When I Was A Kid…

When I Was A Kid...

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.


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.


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, 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.

When I Was A Kid...

Thanks, Mom.

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.


When I Was A Kid...

The 99th Street Station for the Rock Island was just a few blocks from my house.



23 thoughts on “When I Was A Kid…

  1. What an idiot that woman was to expect you to 1) Read her mind and somehow know all her “issues”. 2) Assume you didn’t have tragedies of your own.

    Your mother does sound like an amazing woman.

    I am so tired of the “permanently offended” people who make almost any subject (but themselves ) off limits because of some secret issue they harbor. They expect everybody to cater to them because they are so immersed in their own special victimhood. There’s a word for these people: “narcissists”. They have no empathy and think of nobody but themselves. No wonder she didn’t like her mother. She was probably just like her. I hope you didn’t have to try to continue the friendship.

    The photo of the little girls in crinolines takes me back. I just LOVED my crinolines! I was sure, until I was in about 7th grade, that the “f” word was just something the boys in my class made up because it sounded bad. I was quite sure it had no meaning.

    Great post. It really had me time-traveling.

  2. So kind of you, Anne. Love sharing things with you. We actually did maintain that friendship for a long time, but as she aged it got worse and a move afforded us the opportunity to let things fade away.

    We used to have contests to see how big and fat we could make our skirts by layering crinolines. But I was never a winner. I went to school with the children of doctors and lawyers in this very Irish community. There was always talk about living on the wrong side of the tracks, but basically we embraced our position, found friends and at our grade school reunion those distinctions were forgotten. Over that KID STUFF. So glad you liked it, Beth

  3. When I was a kid, felt very secure never locked our doors.
    When I was a kid, always knew my parents and family were there whenever I truly needed them
    When I was a kid, I felt their unconditional love , as I continue to feel today.

    • Hi Tom, your words are wonderful and true and thank you so much for the photos. I am keeping them in my folder entitled FRIENDS! I had never seen these before, wonderful.

      We did keep our door locked, probably because Mom was alone. I know the Haveys didn’t. As John said, if someone did come through the front door they would probably turn around and run seeing the busyness of life with so many kids!! Beth

  4. HI Beth
    absolutely loved your snippets of memory piece. And the photos, especially the first one which I don’t think I’ve ever seen, was magic. Lots of little secret things I didn’t know about you. A real treasure.
    your brother John

    So glad you liked the piece. Hugs back.

  5. Wonderful article Beth. I could see some of myself in that reading too. You were
    lucky to have such a terrific mom! Ed Walsh

  6. Beth,

    I remember having diabetes and it being the center of my life. Everything I did or didn’t do was because of diabetes. It shadowed everything. Diabetes was unknown then especially in children. NO ONE and I mean NO ONE except me and my sister Gina had it and our gym teacher, Mr. Bong. In a school of 8 grades with several classrooms per grade, there were only 2 children with Type 1. We had Mr. Bong the teacher that had it but he had Type 2, somewhat different but he did understand much of we faced, however no one else did, not our classmates, not the other teachers, even the nurse didn’t quite understand what we went through.
    I remember diabetes causing me great grief. I was bullied and tormented for my disease. I was picked on, made fun of, had my lunch stolen because the kids thought it would be funny to see what happened if I didn’t eat… What happened was not funny.
    I remember being accused of cheating by a teaching when in actuality I was suffering from hypoglycemia. I was called out in class, made to go to the front of the room, a big fat F was written on my paper and the teacher really lit into me in front of a group of kids that didn’t need any more ammunition in their quest to hurt me. I was also very low by this time. I had very little awareness of what was happening other than I needed to eat or drink something. Even with all of the information my mother gave to the school each year, all the explanations she gave to teachers about low blood sugar that teacher still made my life even more of a living hell.
    Unfortunately, much of my childhood was hard. I do have good memories. I have wonderful vacations my mother and father planned on a shoestring budget. I do that now for my child. We had very little but still we went to the Atlantic Ocean, we went to Tennessee, Wisconsin, Ohio, Pennsylvania and once we drove to California! Summers were incredible in our house.
    I remember summers. The freedom from that torture called school, the running around the neighborhood, the gazillion kids we had on the block to play with. The fun fairs my mom helped us organize to raise money for diabetes. The carnival my dad took us too. The hamfests my dad used to sell stuff at and let us come ‘help.’ I remember feeling normal in the summer, like a real kid, with a real life, diabetes wasn’t as hard in the summer.
    My parents loved us. They struggled beyond anything I can imagine. They never had enough for themselves. They were divorced by the time I was 15 and I think it was because they never allowed themselves the time to really understand each other. I know there was a lot more to it but I think they were so busy making a life for us kids they never got to make a life for themselves.
    They are both amazing people. I wouldn’t be who I am today if not for them. I wouldn’t be here still if their love and support had not sustained me over the years. My father is an incredible human being. HE and he alone taught me about unconditional love for a child. I always knew my dad loved me. I know now my mother did but sometimes even know I feel as I don’t quite measure up in her eyes… but with my dad, I always feel special still. My father has given me so much guidance, support, understanding, listening, hope and belief to just keep going… I don’t think he will ever know just how much he is loved and how much inside he has given his children.
    It is through my father that I hope my daughters knows how much I love her. How much I wish for her life to be easier than mine.
    Your post really gave me cause to think today. Thank you Beth.

  7. Dear Natalie,
    Thanks for your memories. Being an RN who also struggled not with diabetes but with hypoglycemia, I am angry that your teachers didn’t understand how to help you. When I taught at Bloom High School, we received a notice from the nurse’s office if any child in one of our classes had any kind of health condition. I had students with diabetes and epilepsy and I noted how to respond to them should they ever need help. We have gone through decades in our country when we were so ignorant of what others were experiencing. Like my teacher being so unconcerned that I was the only child in her class with no father. And she just didn’t really care to help me deal with it. Beth

  8. Beth I so appreciate your beautifully written articles
    Your sincerity and openness allows many of us to relate and express our feelings with trust.
    Thank you for sharing your art as a writer.
    Tom E

    • Dear Tom,

      Your words are helpful. Writing is my passion, but sharing what I write means even more. And currently, as I hunt for an agent, not everyone has the same opinion as you do. So fingers crossed that someone out there will! Thanks Dear Friend, Beth

  9. When I was a kid…..I had a big sister Beth, and a big brother John, who looked over me. We loved our Mom because she was everything we had, having lost our Dad when I was three months old. So these three little souls grew up together, and helped each other, and all three of us got through college (Beth and John far beyond). We each followed our dreams, but never hesitated to be there for either of the other two. No matter what. Think we had a great Mom?…..you bet we did…….

    • We had a great Mom and a great, loving family. We supported each other and life was good. We filled our days with music and laughter, with reading and ideas. We filled the yard with friends. “There were 24 children in your backyard today!!” Blessings on Mrs. H. and everyone that was a part of our childhood. Hugs, Me

  10. Beth – thanks so much for sharing this. It was heartfelt and inspiring. I wish I could share some “When I was a kid”… memories, but that’s not a place I like to visit often.

    The picture of the Rock Island Station made me smile – I used to ride the train from there to Columbia College when I first moved to Chicago. I had great aspirations of becoming a fiction writer then and after seeing that photo and reading your piece, I remembered who that girl was.

    • Ah Kim,

      So much time has passed for both of us. Thanks for the share and for reading. We both have much to be thankful for. I’m still trying to be a fiction writer!!

  11. Happy Birthday tomorrow for your wonderful Mother. Weren’t we lucky. I remember the same sense of shock that some people did not have mothers who loved …. I was so lucky to have great parents: Mom and Dad and then a surrogate Mom in Jinni. Love you. BC

    • Hi Bess,

      How are you dear friend? Thanks for your memories and for remembering. She would be 99! I hope she and Lilyan are celebrating their friendship. I celebrate you and thanks for your message.
      We were all so blessed. And still are, Beth

  12. When I was a kid, my Mom believed in good shoes, good doctors and plain, but delicious food (she was 1st generation Irish–potatoes, meat, vegetables and fruit for dessert). My sister, brother and I often talk of this and how we all loved it.

    When I was a kid, I had the MOST BEAUTIFUL First Communion dress ever! I had no choice in the matter-my Mom probably ordered it from the Sears or “Monkey Wards” catalog, but I loved it! It was not like today where moms bring their daughters to Nordstrom’s, Neiman Marcus, etc., 5 months in advance of the date, to see what their 7-8 yr.-old daughters LOVE the best and pay $150 to $200, or even more!

    When I was a kid, sick with a fever, my mom used to stroke her hand back and forth gently over my hot and aching forehead. I remember this and I miss it.

    When I was a kid of six, our first dog was hit in the middle of our street by a hit-and-run driver and died. My mom and I cried together like we just had lost one of our dearest, most beloved relative.

    When I was a kid, (remember that we are always our parents’ kids no matter what the age), I was there with my brother and sister when our mother died. How profound–words cannot describe). The older I get, the more I miss her.

  13. Am sorry, Beth. I misread your post. I thought you wanted stories on when when we were kids with our moms, so I devoted all my remembrances of my mom, but my dad played a huge part in my family’s history–for sure! He died when I was 19. He had a huge heart for everyone, but most of all, his family. God bless him. I love and miss you everyday of my life, Daddy o’ mine!

    • KATHY!! never be sorry. I loved ALL of your memories. You could talk about your 3rd cousin if you want to. These are lovely memories. Monkey Wards! Ha, how did that monkey thing start, I wonder. But there were years when I loved their things. And I think we miss our mothers as we age, because we find that aging mother is now us–and we sympathize more with that person, than we did when our flesh was taught, we needed little sleep and life stretched out endlessly. HUGS TO YOU, Beth

  14. When I was a kid my mother started working the year I started kindergarten and I was a latch key kid. The only one in my neighborhood or that I knew. I didn’t feel sorry for myself, it just was what it was.
    Wow, quite the ungracious guest!

    • Hi Jennifer,
      I think being a latch key kid made me strong. And capable. I had always been one to tidy up the house, so other duties just seemed natural to me. Not sure what you meant by ungracious guest. I know my younger brother had to eat at various houses after I went to high school, but he learned how to be polite–that’s for sure. Thanks for your comment.

  15. i’ve always had a very close relationship with my mom and it was a huge shock for me when I grew up and realized that not every one grew up the way I did.

    • Hi Rena, I know. I was in shock. I can still feel my surprise and yet sadness for that woman. So glad that we were blessed with wonderful mothers and of course then we can pass that love on. Makes the world go round. Beth

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