In response to The Daily Post’s writing prompt: “Childhood Revisited.” … is there anything you wish had been different about your childhood? If you have kids, is there anything you wish were different for them?
Fear. I would choose less fear.
Children are amazingly adaptive. At two or three they’ve already attained a yardstick, a ‘normal’ beside which everything else is measured. Whether they share one room with their family – dirt floor, leaky roof, pallets of straw for beds and, very rarely, a piece of chicken from a bird caught and killed out back – or they are well fed, well-groomed children of plenty, this is their normal. An overwhelmed mother. An absent father. Close, annoying brothers. Smiles. Hugs. Slaps. Vacations. Pain. Dad holding you tight as you learn to ride a bike. Mom all snuggly in her bathrobe. Hunger. Silence. Shouts. Tears. Good schools or the horrifying school of the street. Normal is what a child sees when she looks around.
My normal was fear. The sick feeling in your stomach. The overwhelming need to watch, to listen, to gauge the temperature of the room as your foot steps over the threshold. It wasn’t the fear of hunger, or need, alcoholism or abandonment, but it was fear. And it was as real to me as the green shag carpeting or the tiny B&W television with four channels.
I remember anger. Yelling. Learned all my swear words pretty young. There was some hitting, some hair pulling, some cruelty – but it was usually couched as games, as discipline, as clever tricks, and any pain or hurt or despair on my part was labelled “too sensitive,” or “you should be smarter,” or “toughening you up,” or “haven’t you figured it out yet?”
Do you know what the expectation of harm does? It makes you afraid, yes, but it also makes you into a liar. A manipulator. Someone who can show the right face in the right circumstances in order to avoid harmful results. It makes you into an avoider. A sometimes oily, sometimes deceitful person who is always trying to figure out what particular combination of words, attitude, and actions to deploy to receive affection instead of anger, love instead of loathing, and peace instead of violence. You want to control everything, because, only then, can you be safe.
Fear was my reaction. My brother and sister had their own means of coping – or non-coping, I guess. We love each other, but we weren’t there for each other back then. We didn’t know how to do that. We learned, my sister and I – about the Love that drives away all fear – but that’s a different story.
I wish I could say that my daughter is free from fear. That she grew up with a perfect mom and dad; that I’d learned so much from past generations that her childhood was one for the storybooks. Too bad I don’t seem able to lie to myself quite as easily as I learned to lie to others. But she’s fierce and fabulous, smart and loving, a giver, a loyal friend and unselfish helper.
I suppose, to answer the second part of the prompt, I wish her a life of courage. Of strength. Of peace and joy. I hope she will find a spouse that will love her, comfort her, and show her there is another way to live, just like her father did for me. I want her to be able to let go, laugh long and hard with milk dripping from her nose, wear nerdy t-shirts or formal gowns, stop to help strangers. Trust God. Trust herself.
And I’ll continue to pray daily for my daughter’s safety, because, as far as I’ve come, some fear is still there. Like a child squeezed into a corner of my soul, eyes closed so that I don’t see her, fear sits in the dark. I do see her. I hear her in nightmares, and sometimes, in the words coming from my own mouth. Yeah, I’m a work in progress. Progressing out of darkness and into the light.