by The Writer
They’re Just A Couple Of Scary Immigrants
A recent conversation with a friend (who influenced the creation of this blog) got me talking about my childhood. Specifically my parents. For the most part, growing up, I was a good kid– I had my fair share of growing pains, but I didn’t find myself in any serious trouble. All-in-all, I had a pretty standard upbringing. And by standard I mean: when my older sister and I jumped on the bed against our parents wishes, and my father caught us, he’d step into the room and point, causing us to freeze mid thought, mid sentence, and mid air for a good minute, until he barked at us to stop it.
My folks emigrated from different parts of the Caribbean, met in North America, then got married. They brought with them strange and wonderful customs and deceiving phrases like, ‘good licks’. A lot of kids of yesteryear were afraid of their parents because getting a “spanking” (licks) in public didn’t warrant the attention of child services. It was a simpler time. Having scary parents and fearing their wrath was normal, but my parents were/are immigrant scary. They were raised with a different standard, which followed the ‘rule of thumb’ era. (It’s disturbing to know the ‘switch’ origins of the ‘rule of thumb’). But for them it was normal.
And with no one to say, “Hey, those disciplinary actions you’re accustomed to, are a bit extreme over here”, my parents ran the ‘bad cop/worse cop’ shtick, like an Abbott & Costello routine. The mysterious disciplinary-immigrant powers bestowed on my father from a lineage of Caribbean sages counter-balanced the dubious relational control my mother wielded with a simple gaze. With just a look, she communicated to us the exact nature of dreaded future events once my father returned from work, and that she’d allow it to happen. To this day, her cultural clairvoyance astounds me.
My parents would often tell us ‘how good we have it’, and of course to a degree, they were right. And to another degree, they lied. Compared to other parents, they could’ve been worse. They could’ve been better. And compared to other kids, I could’ve been worse. I could’ve been better. So we both had it pretty good, I suppose. My sister and I look back fondly on our childhood and know that we were blessed to have more hilarious, wonderful, and fun moments, than not. Even with the ever-present threat of scary immigrant ‘licks’ right around the corner, I’m honoured to have parents who loved us and performed to the best of their abilities. Because of their obligation to ensure we grew up to be respectable adults, my parents couldn’t be my friend (or ‘friendly’ because of its close association to the word of origin). I got a lot of lectures and threats about drugs, drinking and peer pressure, but they never discussed sex. Old school scary immigrant parents didn’t discuss that sort of thing, except to say, “Don’t come around here with babies you can’t take care of!”
I do recall a time when I returned home from university for a visit, my mom nonchalantly offered me some condoms that had been tucked away in a drawer. She held my gaze with a deceiving look, that said, ‘From one friend to another”. After I took them her gaze shifted to, “You better start explaining who she is!” But her real response was, “Oh? So you are having sex!” I was a little thrown off, but responded, “Thanks to you, it’s safe sex!”
My folks seem to get funnier as they age and try to stay current on topics like pop music, text messaging and social media. The real fun is imitating their quirks, and accents. They’re grandparents now, so they’ve retired their scary immigrant powers and handed them down to my sister, who only uses them when she’s not aware of it. I make sure to point it out though. I’m not a parent, but I have used my inheritance on my parents. Once I realized my scary immigrant parents are still ‘not-so scary immigrant kids’, I had to wrangle them in the way they did me… And no, it wasn’t using ‘the rule of thumb’, or ‘good licks’.