The Things Our Mothers Teach Us

Thursday 6.24.10

Today, in one of my many periods of annoyances with the 10 year old boy Danny who lives in my house, I couldn’t help thinking how much more mature, respectful, and just generally nicer he would have turned out if he had grown up in my home. After dinner I was sitting in the living room, and somebody had left the television on (we just got cable last week so naturally nobody ever turns it off anymore). I waited a good 7-10 minutes to see if anybody was going to claim the channel it had been left to, but nobody returned so I felt free to change the channel. I started watching a program on chimpanzees on Animal Planet, in Spanish, and the Abuela came to join me. We like watching nature shows together. Danny came in about 20 minutes into the program and grabbed the remote control. He didn’t change the channel, but he did start scanning through the options, you know, where you can see the list of other channels on the bottom 15% of the screen. He patiently waited for our program to finish and the second the credits started rolling he changed it to some silly 5 year old program about making really cheesy crafts. What an annoying program that was.

I wanted to say so badly to him, “umm, you know, we were watching a show and want to continue watching this channel. You could at least ask next time you want to change the channel on us.” But I didn’t. I’ll work up to it, it will be good for him in the long run to learn some basic courtesy. In my house growing up this would have not been acceptable. Well, we watched one hour of television a day at that age and always watched the same programs so there really was no arguing over the television. But to me it’s just not acceptable, if somebody is watching a program, even if it has already finished, to change the channel without asking if they’ve finished. It’s just not friendly or courteous.

Another thing that bugs me badly about Danny is how he treats the women in the family. When he’s hungry in the morning he just screeches “Abuela!! Comida!, COMIDA!!!” The Abuela then prepares the comida, food, and puts it on a plate or bowl and puts in on the table. When Danny returns three minutes later he doesn’t even bother looking around him, just walks right up to his grandmother and demands “comida abuela!! She points to the table as if to say “idiot, open your eyes”. He then walks up to her and demands “tortillas!” even though they are sitting an arm’s length away from him and two away from her. I can’t stand this sort of helplessness. He’s 10 years old and, although I understand it’s traditional for the women to always serve the men, the other men I have met so far in Guatemala have had much better manors then he. Growing up with my mom, if she offered you food or a treat and you didn’t say “yes, please” you got passed by and didn’t get anything. It was normal to say please and thank-you…no, it was more than normal, it was expected. Here it’s not normal, it’s not expected, and I can’t tell if they’re okay with it or not. I would feel rather disrespected if anybody came up to me and demanded food in a strong tone, without saying please, without any thanks, but it’s hard to tell with the culture differences if the women here who feed the men feel anything similar or if they’re just used to it.

And it’s not just the Abuela he disrespects; no, he’s just as rude to his mom as well. About a month ago we all went for a little picnic and the mom wanted Danny to wear a hat. He didn’t want to wear his hat, he wanted to wear her hat. She said no. She had her baseball cap on her head and also carried his sombrero along in a hand and tried multiple times to put it on him as we walked. Remember that this is a 10 year old, so in the US he would have just finished 4th grade. Every time she tried to place the hat on his head he took it in his hand and threw it to the ground. The mom proceeded every time to pick it up, brush the dirt off, and try to put it back on his head. He again would throw it off, once down a fairly steep hill which she descended to retrieve it. Not only this, he ran around behind his mom and tugged quite forcefully at her long braided hair to try to loosen her had from her head. When he had almost gotten it and she began to get frustrated with him he just trotted away giggling, only to return in a couple minutes to do the same thing.

I’ve never wanted to give a good smacking to a kid so much. In my family growing up we were always responsible for our own things. If you wanted to bring a jacket, you carried it; if you didn’t want to bring a jacket you didn’t have to, but you weren’t allowed to complain when you got cold. My mom would never force us (okay, if we were going to the snow, she would surely pack appropriately for us) but, for a half day excursion where no extra-ordinary equipment would be necessary, at age 10 we were able and expected to take care of ourselves. And that’s the way it should be. This kid is going to grow up not knowing how to do anything for himself.

Moving on from the annoying son, this is something everybody in the family does: shout at the top of their lungs from wherever they are in the house to any member of the family, no matter where they are in the house. It’s so annoying to hear screeches of “sely!! SELEEEEENA!!!” when Selina is in her room with the door closed listening to music. Obviously she can’t hear her mom yelling for her, but the mom’s too lazy to walk the 10 steps from her room to go talk to her daughter in person. When she yells for Danny usually he’s in the living room watching TV and just doesn’t respond to her even though I’m sure he hears her. In my house growing up we weren’t allowed to have conversations from rooms away; it’s just annoying and unnecessarily loud. Whenever I would call to my mom from rooms away I would always get an “I’m in the kitchen” or “I’m in the laundry room” and nothing else. I wish I could introduce this tradition to my family here. It also says to me that you respect your children, too, that you take the time to walk to wherever they are and ask them a favor or a chore, instead of yelling for them to come at your beck and call. It says that their time is just as important as yours, which would be a good thing for these children to learn.

The last pet-peeve that I’m going to write about today has to do with another phrase I heard a lot as a child: “first do what I ask, then ask why”. Oh, if I had a nickel for every time I’ve heard those words… But it makes sense now. It says: I’m not going to argue with you about why I’m asking you to do this, I’m the mom and you’re the kid, but what I’m asking of you is not arbitrary; I’ll explain myself but that doesn’t mean you’re going to get out of doing it. The adults and children here definitely do not work on this kind of system. The mom asks the daughter to do something, the daughter starts arguing, the mom continues pleading, the daughter flatly refuses and skips away (usually giggling), and the mother goes and does whatever it was she had asked the kid to do. There’s no discipline, and there’s no respect. Now, I’m not a big fan of authority figures or of doing things just because I’m told, however, I think that if you have respect for a parent, grandparent, or elder, than doing something for them just because they ask is perfectly acceptable. Here both parties are at fault: it’s the parents’ job to teach discipline to the kids, so if the kids can’t or don’t listen, it’s mostly the parents’ fault. It’s also the kids’ job to be a part of the family and to have responsibilities as well, because if they can’t learn responsibilities when they’re growing up they will never be able to be contributing members of their community.

I am a long, long way away from being a parent myself, but when I see all these atrocious habits the children and youth have here I can’t help but think of all the things I would do to make sure my offspring come out 180 degrees different.

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