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.