When I Was Your Age…

MY VIEWS | | July 25, 2012 at 8:55 pm

Ever since I wrote that post on Mother’s Day I have been thinking of my mom and home. In fact even writing this post makes me all queasy inside. Of course that may have something to do with the fact that I woke up at 4am with 2 hours of sleep peppered with mommy duty interruptions to take a flight. Or maybe not. In between playing mom taxi to therapy, errands and events I now engage in chatter. Mind you the regular routine is made up yelling, whining or bickering, but these days they want to talk and actually are all perked up when I speak of my past. Granted I have had an interesting past (no really I do) so I can understand the interest, but wonder their ability to relate.

I normally constantly remind my kids of how fortunate they are to have experienced more amazing things than I could ever imagine. I was 21 when I first took a flight and while that sounds like “wow” compared to them being a few months on a flight, then I recall the first time my mom took a flight she was 50. Yes, 50! I guess in perspective it was not too far off then that things have changed. But that discussion with my kids opened a whole box of questions “Who did you play with?” “What did you watch?”, “What toys did you have?” and more. Since this Mother’s Day brought memories of my mom, they were already hearing about her but I guess they actually wanted more. It also happened to be when a fellow South African friend was lamenting on missing her family visiting The Phoenix Settlement. Hearing about that brought back more memories than I doubted I could handle it. The Phoenix Settlement (printing press, school, farm, home, etc), if you don’t know, is the place that Gandhi created during the Apartheid times in South Africa. The more amazing thing? I went to that school up until the time my home, and entire town, was burned down in political riots. I told you I had some heavy stuff, didn’t I?

So I will save the gory details for a book I will write (kidding, well kinda) but the drastic difference of how I was when I was younger compared to my kids is pretty huge. I grew up in a house made of tin, no running water, and with a bathroom and toilet in a separate building out of the house. I did have electricity though. I told my kids about how we owned big tanks which collected rain water and how we heated water on fire outside if we wanted warm water for a bath. I told them how 4 sisters slept on 1 (huge) bed and how much fun we had. I could see every statement I made met with eager eyes, and then I got bombarded with oodles more questions. They were grappling to relate since so many things were out of the realm (they are 5 and 7 years old so that list is pretty long). The most common question was “How old were you when that happened?” and clearly showed they were trying to put themselves in my shoes.

The shock on their face when I admitted I barely had toys, was priceless. In fairness this had more about growing up poor rather than the sign of the times. I saw them look at their toys and not make a fuss as I packed up 90% of them to donate or trash, based on their usability. A month later we had a clean basement and a pool table for mom and dad to boot! Somehow we did talk about the riots that ravaged my town, as well as about Gandhi one morning and all before breakfast. I am careful about how I phrase events in the past as I describe the scenario, I try to make sure that I keep my out prejudices and allow them to form their own opinions. I also share with them honesty in doses I think are manageable. Children deserve honesty, heck we all do.

By talking about how we had less is something they are digesting slowly and I can see how they are growing somewhat appreciative. When I spoke about Gandhi and him being kicked off the train, they realized that injustices exist in the world (and honestly since I spoke about it, I have not heard a “it’s not fair” whine) and the importance of doing the right thing always. My older daughter compared it to little events in her life, which seem trifle when compared to the political backdrop of mine, but nonetheless still exude similar lessons and emotions.

The girls play soccer, and each have cleats. I explained how I never owned a pair of sneakers in school. Yeah, back home we used to run barefoot, and I know that those runners from Africa have a hard time adapting to shoes before they get here. I see them kinder and more considerate with what they have and what we do. I see them try to console me with their love and hugs in exchange for those from my now absent mom. But I have confessed many things to them that I can’t do and I think it might have boosted their confidence, or ego, not sure which at the moment. I confessed I never learned to swim or ride a bike. Swimming was more because my community was pretty conservative so bathing suits were frowned upon, yeah try learning swimming in regular clothing, not so fun. That was a pity since Durban has some of the best beaches in the world. Biking was more of a “could not afford a bike, so where would I learn” kind of reason. Either way my girls are beaming with pride at their skills and are eager beavers to take me under their wings and teach me. I have not agreed, yet!

Thanks to my blogging career I am giving them ample experiences for them to use for their own “When I was your age” stories. At most I hope they learn to be kind, appreciative and loving through my tales, and at the very least I hope to stop some ugly whining dead in its tracks.

Disclosure: This is a sponsored post, and part of me being a “Hallmark, Life is a special occasion ambassador”. Personally loving the opportunity to share a window to my life.


  1. 1
    Des says:

    Niri, you are doing so much more than preventing whining. You are too smart to not realize that, I am sure. You are showing your children a world so much larger than their own, and teaching them to make the best of any given situation. The fact that you let them know there were happy times in that hard childhood–four girls who had fun in one big bed–teaches them that it’s not the “stuff”, but the people around them that matters. You are a wonderful mother, doing such a fabulous job raising your own girls.

  2. 2
    Felicia says:

    I definitely agree with Desiree. You are doing so much more than preventing whining. How blessed your girls are to have a mother who not only had the experiences you had, but can put it all into perspective and make it a lesson that will teach them about others and how to treat others who may have different circumstances. Again, a beautiful post.

  3. 3
    Tara says:

    I want to hear more stories! I can just imagine how your girls must love hearing about your childhood. They are so fortunate to have a mom who is willing to share such rich memories with them!

  4. 4
    PragmaticMom says:

    I know what you mean. Our kids grow so priveledged compared to what we grew up with yet they have no idea and this can make them seem spoiled. It’s wonderful that you can share your childhood experiences with them in a way that makes them grateful for what they have and still feel joyful.

  5. 5
    Kristen says:

    I remember hearing you speak at Evo and girl… I hope you weren’t kidding about a book. If any book needs to be written, it’s yours! Do it!

  6. 6
    Ani says:

    I can’t wait to hear more about your life too! It is amazing how we can take so much for granted until we get a little perspective. Many of us who grew up in poverty don’t want to tell our children stories of our childhood because they seem so far from what we want to (or are) giving them. Your kids are lucky to have so much openess from you!

  7. 7

    You definitely must write a book!

  8. 8
    Caryn B says:

    What an amazing example you are to your kids…I struggle often with whether or not I’m spoiling my kids…I didn’t grow up impoverished but I definitely did not have or do the things my children do. I want them to have an appreciation for these things…these experiences…to love people more than things…I think how you’re teaching your children is amazing.

  9. 9

    You really need to write a book. Every time I hear more about your life I am in awe of everything that you have been through. I have always known you were amazing but now I know more of the why behind that.

  10. 10

    Your children are very lucky to have such a resilient and interesting mommy.

Leave a Reply