June 30, 2017

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The Global Parent: Pooja Munshi on Surfing, Finding Balance and Nomad Parenting

In our Global Parent series we share perspectives and stories of parents who are striving to be and to raise global citizens.

We loved this inspiring interview with the creative Pooja Munshi who is passionate about surfing, adventure and seeking balance, all while cultivating a connected life with her daughter and husband. A communications and marketing strategist, currently based in Jakarta, Pooja speaks 5 languages (Bengali, Hindi, English, Spanish & French), writes for surfing magazines, and travels and explores as much as the schedule of a working Mama will allow. Follow her adventures on Instagram (you won't regret it!) @poojamunshi. 

Kaia with her Mama, wearing the Hathi Onesie in Peach

After having worked eight adrenalin filled, selfish, non-stop years in the big bad world of advertising in New York, I decided to quit my job and follow my husband for his new gig in Paris. While Paris was a charm, it was tough decision to eject out of a full fledged career and take a leap of faith into the unknown. I had no idea what would happen in Paris. Would they give me a work permit? Would the system welcome me into their world? In addition to my downtime writing for skate and surf magazines, I applied for an MSc from Northwestern University in data based Marketing as a back up. In hindsight, it certainly seemed like life had clearer plans for me than myself. Streams of consultancy gigs across large brands like Nike and Möet Hennessey, mid-sized experimenters like the Potato Head hospitality group and interesting start-ups in tech, fitness and e-commerce have come at me since, and before I knew it I was living the perfect work-life balance which once eluded me in New York.

Perhaps life was preparing me for the birth of my first born. I had vowed to be present for her and had I still been working in NYC, it may not have been possible. Almost four years have passed since we left New York. My husband works with the UN and his work took us to Paris for two years and now Indonesia for another two. Paris was charming but when he got the chance to go, Indonesia with it's surfing, nature, food, people lured us right in.

 

We live in Jakarta, and here my early mornings are spent playing with my nine month old daughter Kaia and my husband. At about 8 AM, I head to the gym. Because I am a consultant, I have flexible hours where I can choose how I manage my time. Weekends we are usually away surfing on the coast or one of the nearby islands. Where once I chased becoming a CEO in advertising, my laser sharp focus now is to live in the present moment and have a balanced life where work, life, family, sports, fun contribute equally.

I grew up in Kolkata, India. I remember my Baba waking up me and my brother every morning at the crack of dawn to take us to the stadium or pool for sports. Sometimes waking up was not easy so he just dragged us under the shower. We eventually broke out into unstoppable giggles. We cherished those moments because it was our time together, doing what we loved. In retrospect, it shaped our personalities and the things we're most passionate about.

I met my Norwegian husband in the East Village at the iconic Joe's Pub, watching Elysian Fields live. Norway is simple and minimal. India is complex and dense. Those may juxtapose but also fit like yin and yang, in many ways. That sums up our relationship, really. Sometimes, though, it can get sticky. For example, Norwegians are strictly on time and Indians are fashionably late. For our baby girl, Kaia, we’d love to settle on a middle ground value system, something that combines the best of both worlds.

When I was pregnant, I wanted to do something close to my culture in India and was attracted to the Balinese Hindu traditions, perhaps, because it felt familiar. The Megedong Gedong Balinese ceremony at about 7 months pregnant, is a prayer for the baby’s safe passage to earth. Our local friends in Bali helped organize it all. The priest and his household prepped for the last minute ceremony working nonstop for three days and nights to create prayer baskets, origami like formations with leaves, flowers, fruits and food. The ceremony lasted a few hours, definitely much longer than the Indian version! There's a river in Bali they consider the equivalent of the Ganges. We sat by the river and asked her for blessings and then went back to the priests family temple to pray there. It was all very fascinating and I couldn't help but feel a bit of deja-vu.

The Megedong Gedong Balinese Ceremony

People in Indonesia love babies. Yes, so does the entire world but to explain how this archipelago bends backwards for babies, you will see people stop their cars to let you cross the street with baby, you will be stopped on the street, mall, supermarket to exchange a few words with baby. The most fascinating part for me was the postpartum Jamu and Mustika. Jamu comprises of traditional herbal drinks made of turmeric, honey, chillies, pepper, roots, etc., and are given for various ailments including recuperating mom from the fatigue of childbirth and increasing her milk supply. Mustika is yet another age old practice where women massage postpartum mothers, help them steam the vagina with herbs to cleanse and tighten and then wrap you in a home made cotton corset with the promise that it retracts organs back to its original place. Those few weeks felt like a total luxury. 

Having a Norwegian husband means you have a feminist at home and that certainly means duties get split in equal parts. Kaia’s extremely active so Erlend tries to spend as much time as possible with her in the morning before work and once he’s back at the end of the day, while I take on the duties during the day. Having a great nanny has helped as well.

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The first few months of motherhood, I could literally see myself disappear. The me that liked to surf, that liked to meditate, that liked to read was out of the window. I had wondered at that point if this was the motherhood everyone yearned for, because clearly I was losing myself and becoming an assembly line of boob-pee-sleep- throw-up. However, over time, with baby steps, I am learning how to manage my time better while still being able to squeeze in an hour or so of me time. A complete luxury in the motherhood world!



Kaia is a funny child, we are giggling with her all the time. She is energetic and always on the move, climbing, toppling, amused at herself when she stands for more than thirty-seconds or when we help her walk. She is ferociously curious about everything, whether it’s a blade of grass or traffic down below the apartment. She loves music, she always has a smile when shaking the rattle to tunes and loves to play the drums, any surface will do.

Erlend and I have always been around water, so it was important for us to get Kaia into it nice and early to overcome any inhibitions. We first found out about the amphibian reflex through our Dynamic Gymnastics teacher. We started DG with Kaia at about 3 months of age. DG is a cultural practice in Russia and parts of Eastern Europe where parent and child practice progressively acrobatic swings, turns, bounces, inversions to encourage the child’s physical strength, agility, responsiveness and confidence. It was at one of those sessions that the teacher explained to us the concept of “amphibian reflex”. Babies naturally hold their breath in the water and tend to move their butt in a dolphin-like motion to move upwards. The reflex only lasts until they’re about 4 months of age so we were encouraged to get underwater before that age and make use of it while teaching her how to swim. Today at 9 months, she may not be swimming by herself yet, but confidently dives into the pool knowing we are there to get her right after.

 

If I could give Kaia any one character trait, it would be to be adventurous! Erlend, my husband, recently went for a haircut and remarked how another dad had brought his baby (about the same age as Kaia) to the barber. She sat patiently while dad finished with his haircut. In our household, this is unimaginable. There is no way Kaia would sit tight in the stroller. She’ll want to crawl, inspect the floor surface, use something to haul herself up, marvel at the birds, check out the water, may be try to get under it, go over to the bigger kids to see what they’re up to, not caring for a second if any guardian is behind her. That list is endless but sitting still and being content is not one of them!

While I’ve talked about living in the present, I’d like to eventually move on from finding my happy place to trying to help find a happy place for the planet in some way. You have embarked on that journey already and I commend you for it! Baby Hero is a fantastic example of taking that goodwill from self, family to (global) village. As mothers this cause is naturally relevant to us. Not all can actively work on helping others but Baby Hero provides an easy way to contribute to it. 

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Samar Shaheryar
Samar Shaheryar

Author

Samar Shaheryar is the co-founder of Baby Hero and has worked on global issues affecting women and children for 15 years. She is a mother to three spunky, multi-cultural kids and currently lives in Hong Kong.



4 Comments

Misty Castañeda
Misty Castañeda

July 06, 2017

What a wonderful post and story Pooja! I have recently become a mother as well and completely identify with your thoughts about finding your “self” again. I loved reading about the Megedong Gedong Balinese ceremony and would have LOVED to do that before the birth of my son. While living abroad in Asia, one of my most memorable trips was to Bali, where I was lucky enough to participate in a Hindu “cleansing” ritual in a waterfall outside of Ubud. The traditions there are so beautiful and I have never felt more peaceful than when I was witnessing their spiritual practices. Best of luck on your journey.

Scotti
Scotti

July 03, 2017

How interesting to hear about Poojah’s fascinating journey and her ability to recreate her new path in harmony with the path created for her! No small feat!
Also, I am envious of the post partum traditions of Indonesia and wish I knew about them 20 years ago when I had mine!
I also love how lifted babies are there!!!
Thank you Pooja for sharing your beautiful story and family with us!!!

Pooja
Pooja

July 01, 2017

Samar! Thanks for offering me a platform to share my thoughts. I hope it has meaning for more like minded new parents out there!

Yoki
Yoki

July 01, 2017

Thanks for another interesting read Samar and Baby Hero. Loved learning about how an expat mama and baby live a culturally harmonious life in Indonesia.

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