'Ohana Means Family (and Sometimes You Learn That the Hard Way)

Stefania Pomponi Butler
March 8, 2009

One of the things I love best about Hawai'i is the sense that no matter where you are or who you are, there is a larger community looking out for your well-being.  In Hawaiian it's called the spirit of 'ohana, and as we all learned from Lilo & Stitch, 'ohana means "family."

'Ohana means that when you are at the pool, park, or the beach, your eye is on your kids and the kids near your kids, even if they aren't yours.

'Ohana means that when you are kid in Hawai'i, you don't act up: not at a picnic, not on the bus, not at a mall, because your "Aunties" are always watching. I can't tell you how many times, I was scolded (or even spanked on one occassion) by someone not my mother. And my mom's reaction? "Good. Next time, don't do that."

Today my mom (Tata) and I were at the pool watching Bunny and Wallie's final swimming lesson. I was lounging finishing New Moon. (Yes, I am 13 and I read Twilight and New Moon this vacay, but that's another *eye-roll* story...) Anyway, I was lying on a chaise immersed in my book and my mom was at the side of the pool snapping pictures and taking movies when all of a sudden I heard the one word that when spoken in a certain tone by my mother can stop me in my tracks.


The hairs stood up on the back of my neck. I almost peed in my bathing suit. That one word told me all I needed to know: someone was in BIG trouble.

I looked up to see my mom's cropped chartreuse linen pants splattered with pool water.


I had to check myself for a second to make sure it wasn't me or my kids that did it. No? Phew.

The culprit was two-year-old little boy named Fletcher who was sitting on the side of the pool whacking at the water with a snorkel and making a huge eruptions of water with every hit.

"Hey!" my mom repeated.

I saw the boy look up and cower slightly.

"Sorry," he mumbled.

I watched and honestly? Felt nothing but relief that it wasn't me who got my mom's pants wet. Believe me, I know better. And if you are reading this and you know my mom, you know better, too.

"That didn't sound very sincere," my mom replied. Then the boy bent over to whack at the water again.

(Did he have a DEATH WISH?  Seriously, Fletcher, get with the program, dude.)

"You splash me again, I'm gonna splash you." whispered my mom.

(No, she wasn't joking.)

Now I know at this point, there are plenty of parents who would take immediate umbrage to their wee tot being spoken too like that, but that's the beauty of Hawai'i as I see it. 'Ohana also means you respect your elders no matter what. Or you get dirty lickins. Then your mom gets on the horn and tells all your Aunties that you were naughty so the next time you go to a party or a picnic you have stomach cramps for days in anticipation of all the talking-tos you're going to get. Cuz believe me, Aunties never forget. And you definitely do not, absolutely never, splash their pants.

What did Fletcher's mother do?  What all good "local" mothers do:

She marched over, said "What's going on?," hauled Fletcher up to his feet, faced him towards my mom and said, "Fletcher, you tell Auntie sorry.  Right now."

Which he did.

Did we know him or his mom? No. But that's beside the point. Everyone is your Auntie in Hawaii.

First lesson about 'ohana learned.

From the Parents

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