and so much that I want her to know and see and experience. But my greatest wish for Ruby is that she feel comfortable in this world and, as she grows, makes personal choices that will bring peace, joy, and hope to the lives of others. Ruby is a Little Citizen of the World, and it is my job, as her mama, to help her embody what this means.

In the summer of 2008 during a speech in Berlin, Barack Obama famously called himself a “citizen of the world.” His leadership has breathed new life into the promises our country was founded on and he has been a role model for how far respect and humility can take you on the world stage.

I found out two days after Barack Obama was elected President of the United States that I was pregnant with Ruby. It made me so proud and unapologetically happy that I was bringing our first child into a world in which an African American man had become the president of the United States. She is an heir to a nation in its proudest moment.

They say it takes a village to raise a child and I am so glad that this is the village that will raise Ruby.

As I said before, Ruby is a Little Citizen of the World. As her mama, I feel a sense of urgency and responsibility to live up to the ideals of the wave of hopefulness that was sweeping the nation at the time she first made contact with this world. I want to teach Ruby to interact with the world, yet know that it doesn't revolve around her. I want to teach her to respect and admire other people and cultures and ways of life, and to always seek to understand before judging. I want to teach Ruby to give back and to feel blessed and humbled by, not entitled to, good fortune. I want to teach her to love and be loved, to smile at strangers, and to always help someone in need. I want to teach Ruby to fight with words and understand the power of her actions. I want to teach Ruby to be kind to the earth and rejoice in Mother Nature's bounty in exchange. I want her to experience all that is good and wonderful in this world and to continue to bring joy and laughter into it. I want to teach Ruby to be passionate and compassionate and to always strive to be the best version of herself that she can.

The hard part is figuring out how to do this. How do we, as parents, raise our children to be upstanding Little Citizens of the World?

My own parents raised four Little Citizens of the World. Sometimes I wish I could wrap up my childhood in a nice little bundle, tie it up with a big beautiful bow, and give it to Ruby as a gift. My parents were lucky enough to expose us to an amazing breadth of experiences. I was born in Singapore and grew up between there, Hong Kong, and La Crosse, Wisconsin. By the time I graduated from college, I had traveled to over 30 countries and much of the United States.

Although we were very blessed by our family’s ability to provide these experiences, my parents did not allow us to feel entitled. They taught us that hard work was the necessary exchange for any good fortune in life.

My parents were able to give us these experiences because of their personal choices, the right career circumstances, hard work, and their eventual financial security. They could have easily not taken the overseas assignments or chosen to stay home during the summers for a much simpler lifestyle and the elimination of a lifetime’s worth of logistical nightmares. But they chose to take advantage of every opportunity so that they could show their children the world.

Jude and I do not have the luxury at this time of jobs with overseas assignments, much less the flexibility or disposable income to travel the globe with our little family. With Ruby, we are going to have to be creative and find less obvious ways to expose her to the world and teach her the lessons we want her to learn.

Ruby is only four months old, but we have already been trying to show her the world. There is no time like the present--even if she is too young to consciously remember these things later in life, I believe that we are shaping her worldview with every day that passes.

We have brought her to museums to see art. We have taken her all over New York City to see new faces of strangers every day and experience all of the sights and smells and sounds of urban life. We take her to parks and gardens as often as we can so she gets constant doses of “tree energy” (as grandpa Victor calls it). We take her to street festivals, neighborhood gatherings, and community events like watching the NYC marathon. We read books and look at photos and talk and talk and talk with her.

As she grows older, we want to teach Ruby about different cultures and traditions and religions so she can learn from them and decide what is important to her. For example, Jude has a family tradition of celebrating El Dia De Los Muertos with a shrine to honor all those loved ones who have passed away that we have carried on in our own home.

We also want to instill in Ruby a sense of civic duty and social justice. I am excited to share with her my passion for community service and volunteering and finding ways to be the change that you believe in.

Jude will teach her to appreciate food, to cook fresh meals, and to invest in our future by buying locally and eating whole foods. I want Ruby to be the kind of person who thinks to write a thank you note to the farmer who grew the vegetables she cooked for a particularly delicious meal!

I want to teach her to think of the ethics behind her choices and to make informed decisions based on what is best for more than just herself. I can model this by supporting local businesses in my neighborhood and others that I believe in--like Tea Collection, a wonderful company that sells adorable children's clothing reflecting cultures around the world and that donates to organizations like the Global Fund for Children. Tea Collection's tagline is "for little citizens of the world," which inspired this post.

One year ago, on election night, my regularly quiet Brooklyn neighborhood was uncharacteristically exuberant and abuzz with joy. Jude and I floated with a sea of neighbors celebrating the strength of our fellow Americans. People were singing, dancing, hugging strangers, crying happy tears, and spontaneously chanting, in unison, “Yes we did! Yes we did! Yes we did!”

I know that someday, when Ruby is a grown woman with a strong moral compass and a humble heart full of compassion and passion, Jude and I will sit back and smile, happy that we--with the help of this village--raised a Little Citizen of the World. And we will look at each other and say: “Yes we did! Yes we did! Yes we did!”


  1. This post brought tears to my eyes....in a good way.

  2. This is a truly beautiful post! It's clear that you're already well on your way to raising a wonderful little citizen!