“When I was Young…” and other things my children never listen to.

My grandma was a dancer. She had lovely hair and even lovelier legs. She met my grandfather, an airforce pilot, during one of his training drills during WW2. It was a fire safety drill. The airforce boys needed two volunteers to leap from the “burning building” into the safety net below. My grandma and her friend were passing by. No doubt encouraged by much inappropriate wolf-whistling, they decided that they were the girls for the job. So it was that Kath, the dancing daredevil, jumped from a burning building into the arms of Geoff, the dashing, sharp-nosed airforce pilot. They married quickly, as so many couples did in wartime.

safety net

Despite this wildly romantic beginning, the marriage ended in tragedy when in 1958, Geoff, never able to adjust to life as a worker bee after the glory and drama and intensity of life as a pilot, committed suicide in the family garage in Florida on Johannesburg’s West Rand. Kath never remarried. Years later, in 1980 when I was 3, Kath would jump from another building, not into the waiting arms of her beau this time though. She would meet the pavement in Parktown at quite a speed and in pieces.

My father adored his mother and I grew up with stories of kind, resilient, hard-working Kath who raised her son as a single parent. Money was tight but she always made a plan to give my father his pocket-money; even if it meant shoving cardboard into her work shoes to make them last longer. My father saved this hard-earned pocket-money to buy himself records, with a few tickies set aside for sweets. He listened to rock music, grew his hair long and wore glasses like Ringo Starr’s. But, he was always aware of what his mother had sacrificed for him to live his life of long-haired freedom.

As an only child (and an adored one at that), every time I whined about not having the latest Barbie or Flower Fairy Doll or the most luminous 1980s leggings, my father would haul out that ol’ “when I was young…” chestnut. I used to roll my eyes, sometimes cry a bit, stick out my bottom lip and moan about how unfair my life was.

Fast forward 30 years and I have my own two adored children. And blow me down if I don’t say to them at least once a week, “When I was young…”. They are as unmoved as I was. They still won’t eat the first supper I put in front of them even when I tell them that I was never allowed to refuse supper and treat home-cooking like ordering off a menu at a restaurant. There is no sympathy for my having grown up without both a mother and the internet.

And if the average week is full of demands and ‘I wants’, the school holidays are quite simply torture. The Easter holidays might even be the worst of them because there are cupboards full of chocolate. The children know it. They want chocolate for breakfast. And it’s their chocolate because the bunny gave it to them.

Easter help

Now, don’t get me wrong, they are wonderful children. They are kind, thoughtful, eloquent and smart. They just don’t know how good they’ve got it. As I didn’t. As my dad didn’t. As his dad didn’t and so on ad infinitum. I think that however validly awful life was for the generation before, there’s always going to be some smart aleck with a protruding lower lip who wants chocolate for breakfast.

BUT, for the next school holidays, I’m going to be prepared. I will not give in to the R500 snacks at the movies. I am not going to buy a little knick-knack from the toy shop just to have a moment’s peace. I will not do these things because I am going to scar my children for life by telling them about Victorian child labour! If they’re not impressed by how the stock market crash of the mid-1980s affected my Barbie buying-power, they will be impressed by the Little Matchstick Girl. If you also need a few horror stories with which to encourage your children to count their blessings, behold…

Tin Mine Workers

The second to last family tree that I worked on featured a family from Cornwall. The family was involved in the copper and tin mining industries. In researching the tree, I came across a photograph of a young Victorian boy, sitting in the dark of the mine, all alone. He operated the lift that took the miners to and from the surface. He sat all day in the dark. He did have a candle attached to his mining helmet with clay, which I suppose he could have lit should the dark overwhelm. I imagine though that the mine owners did not offer an endless supply of these candles, so most of his 12 hour days underground would have been spent in a dark so impenetrable that it is difficult for me to imagine.

Children tin miners

From Victorianweb.org:

I sit in the dark down in the pit for 12 hours a day. I only see daylight on Sundays when I don’t work down the pit. Once I fell asleep and a wagon ran over my leg”Boy aged 7

I hate the dark, it scares me. I never go to sleep. Sometimes I sing, there is nothing else to do other than open and close the door.”Girl aged 8

And if the children survived the dark and the collapses and the explosions and the poisonous gasses, they could look forward to miner’s phthisis in their middle age.

Below are collected a few causes of death of children working underground in the mines. (Information from www.chiddingston.kent.sch.uk)

  • A driver aged 12. Head crushed between tub top and a plank while riding on limmers.
  • A trapper aged 13. Head crushed between cage and bunton while riding to bank.
  • Tub Cleaner, aged 13. Fell down the shaft off a pumping engine.
  • Boy aged 14, drowned.
  • Boy, aged 7. Killed in an explosion.
  • Trapper , aged 9. Killed in an explosion.
  • Driver, aged 14. Crushed against wall by a horse.
  • Screen Boy, aged 15. Head crushed between a tub and screen legs ; too little room.

Now, that should put a stop to the chocolate for breakfast debate.

The Little Match Girl

I have just once read the Hans Christian Anderson story of the little match girl to my son. I wept (as I always do); my son sat wide-eyed with horror all the way through to the not so happily ever after ending.

441px-Page_187_illustration_in_fairy_tales_of_Andersen_(Stratton)

There were real matchstick sellers – young girls and boys selling matches in the streets but there were also “matchgirls” who worked in the match factories. Hours in the factory were long, the workers were not well-paid and there were severe health complications for those who handled phosphorous all day. How’s this for a description of a day’s work?

The hour for commencing work is 6.30 in summer and 8 in winter; work concludes at 6 p.m. Half-an-hour is allowed for breakfast and an hour for dinner. This long day of work is performed by young girls, who have to stand the whole of the time. A typical case is that of a girl of 16, a piece-worker; she earns 4s. a week, and lives with a sister, employed by the same firm, who “earns good money, as much as 8s. or 9s. per week”. Out of the earnings 2s. is paid for the rent of one room; the child lives on only bread-and-butter and tea, alike for breakfast and dinner, but related with dancing eyes that once a month she went to a meal where “you get coffee, and bread and butter, and jam, and marmalade, and lots of it”; now and then she goes to the Paragon, someone “stands treat, you know”, and that appeared to be the solitary bit of color in her life. The splendid salary of 4s. is subject to deductions in the shape of fines; if the feet are dirty, or the ground under the bench is left untidy, a fine of 3d. is inflicted; for putting “burnts” – matches that have caught fire during the work – on the bench 1s. has been forfeited, and one unhappy girl was once fined 2s. 6d for some unknown crime. If a girl leaves four or five matches on her bench when she goes for a fresh “frame” she is fined 3d., and in some departments a fine of 3d. is inflicted for talking. If a girl is late she is shut out for “half the day”, that is for the morning six hours, and 5d. is deducted out of her day’s 8d. One girl was fined 1s. for letting the web twist round a machine in the endeavor to save her fingers from being cut, and was sharply told to take care of the machine, “never mind your fingers”. Another, who carried out the instructions and lost a finger thereby, was left unsupported while she was helpless. The wage covers the duty of submitting to an occasional blow from a foreman; one, who appears to be a gentleman of variable temper, “clouts” them “when he is mad”.

As with the mining example, the long hours and tough working conditions were often the least of your worries. The matchsticks were initially made by dipping an end into white phosphorous (although after the 1888 matchgirls strike, more factories started using the more expensive red phosphorous) which was a known cause of Phossy Jaw. Phossy Jaw is a necrosis of the jaw caused by continued exposure to white phosphorous. Symptoms start with toothache and a swelling in the gums. As the condition deteriorates abscesses form on the jaw bone and the bones glow an eery white-green. Death could be averted by removing the affected bones but very often those who suffered from phossy jaw died a horrible, painful, disfiguring death.

phossy+jaw

So there we have it…one horror story for my boy child and one for the girl child. Upon reflection, I don’t think I can really tell them about phossy jaw and head-crushing. They may never sleep again and we have enough trouble with that in the first place. This is unfortunate, because despite the fact that today was back-to-school day, we are going on an overseas trip next week. All four of us in one hotel room for 8 days.

I wonder how many days in I will be yelling, “No! I will not buy you a banana-frond skirt/hat. We’re here for the experience, not the stuff. When I was young, I never got time off school for a holiday in the Seychelles! And I certainly never owned a banana-frond skirt. I wore the same stone-washed denim bubble skirt for 3 seasons!”

“WHEN I WAS YOUNG…”

100 thoughts on ““When I was Young…” and other things my children never listen to.

    • Good grief! And for fireworks! (Which I hate anyway because they make my dogs quite mad with anxiety. Which, again, sounds so first world problem-y.) It is too awful for words. We are ridiculously lucky. And all thanks to an accident of birth and geography.

  1. So many songs drift into my head reading this, esp Mike and the Mechanics ‘Living Years’ and Joni Mitchel’s ‘Big Yellow Taxi.’ My mother grew up poor in the countryside and my father did ok in the city. It was a constant source of carping from her, made worse by her younger sisters who missed out on the worst of poverty when they moved to the city. You have to have some of your own history to want to learn about others. As Goethe said, we see what we know. another great post.

    • Thanks Barb. My dad loved the Living Years, so I’m pleased for his sake that it came to mind. He would have liked the sychronicity of that (while never, of course, using the word ‘synchronicity).

  2. Is it still legal to make them work in the garden? Next holiday we can set them to work digging trenches and filling them up again. We can pay them with sugar and two-minute noodles.

  3. Every time you say no to them that squeaky noise you hear in the background will be me shouting “Yay for you!!”. I let my kids have nice treats but not ALL the time like it seems so many others do.
    Like you, I also torture them with tales of how it could be for them had they been born a hundred years or so earlier. When we were in Broken Hill/Silverton last year the kids were given the whole “If you lived here this is what you would be doing evey day” talk at an old silver mine by the tour guide. They came out saying “Those poor kids” so clearly it made an impression. :)

    I did a post a while ago about a recently deceased glow-in the dark match factory worker, it would certainly not have been a good job. :( http://picsandstuff.wordpress.com/2012/07/06/the-light-of-her-life-1898/

    Enjoy the Seychelles (if you can), definitely better than going back to school!

    Here is Horrible Histories and the chimney sweep children just so you can add another horrible job to your repertiore. :D

    • I hadn’t actually thought about going to bed with a glow in the dark partner. How strangely terrifying.

      The Seychelles will be wonderful. The whole family is going. All 18 of us – 9 adults, 9 children. It is sure to be an adventure!

      • I’ll think of you, lazing on a white sandy beach, while I am doing the washing, and the dishes, and the vacuuming…. You lucky thing!
        With that many other grown-ups around you and 23 might even get five minutes to yourselves!

  4. Oh Tracy, you brought back a memory that was buried. The Little Matchstick Girl. And as you, I cried every time I read it which was really too many times. If I read it today, I would cry. But thanks anyway for reminding me, for it brought back good things too.

    You Cuz.

    • It is just the saddest story. Every time I read it, I can’t help but wish somebody will come upon her in the snow and give her a small meal and a warm bed, or at the very least, buy the last of the matches from her so she can go home. But, alas…

      xx for you.

  5. When I was young the sun shone all summer and I never thought of food or drink or clothes (the preparation thereof)’, and days and weeks were longer. …. And I am deeply grateful to be where I am now and not to have to think of what “that nice boy thinks of me” or how to do my homework in the shortest possible time so as to have the most possible weekend… The thing is, children don’t give you time to go away and think of ” the right thing to say” – you have to sort things now, as they happen….!

  6. Your Kath did have lovely hair….when her name is mentioned to my uncle (Kath’s cousin)…the thing he always says….Beautiful with lovley hair!…..My Dad always used to say: “You are lucky!! When I was young……”

  7. The little Matchgirl made me cry as a child too. As did several of Hans Christian Andersen’s stories. He wasn’t so crash hot on happy endings or so I remember (Little Mermaid anyone?) I haven’t pulled the “when I was your age” line because upon refection I was ridiculously spoiled. We had little money but even so we lacked nothing much. However, when my children’s grandparents were young… My MIL watched the bombers fly over from her home in East Germany and she had to go “under the wall”, my FIL was one of the evacuated children during those years and my mum grew up on a farm and later in a small country town farming community and they had little money but a lot of love. My dads family had money and privilege and to be honest I think the best stories I’ve heard from their childhoods were from my MIL and mum (FIL died before I really knew him although he was known for putting toads in beds ;) ). When we stop and think, every generation does have it easier but I am sure there is also an element of poetic licence that our minds employ. I mean, the stories that grandpa’s tell of slogging 20 miles to school in 6′ of snow, uphill (both ways of course) seem a little far fetched. ;)
    My kids scoffed their lot of chocolate inside of an hour and that was the end of that. There’s a lot to be said for not eking it out.

    • I’m never sure with the chocolate whether or not to have one really mental day or weeks of small attacks on my will to live. Next year I’ll try your way!

      Have you ever read the book Lark Rising? It’s the diary of a young girl growing up in rural England just prior to the Industrial Revolution. The family was poor as poor could be but never lacked for food. She ate blackberries on the way to school (it was a long walk in the rain,), everybody had a veggie garden. A pig was killed at the beginning of winter and boy, did they make that pork last! It is such a lovely book.

      As for the war stories: it is a world impossible to imagine for me. I suppose though that you just got on with things because everybody had lost a son or a father or a home. Your grief was no bigger than your neighbour’s. You just got on with things. As we all do, perhaps. What’s that saying about the only truth in life being that “it goes on”?

      • We also made homemade chocolate with rapadura instead of sugar which completely minimised the sugar rush (it’s low gi and all that) and they got given precious little (they get none at any other time as they react so strongly and poorly to sugar that we have cut it from our diets totally) which helps a lot.
        That book sounds amazing and I will most definitely try and source it.
        Yes, we used to be much better at just getting on with it hey. Life will and does go on.

  8. I enjoyed this immensely. Although I am no longer a child, nor do I have children of my own, I shall remind myself of these stories the next time I start to obsess too much over how fulfilling my career will be!

    • Thanks. Shout if you need any more inspiration. I have stories about the textile industry that would turn your stomach. Literally; through heavy metal poisoning or the stench of the tanneries. And the glass-making factories…oh heavens…there is enough in the 19th century to make data capturers fall onto their knees in gratitude for their carpal tunnel syndrome :)

  9. Well said. You are right every generation takes for granted what their parents didn’t have and its natural for parents to give their children what they didn’t have. However this needs to be done in the correct ways.
    When I wanted brand clothing like Nike or Adidas my parents would say. “Ok we’ll pay ‘X’ amount for the bog standard clothing. If you want to buy Nike you’ll have to make up the difference”.
    This taught me the value of working hard, saving up and buying something and then valuing it.
    We blame this generations attitudes for their throw away, unappreciative, lifestyle. Who can we blame? Only ourselves as we raised them this way

    • I love your parents’ idea. I’m going to steal it for my two children.

      Growing up in South Africa in the Apartheid years, we were shielded from a lot of brand pressure, as most of the big brands – Levi’s, Reebok, Puma – all refused to sell their products in South Africa in support of the freedom struggle. I think it probably stood us in good stead. When the flood gates opened though, boy, did they open!

  10. I too have problems getting my GC to listen to when I was young. You are genius to tell them stories about kids from earlier days. I will try that soon. Congratulations on FP and for a wonderful story.

    • Thank you.

      Now that you mention it, perhaps all fairy/folk tales were just a way to get children to behave! In South Africa, we have the story of the Tokoloshe – an impish, little creature – who preys on sleeping victims. When I was growing up, people would put their beds on paint tins in order to raise them above the height that the little Tokoloshe could reach. Now I wonder if Tokoloshe tales weren’t told simply to keep the children in bed at night!

  11. Unfortunately, many of us did grow up lacking an understanding of just how hard it is to make money. Then it became even harder to make money just as we were deemed “old enough” to start the process. I remember growing up in the ’90s and thinking my parents were “cheap” because we had to ride around in an old rusty car and eat peanut butter and boxed stuff you reconstitute. Someday, I was going to live in a giant treehouse with a swimming pool, a new car, new clothes, a dog, and Chinese takeout. Or whatever I liked to eat then – I honestly don’t remember. Society made me think that if I wanted all this stuff, all I had to do was go to college and make top grades. Halfway through that process, a grave voice came on the radio, muttering something about the stock market. Now, I drive an old rusty car, eat reconstituted mac and cheese, and wonder how I’ll ever afford my own place. Luckily, my parents were extravagant in the ’90s and bought a house with plenty of room for all of us and our overabundance of earthly possessions (and a badly-needed vegetable garden). But wait, didn’t I just say they were “cheap” in the ’90s? You’ve got me confused! (Guess my perspective has changed a lot since then.)

    • I hear you from my rusty-guttered house! My brother-in-law – a banker – has plans to give his children their year’s allowance in January. (He might actually have already started this with his eldest daughter who is 10.) It is a generous allowance and they will be allowed to choose how they would like to spend it. Perhaps in the first year, they’ll blow it all in the first week on a Nintendo DS but not having tuck money or money for clothes in July might temper the spending the following year. It might work!

  12. New reader (and follower), here! Love how you wove together memoir with history — two of my favorite things to read.

  13. hey tracy,
    well said.
    am no parent but i often use the phrase ‘during our times’ or ‘when i was young’ while talking to my nephews and nieces trying to make a point. it would sometime even irk me that they refused to understand the situation.
    your post made me realise the reason – and it is that i, perhaps even now, did not/do not listen to the generation before me.
    i hope learn to appreciate whatever ive got and at the same time be cognizant to teach the next gen, the values and worth of what they get.
    congratulations for such a wonderful post.

  14. I’m so sorry to hear about the deaths of your grandparents. That’s tragic. But I think we can all relate to this post… Unless, of course, we are under the age of 15. “When I was young…” While some things have gotten worse over the years, it is true that *some* have gotten better. Children in the West aren’t working 18 hours a day in sweat shops anymore… I was a teacher in Hong Kong last year. My students couldn’t believe that I didn’t get a cell phone until I was in college!

    • Thanks.

      As for phones, my son is in grade 3 this year and next year he is required by his school to have his own iPad. I am terrified! We don’t go one week without a visit to lost property. Can you imagine what a dreamy, slim on focus 10 yr-old is going to be like with an iPad?!

      • Required? That’s ridiculous! I’m really not sure I like the way they’re going with technology these days. I have a cell phone but no smartphone or iPhone and even with that I feel like I’m living in the dark ages… Good luck with your son!

  15. Whenever my Mom starts her “when I was young…” speech, I do not roll my eyes. I just tell her to watch TV and that it will pass. Sometimes I pretend to listen but in truth, my thinking was already somewhere. In the rare times, I actually pay attention it always makes me think that someday I’ll be making the same speech to my kids and like I did, they will probably shrug it off as unimportant. Yes, it is good to learn a lesson from the past and appreciate what we have now, but I think every young person will have to complain about something. It’s something inherent to every one of us.

    • Agreed. I think it vital to rebel against your parents and find your own way. It’s the archetypal hero’s journey, a rite of passage.

      I can’t pretend that with all of my rebelling (it was fairly huge rebellion!) that I am not left feeling just a little bit foolish today at having arrived at the same destination my dad did 30 years before me. Having good parents and then turning into them, is not the worst thing in the world that could happen to a person perhaps.

  16. Is it bad that I laughed, when you wrote that your son sat with a horrified look on his face. I could just imagine me doing this when our child gets older. She’s 2 right now but I assume that my child will try the same things. Although you seem to be doing a great job parenting. I hope to do the same, I want my child to know what happens in this current time as well as what has happened in the past. Even for all it’s horrors. I was a picky eater, my mom made me sit at the table, (one time for 3 1/2 hours) til I at the nasty Pesto sauce and noodles. Love the story and the history behind it :)

      • Well You should heat the many many times they forced cough medicine, when I was sick. Most of it ended up on them.

      • Oh dear!

        I couldn’t force a thing on either of mine. Not because I’m particularly kind (although my son tells me regularly that I’m a soft touch) but it is just much simpler and quicker to get them to make the choice for themselves. Want pudding; finish vegetables. Want a teaspoon of honey; take medicine. Maybe that’s not the perfect way but it’s the way I’m doing things for now. Negotiation, biting down my temper and drinking a big glass of wine after a bad day!

  17. Sometimes I pull this line in class when my students are being brats… even though I’m only in my 20s. “When I was young, we didn’t have laptops in class. Laptops were big and bulky and only had 256 megs of RAM, and free wireless connections didn’t exist.” They don’t listen, though.

    I don’t look forward to having kids, really, if I ever do.

    • I played Atari games and used Logo on a desktop that only barely rivaled the glaciers of Northern Europe for speed. Every computer game I played required a log in on a DOS screen with a log in so complicated I had to write it down.

      Kids are fun though, I promise! They’re worth every second. Although I know you’re not listening :)

  18. Certainly not the “feel good” post of the day, but an excellent venture into the mind of perspective. As you mentioned, each generation is fraught with their own inequities and disillusionment of what is and what should be. What I find most intriguing is the tugging thought that I miss the days of old when I didn’t have the same “luxuries” that I enjoy today. Or that my own children enjoy. I reflect back on the days when I was told to turn off the television and go outside and play. The simplistic days of sunshine and imagination could not have been any better. The modern, civilized world has it easy, any way you look at it.

    I was heartbroken from the beginning with the story of your grandparents. Thank you for sharing. It helps provide a greater appreciation for things we DO have.

    • Thanks. I’m giggling just a little that I didn’t score ‘feel good’ points. I am genuinely and generally cheerful! Promise!

      I read a book a while back about the culture of happiness. The author suggested that “happiness” as being something to strive for was a fairly new concept. The Calvinists expected only to work hard, provide for their families and then die. Happiness is what you got in the afterlife.

      I am happy for my kids that they get to grow up in a world in which they expect to be happy. They are richer for it. And perhaps it’s their job to look forward with great hope and mine only to look back with great perspective. Maybe that way we meet in the middle and they grow up to be both brave and kind.

  19. I love how you do this, tell us stories about the past as well as the present! And I may have to resort to head crushing and matchstick girl stories to get my children to appreciate how good they have got i! Seriously, though,this is something I think about often because it is truly a difficult balance to find: I want my children to grow up carefree, and I do much to provide that for them, but I also want them to know that these are privileges to be appreciated, relished. And I don’t want to be reminding them of it constantly, because I do what I do with love and the generosity that love breeds.

    There are days when my children are very thoughtful and express real gratitude for the niceties in their life. There are also days when they behave so entitled that I am almost speechless. Fortunately, I suppose, both instances are few and far between!

    I’m thrilled to have found your blog and will certainly follow it. Hopefully I will hear more of the adventurous Kath and your grandfather!

    • Thanks, Andrea, for the comment.

      I agree that finding the right balance is tricky. I know, without doubt, that some days I get it all so colossally wrong but I reckon if the kids know they are loved with a big, fat, deep, unshakeable love they’ll be alright in the end. It’s what my dad gave me and despite a fascination with creepy old medical issues I’ve turned out just fine. Fine and happy!

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  21. What a wonderful way to tell your story of daily parenting ‘struggles’ and create a tale out of it.. I loved reading it! I’m also very curious to seeing a couple of real pictures from your grandfather and grandmother, they sound like a dashing couple!

    • I wish I had photos of them to share. I’ve never seen a picture of Geoff; all were destroyed after his death in same and anger. It was the reason I started researching my family tree, this search for Geoff. I haven’t found him yet although he must exist in squadron photos etc. I have found photos of his grandmother though and his great and great great grandmothers. They are wonderful.

      I have a handful of photos of Kath at my Christening. She’s an old lady in them, so I have never seen her young and beautiful either; only old and beautiful.

      So, I’m afraid, for now that I can only recall their likeness in words and memories. Where was the Facebook timeline photo in 1958?! :)

      • Haha yes indeed..! I wish I had more pictures of my family, unfortunately they weren’t really keen on taking pictures around here back in the days. Hope your search pays off!

  22. Being 20 years old the phrase ‘When I was young’ sounds odd,but you got me thinking as I come from the opposite. My parents both had wealthy families and good lives and proper education. My grandparents, all of them, lost what they had after the political changes that occurred in my country and along with their good jobs went my parents’ connections, so they both ended up having jobs that did not pay off well. So I rather lived the other way around. We would sit around a very poor celebration family dinner and my grandma would sigh and say to my mom ‘Oh, remember when you were her age and we had that huge table with 5 course meals of different cuisines…’ and would continue her reminiscent.Or when the car finally broke down and we never got a new one, because we couldn’t afford it, they would all remember how they had the newest vehicle and all the neighborhood would come see it some 40 years ago…. Or as I played with mom’s old toys , grandma would tell me how she got new dolls every other day and for example that particular one I was holding was bought from the capital. And I loved the summers when I stayed home, because we couldn’t really go anywhere and I was told how every summer my parents’ would go to the seaside or the mountains or even somewhere foreign like that summer dad spent in Spain. I left my country for the first time at 16 as part of a student exchange program. Point of all this is you really got me thinking as those were the times I would be the protruding-lower-lip brat who would think ‘This is so unfair’… Maybe one day I’d tell my kids about that..and they wouldn’t really listen…

    • Thanks for the comment. In South Africa, as in Bulgaria, I think there have been many of changes of fortune with the changing of political regimes. Here, the Dutch took the land from the Khoisan, as did the Bantu-speaking tribes from the north, the English then took the land from the Dutch and the Zulu, the National Party then took more land from anybody who wasn’t white. Now the ANC government is trying to buy land back to give it to the black families who lost it during Apartheid. Big national issues but at their heart families whose fortunes rise and fall. You get a house, you lose one. You are given an opportunity, one is taken away.

      • Yeah you lose something and you gain something. I can’t say now that I regret the turn of events. If things are as they were I’d be wealthy and also raised into that life pattern. I would be preparing to take the family business regardless of my desire, I’d be in a different place. For all that was taken away from my life I got parents’ who realize how stupid vanity is and how money are easy come-easy go. So I basically got people who always encouraged me to follow my heart and my dreams and not fit into certain lifestyle expectations but rather be who I want as everything else is so easy to crumble. I’m poor, but happy. Always have been. I speak 4 languages simply because I want to, major in the thing I see myself doing in the future, have the friends I want to have rather the ones I’m supposed to have… That’s the problem with kids from a wealthy background. They have no idea how much those money have cost them…

      • Well said! You remind me of one of my favourite quotes. I’m going to mess it up, so look it up for the real thing. “I want to be frolicsome and light and dream of improbable things again as if I had wings”. I REALLY messed it up :)…Mary Oliver…google it perhaps!

  23. Inspiring! We also heard that “when I was young…” at home.

    Your stories moved my heart and I think it’s really important treasure the blessings we receive everyday…

    • Those instruments are unbelievable! What an amazing story. It makes my heart happy.

      In Jo’burg, I have only to travel about 2 kilometres from my house to find an informal settlement with houses made of corrugated metal, no internal plumbing, no toilets. Reality checks are never too far away from home.

  24. Pingback: Very Inspiring Blogger Award | observastory

  25. Your blog, and the comments above, reinforce the notion that we only get interested in our family history once we are at least middle aged, and probably when we have a family of our own. I think we all hear ourselves saying things to our children which were said to us (even ones we swore not to?). We never really asked our parents much about their childhood, but now I have kids, some stories have emerged (history project: ask an old person about their childhood, ask someone about their experience of evacuation). I am now trying to research my great-grandfather who had a fascinating life, and my mother wishes she had asked him all my questions! We should ask all the questions now, while we still can! Persevere with the ‘when I was young’ because even if they roll their eyes, they will store that memory to pass down.

    For your trip: follow your brother’s plan and issue ‘holiday spending money’ which they can spend as they wish, but when it’s gone, it’s gone. Also try to get them to keep a scrapbook – some of the best memories preserved by some tickets/brochures, and odd bit of writing (or they could keep a blog!!).

    • We’re off to Seychelles on Tuesday and as my son is going to be missing a week of school, his teacher has asked him to keep a journal while we are there and to present a report to his class when we return. He’s quite excited about it, as am I. He can also, as per my Dad’s last words (before I love you), start to “tell the story”.

  26. Reading about your grandmother makes me think – when my mother married my father in 1938 she left Australia for England and then South Africa. When her mother died, she got a letter from Australia 6 weeks later…. When my mother died, my sister arrived from England less than 2 days later… Some things have improved.

    • The internet is a complete marvel to me Joc. The idea that I can speak to my uncle in New Zealand – a man who I would never have known existed without genealogy websites – is just amazing!

  27. It sometimes calls for a reality check for some children to understand how lucky they are, we took our 3 children to South Africa for a months holiday, and managed to go to some townships to see how bad the living conditions were, they never complained again!

    • There are wonderful stories of hope and courage in the townships and South Africa is such a beautiful country in so many ways but yes, it is sobering to see such desperate poverty and hardship in the informal settlements.

  28. I grew up with household help, regular vacation and better food than my childhood friends. It made me realize how lucky I was that my parents could afford such luxury. When I went to college, I would feel weepy whenever I had to do my own laundry. Now that I’m almost 30, I had made peace with household chores and more appreciative of the little things in life. And yes, I hate the misplaced sense of entitlement, which seems to be the identity of my generation.

    • Just returned from our holiday. Sorry for the long silence. I pretended there was no wi-fi in the Seychelles and didn’t look at my computer for a week!

      As for entitlement, I was reading a blog this morning written by a young girl who moved from rural Kwazulu Natal to Jo’burg to study law. I have been ridiculously spoilt all my life but reading about 40 year-old men driving Mercedes SLKs buying their 18 year-old girlfriends Jimmy Choos actually made me quite ill. Viva counting the real blessings! In her defense, I suppose it took me a while to identify them but, wow, sex for branded shoes. It’s an interesting world!

  29. Sadly we don’t have to go back in time to see the evil done to people at work…Just read about the 100s of workers dead in India in the collapse of a building several stories high full of people making clothes for you and me.

    • So true. In South Africa, you don’t have to look too far for great suffering and severe poverty. I was involved for several years with a charity in SA called NOAH (nurturing orphans of AIDS for humanity). NOAH sets up nursery schools for children affected by the AIDS pandemic. Most of the kids at the schools are from child-headed households or homes run by grannies, the parents having been lost to AIDS. It was an extraordinary sight watching the 10 year-olds coming to the nursery school to walk their younger siblings home before having to cook them a meal, bath them, put them to bed, clean the house and then do their own homework. A visit to NOAH was always deeply humbling.

  30. As the mother of two beautiful daughters, I empathise with you. Our eldest is beautiful and sweet but sadly never satisfied with what we give her and no appreciation of how good she has got it. I feel sad that I can’t help her to appreciate the important things like the love of her family but can so easily put a smile on her face with a promise of a burger from McDonalds, albeit a temporary one.

    A great post and a joy to read :)

    • Thanks. I’m not sure that my two even like Macdonald’s but they sure love to get those rubbishy plastic toys. They WANT those toys. They NEED them. When they actually get them, they play with them for about 30 seconds before abandoning them to the dogs. Grrrrrrr!

      • I hate the way these corporations like to really use children and their “I Need…I want” attitudes to make profit out of parents. I especially dread the build up to xmas, with toy advertisements everywhere. :(

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