Last week Tuesday was Teacher’s Day here in South Korea. For those of you who aren’t aware, Teacher’s Day is just a day of significance i.e. not a public holiday. Although some schools use Teacher’s Day as a day toward their annual amount of holiday days, for most teachers it’s just another day at work. One plus of this day is that you often get some gifts. The first gift I received was a rather unwelcome surprise of some wrapped rice cakes.
Later in the day, the English department at my school (so me and my 2 co-teachers) went for some coffee at the Paris Baguette on the next road. I got treated to some yummy cakes and coffee.
The last gift was some weird looking flowers in a flowerpot. Not wanting to take them home to my tiny apartment, I placed them on the windowsill of my classroom and went home.
The next day I was pouring water into the plant from a paper cup and I was hit with a memory. Twelve, with hair reaching my waist, sitting in my mother’s office and watching her stand at the windowsill of her office, watering her plants. There I stood, with the Korean sunshine pouring through the window, in almost the exact situation I’d seen my mother in every single time I accompanied her to work. And there it was- that awkward moment when you realize that you have turned into your parents. It’s almost a physical shock.
Later, I walked into my apartment, set my bag down and immediately took off my earrings, necklace and watch and placed them in the tray I had bought specifically for this purpose. Yet again I stopped. Every single day that my mother would get home, her first move is to set down her handbag, take off her jewellery and place them in a box or plate that served as her storage place. She would always do this before she did anything else.
I took a breath and turned around to walk to my kitchen. My eyes set on my new blender. Oh what yummy joys can I create today? I thought to myself, and opened the fridge to peer in. Then I closed the fridge and took a step back. Who is the only other person I know who gets excited about juices, shakes and smoothies? Not my mother, but my father. Oh God. How many times did I walk into the kitchen over the years to find him in the middle of making a papaya smoothie, avocado shake or some other strange concoction in his blender (that no one else was allowed to handle). And he would be genuinely excited about it, encouraging everyone to have a glass, as if each smoothie was his artful creation. And sometimes… they were.
Suddenly, there was no more denying it. I am turning into my parents. But- when and how did this happen? You spent your whole adolescence thinking that the way your parents did things was so unnecessary/complicated/ineffective. Then you move out and suddenly you find yourself doing exactly as they have done for years… Yes there is method to their madness!
While I ate supper that night (dhall and rice, made just the way my parents cook it), I thought further about this revelation. And the more I thought about it, the more I realised how true it is. A few weeks back I was having a chat with my friend Rookaya and she asked me a question. My response was, “Let me ask She Who Knows Everything and get back to you.” She immediately replied with, “Oh yeah just ask your mother and let me know.” At the time I shared the joke with my siblings and we laughed about it. But now that incident has interesting connotations. All through my life people would ask my parents things like, “Where can I find nice tablecloths?” “Do you know a good dentist in the Greyville area?” or “How do I get to the department of Home Affairs in Pinetown?” And I have heard my parents act as a range of things from navigation systems to financial consultants to attorneys to brokers to translators and even as agony aunts. So when I complain to my sister about how my friends seem to call me to ask me things like, “Where can I find good sushi in Durban?” “What’s the best bank in Korea for sending money overseas?” or even, “I have the flu. What can I get from the pharmacy?” I realize that I too, seem to have fallen into the same position as my parents- the ‘Google’ position of one who answers all questions and provides informative answers. No more complaints to Humairaa it seems… you can’t fight genetics right?
As I washed the dishes I wondered if this was something only happening to me?? I know that this goes on as a person gets older- my aunt and grandmother sound more alike with each passing year. But I’m only 22! Then I thought about those closest to me.
When Faraaz first arrived in Korea, I came home from work to find all my clothes from the rack neatly folded, my washing machine filter cleaned and apartment spotless. And at the time, the thought ran through my mind only to be analysed later, “Gosh he is exactly like his mother!” For those of you who don’t know, Faraaz’s mother has a penchant for neatness and cleanliness that borders on obsessiveness. I remember Faraaz chiding his mother for being seemingly unable to stop herself from leaping out of bed at the ungodly hour of 4 a.m. and tidying the house. And she will read this and laugh but its true- your son cleans as much as you do!
Then there is my dear friend Kerissa. While I was in South Africa, I paid her parents a visit. And in an eerie way, being in Kerissa’s mother’s presence is like being with an older, sweeter version of Kerissa. That infectious giggle, the insistence that we can’t NOT eat ice cream after supper and the hilarious family stories were so reminiscent of Kerissa that if I closed my eyes, I could have been back in Incheon, washing the dishes while Kerissa insisted that we need to go get some dessert after supper. I asked Kerissa last week if she felt like she feels like she has become her parents and she said, “Aneesa, these days, I say and do ALOT of things that my mother says and does, to the extent where sometimes we will be in the middle of a conversation and both of us will blurt out the same thing!!”
So this wasn’t a phenomenon applicable only to me. First I asked myself, why do we turn into our parents? Are we destined, through nature and years of nurture, to replicate their ways? I dusted off the cobwebs and reached into my clinical psychology knowledge. In social learning theory Albert Bandura (1977) states behaviour is learned from the environment through the process of observational learning. So basically, kids pay attention to influential people like their parents (models) and encode their behaviour. At a later time they may imitate the behaviour they have observed. Easy enough to understand.
But then I asked myself another question: But why? Why are we so afraid to turn into our parents, the people who gave us life and were there for us unconditionally through every scrape and bump along the way? The parents who sat up with you till 4 in the morning when you were sick only knowing they had to be at work at 8am, but it was worth it. The ones who drove you to countless soccer games and sat on the sidelines cheering their hearts out while we ducked our heads and prayed no one would notice they were ‘your parents’. They attended EVERY school function, countless plays, picked you up from whatever this week’s activity was that you “just had to participate in”. They sat up with you helping with homework in subjects they themselves had not studied in twenty years but they tried their best and we got frustrated because we just wished they would just give us the answer so we could go watch TV again.
The thing is that if you have awesome parents like me, perhaps the biggest reason we fear turning into our parents is the thought that we can never actually become our parents. They are truly amazing, somehow managing a household, work, chores, errands, parent consultations and then us. Us, as in kids, and every single one of our practices, games, performances or activities of the week. Running to the store at 6pm to get glitter glue for a project we put off for weeks only to wait to the night before to start. Staying up late to help you finish the project and then secretly going over it once we have gone to bed to make sure everything is perfect.
How can we ever compete with that? How can we ever turn into the same parents that they were to us? But some of my friends no longer have their parents, or their parents are frail or their parents never did things worth replicating. It’s only when you move away you realize how lucky you are to be able to still have your parents in your life, and have the chance to turn into your parents and continue the ama-zing-ness that they started. As far away as you go, DNA goes deep, and now every time that I find myself making a familiar remark or gesture like my parents, I smile to myself.
Being like your parents is both a blessing and a curse. What matters is what you do with that knowledge.
Growing up people would say, “Listen to your parents.” And I would roll my eyes. But now, I realize they have taught me some of the best lessons in life.
The ring of love has come full circle.