This past December, I was finally home for the holidays, after missing two years of the holiday season with my family and friends in Toronto. In fact, in the past two years, I have only been home for a total of three times and each of those three times, there’s been an emerging trend: “When did my parents get so cool?”
It’s a thought I seem to immediately and consistently have while I’m in town. And I don’t mean cool in the sense that they are dressing hip and starting to know urban dictionary better than me (I would actually find that more disturbing than cool) but I mean cool in the sense that, they are just super easy going and actually kind of fun to be around – not to mention, my 64-year-old dad is learning Spanish and travels to Cuba on the regular – whaaaat?!! Cool x 1000.
For me, this is a major breakthrough. With someone with severe youngest child syndrome, I wouldn’t say I had the best relationship with my parents growing up in comparison to my siblings. I was always breaching traditional code of conduct in my parents’ eyes from what a “proper Tamil girl” should be doing. I felt they didn’t get who I was and weren’t on board with my life decisions.
“A lot of parents will do anything for their children except let them be themselves.” – Banksy
But this past trip, I had what Oprah calls an “aha” moment. I was sitting in my old room, lying on my bed and staring at the wall opposite of me. The rooms in my wall are magenta. Yes, magenta. This was the decision of an 18-year-old me who had some savings from a summer job and decided to redecorate. Well, “redecorate” was the polite phrasing I had pitched to my parents who probably thought that meant buying some furniture and choosing a nice light colour paint for my walls but no – it was a magenta “how will we sell the house again?” madness sort of redecoration, carried out by the inexpensive (free) and inexperienced help of my best girlfriends. I got all white IKEA furniture to go with it and the finishing touch was the wall across my bedroom where I had the word “Dream” sprawled across it.
Now almost seven years later and still alive to tell the story, I was staring at this wall and I started thinking, “How did I manage to get away with this?” On one hand, did the charm of my cute youngest child self have anything to do with it? *Bats eyelashes* Maybe. But there was something else at play here – I did something that my parents normally wouldn’t find acceptable and they learned that maybe it wasn’t so bad after all. I had taught my parents that this was okay to do.
This seems quite trivial but I think about all these little things that added up from me pushing curfew to speaking up on things that I didn’t agree with to pursuing the studies I wanted instead of what they wanted – I was doing a lot of things that my parents initially had trouble wrapping their head around to accepting it and even supporting it.
Last year I interviewed Indhu Rubasingham, artistic director of Tricycle Theatre, and she said something along the lines of this realization:
“I remember my dad saying something really interesting. He said, ‘Your generation always complains about our generation being old fashioned and not knowing things but it’s up to your generation to inform us and open our eyes.’ I think it’s very true because for them they came from Sri Lanka to Canada or England or wherever with a different set of expectations, values and culture. They came as immigrants. Why should they know what our experiences are, being born and brought up here?”
And that’s the thing – my parents have always meant well, even if I didn’t see it at the time. They wanted to give me a better life than what they had and they did it in the only way they knew how from how they were brought up. I began to see it as my job in some ways to show them that things can be different. Of course, this is easier said than done. In my case, there was sometimes tension and some arguments but this eventually led to some progress and change. My mother went from, “A girl has to be married before she moves out” to calling me in London with, “Are you eating? Make sure you lock your doors at night. Where do you buy your spices from over there?”
But of course, what I can begin to teach my parents is nothing in comparison to what they have taught me. At the end of the day, I am my parents’ daughter; I am my father’s strong-minded, determined girl and my mother’s sassy, drama queen and thanks to them, and the support of my other loved ones, the 18-year-old me was able to turn all that “dream” from within the four walls of my magenta room to a reality I’m living seven years later.