What will you remember about me from your childhood?
Recently, I was sitting around the table with the most important people in my life and I was asked this very question, and I could not bring myself to answer. For the first time ever, I just looked around and couldn’t think of the words to make my thoughts real.
You see, I’ve got plenty of great memories from when I was younger. I struggle sometimes to pull them from the depths of my soul and cherish each one, but they are there when I least expect it. The problem is, I’m a self-proclaimed negative person. So the only things that would pop into my head on the drop of a dime, were things that my parents really wouldn’t want to hear. I knew this, and sitting at the table shaking my head, I hoped that I could transfer some of the weight of that question to my sister, so I wasn’t forced to answer, causing more harm then good.
When first thinking about it, I remember things that have shaped me into who I am today.
Example one: I have turned into exactly the person I was terrified to show my emotions to growing up. My Dad.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I love my dad dearly, always have, and always will cherish every moment I’ll ever spend with him (more than he will ever know due to my lack of good emotional skills, also presumably inherited from my father). But when people joke around with me now that I am exactly like my father, its very true. The problem is, I see the worst parts of myself (again, self-proclaimed) and think of the memories I have. I remember things like the time I waited on the couch, watching out of the window seeing if he would come back home after an argument with my mother. I am a runner. When things go wrong, I run. I remember the way my dad reacted when certain things around the house weren’t up to his standards. I will always make sure my sink is clean and free of toothpaste before he comes over. I remember the teasing remarks that he made to my mother, and I remember the look on her face, or sad voice when she messed something up, knowing it hurt her feelings even if he was joking. I constantly ask my husband, and sons what is wrong. Always feeling as if I’m to blame.
Example two: I have built my life around not becoming my mother.
I have spent many days being the most unapologetic, selfish person I know, all to avoid some of the scenes I saw growing up. Too often I remember seeing a woman who backed down to a man, even if it meant I would creep downstairs to witness my mother staying up after dark so the tears would fall quietly. I have become uncompromising, needing things to go my way, always. I can still hear the sound of coughing, thinking my mother would never be able to stop each morning, from all the times I had seen her sitting in the kitchen with her cigarette propped in the open window (even though it was freezing the room in the window). I learned quickly that I wouldn’t end up smoking until that cough was inevitable, even though I still crave the smell and feel of the nicotine hitting my lungs. I am ever aware of how each weekend morning I waited, sometimes crying, because I was sick of watching TV and desperately wanted my parents to wake up before 10 am. To this day, I cringe every time my kids sneak downstairs and try and let me sleep in watching tv quietly, and I hate when they are left alone in the living room for long periods of time.
But here’s the thing, these and many other negative things get brought to my mind because they actively shaped who I am today, and how I raise my children. Yes, my daddy was strict, and growing up I may or may not have avoided walking through the living room in fear that I had done something wrong because he was silent constantly, but I also learned to see the tenderness of his soul that he saved for people he cared about. I may remember seeing weakness in my mother because my dad had final say, but I also learned through her (by the way, one of the strongest women I have ever met), that it was okay not to have to do things all on your own. The ideas, and actions that I tend to believe were so negative, kept me out of trouble. It kept me from going down a path that I was definitely following into a life of agony. I remember the negative, because those are the memories that I cherish so much they guide me still today. My negatives, are my positives.
Yes, I remember each and every time my mother went and did painting classes, learned every word to a rap song, and each hour spent in the company of my friends she didn’t prefer just to be able to learn who I was as an individual. I remember the trip that my father took me on alone, and the way he patiently helped me comb the tangles out of my hair while explaining to me that his hair was the same way when it was long. I still smell that campfires, on our summer outings to the lakes. I can still see the look in my mothers eyes when the whole house is dark except for the lamp behind the couch as she reads the latest romance novel at 1 am, waiting to make sure I walked through the front door safe and sound.
I can still remember the talk my dad had with me about how my life was going, and explaining to me that if a relationship is worth it, you would do anything to stay in it the same night I moved back home after leaving all of my belongings in a house an hour and a half away. I remember the smile on my moms face as she watched me play whatever sport I had dragged her out to that Saturday morning. I cherish each minute in the garage, and the smell of GoJo will forever be my favorite smell just leading the whiff of WD-40 loosening the bolts on motor.
I will remember my moms fingernails, always painted, just to be picked at later. The rough feel of her chapped hands running over my back and putting me to sleep. I will remember how much my dad strives to provide, doing whatever he could to improve the house, or car, exhausting himself in the meantime.
I will remember the love story. Two people, from two different worlds, who fought to make things work when the world was against them. The teenagers, who wound up with a family, and did everything possible to give their children the best life they could.
You see, the night I was given the opportunity to speak my mind on what I had remembered, I couldn’t turn my positive thoughts into words. I could tell you a million good things about the past because they are memories. The feelings and sounds and sights of the things that shaped me to this point.
The good things however, are ongoing. I continue to notice a million different things about my parents, and cherish each and everyone of them. I fear once I bring them to light, they will just fade to memories. I keep them to myself, because they are sacred. How can I be expected to lay my best memories on the table, and give them the raw emotion they deserve in front of others so quickly?
After all, I am my fathers daughter.