Child See, Child DoT. SHER SINGH
Tuesday, July 17, 2012
Our first next-door neighbours when we arrived in Canada consisted of the Barrett family: a young couple and their two children.
From the very day that we moved in, they became an integral part of our lives. They welcomed us warmly by insisting that we have lunch and dinner with them on moving day. Thereafter, the fence between their house and ours became redundant.
Their children and my younger siblings lived in the two homes interchangeably. My mother, new to much of the North American gadgetry, relied repeatedly on Mrs Barrett’s guidance. My father got along well with Mr Barrett and quickly picked up tips which were crucial to life in Canada.
Such as, how to open a frozen car-lock door. How to de-ice the windshield? “No, you do not use hot water!” Etc., etc.
I left for university in Thunder Bay, a thousand miles northwards, shortly after the family had settled down in this Toronto suburb called Don Mills.
When I returned at Christmas for my first visit home, the Barretts came over for dinner one night. We sat around the fire which, I noted with pleasure, my younger brother had learnt to light and manage. The children romped around us until they grew tired and settled down in various heaps. Nine-year old Lisa Barrett cuddled with her mother playfully, and we watched her antics.
Mrs Barrett was, as always, affectionate and exchanged loving words with her.
“You’re Mommy’s girl, aren’t you?”
“Yes, I am,” replied Lisa and kissed her mother. And added: “And Daddy’s girl too.”
Little Phillip Barrett, though only seven, found this exchange too prissy. He puckered his nose in disgust, rolled his eyes and looked away.
“You’ll be Mommy’s and Daddy’s girl forever, won’t you?” purred the mother.
“H-mmm-mn. Yes, I will.”
“Even when you’re all grown up into a lady, and Mommy and Daddy are old and retired?”
“Oh, yes. Even then.” Lisa nodded her head vehemently. She squinted her eyes, thinking hard, and continued: “I promise. I’ll visit you every Sunday, right after church. And we’ll have lunch together.”
“Visit me?” Mrs Barrett looked surprised. She pretended to be offended. “What do you mean, visit me? Won’t you be living with us?”
“How could I?” piped back Lisa. “Won’t you be living in White Acres, with Grandpa and Grandma? I promise I’ll visit every week.“
Philip found this agreeable and nodded.
Shortly after, the kids disappeared into the basement to play ping-pong.
My father, intrigued by the exchange between mother and daughter, asked where “White Acres” was.
It was a Senior Citizens’ Home near the Scarborough Bluffs, a suburb in the east end of the city. Mr Barrett’s retired parents lived there. Every Sunday, right after church, the family would visit them at the Home, and take them out for lunch. The children enjoyed it very much.
Mrs Barrett, however, appeared annoyed. “Why would she want to put us in a Home? Why would she even say that?” she kept on muttering, half to herself.
My father, fresh from India and still not familiar with the rule, “Mind your own business,” butted right in.
“Why wouldn’t she? The only way she will know how to treat you when you get old, is what she sees now: how you treat your parents. She has no other way of learning. You shouldn’t be surprised at her reaction.”
Mrs Barrett became thoughtful, and we drifted away from the subject.
Next spring, after a winter of renovations in their huge basement, the Barretts brought Grandpa and Grandpa home one Saturday morning and announced that they would all be living together from then on, under one roof.
Conversation about this article
1: Baldev Singh (Bradford, United Kingdom), July 17, 2012, 11:56 AM.
An important message indeed.
2: Sangat Singh (Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia), July 17, 2012, 12:40 PM.
Thanks, Sher ji, for sharing this lovely story. It is the 'wooden bowl' that most of us are familiar with. Children are remarkably perceptive and see and hear and then imitate those attitudes as they grow up. The parents lay the building blocks for the child's future. The Wooden Bowl is about the frail old man who lived with his son, daughter-in-law and four-year-old grandson. Since the elderly grandfather's shaky hands and failing eye-sight made eating difficult and generally made a mess with food spilled all over, he was made to sit alone with a wooden bowl and still admonished when he dropped the spoon or spilled food. This was observed by the grandson in silence and one evening playing with a piece of wood and trying to carve. The father noticed and asked what he was making. "Oh, I am making a little bowl for you and Mama to eat your food from when I grow up." The other variation is where the old man was consigned to a small room in the wintry night. He asked his grandson to bring him a blanket and when he found one asked his father to cut it into half for grandfather. "Take the whole blanket." "No," replied the boy, "I must save the half for you when you grow old." These were the stories related to us as children as examples of what you sow, so shall you reap. This scourge of the old folks home which was relatively unknown in Asia and is now creeping in although a customary public show of respect for the elderly is not always shown in private. A perfunctory remark is perhaps made: "Have you taken your medicine?" or, "Have you eaten?" and revert to your own business.
3: F. Singh (Kansas, U.S.A.), July 18, 2012, 11:08 AM.
Very interesting article. Reminds me of a conversation I had with my brother where he said - why would you want to put the burden of your old age care on your children anyways? Let them live free and visit us when they can, no big deal. I think most people are now thinking along the lines of my brother these days ... to not "burden" others and be independent. Nothing is black and white, Sher. There are hundreds of factors that come into play with this. Here is my example: My father came to the US in the 60's for a better life. Things took their toll and he wasn't successful, so didn't call the rest of the family over. My dad never served his parents, hell we as his kids never even met them. But all these years later I stil have a soft spot and care for my parents (who by the way are disabled) in my home. Although I didn't see it, I still knew what was right. Another point to be aware of is that many parents are also very nasty and have behavioural problems, especially to the daughter-in-laws (and vice versa). This is usually the main cause of people living separate. You may want to care for your parents but if your wife/husband doesn't support it, you are better to do so at a distance. People have know changed for the most part. Even in Punjabi families the trend of living together will cease in the next 10-20 years. People have become selfish and don't know how to adjust or get along with others. It is a global problem.
4: Blighty Singh (London, England), July 18, 2012, 12:12 PM.
Nice insight into life in the suburbs. Not the same in big mega-cities. I'm 28 and was born in this house we live in. Don't even know the name of a single neighbour and none of them know ours. My grandfather told me things in London were similar to that described in the article, but those days have long gone.