Are we like our parents in our behavior today? What similarities or differences have you brought into your own family from your family of origin? This question was posed by my writing teacher--to get us going.
My mother was a neat freak.
My father was a military man.
Put the two together and you can figure out the rest.
My sister and I just knew what was coming when we would hear Mummy's footsteps.
“Put your books away…did you make your bed…hang your clothes in your closet…why are these papers lying around…do…don’t…put…make….” In her high-pitched voice, she would be walking from room to room, pointing out our disorderly stuff that needed to be put in order. In that little house in Pakistan, nothing got lost. There was a place for every needle in every haystack. The house sparkled, as did Mummy.
Speaking of order, do you remember the Captain in The Sound of Music? Of course you do—Christopher Plummer at his handsomest. Well, Daddy was handsome too, but whereas he did not run his house like a military establishment, he did whistle to call us.
“To call out your name when you are at the other end of the house, I have to shout. Whistling sounds gentler.” Daddy said. He had a whistle-tone for me, another for my sister, and a third for Mummy. When my brother was born, he had to compose a fourth tune. We had a routine, breakfast at 7, lunch at 2, siesta at 3, tea at 4, homework at 5, playtime at 6, and dinner at 9, and no sleepovers. Table manners were drilled: don’t eat with your mouth open, chew your food, no talking with food in your mouth, say 'pass the salt'—don’t stretch, finish your food—there are hungry children on the streets, no elbows on table, no slouching, and say ‘please’ and ‘excuse me’. Just like dinnertime in Downton Abbey—only at a smaller, middle-middle-income scale. And never be late—its rude to keep people waiting.
Ten years later
Picture this: I am a newly wed; my husband Khalid and I are visiting our parents; Khalid hears the sound of a whistle from the room beyond, and his bride yells ‘coming,’ and rushes out.
“Sabeeha is so organized,” a friend remarks at a dinner party, at the other end of the world, in New York City. I had moved far away from home, holding my traditions close to my heart.
I am? Organized? Really?
“I am assigning this project to you because I trust you will meet the deadline,” my boss says.
I suppose I will.
Another ten years
I am looking for something in my teenage son’s room—no, I am not spying—I pull open his desk drawer and notice that every pen and pencil is perfectly lined, eraser in one corner, pencil sharpener in the other. I look at his dark brown wooden desk—clean top, books clustered by size, papers neatly stacked. Had I pulled a ‘Mummy’ on him? And wasn’t his methodical & regimented style so much like Daddy’s?
Ten more years fly by
I watch my four-year old granddaughter Asha pour make-belief tea from her toy tea-set ever so daintily, and I remember Mummy’s meticulous manner. I didn’t teach her that! And how come six-year old Sofia knows where everything in the house is placed?
Do we subconsciously transmit our habits, or is it in the genes? Did I did nag my boys to clean up after them, to chew their food, to be on-time? I don’t remember.
One thing is for sure. I don’t whistle.