When I think of family, I associate the word with great love, happiness and appreciation. For me it is a word which is sacred and all important. It means the source and foundation on which love and security is built. It’s my support system through good and bad, happy or sad. Family is there at your side to celebrate in good times and to grieve together and find solace in the hardest of times. Family is a force field of pure love and often where I draw my strength, courage and inspiration in life.
From an early age I knew that my family was an integral part of my makeup. I am the eldest of six children and being the first child of my parents and the first grandchild of my maternal family, I have often been told from aunts and uncles that my birth was a greatly anticipated one. I was welcomed into the world with much love and caring from the entire family. Within 2 years, my sister Karen joined me, followed almost every 2 or 3 years by an additional sibling until we numbered 5. After that, my parents took a rather long hiatus and then had my little brother Nicholas the year I was off to University. Our numbers in gender were equal now: 3 girls and 3 boys.
Growing up in a rather large family was a blessing. Yes, it could be trying at times when we all had to get ready for school or church especially when we were younger. My poor mother, God Bless her; always had her hands full. Getting everyone ready to leave the house on time was a challenge, but we always managed. I distinctly remember when we were waiting to be picked up from St. Agnes Primary school, they would annoyingly yell out: ” All of the Lee’s, Lee’s Lee’s… sss”. I can say that there were very valuable lessons learned growing up in a big family, about sharing, conflict resolution, priorities, working together as a unit and setting examples for the younger ones to follow. Due to the number of siblings and cousins, we were never short of players for board games, movie night, cricket or hopscotch and our home was always full of friends, activity and laughter.
Being the eldest had its advantages and disadvantages, but my sister’s gripe was that my mom often dressed us in similar clothing and when mine were outgrown, she inherited those as well. That meant that she wore the same style for an extended period of time, just perhaps a different color. Petty sibling rivalries aside, I am blessed to have my sister as my best friend and we have a relationship which I will forever treasure.
My mother was instrumental in running the household and taking care of her clan. Though I do not think that she had ever envisioned such a large family when she first married, she graciously accepted the challenge of raising a large family. Mom helped with homework, cooked and cleaned and did tons of laundry. She made sure that her children were healthy and well balanced and assured that we were all pursuing all of the educational and extra curricular activities in those childhood and adolescent years. My mom was very resourceful and hard working and I know that she sacrificed a lot of her personal freedoms and youthful ambitions when she became a full time stay at home mother. The choice was a personal one, and I know that she probably wondered about how her life could have been had she chosen to be a career woman. She opted to be there for us at home and it was comforting and reassuring for us to know that she was always there. The result of having a parent at home was that she successfully raised a family without any negative incidences, which often is the case when parents are too busy or absent from the lives of their children. To this day, mom’s attention and caring is unfaltering. I can say that I only truly understood and appreciated her role and her deep dedication the day I myself became a mother. I said a prayer of thanks to her as I realized what she had done all of those years for her own.
My father was the breadwinner of the household and worked very hard to make a good life for his family. He loved all of his children and was happiest if we excelled at school and brought home good reports. He always motivated us to work hard and to achieve the highest possible goals. Education for him was tantamount to nothing and he urged us to strive for the best that we could achieve at all times. I am thankful that even though our predominantly Chinese culture would have dictated that male children were more coveted than females, my father was equally proud of his daughters as he was of his sons. There was never any preference or favoritism based in gender and he encouraged us all equally to pursue our education and careers.
My maternal grandmother Celestine always referred to her grandchildren as her riches. She was a loving woman and doted on us all. I have the deepest appreciation and affection for her, and even though she passed away some years ago now, I feel her spirit with me and am so thankful that my children had the joy of knowing her. She was a strong and hardworking woman. She held her family together with very limited resources. Though she was obligated to work outside of the home, she was a dedicated and committed mother who raised her children single handedly, as her husband was terminally ill and bed ridden for many years. She too knew that education was very important to her young family and worked long hours to be able to pay the bills and keep her family together. Thankfully she was able to have the support of her aunt who stayed in the home to help with the children. I know that it was not an easy life then, but her determination and perseverance was key in her success.When I think about gran’s circumstances, I admire her even more. Family was everything for her and she was dedicated heart and soul to them.
My paternal grandparents also raised a close knit family. I heard all of the stories from them of the old days when they raised their 6 children in a big colonial style wooden house at the corner of High and Hadfield Street in Georgetown. As my father was the youngest child, by the time I was born, 4 of the 6 paternal siblings had already immigrated to Canada, England and Trinidad in the exodus of Guyanese diaspora during the pre-independence years. As such, their families were raised and established in other countries. Our Lee family reunions were limited to the odd summer vacation abroad or the rare occasion that someone came back to Guyana to visit. I met my “foreign” cousins while vacationing with them, and we developed wonderful friendships and learned about the importance of preserving family ties, even though we were separated by oceans. Today my family is spread all over the world, but I know that our bonds remain strong.
When I married and started my family, I realized that I now had my own little nucleus. An aunt of my husband once told me when I was pregnant with my second child, that the best present I could give a child was a brother or sister. This was such a true statement and my two boys, almost 2 years apart in age became the best of companions. There was a shift which had occurred in my life now. My beloved family still remain important and close, but my husband and children became the inner circle which was being tightly woven around me, creating a new bond. When I spoke of home it was always a reference to Guyana and my larger family. Now, home was where my own little family unit was formed in Haïti. It actually took me a few years to realize and differentiate this. I would say that I missed home meaning Guyana, but then I realized that as long as I continued to think this way, I was doing an injustice to my family home in Haïti. It was a bit confusing at first to accept this separation of terms, but once I could do it mentally, I was able to deal with settling in more effectively.
I was raised in a loving family which inculcated in me the foundations of hard work, compassion and honor. My education has allowed me to raise my own children and merge the values and principles of my husband and his family with mine. It was both mutual and important that we raise our children and instill that moral compass as a tool to guide them in life. They know that the family unit is tight and supported with love and compassion. The good things are celebrated with joy, and there is the assurance that difficult situations can be discussed and solutions will be found together.
What can be learned from families?
(1) Working together for a common good.
(2) Helping each other in difficult situations helps to preserve the unit as a whole.
(3) Respecting our elders and our culture.
(4) Valuing our origins and what we represent.
(5) That everyone has their personal strengths and perspectives, but put together, they can attain a greater outcome.
As responsible citizens of whatever country we live in, we need to recognize and embrace some of the old fashioned family values which most of us were exposed to growing up. Simple things like being kind, courteous and respectful of others are a given. Friends and neighbors need to band together as well to preserve the societies in which we live. If you see something wrong or someone in need, you cannot turn a blind eye and remain inactive, while pretending that it does not concern you. Your lack of action could cause the demise of another human being. There is a selfish tendency today which nurtures a singular attitude of self fulfillment and self satisfaction. People just don’t want to get involved unless there is a personal benefit to doing something.
How could the last school shooting in south Florida have been avoided ? Yes, undoubtedly the gun laws need to be revised, but in addition to this, the absence of family and a strong community also seems to be an issue. Today, the gunman has gained the notoriety he sought by claiming the lives of so many innocent people in a most heinous act. Had he been monitored by the community in which he lived after losing both parents, he may have found the positive reinforcement needed to move along and to better adjust to the problems in which he was drowning. I really see the absence of community and family at work here. Had those who saw the red flags surrounding his character, been more proactive about reporting his rants there would be no families mourning today. I know that we can grow and prosper when we work together and share ideas and strive for a common good. We actually as humans really do belong to one big global family; as corny as that may sound. It really does take a village to raise and maintain good citizens. When people collectively put their resources and strengths together to help those in need, things become better and stronger in our environments. Once the family unit is destroyed, only individualism exists and no one man is an island.
I will personally always choose to protect and preserve family values. I know the positives that result from being united and the intrinsic value of a society founded on good principles and mutual respect.