When I was little I saw a picture of my father and I as babies. The photos were exactly the same! As a young girl I was horrified. Did this mean I’d grow up to look like my Dad? Now, don’t get me wrong, he was a good looking, smart, charismatic and compassionate man. But the key word to me in all that was “man”!
Could I really look so much like him then and not turn into the 6 foot hairy, giant before me?
It seems silly now, but back then I was scared to death the mirror would show changes I couldn’t control or accept. Like a bad horror film I’d seen late at night when I was supposed to be asleep- my older siblings and I would watch horror theater at midnight on Saturday nights. They were campy, poorly filmed and horribly written movies only meant to provide a cheap thrill and fleeting scream. They always ended the same way. The villain devolving to a freakishly, other worldly state as their face and bodies shriveled up and died. To this day I can still picture those scenes. As a 4 or 5 year old I didn’t understand it was fake. To me, TV made it seem so real.
That’s how I pictured my slow descent into looking like my father. A fate I couldn’t deny or alter.
I can laugh now. But the turmoil I experienced then and how it may have impacted my body image is hard to know.
Children do that. They think and hear and see everything around them through a different lens. Sure, we all have our perspectives, but as children we can’t discern reality from fiction. It all goes into the brain as equals, gets thrown around like towels in a dryer and comes out who knows where. Like the incubator. How was I to know that recounting to my toddler the memory of being so nauseous when I ate fish while I was pregnant with her that I thought I’d die, would result in her believing my exaggeration. All she heard was, “mommy eats fish and dies”.
In her sweet, innocent and convoluted mind she desperately needed to protect the only parent she saw daily after a painful and difficult divorce- hence the incubator. She didn’t understand the circumstances that ripped her world apart, she just knew it had exploded. In any traumatic situation we all seek ways to control and safeguard our surroundings, keeping our future intact.
When she and her stuffed animals slowly moved into the hallway, marching ever closer to my bedroom door, I was finally forced to understand the issue at hand. How many others did I miss?
Thankfully the majority of life gets sorted out eventually. We all grow up and understand our mistake or misconceptions. Although truth be told I still look at those baby pictures and cringe, just a little.
Specific circumstances and issues make an impact we carry with us forever. They are an indelible part of who we become.
I was five when President John F Kennedy was assassinated. I never really understood what had happened. I just knew everyone around me was sad , the only three TV stations were focusing on the news and they kept showing a little boy, slightly younger than me, fidgeting at the funeral. That little boy was Kennedy’s son, John Junior. To this day I can still see that moment. It was as if the world had stopped moving and no one knew if it’d ever start up again.
That’s what I remember feeling as a child. Unadulterated fear, for reasons I never understood and no one tried to explain. Back then it wasn’t what parents did. No one could fathom the impact it was having on such young psyches. It was generally believed what we didn’t know couldn’t hurt us. But we knew what the faces, voices, actions, and emotions of those around us were saying- disbelief and anguish.
My daughter was eleven when the Twin Towers were destroyed in New York City. She never truly understood the impact it made, only the heartbreak, fear and uncertainty it sowed. Not just with me- the aftermath of shock and tears were impossible to hide. But the entire country was impacted. Everywhere she went she saw adults scared, devastated and hurting. We tried to explain in appropriate ways the heartache we were feeling without instilling fear.
But the sad truth is she knew the world had been altered forever, as were our lives individually and the country as a whole.
I’ve asked how much seeped through but I’m not sure even she truly knows. She remembers no longer being able to see Grandma’s plane lift off when she visited other family. And armed guards keeping her at bay so she couldn’t run into her arms as she deplaned.
She now uses adult words for a child’s memory, “ it was unsettling.”
For most parents, we’ll never truly know what exactly hits home or what falls short.
What they’ll remember, what they won’t.
That’s why all we can do is love, share, cuddle and open up with them. Reinforce they are never alone and nothing is out of bounds to discuss. Now, more than ever, with so much uncertainty we all need that reassurance.
We may not be able to alter our circumstances but how we respond can make all the difference in how we cope. Making it clear they are safe, secure and loved.
The lessons we learn from this moment will clearly shape us forever.
For our kids let it be:
Special memories of time at home with loved ones.
Learning hygiene techniques that last a lifetime.
Giving thanks and appreciation to those who kept this country moving forward so others could stay healthy and safe.
Knowing we all did our part to get through an incredibly difficult time so we’d all make it to the other side.
Remembering the incredible humanity, compassion and thoughtfulness we saw and shared when we needed it most.
Understanding our resiliency, tenacity and enduring strengths, when used together for a common goal, will always get us through to a better tomorrow.