As my tiny princess journeys towards adulthood, I’ve come to realise that, in spite of my lofty aspirations and idealistic expectations, she will become who she wants to be. It is a hard pill to swallow, but we have to admit that even if we stick to our parenting guns, our children will still choose their own paths and establish their own values once they become adults. Much of who we are as adults, is not so much about what our parents drilled into us, but the product of all of our life experiences. In part, we are the product of our memories – the ones that we made growing up that live with us every day.
Now, that Mwalimu is exploring the world and creating her own memories, I often contemplate on how I should go about interweaving my own specially-orchestrated events and activities into her equally valuable interests and inclinations. A long time before I even placed ‘having a child’ on my list of things to do, I had scratched down a list of some cherished memories from my childhood that I would want to share with my child(ren). On that list, I had recorded the experiences that I believed really shaped who I am today. Whenever I read through them I actually feel like I have my own version of ‘the good, old days’ to talk about. LOL. Maybe you have some of those memories, too! The kind that make you smile to yourself and forget where you are. The ones that don’t need photographs or video recordings to help you recall all the fine details. Well, those are the kinds of memories that I want to duplicate with my daughter:
1. Reading Programme/Library Camp
Some of my earliest summertime memories, were of long, sunny days spent in the local library of my father’s rural hometown. We could borrow loads of books during the weeks of the summer and had many exciting activities that allowed us to share what we learned. The programme helped me to develop a love for books and respect the power of the written word. The exploration of books showed me that I could live a hundred thousand lives through the pages I turned, and that there was an exciting and diverse world outside the borders of my island home.
2. Eco Tour
One summer, my parents took us for a cruise on the Black River Safari, a mangrove on Jamaica’s south coast, and took a picture of me as I stood on the outer ledge of the vessel and petted a crocodile’s wet nose! Our tour guide told us all about the ecosystem that existed in the watery habitat and how the destruction or preservation of the environment impacted the animals, plants and eventually, the people who lived nearby. It made such an impact on me that I have since developed a passionate hatred of littering and take the practice of recycling very seriously – all because someone showed me how every living thing is connected.
When I was in high school, IYS Penpals were the trend. We all had at least one penpal in some faraway land. Some of my schoolmates have even travelled to their writing pal’s home country or hosted the penfriend in their homes. I think just the process of exchanging thoughts about our lifestyles and cultures with boys and girls our age, who were different ethnicities, living in different countries and who often spoke different languages, allowed us to appreciate diversity. In today’s world of social media and instant messaging, letter-writing and cross-cultural awareness has become almost non-existent. But, I think emails and video-calls are a great way to connect children in different worlds.
My grandparents lived on a big farm and had other lands for planting produce and grazing their cattle and goat herds. Plus, my parents’ rural roots meant that our suburban backyard and front garden were host to fruits, veggies, herbs, birds, cats and dogs. From the slaughtering of chickens and collection of their eggs, to the planting of leafy greens and the harvesting of pimento berries, from a tender age, I was given the first-hand knowledge of where my food comes from. Today I can fully appreciate real, whole foods and completely understand the dangers of genetically modified organisms and the chemical-laden, artificially-preserved products that line our supermarket shelves.
5. Outdoor Camping
I really value survival skills and I think it’s because I never passed up the opportunities to hike into the mountain ranges and forestry lands with my local boys’ brigade while I was a teen. We learned how to forage for food, build fires, set up tents, and identify helpful versus poisonous plants. We were even trained to camouflage ourselves when threatened with danger and to exist without electricity and piped water. You never know when the luxuries we enjoy today will become scarcities and we will have to thrive nonetheless.
6. Compassionate Giving
My siblings and I regularly had to sort through our books, clothing and toys to identify any items we had not used in the previous months and prepare them for ‘free-cycling’. Yup, we had to give them away! Then, of course these donations weren’t just packed into boxes and left at the Salvation Army. Nope. Our parents would take us to one of the many Children’s Home and have us spend time playing with the children who we were giving the items to. On some of these visits, we took our friends along, so they could also play with children who were orphaned, abandoned, living with HIV or disabled. I always feel warm inside when I remember these trips, because I learned to respect others who were differently-abled or disadvantaged.
7. Writing Projects
During her high school years, my mother grew to love writing poems and letters, and she seemed to think her children should fall in love with words, too. So, I always had notebooks for writing assignments my mother gave me: letters to my relatives, book reports, poetry for special occasions, essays on various topics. This practice developed a skill that proved very useful in college and still generates an income for me today. But, more importantly, I feel very comfortable expressing myself in black and white.
8. Nature Walks
The soul is renewed when we step away from the hustle bustle and mentally escape into the wonders of the unprocessed outdoors. Mommy would have us lay down and look up at stars on a clear night, or examine the unique patterns on the variegated leaves of a croton plant. She’d often call our attention to the voices of birds in the early morning, and encourage us to admire the way the sun would paint orange, pink and purple hues across the evening sky.
One of my earliest memories was of forgetting “M is for Manger…” in a choir solo part I was performing as a pre-schooler. Over the years, I sang solos and in choirs, performed spoken word pieces, choreographed dances, and got into character on many stages around the world. I was never famous for my stints in the theatre house, but this world allowed me to build my confidence and respect the instruments that my voice and body are, while learning to work cohesively with my fellow performers on productions.
10. Housekeeping Chores
We always had housekeepers who kept our home in order, but our parents would still make up a ‘Duty Roster’ and have us make our beds, polish the furniture, do the dishes, tidy our rooms, rake the yard, water the plants, feed the animals, and even make some of our meals. When we protested and claimed that we’d grow up to earn enough money to hire someone to do our chores, my father rebutted that we wouldn’t know whether the job was well done unless we knew how to do it ourselves. Today, I’m still doing the chores myself!
I want to duplicate these memories for my little girl because I want to help her enjoy her childhood days, just as much as I did. But more importantly, I think these experiences and activities will help to build some character traits and personal values in her, that I don’t think I could with just talk or walk. Maybe you have some of these same memories in your mind’s cabinets, or even some better ones. Either way, I hope you will take the time to jot them down and make the effort to share these experiences and activities with the princes and princesses in your life.
Didan Ashanta is a natural living enthusiast who blogs at DidanAshanta.com. A native of Jamaica, she currently lives in Tokyo with her husband and 1-year-old daughter.