So... over the last couple of days, there have been numerous little references to my childhood. On Friday, I had a conversation with my student employee, who is not a too much younger than I, about our respective childhoods. I tried to relate to her recount of the misgivings of her childhood, but it was an awkward, round about, not-really-relating-at-all kind of relating. As she spoke of her tumultuous relationship with her mother, all I could think about was how difficult it is to be a mother. My attempt to relate to her was to say that parents work very hard to do the right thing by their children and don't even realize that they're working so hard to do it, or that it's not working at all. The only tools a parent is given is what they've experienced from their own parents, parents they've associated with and natural instinct. That's a pretty primitive set of tools. From that perspective, I suddenly had so much clarity about my own parents.
When my sisters and I were growing up, we didn't realize our parents were "parenting" at all, and we NEVER felt them struggle. We recognized only things like; Mom worked a lot in the house and liked things very clean, Dad worked a lot and was very tired, we eat a lot of spaghetti and canned green beans and our aunts and uncle are around a lot. What we didn't see was; Mom is constantly picking up after us, sewing us clothes and running an in-home daycare, Dad works construction and is tired because he works overtime to make the house payment, we eat spaghetti because noodles are inexpensive and our family is always around because Mom and Dad are the ones that everyone goes to for everything. The only things we new for sure were that we were loved and happy. The truth is, I don't even think my parents recognized the truth until much later in life. They didn't know that they were "working" to make everything seamless and comfortable for us, they just did it. They always did right by us, and we didn't know they were trying. Ultimately a great deal of sacrifice was made to create that environment, but at the time, I don't believe any of us knew that.
Recently, a song came on the radio that threw me back to one of the true and original moments of design from an early age. There is no way to properly narrate the feeling, so I will generalize the scene. Every Friday and/or Saturday night as I was growing up, my mom and dad and their brothers and sisters would get together and play music. I remember it in the depths of my heart as if it were yesterday. After begrudgingly being tucked into bed, we would crack our bedroom door and listen to my mother's beautiful strong singing voice, my father's soft baritone and a chorus of background singers and acoustic guitars playing rhythm to a huge range of genres. My uncles kept time with my dad as he lead and my Aunt Dani would laugh and sing her few silly songs. Some nights, as we got older, we would get to stay up and sat silently to listen, or sing along to ourselves with the favorites. Eventually, we sang with the aunts & uncles, who we adored and even made our own requests. There was always music.
Then tonight something amazing happened to finally seal that this was indeed a moment of design to hang on to. For dinner we were having cube steaks, mashed potatoes and corn. I know this seems irrelevant, but hang on... My children were not complaining about it by any means, but they were just not into it. David and I are exhausted of the perpetual dinner time battle of keeping them on task long enough to get through a meal in a timely and positive fashion. Out of nowhere I made little "nests" out of the mashed potatoes, put corn in the middle and cut up the cube steak very small so they could eat it all together. I have never done this for them and I don't know why because EVERY time we had that exact dinner as a child, my mother would make us "nests" out of the mashed potatoes, put corn in the middle and had named it a "West Virginia birdsnest". Which is spurred no doubt by some creative genius she came up with to get us to eat. Dad's from West Virginia... that's the only explanation I have for the name of the creative genius. Honestly, I never asked her why she called it that, because I had kind of forgotten it. But I'll ask now. My kids laughed and made their own "nests" and ate that dinner like they were starving. It was a beautiful thing.
So how do all of these moments connect? They caused me to have the most startling and enlightening revelation that my childhood was an incredible, irrevocable success. Granted, I never, ever felt that I had a bad or less-than childhood, but it wasn't until noticing these little moments, and comparing them to experiences of other people, as well as looking at my own parenting style that I realized how good it truly was. We never knew the pain that our parents felt. We never knew that they struggled constantly to provide a good life for us. We never thought that they were anything less than wonderful.
But not being aware isn't what made our childhood successful, it was that the moments of good seemed to come so easily, and so frequently. It wasn't that our parents were perfect that made our childhood so good, it was that they weren't. They were just so real. I think it's very important to be imperfect as a parent. You never want to be put on a pedestal of perfection because the first time you aren't perfect it's devastating to the child and to yourself. I want them to know that I'm human, flawed and always trying to be the best version of myself, which is always a work in progress. It's nice to know, looking back, that my parents were OK with being wrong. They did their best to be right, but were also willing to be flawed. The important thing was that they always fixed what was broken to the best of their ability. They always worked to make things happy for us. I remember feeling happy. However, I think the most important thing was that we always felt so much love. I never doubted that we were loved, and that we were always sure of the difference between right and wrong. They taught us to be just and open minded and independent. We were set up with a very efficient set of tools.
I took this revelation and analysis and applied it to my own parenting style. It's very different, of course. The world is different, my husband is more like my mother and I am my father. We have a very different and interesting set of circumstances with which we live. So there's that. I am constantly evaluating myself as a parent and looking for ways to stay me and improve our lives at the same time. I thought about how happy my children were with their "West Virginia bird's nests" and vowed to do more of the same in different scenarios and realms of involvement. I tried to recall the way I felt as a child and then reverse engineered how to make my family life feel that way. In short, we need to have more fun. I need to harness the inborn, as well as nurtured, gifts that I was given and use them to my advantage. This realization is a game-changer. The simple things that it took to make us happy as children stemmed from the fact that our life was simple. It doesn't take change, or therapy or... effort. Little things like more music, silly food names and making a walk down the street the most important time in the world will redirect our course toward greater happiness. I proved it today, and once I realized what I was doing, I tried more. We had the most peaceful and argument free evening that we've had in a very long time. This new awareness made me realize that there's hope for me yet.
Moment of Design captured...