“There is beauty and humility in imperfection.” ~ Guillermo del Toro.
One of the goals of parenthood is that your children ‘have manners’. Do they behave when in the company of others, remembering to ‘please’, ‘thank you’, and ‘excuse me’ appropriately? There is nothing will let you down in the sight of your friends and family than a child who is rude. Jamaicans, with their usual clever turn of phrase will describe a child as ‘mannasable’, or if they the see evidence of the opposite, then the child has no ‘broughtupsie’ (badly brought up!).
Growing up in the home of a minister (or teacher, or nurse), the expectations are even higher. You must not only be polite, you must hold your tongue, speak when spoken to, act interested even when the adults are droning on and on. Being polite extended to bodily functions also. You were not expected to release unexpected eructation or flatulence in public (no belches or farting please!). I never forget one of my early experiences of working night duty as a young student nurse on a male ward. The noises that erupted from these sleeping men at night was an unmelodious orchestra of sound effects! I had never heard anything like it!
Even more than having manners was an understanding of what information could be shared, and what was only discussed at home, with family. Fifty years ago we were not a society who ‘shared’ at the drop of a hat. This was probably not a good thing, as some things which were hidden may have left scars too deep to heal. But I never forget how shocked I was, when first I came to the US and worked with women who told me all of their business on a coffee break. I heard about their cheating husband and nasty divorce, their teenage daughter and her wayward ways before I had finished my first cup! The one time I did feel comfortable enough to share the fact of my first pregnancy with a co-worker, it was someone from my hometown of Chapelton (I hadn’t known her before, but we knew people in common). At the time I was not married, so I wasn’t exactly trumpeting the news from the rooftops. Fortunately, I let my parents know about the same time. I later discovered that the news had arrived in Chapelton already, courtesy of my new ‘friend’.
I guess the term is reticence, being reluctant to share personal information too freely. And yet over time I have come to recognize the benefit of using life’s instructional lessons to illustrate a story, to help another who may be going through a similar passage. I realize that although each of us is unique, we are also exactly like everyone else, going through challenges, heartache, consequences of bad choices, and sometimes armed with poor coping skills. I have found it helpful to draw on my own weaknesses and flaws when counseling students. I recognize the self-doubt and lack of confidence; the tendency to beat up on oneself for failing, for not living up to the unreasonable expectations we sometimes put on ourselves. And I can pull on real life experiences to try to show another way to see things, another way to talk to yourself.
Years after I had left home, I met up with some people who had met and worked with my parents in Jamaica, but had only met them after I (the youngest and last to leave) had left home. They confessed that they hadn’t realized that my parents had children (they had 6) or grandchildren (at the time they probably had 10 or so). My mother was not one who walked around with a ‘bragging’ photo album, she did not pull it out at the first opportunity. Unlike the famous British TV character Hyacinth Bucket (pronounced ‘bouquet’) showing off her photos of ‘My Sheridan’!!!
When I first heard about my parents’ silence about their family, I was taken aback. Are they ashamed of us, I wondered? But then I realized that it was in keeping with their beliefs. One of my father’s favorite Bible verses are from 1 Corinthians, 13, about love (charity), and the verse which says: “…charity vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up…” It was not in their nature to ‘brag’ about their children, to advertise their accomplishments. As a child I was told that all that was expected of me was that I do my best, there would not be a wall displaying my awards, I was not expected to come in first in my class.
There was something else going on. It was that while their family may have been doing well, may have achieved goals and accolades, others may not have been as fortunate. By constantly referring to the success of their children they could have been making someone else feel inadequate, or feel pain. We all know that life has twists and turns. All of our children’s successes may not be marked with degrees or six-figure salaries. It may be that one child was able to extricate themselves from an abusive relationship. Or learnt their lesson by spending years in a federal institution, or kicked a habit. Or maybe we have a beloved child who is still fighting, struggling with mental illness. All of our stories do not have happy endings. This is real life.
This week on social media there were announcements of ‘National Daughter’s Day’ and then a few days later ‘National Son’s Day’, and we all duly marched out photos of our families. I felt ambivalent, having inherited some of my parents’ reluctance to participate in public displays of pride. Of course, I joined in, for what would my silence say? Thankfully I have kids who would not have felt concerned either way. But I thought of those who do not have kids, or who have lost kids, or for whom such displays may have brought sadness or pain. And I am pretty sure there actually is no such thing as National Daughter/Son day!
On this Friday morning, I hope that your children bring you happiness wherever they are in life. My favorite poet Gibran advises us that ‘…Your children are not your children. They are the sons and daughters of life’s longing for itself…’ And I am also reminded of one of the lines from Desiderata, advising us not to compare ourselves to others, ‘…for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself.’
Have a wonderful weekend, Family!