A little bit of struggle.

STRUGGLEBPM

When I was young, I didn’t go to summer camp or take dance lessons. I had discount sneakers missing the coveted blue tag. I was frequently ashamed, always strategically trying to hide myself behind my book bag or the large metal frame of my chair in 3rd period.

We had food and a place to live and plenty of money for step-dad’s Jim Beam. Once, I came home to find a pile of new clothes on my bed. Shock and joy were quickly replaced by guilt. I felt terrible when I hated them. They were awkward and barely stylish. A lot like me.

My mother did not allow us to play video games. She was a drill sergeant about please and thank you. We were in charge of answering the phone. We practiced in the kitchen, twirling the cord around our bodies, “Hello. This is Bethany. How may I help you?”

No one was happy. Not even the cats who would find foolproof exit strategies. Death or running away.

One night, on a cross country move, my sister and I plotted our escape in a hotel pool. We continued the conversation the next night as we waited outside of a bar alone on Bourbon Street while he finished, “one more quick drink.”.

I made a lot of big mistakes. I was foolish and reckless, but, lucky enough to never have to pay the piper in more than growing pains and moderate regret.

Life was not perfect. Not even close. I still turned out ok.

A mother to children I love. A writer of honest words. A timely payer of bills.

Looking back on a childhood I did not love, I must acknowledge that I was still able to construct beauty out of cardboard and journals. When I was not handed everything, I learned how to make a stool out of pillows to expand my reach.

If I’m honest I must admit that, in the life I’m creating for our children, the scales are tipped in the direction of excess. I struggle to provide them with the swing set I never had and then become frustrated by their lack of appreciation for it. As they request yet another trip to the park, I cringe, watching the shadows of an unused slide in the back yard.

I am constantly caught between my desire to make them happy and my desire to ensure their independence. Finding no balance; only swinging the pendulum between the gratification I feel when I see them enjoying childhood to disappointment that they are not enjoying it enough. This, coupled with my diminished tolerance when they do not appreciate what they have, although, they have no sad stories to spark that appreciation. Their view of childhood is relative. Sadness in the shape of not getting that extra ten minutes of Wii play. The Earth shatters. I roll my eyes.

Working on my perspective has been difficult. As thankful as I am for the breaking of a cycle, I mourn the loss of the independent streak, becoming undoubtedly muted as I place them in emotional bubble wrap and discourage the activities that helped build my own internal brick wall. I was safe on the inside as long as I had paper and my sisters. They turn to me for something I gave myself. I put one foot in front of the other and hope, as an outside party, I am successfully helping them build their own internal fortress instead of building it for them.

Hoping that I’m able to leave enough just outside of their comfortable reach. A little bit of struggle is a good thing.





Comments

  1. Well said! Oh perspective, you wily beast.

    I chose not to red shirt my son for similar reasons. I’d rather have him learn to try early, that to be able to coast b/c he was older than his peers. Things will not always come easily, even when you have advantages. Life is full of struggles, big and small.

    • Bethany says:

      I was one of the youngest in my class. Back in the good ol’ days before red shirting was a “thing”. And, I agree that struggle will find you, even under the best circumstances. Thank you for reading, Jessica!

  2. I loved this. I too, had a childhood that encouraged self-reliance and pragmatism. Sometimes I think it’s a good thing that our income doesn’t allow for the generosity that I want to offer my kids, otherwise we too would have an abandoned play structure in our backyard, like every other kids’ house in the neighborhood.

    This post is so powerful, it should have come with a warning label! Gut-punchingly good!

    • Bethany says:

      Thank you, Amy. I don’t know what else to say. Your compliment made me all gushy on the inside where I’m soft and mealy. I totally just ruined the moment by using mealy in a sentence, didn’t I? Don’t answer that. Thank you for the sharing and support on FB/Twitter as well.

  3. Lovely lovely.

    I don’t think you can spoil your kids with too much warm familial security. Life will throw those character-building challenges at your children soon enough. Trust me. Junior High is a bitch. If you had successfully run away as a child, you would have run away to your present day self and present day home.

    • Bethany says:

      Thank you. This is absolutely true. And, I did run away in a sense, didn’t I? Creating something totally new from fantasy instead of experience. We all do. You are right on.

  4. I think we do tend to overcompensate – when we can – for what we didn’t have in our own childhood. I know I did for mine. But I also taught him empathy. And to remember that others don’t have it as well as he did. I taught him how to show love and affection. And that the best things in life can’t be bought. I’d like to think that even though I did overcompensate in some of the material things I tempered it with the important things.

    He’s 18 now, far from being the man he’s going to be, but the promise is there. And that makes me think, while I wasn’t a perfect parent (FAR from it) that maybe I didn’t do such a bad job after all.

  5. Beautifully put! You sound like you were a very resilient child with a lot of awareness and insight….how lucky for your own children:) Thanks for the beautiful post!

    • Bethany says:

      Thank YOU, Mia. I think my childhood gave me my sense of humor, so, I honestly can’t begrudge it, but, I do want to do better. I think we all do. Thanks for reading.

  6. I love you for sharing so much of yourself and for so much more. I can relate to you so much on where you’ve come from and where you are now. It was a hell of a journey. There is a certain melancholy one feels when looking back on a childhood that despite your mother’s foundational ground rules, was nomadic in itself, never knowing how long you might stay in one place. I got so used to living out of boxes that it wasn’t until my oldest turned 10 that I finally threw the last box away, realizing that my life now is not what it was then. I think that men and women who are now parents have had to overcome a lot in their childhoods; it’s important to glean what happy times we can from them and pass those on. But often we try so hard to give our children everything we did not have, to break the chain and determine to ensure their experience is almost opposite of what we had, that we forget something important: in that pain, in that realm of feeling so lost and on our own, we did become strong within ourselves, for ourselves. We learned skills to get through life that those who have had everything handed to them will never know and as a result may actually be the ones with the handicap. (Is the gist of what I am trying to say coming out right?) I am looking back on my years as a mother already, seeing how I’ve tried to shelter my kids from all of what I experienced–even though they will never have to deal with that. Overcompensating, maybe. I think we unintentionally at times try to heal that child within through our own children and we forget that they are not us. They are their own individuals with their own life experiences. It is hard as a parent, always–to know when to rescue and when to step back and let them experience even a little hurt, for it does teach them how to cope, how to be strong, how to forge their own identity in life. Perhaps it’s true what has been said that in the process, we may be learning more than we think we are teaching them along the way.

    • Bethany says:

      It sounds like we had a very similar upbringing. Living out of boxes right there with you. In fact, after 5 years in our current city, my mind has just started pecking at an itch to move. It’s buried deep in us. Thank you for your lovely comment and for reading.

  7. This was so beautiful. I think you and my Dad wold get along well. He grew up with nothing. They ate rice every night for dinner. He was horrified by my siblings and I. We wanted everything and were brats when we didn’t get it (maybe we weren’t always brats about it, but that was his perception). I have seen you with your kids. I think all of this aside, the most important thing is that you & your hubby pour your love all over them. That’s why they’re so sweet! Gratefulness is a hard concept to understand when you haven’t seen loss. One day, sadly, they will experience that, and they will feel awful, but they’ll have you to give them a kiss and tell them it will be ok. Lucky little brats.

  8. Warning: I am an English teacher and inherently dorky.

    That said, the truth and power and bit of sadness that oozed from this post was moving. You created such a visual piece–I could “see” you and your sister outside of the bar on Bourbon Street, in the pool, the pile of corny clothes on your bed. And I can’t help but wonder if, in addition to your writing, your sense of humor helped you through the tough times. Really fan-frickin’-tastic!

    • Bethany says:

      Stephanie, this comment about makes my life. SO, thank you for being a) an English teacher and, b) inherently dorky. I hope you did not cringe over my grammatical and usage errors. What I make up for in practical knowledge, I hope I make up for in moderately readable content.

  9. This is just lovely! I wonder about this all the time. Am I doing too much, too little, how badly am I screwing them up? Good to know I’m not the only one who thinks this way.

    • Bethany says:

      Isn’t it such a relief when we find we’re not alone. When I write a post like this, I die a little inside before hitting publish. Wondering if I’m the only one who struggles this way. Then I see great comments like this and I remember, there’s a sisterhood out there. We are never alone. Never.

  10. I could go into a long story but one word sums it up…. DITTO.
    Just like the english teacher above, I love how visual your writing is, I just love it! 🙂
    <3 Devan

    • Bethany says:

      Devan, one day you and I will meet in the real world and I have a feeling we will start talking and then never, ever stop. xo

  11. B, this is greatness. It’s a difficult thing to escape a troubled childhood without scars outnumbering regrets. I’m ever grateful you were able to turn your experiences into the person you are today – you’re a good mama, and a good friend. 🙂

    • Bethany says:

      Thank you. You know I love you and appreciate your BIG friendship that stretches across the country.

  12. Bethany,
    This is the first time I’ve heard someone share a childhood story that so closely echoed mine. I’ve wanted to write about it for years, but struggled to with the fear of out of what my parents and sisters would say. Well, they’d say that I’m a spoiled brat, and that I only remember the bad things. That isn’t true, though. I do remember the good things, but it doesn’t erase the hard times.
    You managed to tell your story with such eloquence. Kudos.

    • Lori, I so get this. For so long, I didn’t write or talk about it and, everyone had nothing but pleasantries and surface conversation. Then, I had my epiphany that no one else determines my truth. And, since then, it’s been easier to step out into the daylight of my reality. Whether or not it is the reality of anyone else doesn’t give me much pause. I totally get it. By the way, I would love to see your story in words.

  13. My hubby and I don’t have kids and we make s’mores all the time! However, we are super lazy and don’t want to start a fire, tend to it, and then sit around outside and stare at each other. How do we do it? I know you’re dying to find out.

    We use BBQ skewers and cook the marshmallows over our gas stove. Yes, we are complete hoosiers, but we’re cool with it, because it gets us that chocolately, marshomallowy goodness without any of the work or clean up.

    And I think the fact you’re aware of not wanting to give your kids too much is the sign of a good parent. If you didn’t even think about it, that would be cause for concern.

    Save me some s’mores and I’ll be right over!

    • Once it stops raining, we’ll rescue the fire pit once again and save you some primo non-burned s’mores. Thanks for reading, Lisa! xo

  14. Thank you for this. Amazing. A few thoughts. Notwithstanding our adaptations, narratives, gratitude it wasn’t worse, recognition it could have been, etc… childhood depravation is not character building. Having grown up responsibilities and/or worries isn’t character building.

    It is much easier for people with resources to raise well adjusted kids. Character is easier to maintain when survival isn’t in question. Untested character is always stellar.

    Some kids who grow up in poverty do get what they need from their parents. They feel safe, and secure. They may have more responsibilities and fewer things than others. They may even eat junk, or visit soup kitchens. If they’re not in a place where everyone’s poor, they feel really bad sometimes, or get teased. But they can talk with their mom about it. And their mom helps them feel OK. They’re not inappropriately burdened, silenced. They don’t have to believe it was so great for them to not have an American Girl doll when everyone else did. They don’t have to compare their upbringing to those who had it worse, to always feel grateful. They’re well adjusted people.

    And plenty of kids who grow up with enough, more than enough, do not get what they need. Infant and toddler selves are calibrated based on how they feel, their interactions and attachments. These little selves, tethered to parents who are limited (addicted, narcissistic, depressed, or unavailable for any number of reasons) don’t know they’re in the 1 percent. And even when they’re older, when they know the balance of the trust fund or whatever, they are limited by a core insecurity. Or something.

    You know your kids don’t need life lessons in gratitude. In fact, for you, I’d just say gratitude is overrated. Just take it off your mind. And entitlement is underrated. You’re not in danger of wrecking your kids. Let yourself off the hook. Let your kids believe the world is their oyster.

    Try to get used to having kids who are comfortable being taken care of. Who assume they’ll be attended to. Who ask for ponies, or fancy skis or whatever. Keep being an anthropologist about it, but don’t be conflicted about who they are. They deserve the great mom they have and the life you’re giving them. Every kid does. That every kid doesn’t get what they have is something they, as well adjusted adults, may have a shot at actually fixing.
    .

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