Jen at Et Tu? has posted a blogging challenge that has been inspiring me this past week: to post three things my parents did right in raising me. I had trouble getting started, until I thought about the ways in which they've helped me onto my current path. Suddenly the answers I should write became clear.
1. They taught me to be grateful for fresh, healthy food.
My mom grew up on a farm and my father grew up poor, so between the two of them they have always appreciated wholesome food. We had two different vegetables with every meal and were taught from the start to be thankful for the food on our plates. My mom never bought us junk food. Never. I remember whining in the store for Lucky Charms and going home with Raisin Bran. Dessert was more often than not some bread with honey or a piece of fruit. Now that I'm dedicated to living simply, I find that I have a good background for preparing my family simple, healthy meals from scratch. My recipes for ricotta, mayonnaise, yogurt and applesauce come right from my mother, as does everything I know about gardening. Obviously, I still want wine and salami and creme brulee, but I am nonetheless satisfied with a nutritious, humble meal.
2. They denied me things I wanted but provided everything I needed.
My parents only became wealthy once I graduated high school and my father's business began turning a real profit. While I was growing up, we lived in a modest three-bedroom townhouse near the train tracks in one of the wealthiest neighborhoods in the Chicago area. My parents had chosen it for the schools (education is perhaps THE most important thing to my dad) and I recall how it seemed that every kid in my third grade class had a cornsilk Cabbage Patch kid while I was stuck with Suzy, the yarn-haired Cabbage Patch doll I'd received at Christmas the year before. I simply had to learn to appreciate what I had and stop yearning for new things all the time. It was an important lesson for me to learn at a young age, and I thank them wholeheartedly for instilling it in me.
3. They moved our family to Indonesia.
When my father's pharmaceutical company sent him to Indonesia in 1982, my mother, sister and I went with him. Those two and a half years were instrumental in developing my love for the poor and opening my eyes to the dichotomy between my blessings and their needs. In Indonesia we were part of the expatriate community, so my playmates were mostly British. My sister and I went to an international school, taught in English by white teachers and Indonesian teachers aides. Our mansion had a gated entrance and a pool, a chauffeur, night watchman, maid and cook, all of whom were all Indonesian. And across the street from us was a slum, where people lived in plastic shacks. The entire experience was eye-opening for me: living in a foreign country where I didn't speak the language taught me to respect the difficulties faced by immigrants, seeing the depths of poverty contrasted with comfort and luxury taught me how lucky I am and how little separates us from the fate of the poor, and experiencing the unique aspects of Indonesian culture gave me an appreciation for the many different nations that make up our world. The experience has never left me.
There are, of course, many many other things my parents did right. Even at my most cynical I could probably list a dozen or more. These, though, are the ones I appreciate the most.