9.5 Quirky Things My Parents Taught Me

Slightly unusual things I learned as a child that make me a better adult

Little girl in a pink dress eating watermelon.

When you think about the regular things parents teach their children — be kind, work for what you want, don’t lie — they’re all pretty admirable. But what about the smaller things, the nuances and quirks particular to each family? Some strange family habits mean a child learns equally valuable life lessons, helping them become a unique but well-rounded adult. Something as small as eating spicy food translates into the more valuable life skill of not being afraid to try new things.

That’s why I’m grateful for every one of the weird things my parents taught me, even if some of them embarrassed me as a child. Here are just a few of them.

1 Eat Spicy Food

Curries were a regular on our dinner table and they always came with chillies. Hot chillies, not those big ones that taste like capsicum (bell peppers). If the curry was too spicy, we added yoghurt or drank milk, but we were expected to finish all the food on our plates.

By the time I was ten, I could eat food as spicy as what the adults ate. I felt that mild curries were like broken pencils — pointless.

As an adult, I rarely shy away from trying new food. When visiting new countries, I eat food the way it’s supposed to be served, not some dumbed-down version for Westerners. Otherwise, you’re just trying the diet version of another culture. If you don’t truly immerse yourself in it, you’re missing out on some of the real joy travel offers.

Eating spicy food just means trying new things. Maybe the new thing you try isn’t for you, but how do you know unless you try it? Nine times out of ten, you’re pleasantly surprised. Besides, nobody likes a fussy eater.

2 Don’t Eat McDonald’s

We ate spicy food, but my parents never got us McDonald’s. We occasionally got takeaway or went to restaurants for a treat, but we never dined under those yellow arches. My parents told us that McDonald’s food was unhealthy and tasted like crap. And if we were going to the effort of eating out, we’d go somewhere with good food.

Occasionally I’d go to McDonald’s for some school friend’s birthday, but I felt awkward, like my taste buds were having their time wasted on the floppy, sugary burgers. My parents were right. The food tasted like crap.

My parents’ embargo on McDonald’s, and other mass-produced chain restaurants, taught me to appreciate healthy food with the occasional treat thrown in, but to make sure my food choices counted.

3 You Don’t Need a Colour TV

My parents were late adopters of all forms of technology. They got a colour TV in 1986, a VCR in 1990, a desktop computer in 1994 and a DVD player after I moved out. Today, their internet plan is about 10GB a month and still comes on a dongle.

This was mortifying for me as a child. My friends asked me why my family only had a black and white portable TV. Were we poor or something? I was too young to think up a witty retort at the time. Now I can’t even remember the names of those friends. Who cares about the things a person has in their house.

I learned that someone’s financial situation doesn’t say a thing about their worth as a person. My parents worked hard and saved up for every item they purchased. The only money they owed was the mortgage on our house. This taught me that if I want something, I need to work, save up and pay for it myself. It also taught me to question what I really need. Do I need a TV as big as a car in my 40-square-metre (130-square-foot) apartment?

4 Farts are Funny

When someone in my family farted, fits of gleeful giggles followed. Often the farter denied the offence, but the fartees knew who it was and never let them get away with it.

Of course, the shared laughter was the precious memory rather than the fart itself.

I learned that some things are better left acknowledged. Don’t sweep your farts under the carpet and pretend they never happened. You don’t need to make a big deal about them, but it’s always better to own up to these sorts of things, then move on.

I also learned not to be too precious. The earthy aspects of life, something we all deal with, can also be appreciated.

5 If You Stink, Take a Shower

While farts were acceptable, poor hygiene was not. My parents were not shy about telling us when we smelled (from more than just a fart). We were promptly instructed to take a shower, use deodorant and put on clean clothes. This would spare us from social ostracization.

There are a few basics everyone should attend to in order to be accepted as a functioning member of society. Personal hygiene and good grooming are two of these. Even someone like me, who persistently questions mainstream society, realizes that there are just some social conventions we all should follow. Also, everyone feels better after a shower.

I’m grateful to my parents for making me shower. I learned to be responsible for my body and my bodily functions. Just like I’d rather not offend someone with a bad joke, I would hate to offend them with a bad smell.

6 Go Camping

Most of our family holidays involved camping trips, or possibly staying in a cabin. Well, every five years or so my parents would save up and take us to see our grandparents in England, but the rest of the time it was camping. I didn’t stay in a hotel until I was well into my 20s and organizing my own holidays.

I loved those camping trips, where I learned to pitch a tent and build a fire. I’d look up at the stars and my head would hurt thinking about the Universe. Then we’d roast marshmallows.

I learned to love the outdoors and nature. Nature is pretty much the best thing about my home country, Australia. You don’t have to go far out of the city to see a kangaroo and nothing beats the smell of eucalyptus.

I also learned that fun holidays don’t need to cost a fortune. Getting away from your regular life and spending time with people you care about is what makes holidays count.

Not many things in the world are better than sitting around a campfire. There’s something primordial about it. Camping will always remind me of my origins.

7 Make Tea

Tea was a big feature of my childhood. My parents seemed to be constantly making tea, drinking tea or asking for tea.

Before I left primary school, I knew how to make a group of people a pot of tea. This included taking their orders for weak or strong, milk or black, and the occasional coffee.

There was no need to ask if anyone wanted tea. If I put the kettle on, there was always at least one person who’d want a cup.

I learned basic hospitality skills and to consider others. I can’t cook you a gourmet meal, but I will make a lovely cup of tea when you come to visit. If you’re sad, I might be awkward around your tears, but I’ll give you that cup of tea and a sweet biscuit. That should cheer you up by at least 50%. It does me.

8 Sing Along

When someone picks up a guitar, sing along. Don’t worry if you don’t know the words or are tone-deaf, just sing.

My dad is a fantastic guitarist. He can pick out the basics of a tune within minutes and always gets us to sing. Every Christmas Eve we’d sing carols and we all knew the lyrics to most Beatles songs.

As an adult, singalongs have featured in some of my most memorable evenings. Without the singalong, it would just be another night getting drunk and talking bla bla bla.

Humans, even introverts like me, are social animals and a good ole singalong is one of the fastest ways to bond with people. And you don’t need to feel awkward thinking about what to say.

Singing in groups is fun and good for the brain. Have you noticed that when you sing in a group, you stop feeling self-conscious or worrying about whatever you were worrying about? Singing in groups can make our brains release oxytocin, the chemical that enhances social bonding.

9 Have Compassion for Bad Haircuts

My mum once overheard my sister and me laughing about Michael Bolton’s glorious mullet, the one he insisted on keeping years after mullets had gone out of fashion.

“Poor fella!” Mum said.

Unfortunately, I could be snobbish when it came to fashion. Wearing a tracksuit when you’re not doing sports was a dealbreaker for me.

As I grew older, I learned to resist my urge to smirk when I see someone with what I consider a bad haircut or ugly clothes. As my mum pointed out, that might be the only style that suits them or all that they can afford. I also learned that it’s nicer to have the grace to accept that my ideas on fashion (or on anything, for that matter) may not be flawless.

Now, in my 40s, I scarcely notice what you’re wearing or how you style your hair. I do, however, notice if you’re a good person.

9.5 If You’re Hungry, Eat Fruit

I only give this one half a point, because it’s still a work in progress.

I love food and spend a good part of each day thinking about it. As a child and teenager, I’d whine, “I’m hungry! There’s nothing to eat! What can I eat?”

Without fail, the answer was, “Fruit!”

We always had a bowl of delicious fruit in the house, but my mind was, and still is, on salty snacks. Mmm, my tasty, tasty weakness…

My dad was always remarking that we’d get scurvy if we turned up our noses at those fruits and veggies.

I used to smirk at the thought of children in the olden days getting an orange in their Christmas stocking. But I have come to appreciate that I’m lucky to have access to so much nice fruit and other healthy foods. Not everyone is as fortunate.

I’m very lucky that for me there is never “nothing to eat”. I didn’t catch scurvy either.

So, in the End…

Each of these life lessons may seem small or weird. But they’re not. Put together, they taught me to be adventurous, healthy, considerate and independent, all while having a sense of humour.

I’m grateful to my parents for teaching me these lessons. And I’m grateful for so many happy childhood memories.

These days I’ve one-upped the black and white TV. I don’t have any TV at all. My 11-year-old self would be mortified.

Australian in Barcelona writing about work and life with a twist of quirky

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