I don't have memories of things as much as moments spent with my parents. Click To TweetSome days, as I am spraying a stain remover on my paint-ridden clothes or trying to get the sand out of my hair, I hear my mom’s words coming out of my mouth. “You have to be more careful!” I tell my wide-eyed almost-two-year-old. “Look at what you did!”
I check myself almost instantly. My father’s voice reverberates in my head, “Let her be. She’s only going to be a child once.”
Those two voices: one reminding me to be “proper” and the other urging me to be “carefree,” defined my life into adulthood.
Mom was a slave to the clock. Everything was rushed, timely, planned. Dad, on the other hand, was relaxed, sloppy and spontaneous. Where she would have her clothes neatly laid out at night for the following morning, he’d be ironing his shirt a half hour before heading to work. It’s not that he wasn’t organized (he has OCD when it comes to labeling and organizing paperwork), he just had his own pace.
She didn’t want my clothes or the walls getting dirty because it meant more work for her. He wanted me not to be bound by orderliness just yet.
I remember her asking me to clean up my mess of a desk or she would throw everything out … In fact, she once did! Clean sweep across the table and months of carefully accumulated melted wax, dried leaves, and seashells, among other things, crashed into the garbage bag.
She hauled it out of the house as I stood there transfixed, still trying to comprehend what had just transpired. “There. Done!” she announced as she wiped her hands on her hips and continued cleaning the rest of the room.
I remember him helping me retrieve all my “junk,” as she called it, and setting things up in categories. He taught me the art of labeling and color coding.
Mom would always say, “Your desk should show your work ethic.” To a nine-year-old, that meant naught. But it’s a mantra I followed my entire professional life.
Sometimes I felt she managed her home like one of her projects at work. With deadlines, accountability and discipline. I wasn’t a fan, of course. Dad’s unruly style was more fun.
He would play badminton with me in the evenings, take me out for bike rides, make ornaments out of melted candle remains, take me out for kababs after dinner, just because. He also liked to hug and kiss every chance he got while she avoided physical contact like the plague.
My childhood memories consist primarily of time spent with dad while mom worked her ass off. Both of them earned about the same, but his job was less demanding. He could choose his hours. She had to be in the office from 9-6.
And then one day, he went big. He bought a fridge. A small, blue fridge with a little freezer compartment on top. Mom was so excited that she could now do batch cooking! I jumped with joy when I learned that I could eat ice whenever I wanted. Whenever!
Cooking consumed her time when she was home. But she never let me help, instead insisting that I read a book, finish my homework or make myself useful elsewhere. “You have your entire life to cook!” she’d say. Most times, I would plop in front of the black and white TV, broadcasting one channel, and watch the news with dad. When we heard, “Dinner’s ready!” we would set the food while she showered.
Dinner time was when they played catch up. Utterly boring and fascinating at the same time. I quietly munched while they talked through their workplace frustrations. We never sat at the dining table…that was reserved for breakfast, lunch and homework with dad. Dinner was always on the ground, on that purple mat.
I was always the last one to finish…not because I was a slow eater; it was because the one sacred rule in the house was: you WILL clean your plate, no matter how long it takes. No Barney or Caillou to distract me from the revolting taste of blanched spinach! Click To Tweet
Just stories about how it supposedly made me stronger.
But I wasn’t a physically strong child. I remember falling ill extremely frequently and getting house visits from our family doctor. I remember mom changing the wet cloth strips on my forehead all night long. Sometimes she would even take the day off to be with me. Those afternoons were a treat.
She wasn’t craftsy but she loved reading. I would snuggle up to her as she read out stories and jokes from The Reader’s Digest.
Eve’s Weekly was another one of her favorites…I wasn’t allowed to read it. “Too many things that you won’t understand,” she’d tell me. I got access to her entire stash when I turned 13. Best birthday gift ever!
I scrapbooked the hell out those fashion models and recipes, horrifying my mom in the process. “Is this all you want to do with your life?” she would shout exasperated, defeated, disappointed.
As someone who has chosen to be a stay-at-home-mom after a thriving decade-and-a-half-long-career, I know what life is like on both sides of the fence.
As an only child of parents with completely different personalities, I have assimilated the best of both of them.
My childhood was very different from the one my toddler is experiencing. It didn’t consist of visually cataloging every waking moment, or wearing helmets and knee protectors when cycling around the neighborhood, or scheduled play dates, or trips to exotic locations.
I don’t have memories of things as much as moments spent with my parents.
And I hope I can help my daughter see the charm in building twig castles, making home-cooked meals from scratch, playing with wild abandon outdoors, reading a variety of old-school paper books, having debates and discussions, and may other things that seem to be slipping away from between our fingers.
I hope I am able to raise her with the right mix of yin and yang.