Childhood Perspective on Family History

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When I was a child, I thought my father owned a huge motorcycle, that every winter we had snowfalls taller than my 7-year-old body, and I had scarlet fever when I was 5. My father’s motorcycle was a small Bridgestone. I still think there was a tremendous amount of snow, but it was probably because all the snow being plowed from the road into our front yard. My mom denies that I had scarlet fever, but I think she’s lying!

We have these images, memories that we think are real are imprinted in our minds like a stamp. Our memories of childhood hugely depend on how we were raised, our order of birth, and what or who had a major impact on our lives. Five years younger than me and the last child, my sister, Michele, has a different perspective on her childhood. She probably doesn’t remember our home in Long Island that we moved from when she was 2 or 3. I’ll have to ask her.

She’s 8 years younger than my brother and 7 years younger than my older sister. Being the first and only boy as well as the first girl impacted their upbringing. Being the middle child, well you know we middle children have big issues of invisibility. But it put me in a more observational mode.

Last night at my monthly journaling workshop, we shared our thoughts on the above quote. Did they have memories that other family members disputed? Yes, like the severity of a car accident, joy of living with a large family, but the other members thinking it wasn’t so nice, memories of a parent differing based on age and order of birth.

I invite you to write these memories down and share them with family members. Have them record their memories on that event and then share one with you. Going back and forth, you’ll get a fuller picture or at least the differing perspectives of varying family members. Give your parent or grandparent a journal to record their memories and stories. Once they are no longer with us, their personal stories are lost.

Brainstorming your Memories and Building Memory Threads

Where do we get the ideas to write our family history? I suggest thinking about your first house. Jot down any memory. Don’t think about it too much. It’s a memory brain dump. It’s incredible how once you get started, all these new memories jump out at you.

You can go from your first house to the next and the next until you are in your current location or use whatever theme or location that speaks to you.

Here are some of mine from the first house I lived in Long Island:

  • Bobby pin in the socket
  • Describe my home
  • Fig trees
  • Monsters in the attic
  • Scarlet fever—Nanny teach me to crochet
  • Bike riding and hitting a car
  • Pool jumping from the roof
  • Almost drowning
  • Lobster crawling on the floor
  • YaYa
  • Aunt Anna
  • Planet of the Apes—Brown licorice
  • Monkey bars breaking leg
  • 1st day of 2nd grade
  • Stephanie forgets me at school

Maybe this is the only snapshot you need of that moment. Or perhaps it’s like a sponge and as you think about it, the memory expands. I call this Memory Threads.

Take the Monkey bars and breaking my leg. The threads may be:

Kindergarten, strong mother, missing much of school, Big Wheeling along the sidewalks, breaking leg again, tearing ACL on that leg, strong upper body.

This thread can weave into other memories. Like how my mother carried me out of the nurse’s office telling her she didn’t know what she was talking about when the nurse said my leg wasn’t broken–my mother becoming a nurse–protecting her children when a man tried to break into our house and she threatened him with the elephant knife–standing up to teenagers who were chasing me and my brother down the street–never giving up when my father fought cancer three times.

Memory Threads are powerful. They build themes that intertwine and pull in more memories until you have a tapestry of history. It starts with one memory and threading through it.

Begin yours!

The Power of Pets

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Two weekends ago, Zoey and Dakota, my two rescue dogs went on an adventure. They traveled three hours to stay with my son, Stephen, while my husband and I went to Florida. The car was packed, because it also was Stephen’s 21st birthday. He loves the dogs and had been wanting to introduce them to his friends for a long time. It was a win-win situation, and his friends totally fell in love with both of them.

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Zoey settled right in, but Dakota was like a caged animal. He followed Stephen everywhere. They both loved roaming the streets of Providence, and they were a nice distraction for Stephen during our toughest part of October.

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Zoey and Dakota meeting college friends at a soccer game.

That’s the power of pets. For us it’s always been big dogs. They keep life in perspective, give you a reason to take a break and reset your day on a daily walk. I walk the dogs on most days after I have been sitting at my computer for a while. It’s like a walking meditation, and I can be in the moment with them.

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Chloe was my stand in for my dogs on our trip to Florida. She gave me lots of kisses!

I didn’t realize how much I missed my dogs until they weren’t at home when I was there. I kept thinking I would take them for a walk or sit with them and rub their bellies before bedtime. I didn’t have Dakota to warm my feet under my desk or let them out 20 times a day, because Zoey had to hunt for chipmunks (well that last one was a nice break!).

Pets can give us purpose, someone to take care of, and offer comfort and unconditional love. It’s a part of their nature.

When I met Stephen to swap cars and bring the dogs home, Dakota practically jumped over the seat to get to me. My dogs can lift me up on my lowest day. As crazy as they can sometimes be, they have had a positive and enriching effect on the entire family. That’s the power of pets.

How does your pet enrich your life?

Unconditional Love

This is an excerpt from a creative memoir I wrote for my boys called Letters in my Pocket. The narrator is Nick, and Stephen finds letters in his pockets from my dad about life lessons:

Love. Can love be unconditional? Our mom and dad tell us that it can and no matter how bad anything is we can always go to them. We tested that when we first moved into our new house on Carpenter Way in 2004. Stephen and I were outside throwing a baseball. We both used to play for Halfmoon Baseball. I liked being with my friends more than the game, and I quit when it changed to kid pitch and three strikes. I needed more than three chances to hit that ball.

            Not Stephen. He’s a lefty and has a good eye. He would swing and that ball would rocket toward the outfield when he was only in T-ball! Plus he had an arm that could throw the ball from third base to home.

            Anyway, we were tossing the ball and I got bored. I walked around the house thinking about where I could hide it from Stephen. On the back of the house is this straight white tube that blows out smoke. I placed the ball in there and pushed just a little bit. Stephen saw me. So much for hiding it. I stuck my fingers in to get the ball and it stuck. My jaw dropped and my heart tripled beats. I was in trouble. Supportive brother that he is, Stephen ran to let Mom know what I did.

            My parents were a little upset, but they hoped I learned my lesson after the $80 service fee to remove the ball. It is on my shelf to remind me to think before I act. But after Poppa’s note, it also reminds me that my parents’ love can get me through anything.

            Stephen’s lesson was a little harder learned. We love going to the driving range to hit golf balls with our dad. Right now we are outside hitting them into our woods, but make sure we give each other plenty of room. Last year I whacked Stephen in the head with my club. What can I say? I’m a klutz. I take after my mom’s side, but don’t tell her I said that!

            Dad is installing a wood floor in our dining room. He told Stephen not to break anything. Mom warned him again because our neighbor has been asking us to not hit any kind of ball into her yard. I’m inside getting a drink. Stephen stomps in shortly after. His cheeks are red. I decide to have a seat and wait for the show.

            “I don’t want to hit the ball anymore, because I don’t want to break anything,” Stephen says.

            “OK,” my mom answers.

            Mothers—they have some crazy way of knowing, give you that ‘I know what you’ve done’ look, and then wait you out. It didn’t take Stephen five minutes. Show time.

            He whispers something in Mom’s ear, wraps his arms around her waist, and tucks his face in her armpit.

            “What?” she asks and leans closer. She kisses his head and the three of us go outside.

Holy cracked fog light Batman! Stephen shattered Mom’s fog light on her Dodge Durango. Stephen was swinging his club and, when he swung back, he hit the car.

            Mom tells him how proud she is that he told her and she didn’t find out on her own. She also says he would need to tell Dad. He didn’t want to because he thought Dad would be angry. Stephen tells Dad, but he doesn’t want to take responsibility for what he did—like it was the golf club’s fault or something. Mom and Dad say he would have to pay for it and since it was an accident, he would help Dad install a new one. Stephen flips out about that. Dad hugs him anyway. Even though he admits his mistake, he still needs to be responsible and fix it.

            I expect to find Stephen in his room reading a letter from Poppa about listening to your parents and taking responsibility. Instead, he’s playing his Nintendo DS. I guess my parents got it right. A car can be replaced and a ball can be removed. But Love? I imagine Poppa would say that the world would be a better place if we had a superhero whose power was love.

Our love for others is tested, when life doesn’t go as planned or bad things happen. They can be small like breaking a headlight or betraying someone’s trust. The most important lesson I could ever have taught my boys was unconditional love. Love that is not subject to any conditions, unreserved, wholeheartedly, absolute, unrestricted, eternal.

2001 camping Lake Placid

I’m not sure I always made it clear that my love is unconditional as my showing disappointment or my actions might make my son feel like love is based on him doing what his parents want. Finding balance with supporting your child and wanting the very best for them is often at conflict. What I feel is best for my son might not be what he wants or thinks is best for him. When kids are younger, we lay the groundwork for values, integrity, hard work, kindness, and raising our kids how we believe is the right way.

If the most important lesson is unconditional love, the hardest one is letting them live their own lives. Building that foundation and then giving them the space to forge their own path is so incredibly difficult! I can’t force my son to live the life I see for him any more than my parents could for me. We could spend our whole life making our children feel inadequate by forcing our expectations on them.

Or we could communicate our love. Some things are better off being said. Making sure my son knows how much his parents love him without a doubt or expectation attached is key to him finding his truth and his place in this world.

Like Nick said, a broken car light can be fixed. Not sharing our love would cause permanent damage. Don’t wait. Tell someone you love how you feel and don’t place conditions on it. Enjoy the love as it is. Cultivate it, nourish it, and watch how that love grows.