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.