Raising Trini Kids in North America

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It’s a beautiful fall day in Canada, so I rush out the house early to pick up my eldest son from school, so I can take my three kids out to the park. Baby on my hip, I’ve got my hands full, with an eye on my (almost) two-year-old daughter, who wants to keep up with her five-year-old big brother by going on all the ‘big kid’ slides.

Inevitably, the slides and swings get boring, and they both sit in the sand to play. A few moments later, two Caucasian pickney decide to join them. Apparently, little Tommy and little John (names have been changed to protect the identity of the culprits) attend the same school as my son. Out of the blue, little Tommy decides to start pelting sand. In my sweetest fresh-water Yankee voice I say, “Hey honey, don’t do that please, you might get sand in someone’s eye”. In my mind I’m thinking, “This blasted hooligan is getting sand in meh children hair and I don’t want to wash no hair tonight”.

Not even two minutes later, Tommy picks up a second handful of sand and swings. I take a deep gulp swallowing the buff that was about to be let loose, but a Canadian accent chimes in from the distance, “Tommy, you need to stop that”. My daughter has now moved away from the hooligan trying to bat the sand out of her eyes, and my son, who knows better, figures it might be best to move along too. As he gets up from his spot, guess what little Tommy does? Yup, another handful of sand comes flying.

Now my friends I’m at a crossroad. Do I unleash the Trini mamma on a child who is neither mine nor a Trini, or do I maintain composure and allow the wayward pickney to continue on his path? This crossroad is not an unfamiliar one. However, the course that is chosen depends on a number of criteria. How much sleep did I get the night before? What is the nature of the crime being committed? Have I granted the owner of the brat enough opportunity to intervene? The last thing I want to do is overreact, but feel compelled to act.

I have found this a recurring dilemma, as a Trinidadian mother attempting to raise children in a foreign culture, while trying to maintain what I believe to be great, Trini values. I’m not saying that my foreign counterparts do not instil values in their children. Such a blanket assumption would be unfair, as I’ve befriended many great mothers out here. However, there is no argument that our Trini approach to parenting may come as a complete shock to the average North American.

I like to think that I’m a fairly reasonable person and mother. I honestly don’t believe that any parent sets out to create an imp. However, I’ve found that the new-age North American approach to parenting – all the research, reports and therapy sessions, have given way to a society where parents are afraid to discipline their children. Call me old school, but Scripture has been around long before the decorated child psychologists and simple precepts such as “honour your mother and father” (Exodus 20:12), and “he who loves his son corrects him” (Proverbs 13:24) are parenting principles that have worked for centuries. Knowing that generations of my family have been raised with this form of discipline, and now raising my own kids in North America, I think I see a tradition that works.

If Little Tommy had been in Trinidad or Tobago, and was still throwing sand after two warnings from his elders, he would’ve found himself on the receiving end of a verbal rough-up that would’ve been enough to set him straight. If we reeled further back and set little Tommy in front of my grandmother some 40 years ago, I doubt very much there would’ve even been an exchange of words. A quick backhand clout and a cut-eye would have let Tommy know that what he was doing was utter nonsense, and, if he valued his limbs, he would find another activity.

Although  tempted, crazy or not, I know I can’t clout someone else’s child up here. I mix no matters with my own; my five-year-old fully understands that our house is run by a different set of rules. Still, how do I uphold my belief that it takes a village to raise a child? As an elder to this wayward child, can’t I set him straight with a verbal scolding? While Tommy grabs his third handful of sand, should I just shy away and hope the parents step in?

Unfortunately (or fortunately) I’m a Trini to the bone, and think it’s my moral duty to volunteer my buffing services, when the previously mentioned criteria have been met (that is, I got enough sleep, the act warrants correction, and I’ve given the other  parent enough time to intervene). So, in an effort to maintain consistency between my beliefs, words and actions, little Tommy at the park was introduced to my alter ego ‘Trini Rasta Mama’. She took charge, and Little Tommy was able to sample Trini upbringing by way of a good, hard buff.

That’s the thing about being a Trini overseas. You can take the Trini out of Trinidad, but you can’t take Trinidad out of the Trini. Our way of parenting may seem harsh to some, at times. However, there are merits to it, the least of which is me not having to wash sand out of my child’s hair.


Image courtesy – iStockphoto.com; ArtisticCaptures


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