We knew she would be the wild card on this trip.
She has been the wild card since she was born. No, since before she was born, since the first of many lengthy discussions about having a third child, about being outnumbered, about pushing our luck. Without going into too much detail about why she’s the wild card (that’s her story to tell), let’s just say that traveling with 2 kids is a handful, and traveling with Lil-Sis, our sweet 3rd, can sometimes feel like a truckload full…an 18 wheeler.
Confession: There have been moments, i.e. 45 minutes into a full-blown-back-arching-public-tantrum, in tropical heat, when (Dagnabbit, I hate admitting this!) Tom and I have looked at each other in utter exasperation, and said (with our eyes – never out loud – if you say it out loud it makes it too real), “This is NOT the kind of 3 y/o to be trapesing around the world with. This was(sssshhhhhh) a mistake.”
During one such moment early on in our tour of Bali, mid-blood-curdling scream, our little wild card looks down as something catches her tear-soaked eyes, something simple and beautiful that cuts straight through her outrage over whatever injustice she thinks she’s endured.
It gets quiet. We hold our breath, still shell-shocked from her exhibition, and follow her gaze to the ground.
“What is that?” she asks, in a calm and curious voice (How does she change gears so quickly?!).
“It’s an offering.”
“What’s an offering?”
One of our first world travel teachable moments ensues when we tell her about Hindu offerings, how they are gifts to the different Hindu Gods for thankfulness, for protection, for blessings and prayers. She couldn’t care less about what we’re saying, she just wants to TOUCH. She dives out of my arms (relief), squats down, and gently inspects the new treasure in the street.
“Can I keep it?”
“Yes! (Phew, a “no” would have sent us straight back to traumaville). This offering is for you.” Little fingers wipe off tears. Smile spreads across snotty face. SAVED BY THE OFFERING!!! As we learned over the next few months, many offerings would be for Lil-Sis.
The simplest household offering which may be practiced several times per day is called canang sari. Canang sari is made from palm leaf, flowers and food, and must be cleansed with holy water. One philosophy behind the offerings is self-sacrifice, because the offerings take time, money and effort to prepare. Offerings incorporate these symbolic colors: white for the god Iswara, red for the god Brahma, yellow for the god Mahadeva, and blue for the god Vishnu. The Balinese believe the forces of the invisible world dictate that offerings be created with a spirit of thankfulness and loving attention to detail.
5 reasons Hindu offerings in Bali were affecting for a little girl from America
Distracting – No matter what mood she was in, she could not help but notice these pretty arrangements of flowers, fruit and incense wherever we went. As her curiosity about them grew, her questions became more complex. When she got cranky (as was often the case), “Hey, look at that lovely offering!” became a common phrase of rescue and distraction.
- Feminine – Lil-sis has always strongly identified with womankind. Hindu offerings in Bali are a woman’s responsibility, and are a very feminine practice. Women wear traditional clothing as they gracefully carry the offering to a special spot (atop the family temple, on the doorstep, on a statue, on the stove), place it down in slow motion, hold a flower petal between the first and second fingers, dip the petal in holy water, and flick the droplets around the offering. The entire hand movement for this simple task is balletic and purposeful. Lil-sis caught on quickly that the offerings were a woman’s thing, so therefore they were her thing. She loved imitating the movements.
Peaceful – Offerings are a quiet, calm, slow, and meaningful practice. They are a form of meditation. The eyes do not stray from the task, and the mind is supposed to be free of extraneous thoughts. It’s a time for prayer; an act of giving to the Gods. Lil-sis did not understand all this, but she did observe the peaceful focus the women had. When she role-played offerings, she wanted to be alone, and she was serene (Can I get a Hallelujah?!).
- Repetitious – One of the things lacking from Lil-sis’s life on this trip is structure. My children have always benefited from knowing what to expect and having regularity and familiarity each day. Although being with her family nonstop is a source of security and consistency, frequently moving to new places and readjusting to new surroundings takes its toll. She slept in 7 different beds during 2 1/2 months in Bali, but she saw offerings on every street, in every garden, in every restaurant, and on every beach, no matter where we were. It was something she could count on; a constant thread. Offerings are practiced regularly for good reason: it’s only human to get distracted throughout the day, to lose track of what you’re grateful for, to get caught up in the small stuff.
Artistic – Give her some paint, markers, or clay, and the child is in business! It’s not always easy to pack and carry art supplies, but it’s the one thing that we make sure she has on hand on the road. She appreciated the crafty artistry of the offerings. She noticed the details. The women usually make them themselves by weaving pieces of dried palm leaves into baskets of all sizes, then arranging their contents artfully with color and meaning. Finding offerings on the ground, taking the goodies out, and putting them back in her own arrangement became a ready-made craft activity for Lil-Sis that we found from coast to coast. In pure Balinese fashion, the locals enjoyed watching her reassemble their work.
I have no way of knowing how affecting this kind of travel is for my youngest, or whether she will even remember it at all. We’ve wondered (sshhhh, remember, never out loud!) whether it might have been better to wait a few years to take this trip, until she was past certain “behaviors.” But, carpe diem was in full force, and we felt a sense of urgency to make a change, so off we went, with curly-haired wild card and her multiple personalities in tow. Balinese Hindu offerings spoke to her peaceful side, her feminine side, her need for repetition, and her artistic side.
Traveling presents constant opportunity for reflection, for questioning, for comparing and contrasting other cultures and practices with my own. Observing my daughter’s reaction to offerings, a simple but important religious practice in Bali, inspires these thoughts…
- What if we, too, had a mindful practice several times a day, that required time and effort, connected us with nature, and reminded us to be grateful, giving, and calm? At times I have these experiences, through my (admittedly infrequent) practice of Judaism or through yoga, but they generally come and go inconsequentially, and are not prioritized above other daily obligations. They also occur behind closed doors, in a synagogue, a yoga studio, or my home.
- As much as I value a religiously diverse culture for many reasons which (at least in theory) separates religion from government, and also value living in a religiously diverse city, such as Philadelphia, I was very taken by the consistency, solidarity, and omnipresence of one religion in Bali. There is less need for effort towards communication and organization to bring people together to celebrate, and the festivities are public, understood, prioritized and shared by all. Even though I’m not Balinese Hindu, I found this comforting as a visitor.
recent additions to “The Adventures of Mr. Kitey” by Bro (back by popular demand)
addition to sweet music! “fall down” an improv session.
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