Little Things Are Big Things

“There are a lot of little lessons that can be taught around the home without sitting a child down and boring them to death with your philosophy of life.” -Helen McRoy

Lot has changed from the time I was a child back in the late-fifties until now! Put down in years like that, I feel ancient! But that’s the point, it makes me all the more thankful for a childhood which was less materialistic, and people had an abundance of time to do whatever they had to do.

In our time, parents didn’t substitute quality time with the children by overloading them with presents. At least my parents didn’t. One can argue that we weren’t ‘rich’ but again we were not ‘poor’ either. And neither did they try to compensate their absences with gifts or promises of making it up to us by taking us somewhere or treating us with some goodies we relished. We took their absences in our stride. They explained that they had to do things that required their time and attention so we would have to be ‘good’ and listen to Mary or Teresa or Ammachi or whoever was the nanny at the time. And that’s how we came to understand that occasionally our parents would have to take time out for themselves too. We accepted, cheerfully, the time we had to ourselves.

Our parents encouraged us to play outside more than inside the house. They had nothing to fear if we played outside – in the garden or with our friends or if we went cycling down the street or skating in the skating rink nearby. Our playtime got divided into – outdoors and indoors. Indoor games were fun. We had a collection of board games that we played competitively quite often.

Today, adult supervision is a must at all times even if the kids are playing in the front or backyard. Besides, children nowadays possess too many gadgets to keep them holed up inside the home. The times, they are a changing!

Reading story books, general knowledge books became a bedroom pass time and discussing what we read or learned or didn’t understand became talks around the dining table at mealtime – Sobremesa. Sadly, I don’t get to see much of this these days. Everyone is either in a hurry to eat and vamoose or then, watch something on the TV, iPad or smartphone while they eat instead of talking to each other and sharing their day or experiences. 

Our conversations remained light, humorous, interesting and informative without being heavy. With the great meals, mummy served us, we’d get a good helping of stories and food for thought from daddy. We never hurried. 

It was quality time for us.

Materialism wasn’t as big a thing in our day. Today the ‘things’ one owns define who you are – your social status, the rung you’re on… and that has formed value systems. It wasn’t funny how someone told me that I had “middle-class” values! A ‘fresher’ in college, I had no exposure to this whole new world outside our traditional upbringing and social milieu. To be honest, I didn’t quite get what they meant by ‘middle-class’ values! 

I imbibed my values from my parents, teachers, church, and nobody had tagged any of these as ‘middle-class’ values. I learned a new thing. Values had different levels or standards. I observed the differences that marked the values of the various social strata.

The reason, I found out, was that we weren’t the members of any social club, liquor was a no-no, swearing was a no-no {my father a Navy guy would say ‘ruddy’ when he wanted to say ‘bloody’. Yes, even ‘bloody’ would raise my mother’s eyebrows up to high heaven! Ours was a very traditional ‘Christian’ upbringing influenced by European missionaries. 

We weren’t allowed to sing certain songs that had even the slightest reference to anything with sexual undertones. And ‘sexual’ undertones’ for my parents could mean “lipstick on your collar” or “1 and a 2 and I love you let’s play the game of love!” The list was long. Singing wasn’t banned, however. We could sing and trust me there were many songs we sang. But the music that kids my age were listening to wasn’t what we listened to at home.

It was the same with dressing. Mummy had her own ideas how we should dress as ‘young ladies’. And though, I didn’t tow the line always, I stretched the limit, but I wouldn’t go that far as to create a scene at home. I refused to accept invitations to any place my so-called friends invited me. Our middle-class values kept my necklines higher, my hemlines lower than theirs. No, I wasn’t granny-ish! Only a ‘different’ fish in their kettle.

Suppression gave way to expression as we grew older. We became assertive and things relaxed but it also brought in hypocrisy!

We learned to have dual lives. We wore many masks! One for church on Sunday. One for all church parties. Another for school, an upgraded one for college. You see, by that time we had moved from our one-horse town, in Punjab, to the Capital city. Life, as it was, transformed.

Schooling from grade five onwards had been in a public school in a small Air Force station. However, in the eleventh grade {Higher Secondary as it was called then}, we moved to the city. Not that the capital city was modern by any ‘city’ standards. It was a bigger and better life in terms of civic amenities, and infrastructure and other provisions, but attitudes and mentalities were yet to broaden as they have today. Whatever, for me it was a huge difference –

  • Academics: better quality of education because of a better teaching staff.
  • Social: I was meeting kids more to my liking and interests and I had a social circle outside of school. We had a church where the services were in English and I could understand what was going on. And a youth group!
  • Opportunity: Better colleges and university.
  • Environment: Huge differences all around.

Situations, circumstances, and needs change with time and there are many new demands that come with change. So it was with us too. However, looking back, I realize what a great part these restrictions played in my life. The strict discipline on how I had to walk, talk, sit, stand, express myself especially while talking to elders inculcated respect in us. Please, Thank You and Sorry were words we learned to use in abundance. 

Everything had a time and a place and everything was done in time and put in its proper place. Because we had servants, this was a very important lesson we learned. We could not fling our things about for the servants to pick up after us.

Discipline, not only in the way I conducted myself but also in my daily routine has seen me through the most difficult periods of my adult life. Time management, prioritizing, organizing came to my rescue when I needed it the most… and with ease. No surprises here, it had always been a way of life for me!

All the times I was checked for not saying ‘Thank you” and showing my gratefulness when I was a small girl, taught me gratefulness for the littlest things that someone did for me; to be thankful for the little things I have instead of miserable for what isn’t there. This lesson on gratitude that zoomed over my head as a girl {I said ‘thank you’ because it was expected of me!}, seeped into my heart and I realized what a wonderful lesson it was!

I realized, much later, what my parents wanted to teach us about living with discipline, values, and boundaries. Precepts are the guidelines for a good life and provide a solid foundation on which to build our lives. 

These values helped to build up our character so we’d not get blinded or mislead by the bazillion theories, advice, suggestions, and influences we’d meet on the journey through teenage years and young adulthood. 

In hindsight, I see how stupid it was for me to have felt the way I did, it wasn’t necessary.  My friends were fine with me and those who didn’t accept me couldn’t be my friends, anyway! Not that clear or simple to a naive sixteen-year-old then. Instead, I allowed myself to feel ‘less-than’ and lowered my self-esteem. So I resorted to donning hypocritical masks. The dichotomy created cognitive dissonance and my life did not go the way I wanted it to. Not being me, troubled me.

One day, just like that, I decided I didn’t need masks. I am not ashamed of who I am nor do I want to fit in by being someone else. Standing for my values and convictions mattered and what people assumed about me, didn’t matter, and if I didn’t stand for something, I’d  eventually fall for anything.

I discarded my masks and relieved myself of that unwanted burden.

These little lessons imbibed in childhood, the snippets of memories that strengthen and reinforce the learning are the really big things in life. 

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Your beliefs become your thoughts, 
Your thoughts become your words, 
Your words become your actions, 
Your actions become your habits, 
Your habits become your values, 
Your values become your destiny.” 
― Mahatma Gandhi

 

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