Wednesday, 11 June 2014

The Eclectic Others of the Village

Stolen from HERE. The character for mother is literally a pair of breasts turned vertically.
Welcome to the ‘Look At All The Women’ Carnival: Week 3 – ‘The Eclectic Others’ This post was written especially for inclusion in the three-week-long ‘Look At All The Women’ carnival, hosted by Mother’s Milk Books, to celebrate the launch of Cathy Bryant’s new book ‘Look At All The Women’. In this final week of the carnival our participants share their thoughts on the theme ‘The Eclectic Others’ (the third, and final, chapter in Cathy’s new poetry collection). Please read to the end of the post for a full list of carnival participants. 

 In Japanese it is common to refer to everyone using kinship words irrespective of whether they are actual family members or not. All older men are 'grandpa' and all older women are 'grandma'. A running gag in anime is a cheeky young boy incurring the wrath of female characters by calling then 'aunty' instead of 'older sister'. Within families, parents refer to all other family members from the point of view of the youngest child. Fathers call their wives (excuse the hetero-etc-normativity, but in Japan this is how it is) mama and wives call their husband papa. A friend of mine began calling her husband papa while she was still pregnant with their first child. The elder children are called 'big brother' and 'big sister' and only the youngest child is regularly referred to by name.

A couple of years ago I was, without fail, 'older sister'. After we moved into a house in the burbs though, delivery men in particular began calling me 'wife' (a more natural translation would be 'missus'). Then Tiger came along and I became 'mother', or more often the English 'mama'. It's quite surreal for someone not used to the practice to have an elderly doctor refer to her as 'mama'.  So, I'm a mother, お母さん。

I love that my son is growing up an a place where instead of stranger danger, every stranger is his "sister" or "uncle" and "grandma". They aren't just words, either. Walking to school arguing about something or another and the "grandpa" walking the other way stops and says "listen to your mother!" Riding the bus and the "grandma" sitting opposite immediately whips out boiled lollies. Tiger comes home from playing at a friend's house with a guitar made from cardboard and rubber bands; his friend's grandmother taught him how to make it. I am not saying these are essentially Japanese experiences. I am sure they don't happen in big cities where there is little by way of community, and I am sure they happen in close communities all over the world.

There is a strong belief in some sections of the English speaking world that the nuclear family should be an island, that father and mother are the one and only thing a child needs. Yet despite decades of attempts to prove that a family headed by a heterosexual married couple is "best", usually in argument against blended families or same sex parenting or single parenting, the answer research consistently shows is that the best environment is one with an extended support network. Kids who are surrounded by people who care about them thrive. There are times in life, especially in teenage, when you need those "eclectic others", the aunties and cousins and the grandpa who listens patiently. As ex-pat parents we worry about living away from all of our relatives, but the "village" of aunties and grandpas surrounding us reassures us. Three cheers for the eclectic others!
Look At All The Women by Cathy Bryant
Look At All The Women by Cathy Bryant

Look At All The Women is now available to buy from:
The Mother’s Milk Bookshop (as a paperback and PDF) – we can ship books around the world!
and as a paperback from
It can also be ordered via your local bookshop.
If you’d like to know more about Mother’s Milk Books — our submission guidelines, who we are and what we do — please find more details here: Please take the time to read and comment on the following fab posts submitted by some wonderful women:

‘Heroines and Inspirations’— Cathy Bryant, guest posting at Mother’s Milk Books, shares two powerful, inspiring poems, and how they came into being.

‘Sensitivity’Marija Smits shares a poem, with an accompanying image, that gives a glimpse into the inner workings of a highly sensitive person.

Georgie St Clair shares her creative female heroines in her post ‘Creative Others: Mothers Who Have It All’ 

‘The Eclectic Others – Or What Would I Have Been Without You?’ — Kimberly Jamison posts to her blog The Book Word a thank you to the women of literature and history who have been in her life, shaped her life, saved her life and gave her a future.

‘Barbie speaks out’ — Ana Salote at Colouring Outside the Lines shares a platform with feminist icon, Barbie.

‘Her Village’ — An older (much older than most) first time mother, Ellie Stoneley from Mush Brained Ramblings firmly believes in the old African adage that it takes a village to raise a child. To that end she has surrounded her daughter with the love, mischief and inspiration of an extremely eclectic bunch of villagers.

Survivor writes about the inspiring life of La Malinche and her place in Mexican history at Surviving Mexico: Adventures and Disasters.
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  1. What an incredible way to demonstrate that we are all connected!

  2. Sophelia, this post is just great :-) I particularly like this bit: "I love that my son is growing up in a place where instead of stranger danger, every stranger is his "sister" or "uncle" and "grandma"."

    That's so refreshing to read because here in the UK it is, as you say, all about 'stranger danger'. And when it comes to the 'eclectic others' the research is spot-on: kids thrive when surrounded by caring people of different genders and ages. These 'eclectic others' all have something different to contribute to the child's upbringing.

    Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts - it's lovely to learn more about Japanese culture through your fascinating blog :-)

  3. you are indeed the ultimate Tiger Mama ... what a lovely post and how wonderful to read that your son is growing and thriving in a place where he has so many 'family' members around him ... his village is a nurturing place and the 'stranger danger' which is so sadly foisted into the psyche of children in the UK (and so much of the Western world) is not there in the back of his mind causing him to become suspicious and untrusting ... wonderful post thank you

    1. It's the same in Australia... I remember once when I was little a Japanese exchange student (coincidentally) who couldn't speak much English gave me a chocolate with a smile. I guess she figured that if she couldn't speak to me she could still communicate with the universality of smiles and chocolate, but the "don't take candy from strangers" message was ingrained so deeply that I wouldn't take it but couldn't explain to her why. More than two decades later I still feel bad every time I remember the look on her face :(


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