Global Parents: the Ruhren Family

The State Capital New York

We are looking far and wide to try and find parents willing to share their story for the benefit of other parents. We have asked you to suggest to us willing participants so that we might get an insight into how many different ways there are to raise children. As well, we think it can always be useful and interesting to see how other parents habits and rituals might shed light or enable your own. So, with that in mind, we recently received an email from Suna Ruhren in Upstate New York asking us if we'd be interested in featuring her husband and her for the 'Global Parents' Blog, particularly because we have yet to feature a 'mixed ethnicity' couple. So, naturally, we obliged.

Suna, where do you and your husband live?
We have lived in Albany, New York for over 2 years now. My wonderful husband was born in New Jersey and is a 3rd generation American of German/Swiss/French descent. I was born and raised in Japan, my childhood spent on the pennisula of Chiba. I came to the USA to study and we met while I was doing grad school in NYC. After our son, Max, was born we moved to upstate New York because it was nearer my husband's family. Albany isn't much more than a few hours drive outside of NYC, but it is like a different world.

How old is Max?
Our boy is zooming towards 3 faster than we could have imagined!

What's it like raising your son in Albany?
I have to say that, compared to the big city, it is a little more homogenous and somewhat ethnically separated here. People aren't always accustomed to our arrangment as they might be in NYC, and so they can jump to stereotypes much more quickly. Our son has wavy blond hair and only slightly Asian features and when people see him with me they often make the assumption that I am the nanny! I guess it is easy for them to think this when they see something that is visually contradictory - I guess it's a neat and tidy answer.

It seems to be a bit of a rude assumption, no?
What shocks me more is that when they see white parents with Asian children, which I have seen many here, they definitely do not make that assumption. That equation simply adds up to "oh how cute, that caring (or unfortunately infertile) couple adopted an adorable Asian child." If you see a white child with a woman of some other race, then she must be the nanny. I often think about how our son will feel growing up in a multi race family and whether he will have issues about fitting in.

Max and Mommy

So, you have your own business, right?
Yes, I started my children's fashion business Hummingbaby Inc. after I had my son and our subsequent move upstate. I had always worked in fashion(womens wear) but I knew my passion had always been in tiny baby clothing. I saw a tremendous niche in the kids market in the U.S. for quality fabrics and great design (aka super cute) so I design Humminbaby's line out of 100% gauze fabrics for ultimate comfort.

Well, tell us about your average morning ritual, will you?
I am a bit embaressed to admit, but my husband often wakes up with our son while I sleep... except when he works a morning shift, they will get up and go feed the cats together. This is a little trick he came up with to get Max up and out of the bedroom and engaged in things so Mommy can sleep a bit more. I tend to work late into the night and never was a morning person. After the cats are fed he feeds him a banana and a cup of milk. Then depending on our days plan and my husbands ever changing work schedule he either gives him a bowl of cereal, makes pancakes or french toast when it is time for me to rise or they get me up and out to our favorite bagel place. We almost always take Max out before lunch to the park playground and or the library depending on the weather.

With your business and those late hours, it must be a bit difficult?
Of course, if you really have passion for something, you will make time for it... My most productive work hours are usually between 9 PM and 3 AM when Max is asleep. On days when my husband works an evening shift or is off he will often takes Max out on his own and give me some time to myself. They will go out to the playground and the library and come home for lunch time. When I need to drive down to NYC for business I go on my husbands days off and he spends the day with Max. He will do "boys day" and get pizza and spend extra time in the toy section of the store. These are his favorite days in his week. Of course it makes your life a lot easier if you have family support but in the end you are the one making the life choices for what you want to do...

Does Max attend any pre-school or anything of the sort?
I am essentially a stay-at-home mom and Max is with me all day except when my husband is free as I mentioned above. We are thinking of enrolling him at pre-K when he turns 3 and are looking at the YMCA for swimming lessons and more kid interaction. We do not really believe in the idea of home schooling.


With your differing cultural backgrounds, is there anything special on Max's menu on average?

I have to admit... I am really bad but I can't stand when he cries... I simply give in too often. If he wants to eat peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for lunch then that's what he eats. My husband is much more strict than I am though. Our son knows he won't get away with things as easily with his dad. Kids are smart aren't they? Besides PB&J Max loves grilled cheese, yogurts, apples, grapes and baby carrots! I came from Japan so we also eat a lot of Japanese food. He loves miso soup, rice balls and tofu. We have miso soup everyday and no, we don't get tired of it if you are wondering! We eat edamame (soy beans), barley tea, and are trying to get him eat some fish. He used to eat it but has been resistant latey.

Food is such an important part of our life together. Both my husband and I cook and search out new recipes and will travel to try new foods. We hope to make a noodle and dumpling trip around Japan if not the world. We especially love Japanese food and there is so much more than sushi. If you would like to try the full spectrum of everyday Japanese food, Harumi's Japanese Cooking Book is our favourite. This book is easy to follow for beginners and it often lists substitute ingredients you can get from local grocery stores.

Anything special that Max likes to do?
He loves music and dance -we dance together at home! We go for little walks exploring in the woods and in our neighbourhood we have met many people and their dogs. He likes story time and our library is great. Max watches videos, listens to music and has books in English and Japanese. In English Caillou has had the biggest impact on Max and how he talks and acts. We swear he learned to giggle from Caillou. My husband and I are "silent" laughers. The Japanese TV show "Mommy and me" really got him up singing and dancing. His latest favorite is Anpanman and we have just introduced the classic Dr. Seuss. I also have a group of Japanese moms who get together usually once a week so that is always something to look forward to. He gets to interact with other kids and go different places such as strawberry and apple picking and the farms.

What about snack time - anything unusual?
Nothing interesting here other then when he downs a dozens baby carrots, he loves them! I would also note how wonderful it was for Max to eat strawberries in the field, blackberries from the side of the trail in the woods on a hike and cherry tomatoes in the vegetable garden right off the plant. On our must recent trip home to Japan the family next door had a cherry tree which had been given to them from their grandmother and the little girls who Max played with gave us some cherries. Max is still young but my husband was touched and it recalled his childhood best friend who had a pear tree and although there were only two harvest during that friendship they were such important memories in his life. Food forms such nurishing memories.

Max and Dad celebrate a birthday!

Is Max napping during the day?
Max has never been a great napper. He swings wildly from no nap to sleeping for hours on end. We are not the most structured people and probably have fostered this.

And, evening meals? What's that like?
Definitely Japanese food and Korean, a bit of Chinese. My husband is a great cook. I am so blessed! He also cooks Mexican, Indian, Italian among others and we try to get Max to try less seasoned elements from our meal but beyond different types of rice, several types of pasta and avocado he is pretty resistant at this point. Of course Mac & Cheese is a hit.

How's the routine around bed time?

We are bath people. Either my husband or I give our son his bath right before he goes to sleep. I think that it calms your body down and it makes it much easier to fall asleep.

Any ideas from the past about parenting that are coming back to haunt you, or instruct you (from your own parents, etc), or help you, or scare the hell out of you now, etc?
The most important would have to be spanking... I was spanked often. I don't think it will do any good to a child. However, I also don't believe that just "firmly speaking" to a child will make things better. You have to be much more creative than that and we are still working on it! It is a serious concern for my husband and I as Max pushes his limits and we both don't want to act like our parents. The flip side to that is being more warm and loving. We hope to make sure that Max knows how much we love him and that he is our "heart external" whom we will always love to hold cuddle and kiss, aching to pull him back inside although we know we must let him grow and pull away. And....we take a lot of pictures - maybe too many at times...!!

Thank you Suna for sharing!
You're welcome Nonchalant Mom!

Please let us know if you'd like to be considered for this segment, or if you know anyone who might be interesting or unique that we can pester!