Saturday, October 24, 2009

reality check

I am curious about something.  I want to know if it's typical for adults to become profoundly sad when reminded of their childhood.

Today I heard a hymn that I used to hear in the Episcopal church of my childhood.  (Religion was not a big part of my life either then or now, but I attended church often enough to be able to identify music I heard there.)  My eyes filled with tears- I couldn't function for a few minutes.  (Luckily I wasn't driving- I probably would have crashed the car.)

Is this normal behavior?  Of course, everyone's story is different.  The characteristics of my story which may be causing this are many.  For one thing, I haven't lived in or near my hometown since I was 17.  The family I knew as a child has disintegrated- most of the key people have died, except for my brother and sister who both live far from home.  Only my father remains in my hometown, yet he married into a new family and barely acknowledges his "old" family.

My childhood was not a particularly happy one, although I was an idealistic child and somehow I knew how to make the best of things, and I always knew I'd leave after high school.  I was shy and lonely, reading books all the time.  My family never did fun things- my parents were unhappily married, and my brother and sister, who were teens by the time I was born, resented me.  What's to miss about that childhood?!

Well, as always, I have a theory.  The family may not have been outstanding, but it was the only security I've ever known.  We lived in the same house for all of those years.  My parents got up at the same time every morning and went to bed the same time each night.  There were no surprises.  I always knew what to expect when I came home from school- if my mother was at work, then Gram would be there.  Dinner (we called it "supper") was at 5pm each night come hell or high water.  My mother's cooking sucked, but at least it was consistently bad.  And no matter what she served for the meal, whether I ate it or not, there was always dessert- usually ice cream.  Every Sunday I was given a McDonald's Happy Meal for dinner.

We didn't have a huge extended family, but I knew a few relatives who lived nearby.  Gram was my favorite person of all time, but I was also fond of another older relative, Marion, from my mother's side.  I never knew what appealed to me about Marion, because we had nothing in common, but I just liked her.  I was terribly quiet, even around relatives, so I was sure she didn't know.  I was thrilled when one day my mother told me that she had told Marion that I liked her, and Marion had said, "Yes, I know she does."  How did she know?

 It was not Family of the Year, but it was stable- as I said, it was the only stability I've ever known.  I work in a very unstable field, and my schedule is erratic.  I can't even have a regular bedtime schedule, because I sometimes work late at night and sometimes early in the morning.  I can't sign up for anything regular, like classes or clubs, because of my work schedule.

Besides being stable, my childhood was the only time of my life during which I was surrounded by people who had to care about me no matter what.  That's what "family" is, right?  Now, I do have a child, but he'd happily throw me to the wolves if I so much as tell him he has to go to bed!

My child will not look back at his childhood the way I do mine.  He has no family- he only has a mother- that's all.  The only stability I've been able to offer is the constant knowledge that he's cared about, and that he has a house and food and electronics.  Maybe he'll be able to look back and remember the house on the park with views like the one above, the ill-behaved Chihuahua who constantly wanted to fetch, and the fretting mother who did the best she could.  I'm not sure if his eyes will fill with tears when he hears a song from childhood......


Lynilu said...

Betty, as I read your post, I remembered that I've had similar episodes. The triggers differ, and a trigger that sets me off today will go without notice on another day. Clearly, however, when it is tripped, the flood of emotion is undeniable. Yeah, I think it is normal.

I am, once again, impressed with the insight you have. So many in your position would be in such denial that it would impact on how they manage their lives. You've made the situation into a stepping stone, rather than an obstacle to trip over. Most of us survive by finding the parts that are stable and using that as our foundation. We just hope that the stable part is also a relatively healthy one.

We all have dysfunctional families. Each is different in its pattern of dysfunction. I think you've done a good job of making the best of what you were given. The Child will probably know that as he grows older. I am guessing that he will appreciate that you did what you have for him.

Stay the course. :)

Big Dave T said...

Sometimes I wonder how my boys will recall their childhood. Even now I ask them to recall a particular trip or fun moment, and they draw a blank. But they easily can recall the times they faces severe discipline at the hands of my or my wife.

B.S. said...

Dear Lynilu,

Yes, I like the stepping stone concept. That's a good way to look at it. And thanks for the reminder that i'm doing my best.


B.S. said...

Dear Big Dave,

How interesting about your boys remembering the times they were disciplined. I'm going to try asking my son what he's remembering so far....


Loving Annie said...

I think your heart only fills with tears when you feel theloss of what you didn't have and the pain of what you did have.
Your childhood was far more bleak than your son's is. He has many emotional things from you that you did not get as a child.
My heart aches when I look back at my childhood - it was hell for the most part. Somed days I understand the lessons I was meant to learn, and it diminshes the ache quite a bit, but not altogether.
I too would have loved a Norman Rockwell or Leave it to Beaver family where I could always talk about how much I knew I was loved and how safe and happy and fun my relationsip with my parents and siblings are still to this day...
So yes, I think what you and I and Lynuli and others jave experienced has been our normal. Sometimes we grow past it, we change so that we have blossomed far beyond how we were raised - and eyt we cannot deny the truth of it.

Priyamvada_K said...

Dear Betty,
Longing for stability is natural for us single moms, I think. Our generation had two parents, and not much stuff. It was a relatively stable life, and you're so right in saying "people had to care for each other". My family has moved away since my father died, and people are in different places now. Its just not the same.

Few days back I was thinking about how my kid was rebelling, and angry, and realized I went about doing things for her, teaching her and driving her to classes, and giving her food and shelter. That's all I have time for.

I looked back at what I remembered fondly from my childhood and the list came: walks with my father, playing cricket with a tennis ball (with dad and brother), planting a garden. Simple things - but all fond memories were associated with my father. My mom cooked, kept a very clean house, and nagged us a lot. I don't have a single joyful memory there, though she provided food for us, and made sure we did the homework.

Hmmm. I realized I was more like my mom :(. Kids need connecting moments, and with my mother I had none.

I'm now trying to include some moments with the kid each day - maybe watch a show, or a game of cards. Hopefully that'll make her listen more and rebel less.

Take care, and hang in. You are not alone.


Monogram Queen said...

I think everyone looks back with some sadnes... for what was.. and what never was. Hugs to you my sweet friend.

Anonymous said...

Ah yes...There are things that I
look back on (not a whole lot that
I can remember) but I do remember
stability...My Aunt Dottie and my
Uncle Jim were two of my all time
favorite people to be around...
When we would visit them me and
my brothers and cousins would take
off and run through the house and
my parents would tell us to stop
and my aunt and uncle would tell
them to let us be cause we were
being kids...

I miss them both and was SO glad
that Josh got to meet both of
them and that he too was able to
run through their home like I

I'm sure The Child will look back
and remember the love you have
for him and he will pass it along
to him family...



simply me said...

Hi Betty - That happens to me all the time. As we get older we are faced with our mortality. Our families, regardless of how great, crazy, dysfunctional or wonderful, are our history. Its where we come from. Its what molds us as we grow and change.
There are small moments when something touches my heart and takes me to my childhood. Like the smell of my mother. Like when I visit her and lay on her bed and close my eyes.
The tears just come. Its ok to feel - it keeps us in touch with our human side.

simply me said...

Your son will look back and be filled with love and admiration. Perhaps he won't shed a tear, but you can bet for sure he will smile.