At the tender age of 23, my husband and I had a couple over for dinner—new friends. When I started to say something about my mother, the woman interrupted me: “I don’t want to hear anything else about your mother. Don’t you know that not everyone in this world loves their mother?”
I was awestruck. No, I actually did not know that. Was I fortunate or just naïve? Actually both. Somehow we got through that dinner, but from then on, I appreciated even more how awesome my mother truly was. When I was a kid, I knew that every moment of my life.
WHAT MOM GAVE ME AND I HOPE WE GAVE OUR CHILDREN
We bring with us to adulthood so many small experiences that build and make us who we are. And now as a mother of adult children and a grandmother, I want to believe that when we raised our children, we gave them a foundation to help them love life, seek knowledge, succeed with struggle, use their brains and creativity to bring joy to their lives and others’ lives—and to always know that being kind and helping people supports both the body and the soul.
And it all starts at the very beginning, it all starts with one’s early life.
SNIPPETS OF EXPERIENCE
Below are a few snippets from mine, things that I know without question, formed who I am. I could have written pages and pages, but then none would stand out. And I tried to choose from different phases of my early life and to represent family, friends, neighborhood, church, school, social development, exposure to a world that wasn’t perfect.
Some of what I experienced was normal for the time–but should not have been. And of course my early life experience is strongly connected to time and place—in the past.
For from generation to generation we have to and learn to adapt and change. Change is not always positive—it can sometimes morph into new challenges, and the question arises—did those very early experiences prepare us for such a challenge? Yes and no.
Yet change is often totally positive and awesome, and in the process, we learn a major lesson that we then pass on to our children. As a result, they become better people than we were.
The events below are part of who I am. They formed my initial reactions to life around me. Then I grew. Like all humans, I was a seed that sprouted and changed. But what fed me in the beginning—what awakened questions, thoughts and fears will always be a part of me. It’s in there–somewhere.
WHEN I WAS A KID
When I was a kid, I had no father. He died when I was 3; I barely remembered him.
When I was a kid, I was afraid of all dogs, didn’t know any cats and once had a turtle for a pet.
When I was a kid growing up on the southside of Chicago, the milkman and the eggman came to our back door with deliveries on a regular basis. We had a telephone and radios. We got our first television when I was in grade school.
When I was a kid, we had indoor plumbing, everyone we knew did. But one family across the street let their little boys urinate under their front porch.
When I was a kid, the lonely wail of the Rock Island train sang me to sleep on many nights.
When I was a kid, my mother typed in our dining room to pay the bills.
When I was a kid, we had borders who lived with us and paid rent—a Sioux Indian from South Dakota, two Irish nurses from County Cork and a teacher from Wisconsin—not all at the same time!
When I was a kid, I was afraid of men; I was afraid of new things. When I started Kindergarten, Mom had my friend Greg walk me every day. He was my age!
When I was a kid, I had surgery on my left eye. I was five. After that I wore glasses and I had clunky shoes, pale eyebrows and thin hair!
When I was a kid, confession on Saturdays, Latin words and hymns, the smell of incense, and booming organ music were a normal part of my life.
When I was a kid, our cleaning lady walked to our house from the bus; she changed her clothes in the basement and sat by herself at lunch. I did ask questions about this.
When I was a kid, an infrequent treat was a chocolate bakery cake that sat on a hard cardboard circle and was decorated with one hard red cherry.
When I was a kid, I had to ask my teacher how to complete a form, what to put in the blank space that read FATHER. She said curtly: put deceased. What did that mean? She didn’t even tell me how to spell it.
When I was a kid, I didn’t like Daddy-Daughter breakfasts or dances, cause I didn’t have a daddy.
When I was a kid, I was afraid to answer the telephone and even in the 3rd grade I did not know the difference between a quarter, dime and nickel. My mother taught me about coinage and made me answer the phone.
When I was a kid, our backyard felt so big my brothers and I could get lost in it. A lean-to shed, a jumble of bushes, or the space behind the garage—all made great forts.
When I was a kid, my friend Jean and I pretended her mother’s rock garden was a vat of boiling oil and we would push imaginary witches and bad people into it. Or pretend we were pushing kids we didn’t like.
When I was a kid, there was a box of pennies in a cabinet in our dining room. My mother said my dad left it for us. It never ran out of pennies.
When I was a kid, my mother let me and my brothers walk a few blocks to the candy store for penny candy. Our known world was actually small, but we felt it to be big and bright and safe.
When I was a kid, we played hopscotch, Mother May I, Freeze Tag, and Hide ‘n Seek. When adding together the children that lived in the two houses across the street from us, we had 10 children of various ages to play with.
When I was a kid, I had a green JC Higgins two-wheeler bike that I pretended was a horse. Jean and I rode around the block numerous times a day. I wore handed-down clothing, except for the dresses my aunts bought me for birthdays and Christmas.
When I was a kid, I wrote a few paragraphs about a tornado. I was in 4th grade and decided that I would become a writer. I still have that piece of paper.
When I was a kid, Bing broke his arm on our back porch, Vinnie had to go to a special Children’s Hospital, and Charlene’s parents had her taken to the local hospital’s psych ward only because she was a teenager and acting like one. True story.
When I was twelve, my mother, in a very motherly fashion, told me about sex.
When I was twelve, I took over the task of cleaning our house. Mom helped. I also planted a garden.
When I was twelve, my mother went to work downtown and my younger brother and I became latch-key kids. We walked home from school for a lunch that I made. We did fine.
When I was twelve, I noticed that my future husband lived in our neighborhood. I also was allowed to ride my bike a mile and a half to my future high school to take piano lessons. The high school girls made fun of my bike.
When I was thirteen, a girlfriend told me a joke with the f-word and I laughed but had absolutely no idea what she was talking about.
And when I was teenager, life changed, opened up. I embraced high school, walking a long distance to school with friends, being exposed to new ideas, boys. I learned how to draw on my eyebrows! But everything above was still part of me. And still is.
Thanks for reading. Please share a snippet of when you were a kid. You might have a list of supportive, joyful memories and you might have a very negative one that caused you to go in a totally different direction when you were old enough to make your own choices. Joyous, sorrowful. Confusing, simple and embraceable–it is all still part of you, it’s still in there. We move on, we change, we grow. It’s life. It’s way beyond WHEN I WAS A KID.
Crinolines under our dresses was all the rage. That’s me, center right, in the dark dress and glasses, of course.