Parenting Ourselves, Forgetting Our Children: How We Remember Childhood

franco-romualdez-fatherhood-speech-therapy

You know what saved my life as a middle-schooler? 1-800 CALL-ATT. It was the first time you could make a collect call without having to speak to a real live operator.  Before that, it didn’t matter how lost I was or how late it was getting, I wasn’t making a phone call if I had to actually talk to another human being.  I would roam or find myself a nice little donut shop and look over my options, which typically included a prayer that the owner would force me to use the store phone. You know, I bet if there were cellphones around at that time, I wouldn’t be such a wanderer today. And maybe if there were cellphones around, someone would have been there to pick me up.

These stories, though seemingly benign, are very painful memories. They still sting. And they still piss me off.  And when all of them come together into some cohesive narrative, bound by some triggering event, I want to tear the walls down. I want to break my fists on something, anything.  I just want to destroy something, but these days the only thing you can take on is responsibility. And that sucks, too.  I think about my childhood quite a bit, and I’m sure that having two remarkably handsome young boys does a lot to provoke those thoughts.

Logan, my youngest, has been experiencing speech delays. We’ve been tracking it for half a year and finally got the assessment done two weeks ago. The speech therapist noted that Logan had a “severe expressive delay.” Basically, his comprehension is solid but he still doesn’t verbalize any words; he’s about a year behind from where he’s supposed to be.  Me and the wife have been scrambling to get him as many services as we can.  We bought some books on communication and speech and started watching baby sign videos together every day.  Yesterday, we reorganized the toy storage area into shelves to provide Logan with more opportunities to vocalize or ask for his toys.  Though we haven’t specifically talked about it, I think me and the wife know we’re readjusting a good portion of our lives to address this and that we’re probably going to keep doing it for two years.

Some parents think we’re on top of it, while other parents think this will probably solve itself. When people tell me this will likely fix itself, it pisses me off just a little bit.  Now, the issue isn’t them, it’s me.  And here’s some back story to that. I told my mother about Logan’s delay and because she’s an optimistic thinker, she believes it’ll all work out and that I shouldn’t stress.  And the first thing I thought was Why? Is that what you would have done if it were me? Would you have just waited for all this shit to work itself out? And this exposes the crux of my relationship with my mother: “I did all I could” vs. “Well, you could have done more.”

I am hypervigilant with my sons. And you know why? Because shit doesn’t always magically workout. I don’t want to take chances with my kids.  I don’t want my sons to think I could have done more.  And I don’t need or want the comfort of thinking optimistically or spiritually, i.e., leaving it to God. Here, all I ever wanted was to feel that I was first, and when I do that with my kids, I understand what that means just a little bit more. My children will know I tried and that I put them first.  That’s the hope.  At the end of the day, I don’t want them to think I somehow failed them.  I don’t want them to paint their childhood with the same strokes I have; dark or bright, I hope they have more colors than I have to paint with.

Having children gives you an opportunity to right the wrongs from the past. You can, in raising your children, raise yourself as well. By providing your children with love, you have the opportunity to be there for your past self.  But how you remember the past is an integral part to how “parenting from the inside out” works. The memories you recall can shape your parenting approach; you celebrate your favorite ones, maybe turning them into family traditions, and you can learn from the more hurtful ones and forgive, let go, or move on.

And you know, memory is a weird thing; its a concoction of impressions, left over images, and dominant or preferred narratives all gummed up together.  Whenever you recall a moment in the past, what you’re recollecting isn’t actually the event, but rather, it’s last remembering.  Every time you recall a moment, you end up rewriting it and when you next remember it, it’s the written story you’re recalling.  So, when looking into the past, you will find almost anything you want.  There’s always some truth to the memory, but you always have to be aware of what you’ve unconsciously left out.  The closer my children get to the age when I experienced my first trauma, the more vigilant I become, and the less room I have for happy childhood memories.

Some people have a lot of incentive for remembering the past in the way that they do.  I don’t think anyone really remembers a whole truth.  We pick and choose the memories we need, based on how they best serve us.  So I do wonder how my earliest memories of my life are best serving me, right now? When I found out about Logan’s speech delays, my memories rang long on shyness, my lack of a voice, feeling frustrated and unheard.  So, when I hear my mother’s optimism and examine how it provokes me, what really comes to the surface is whether or not I think she quit on me or gave me over to God–a bit simplistic and unfair, I gamble.

At the end of the day, Logan’s speech delays have nothing to do with my shyness, but yet I still manage to lay it over my narrative.  And in fighting to help Logan, I’m throwing punches at the past as well; it’s a big fuck you to whoever was around back then.  In many ways, parenting has become my battleground.  I see a lot of myself in my children and I’m a little scared that if I fail to check my projections at the door, I’ll make their childhood much more about me than them. Sometimes I wonder who exactly it is I’m raising, me or boys.

And to go one deeper, Merrick’s at about the age I was sexually abused. Under the rest of the anger, there’s this one, too. When someone tells me things are going to work out and that I should be optimistic, I wonder if my life would have been easier if less people subscribed to this ethic.

Parenting: The Death of Play

franco-romualdez-parenting-playHow many of us can say that our children are living the “good life”? How many of us can define what that even means? When we wax nostalgic and tell stories about our childhood, how many of those stories parallel the lives of our children? I gamble that there is a bit of a divide. So why are our stories, the ones we cherish, gloat about, or even tell with embarrassment, so different from the stories our children will tell?

When I was a kid, come summer, I was never home.  From sunup to sundown I was running around with all the kids from the neighborhood. We’d stop by the creek and build dams, run by the 7-Eleven to play a little Mortal Kombat, and pool our cash together to buy some egg rolls.  We were all wanderers.  We took the bus to other parts of the city, walked to the theater and crashed there all day and, well, not to promote this, but hopped fences and swam in our neighbor’s pools.  These are fond memories—even though a kid literally stole my bike right from under me.  Most of this stuff happened the summer before 6th grade.

In our current culture, such adventures are rare.  Even in the safety of Irvine, CA, kids don’t wander and explore.  When you go through the neighborhoods, it isn’t often you’ll pass by a gang of kids on their bikes or maybe sitting on the curb figuring out what to do.  And you’ll definitely never see them chasing an ice cream truck. I can offer a few possible reasons for this trend.  First, our children have overscheduled lives and are overburdened by responsibilities. Second, social media is good way to keep kids indoors. Third, parents worry that their children will get abducted and murdered. As an aside, a child is more likely to be killed in an equestrian accident (1 in 297,000) than to be killed by a stranger.

As parents, our primary wish is for our children to be successful.  We understand that this is a competitive world; academics, sports, and extra-curricular activities are a big part of that. However, do we define success in such a way that we inevitably narrow our children’s experiences? And furthermore, in our pursuit of readying our children for the world, whose interests are we really serving—our ambition to be successful parents, or our children’s’ need to be well-rounded adults?

As an illustration, we actually have a year for the conception of the Play-Date—1984.  With the prevalence of dual-income households, children spent more time in after-school programs.  As result, parents had to schedule play-dates with other parents. And here, something really interesting happened; parents became first-hand witnesses to how their children played with others. Once that happened, parents began to influence how their children played. It started to become structured.  It can be argued that play has undergone a fundamental change.  And that’s a bit nuts.

The point being is that many parents today exert a tremendous amount of control over their children’s lives.  Though it is undeniable that these changes have yielded positive outcomes, we have to ask ourselves what we might be missing.  There comes a point when kids have to carry their own backpacks and find their own playgrounds.  One day, they will leave our front yards and venture off into the unknown. And hopefully, the unknown seems a bit familiar.

Coming Back to the Home Front

img_1307It’s a magical thing to see you children grow up, to see the milestones that they reach.  I never truly come to appreciate it until the moment has just passed. However, as much as it is a beauty of life, there is a monotony to staying at home. You can go hours without speaking to an adult and actually, when you finally do, there’s a tinge of baby talk in your voice. There are some hard days when all you do is cook and clean and do the laundry. But there’s also a ton of highs.

My eldest, who just turned four, played his first soccer game the other day.  It was a slow start (he’s a wonderful sharer), but he got it after awhile.  And I have never screamed louder in my life.  I got him a goal and couple of balls so we could practice on the off days. It feels good to be building on something.

I came home, though, from a job that kept me going.  As soon as I woke up I was at it until the time I got home.  And the hardest thing to do was to transition to the pace of my children.  I had to slow down, because time shifts differently when you’re at home.  Growth comes in weeks and months and years.  With kids, it’s the long game.  And you know, ironically, because those moments are so difficult to track, it seems the only way to enjoy it is to stay completely in the present.

Anyhow, I’m going to be at home for awhile, watching my kids grow up, laugh, give me grief, stress me out, and make me smile. But as things go, it doesn’t seem like I’m the most attentive father.  Marker scribbles are appearing all over the house and half eaten fruit seem to find their way into hidden corners.

–Franco Romualdez