Roots and Wings
Just a few months ago Levi joined our lives. As I am writing this he is trying to grab the laptop and I can see how he is growing daily. As a new Mom you obviously wonder what is going to become of this little bundle of energy and what part we will have as parents in helping this person to develop, and facilitate him in building his character. And also very natural for me at this time to look back and consider some of the ways that my own parents made their mark on my life.
What they taught were not conscious lessons. It never felt like they were trying to convey something important. And I know they never read any books on child rearing. It's just what they felt would work with me (as opposed to my brother who is a totally different personality), and to a large extent, simply how they lived their lives.
Often when I return to Barbados where I grew up, people talk of remembering when I was very young &endash; 5 years old, riding to school on my little red bicycle. I was the only one in the area who rode to school and so this image of a little girl pedalling away some 6 km each day stuck in many minds. And this is probably a good representative picture of what my parents fostered in me from a very early age - a wonderful sense of independence and freedom which remains with me to this day.
I asked my mother about this when writing this because I just could not believe I was doing that at 5 years old. "Really &endash; 5 years old?" I asked my mother amazed. "Weren't you afraid that something would happen to me?" She said at that time she obviously felt it was very safe otherwise she would not have allowed it, and there were not lots of cars on the road. Also people in the area knew our family and got used to my daily ride and would watch out for me. Apparently it was my idea to ride to school. My brother who is 7 years older than I am was riding to school and I did not see why I could not too.
Then there was the time at 10 years old when I heard of a teacher from another school giving extra lessons after school in preparation for the exam which we had to do at 11 to get into secondary school. The educational system was such that the better you did, the more recognised the school that you could attend and the more chances you could potentially have. I was fully aware of that. Without telling my parents beforehand, I went along to the extra classes one evening. I let my mother know when I got home, as did the teacher, and that was the start of my after school classes. (It paid off by the way. I got into the school of my choice).
At 14 I had the chance to leave Barbados for the first time. I spent part of my summer holiday in the USA with a neighbouring friend who lived nearby with her grandmother but whose parents actually lived in New York. My parents knew how much I wanted to have the experience of another country and let me go.
At 15 after visiting Florida on an exchange camp program with other Barbadians, I was invited to return the following year as camp counsellor. I went alone and that was the start of many summers in Florida immersed in a totally different culture.
All these things needed money. We were not rich. Not terribly poor, but certainly always having to watch the money. My mother did everything she could and somehow with very little managed to make it possible for all these things to happen &endash; bicycle, lessons and trips abroad.
At 16 when I started going regularly to Florida, I decided to get a job to help cover the flight. I could do a little calligraphy and answered an advertisement in the paper looking for people who could personalise inspirational verses and sayings, frame them, and go around selling them. It didn't take me long to realise that I could do this myself &endash; just get the material and do what I was doing anyway, and get 100% of the profit. So I did. It turned out to be a very lucrative decision! In a very short time I was covered for flights and much more.
Church and faith were also similar. I was taken to church every Sunday morning, but chose to go to Sunday school and often even the evening service. I suggested joining the church choir at 8 years old, getting confirmed at 9, and getting involved in other aspects of church life. Also my crucial conscious decision to live my life with God occurred in my bedroom all alone one summer while my parents were at work and without them or anyone giving me any pressure to do so.
Quite interesting really. And it is only in retrospect that I even realise what freedom I had growing up, and how it helped shape who I am today. In fact, I know that the same amount of "freedom" that I had in cases could actually occur because of a lack of parental care. Not so in my case. I felt as if I had worth and as though I was wanted. There was not a day at home that I can remember feeling unloved. Sad yes, frustrated yes, but never unloved. (And) there is really something to be said about this kind of security. It's a wonderful basis from which you can take risks, knowing that although you don't know how it will all turn out, somehow you can trust that it will be alright in the end.
And so at 19 I left Barbados to study in London. I had been studying Physics, Maths and Computing for a year and it was clear that I really had no interest in a profession with these subjects. So I decided to go to London. Again my choice and supported financially and encouraged by my parents. Next to my studies, I felt driven to develop my hobby &endash; music - having no idea where it would take me.
As I relate these incidences, I'm very aware of the example I had in my parents Luther and Jean. They left Barbados for London in the late 50s &endash; both were teenagers, and were thrown into a totally new culture and climate that was not at all friendly to black people. They made the best of their resources, whether it be their capacity for hard work or simply an ingrained perseverance, and tried to take their chances. They were not afraid of breaking from the norm and following their ideas, even when they had no idea where it would all lead.
Maybe that explains to some extent why I never had any significant fears of leaving a secure place at the university in Barbados and taking off for London. When I look back now I think it was quite brave. I went to London without even having applied to a university. But it worked out. Within two weeks I was enrolled in a good institution. I was also not too worried about living the musician life. Life as a musician is notoriously unpredictable. "Can you live from music", we are asked now and again. We know we've been fortunate to be able to do so. But somehow, at the beginning before knowing that it would work out, that was never really a question for me. I guess I just felt that somehow if I do my part, everything would come together somehow.
Even when things did not turn out how my parents imagined, they still kept going and somehow it would work out. Sometimes now sitting behind our house in Barbados, my father tells me his regrets returning to Barbados. Financially it seems they would have been much better off in England. I tell him that actually I am glad that they did return. I was born in London but I feel Barbadian. I sometimes wonder how I would be if I had grown up in London. Whatever advantages there may have been staying in England, I feel so grateful having had the chance to grow up in Barbados. Far beyond the sun and sea aspects are the positives of the community where I grew up, the school system, and just growing up in a country where I was not considered an "ethnic minority". There is something to be said for growing up with many positive images of your own "race". Because black lawyers, doctors and prime ministers were common, there was no inferiority complex based on colour that stopped me thinking that I could achieve what I wanted. What a precious unintended gift. How wonderful to feel that things work out for good for those who love the Lord.
Goethe said that there are two things that children should get from their parents: roots and wings. I believe I got them both. That little girl riding a bike amazes and inspires me, and most of all makes me look with admiration at my parents for what they gave - a solid sense of security and identity, laying the foundation for freedom and independence. And I admire the faith they had even in their five year old. I am forever grateful. That's why I call home nearly every day &endash; just for minute or two &endash; to see if all is well and the sun is still shining in Barbados. And once a year I try to go back and see for myself. As for our little one &endash; I hope I'll be able to pass on some of the trust I experienced, grounding him well and giving him his freedom to fly. And maybe, just maybe, he'll also be able to say one day, "Mommy, Daddy &endash; well done."