When I turned twenty-two, my parents were going through a messy divorce and my heart was mending from an emotionally abusive relationship – so it was beyond kind that my Godparents hosted a family birthday party to try and cheer me up. Except at twenty-two, all I wanted to do was get dressed up, put on too much make-up and spend a plethora of money on a VIP table at a club that doesn’t even exist anymore. I remember constantly looking at the clock wondering when they were going to cut the cake so that I could get downtown to truly celebrate my birthday. My persistence paid off and by 10PM we were in a taxi on our way downtown. When I think about that night in retrospect, I can’t believe what a spoiled and unappreciative brat I was.
I spent a lot of my childhood, teenage years and I guess my twenties trying to understand why my family behaved the way they did – as with any family there are oddities but with mine, I felt like there was always a need to explain situations or justify why I wanted to do certain things. I think I’m finally at the age (or maturity level) where I understand that culture clash had everything to do with it.
Both of my parents are from the West Indies; my Mom was born in Guyana and my father, Barbados. Neither of them went to high school in Canada so they missed the societal norms associated with Canadian kids. To West Indians, family is always first – that notion is obviously not unique but my family takes it very seriously. When my Mom describes her childhood in Guyana, she always talks about time spent with family – she didn’t hang out with anyone other than her sisters and brothers and if she did, it was at school and usually one or more of her sisters and brothers were with her. She never attended friends’ birthdays nor did she go to any friends’ houses after school. When I asked her if she thought that was weird, she insisted that she never felt a need to hang out with anyone other than her family (there were nine siblings in her family). Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on who you ask), she brought that mentality with her to Canada and tried to apply it to the way she raised my sister and I.
We never went to daycare or preschool, from what I can remember, my first interaction with a roomful of children was kindergarten. I never struggled to make friends and I remember being invited to many birthday parties. I also remember not being allowed to go to any of them. It wasn’t until around sixth grade when I finally started protesting my parents’ no’s. I was well-behaved, I was doing well in school so I just couldn’t understand why I wasn’t allowed to go celebrate. What I do remember, is that whenever it was the day of these birthday parties, my parents always found something family-focused to do. I’m not sure what I finally said to change their minds but at some point they gave in and let me go to something like 1 out of 5 parties I was invited to. Naturally, this paved the way for high school Crystal to lie about spending nights at friends’ houses and instead, going to wild high school parties/clubs.
My sister and I were teased a lot because no one believed we were sisters. There were many times where we’d be riding the school bus and some older kids would turn to us and yell things like:
“One of you two is adopted, which is it?”
or “Why are you white and you’re brown?”
or “Who did your Mom have sex with to have you, because you can’t have the same Dad.”
When you’re a child, that stuff is traumatizing. I’m not sure what triggered this specific question but one day we were in the car and my sister and I were squabbling about something stupid. My Mom turned to me and yelled, “DO YOU NOT LIKE YOUR SISTER BECAUSE SHE IS DARKER THAN YOU?”
To be honest, I have no idea what I said to my Mom that day. I do know that the question has stuck in my mind all this time because it was such an erroneous question to ask a child… about her sibling.
It’s situations like the above that help me understand how difficult it must have been for my parents to raise their children in a society that was very different than theirs. Their heavy reliance on family is all they knew, which is likely why they were so ambivalent about my sister and I socializing with school friends. I imagine that racism (or what they felt as such) is something they encountered, which could be why my Mom was so forward with her question to me that day in the car (if you haven’t figured it out, my little sister is much darker than I am – I am very, very fair skinned by comparison).
I love and appreciate how much West Indians rely on family and I hope to raise C to have an appreciation for family as well. At the same time, I appreciate how imperative it is to socialize with school friends outside the home (and how desperately I tried to integrate that into my upbringing) and hope that I can instill a happy medium.
I’d love to hear some of your stories of where you were raised and whether you faced any adversities from culture shock – or anything because of the way your parents brought you up. If you have kids, does this affect your parenting style?
Leave us a comment below and share your stories with us