Helga’s Heartlines: A Journal
March 10th, 2001
When I was a child, I promised myself to try to remember as much as I could about what it was like. Because, from what I could see, it seemed that grown-ups had forgotten. I wanted never to forget - I wanted to be able to remind other adults, and myself, when the time came. I recall consciously thinking this, at quite an early age.
As soon as I was fully aware of myself, I regarded me as a little person, and enjoyed adults who thought of, and treated, me the same way. Ones who actually engaged in real conversation with me, and made a decent attempt to answer my myriad probing questions. No doubt, they fudged a few responses, here and there, to shelter me from some terrible truths, or because the answers were imponderables. Knowing me, probably, usually, the latter. But that was far preferable to a pat on the head, and "go away little girl and play with your dolls". I didn't have a doll and I didn't want one. I wanted stuffed animal toys, even a single stuffed animal, and never owned one of them, either. Now, I ask you, why wouldn't my parents buy me the one thing I wanted? Okay, I knew we didn't have much money, but how expensive could a bunny or a panda bear be?
Instead, my dad somehow managed to buy me a full set of encyclopedia, complete with maps and color pictures, glossy pages, the works, long before I could read. Well, guess what? I learned to read without realizing it! He wasn't so unkind, after all. That, I found out when I started school and it all came so easy. Geography, too. I knew every obscure place on the map as well as the teacher; today, I haven't even tried to keep up with the burgeoning number of new countries. Then, I was a wiz and won all the class spelling bees; today, I frequently have to check the spelling of numerous 'household' words. Now, if my dad had insisted I read all those books, forced them upon me, told me what to look for, I never would have become so interested. It was simple curiosity - that, and not having a TV set. And not having much else to do. Bottom line - I loved words. I sounded them out and they opened up new worlds to me. Because of them, I read and thought, and today, I write. These days, parents, please do like my dad, only now make sure your kids have a computer handy instead. Let them explore - as safely as possible - but let them do their own thing - and discover the world.
Why is it that adults argue and discuss everything, especially their children, in front of them, as if they weren't there? As if they were blockheads, or inanimate objects, tables and chairs? I used to wonder about that. Wait until later or divert them with bribery, or something. Continue to talk about whatever, if you insist, but then, acknowledge, or include them. "Little pitchers have big ears" is no lie. I listened and heard everything, even if I didn't understand everything. My antennae were out and my radar was working. But more than anything, it made me feel uncomfortable. I knew it wasn't nice.
Parents, try to be consistent, and predictable. Let your children know, unequivocally, where you stand, like it or not. Role-reversals, mind games, and frequent domestic fighting are damaging and de-stabilizing for young people who are trying to build an identity and have some sense of security in their world.
Little children have a conscience and a sense of right and wrong, sometimes beyond anything they may be taught. Perhaps it's instinctual, a gut reaction. I remember a situation, neither my parents, nor I were prepared for. When about 6 years old, I agonized all day over whether and how to break the news to my mother that the baby sitter had been seriously mean to my baby sister. It happened that we lived with her in the same house, as boarders; needless to say, when I summoned the courage to confess this, it forced a dramatic change of plans. We moved.
I know I was very impressionable, and loved to indulge my feelings. I read and reread all the fairy tales; I endlessy recited all the nursery rhymes; Walt Disney movies made me weep. I was enchanted by Bambi, the Seven Dwarfs, even those funny little mice in Cinderella. I once accompanied a schoolgirl chum to her bible class, and was swept away by Jesus' teaching about 'turning the other cheek'. I remember thinking it was the most beautiful thing I had ever heard. (Nowadays, I know it's nice in theory....) I wonder how I'd have handled my impressionability if confronted with todays' action flicks, blood and gore, violence, and blatant sexuality?
Insisting I eat what I didn't like, or sleep when I wasn't tired, didn't work. Give it up. Don't get mad: this is me talking from the perspective of adult/juvenile.
Give kids some credit for common sense. But don't give them everything.
I've seen the short attention span of kids who have everything they ask for. Before they've finished with one thing, they're asking what else did you buy me? They're not really attached to anything. When I was young, we certainly didn't have much, but I remember feeling rich because I got a great big box of assorted colored pencils, pads of drawing paper, paint-by-numbers, and coloring books to be creative with. These, and a puzzle occupied me for endless hours. Later, books and records accomplished the same thing. I don't believe kids today, who have it all, are any happier than I was then, with these simple treasures.
The most overwhelming impression I took with me from my childhood was the sense of vulnerability. It was a very palpable thing, of which I was always conscious. There's so much that is out of your control; that you have no say in; that you're at the mercy of. Your circumstances, where and how you live, how you're treated - I didn't want to forget these feelings, and I want to share them now - with you parents, and parents to be. Remember the vulnerable child that lived - still lives - in you. You will do right, by your children, if you do.
My qualifications? Not much. I'm not a parent, but I have been and do recall The Child.
~ Helga Marion Ross ~