When I was a kid, in the eighties, whenever I asked my mother to buy me something (being a kid and being the eighties, I did ask quite often) she used to answer, in her typical judgmental and radical-chic fashion: “You’re always thinking about buying things, you Reagan-lover hedonist”.
I was six years old and apparently had already taken a clear political stand.
Other times, when I hit my brother (another recurrent event), she invariably reproached me: “Fascist!”.
Yep, my family really took to an extreme level the sixties motto “the personal is political”. So much for positively guiding your offspring to do the right thing. I grew up feeling responsible for the Contras and the Jews deportation.
Now, many years later, I have children on my on and I try to raise them to value the important things, empathy and creativity, good time with friends and family, over consumerism and wealth ostentation. So, every time my parents come to visit, I ask them not to bring us toys and clothes, because we already receive so many of those and our tiny, shoe box sized flat cannot contain any more. Also because I prefer to buy garments from fair trade companies. But most of all because I want my kids to be happy and contented to see their grandparents who flew to the other side of the world to be with them and not to associate their visit with a shower of presents. But my mother can’t resist. She arrives loaded with gifts. And she can’t wait to buy them lollipops, ice creams, water guns, huge spades and swords wherever we go. Plus she has candies in every pocket to ease her way, at least momentarily, out of every tantrum. When I try to tell her there is no need to satisfy my kids’ every request, she tells me: “Relax, you’re such a Taliban”.
Apparently, over the years, I changed from a hedonist Republican with totalitarian tendencies to a jihadist.
I should say that my children go to a lovely, and very expensive, kindergarten where every day they can play with bunnies in the garden, enjoy a good range of after school activities from basketball to jazz dance and, in true Hong Kong fashion, are spoiled by a full-time domestic helper who cooks like a professional chef. Not to brag, but just to clarify that I am not starving them or neglecting them and it’s not the time to call the police and social services just yet. But for my mother all that is not enough. I must be the fanciest Taliban ever.
Interesting how in her eyes I moved from liberal capitalism to militant Islamism. I grew up being associated by my parents to the likes of Ronald Reagan and Mussolini; now I can add Osama Bin Laden to the list. I wonder if there is Pol Pot in my future.
In the end, I learned three valuable lessons from that experience.
The first one is that it might be a little premature to judge your kids’ political orientation by their behavior in the playground.
The second one is that times really have changed and, even for the sixties generation, the chic has overcome the radical.
The third lesson is that, no matter what you do, you can never get it right with your parents.