Betty Duffy

(Amateur)

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Childhood

***
My daughter has learned how to hoola hoop and jump-rope. She’s not yet six years old, and her little body looks pretty cute practicing her black-top recess tricks. It probably won’t look as cute in ten years, or maybe a different kind of cute.

The last time I got hit-on (three years ago, according to my records) was jumping rope at the gym. Mr. Muscles, the guy with the barbed-wire tattoo around his bicep said, “Where’d you learn to jump rope like that?” and I said, “Uh, Elementary school.”

Unrelated (possibly?), I haven't jumped rope since.

***
Talking to my sister yesterday on the phone, trying to convince her to come home for the summer and stay at Mom and Dad’s with me, I said, “I’m just going to take the kids out to the farm, and spend the summer cozying up in Mama’s womb.”

“That’s MY womb!” she said. “You get her the rest of the year. I get her this summer!”

So the grown children are still battling for Mama’s womb-space.

***
Mom and I went to the symphony last week: Respighi, “Pines of Rome,” one of those pieces I heard when I was a kid, and fell in love with –that giant crescendo at the Catacombs, the marching beat on the Appian Way that makes you want to stomp around like a dinosaur. It’s so loud. I love it, and hearing it live, with the auxiliary brass in the first mezzanine, with the organist sneaking in the little trap door to play the lower pedals—I forgot how exhilarating live music can be.

Reminds me of the surround sound ad before the previews at the movie theater, where every sound in the spectrum winds up to a super-sonic crescendo. It’s my favorite part of going to the movies. It’s just loud and pleasing.

***
My sister-in-law has three new foster children who arrived at her house without any clothes except the ones they were wearing. So they came over the other day to look through the plastic bins in our attic and see if there was something they could use.

When my sister-in-law first conceived of foster-parenting, I thought, “Oooh, she’s going to get an education,” because she doesn’t have any kids of her own, and I think sometimes my kids wear her out. Kids can be very demanding, very, very demanding.

But now I’m worried that it’s just my kids who are demanding, because they’ve always had everything they’ve needed, and they always want more. My sister-in-law’s foster kids were worried about drinking too much of our milk because they didn’t want to run us out of food. And they were curious about why we didn’t use any “bad” words. They were quiet, polite, and so incredibly grateful for EVERYTHING.

So you start to wonder who’s better off: the ones who are never happy with their pampered lives, or the ones who suffer, and then see every good thing in their lives as a blessing.

***
From “Benedictus: Day by Day with Pope Benedict”:

We continually close our doors; we continually want to feel secure and do not want to be disturbed by others and by God. And so, we can continually implore the Lord just for this, that he come to us, overcoming our closure. (p134)

7 comments:

Katie Alender said...

Not (I hope) to draw an inappropriate comparison, but I feel that way about my dog. The sweetest and best dogs are the ones who have had a tough time of it and then find love. The ones who are brought up in a place where kibble flows like honey totally don't appreciate it.

I'm sure, someday, when I have kids, I'll be able to say the same thing about them.

Hurray for you sister, by the way. What a fantastic thing to do for those kids.

Anonymous said...

My wife and I are foster parents. We have hosted children from nearby and also children from foreign countries who have traveled here for medical treatment.

I am always struck mute when they arrive with virtually no possessions. It really hits me deep down. There's a natural tendency to feel badly for them that "they don't have anything." But that's the least of their problems, frankly.

They have no possessions, but they also are being separated from their parents—sometimes permanently. Often they have grown up in poor and dysfuctional situations. Sometimes they arrive at your house, having left their family on a different continent, without the ability even to communicate because they speak a different language. And they are sick to boot.

And yet they come into our home quietly, and respectfully, and with great appreciation. And they worry about imposing.

I have been very influenced by these first encounter experiences with foster children. The stark contrast between me and my family, and the foster children when they first arrive, includes a message that is impossible to ignore.

Mike

Kristin T. (@kt_writes) said...

Beautiful reflections. I've been thinking a lot about childhood lately, too. My youngest is 9, so she takes me back to those frustrating days when I was beginning to realize so much was possible, yet I felt limited at every turn. My oldest daughter is 12, and almost overnight I realized her hair looks greasy about 34 hours after she washes it, and two days ago she got her first zit. Is reliving our own childhoods one of the most wonderful and painful aspects of parenting?

BettyDuffy said...

I hope I didn't imply that children should have to endure abuse or neglect in order to be grateful kids. As you say, Mike, not having anything is the least of their problems. These kids have been through the wringer, and it's heartbreaking. But I did mean to say that I was profoundly humbled by these three children, and it is always my tendency to romanticize that which is not us, but "The stark contrast between me and my family, and the foster children when they first arrive, includes a message that is impossible to ignore."--that nails it.

Kristin,
"Is reliving our own childhoods one of the most wonderful and painful aspects of parenting?"
I'd say so. Wonderful, because it's fun to see them discover the world, painful, because it's their turn, not ours anymore. I chaperoned a retreat a couple years ago and was really excited about going along, and absorbing it all vicariously through them. How frustrating it was then to find myself making tuna sandwiches in the basement rather than sitting in on the retreat. We're givers now rather than receivers, and finding the joy in that can be difficult sometimes, but maybe the rewards are deeper.

Anonymous said...

Betty-

I didn't imply that in your post.

I just thought I would pass along my own experience.

One of the most humbling experiences I've ever had was with a young boy from Guatemala. He traveled to the US for major heart surgery. In the morning, he left his family in Central America, and in the evening he was in suburban Chicago, with a small sack of clothing, and photo of his family. He didn't speak English, and we spoke halting Spanish.

I couldn't imagine what was going through his head.

Healing the Children advised us to give him a bath when he arrived, and wash his hair with lice killing shampoo. So this boy arrives and before long we asked him to strip naked and get in the tub.

My God I felt bad for what we were doing, but more than that I felt incredibly humbled. I will never forget it.

Someday I hope to hear from my own children (I have 5, and a 9 month old foster child that we are hoping to adopt) about how these kinds of experiences affected them in their own childhoods, and later as adults. I have no doubt that they have been fundamentally changed as I have been.

Mike

mrsdarwin said...

Reminds me of the surround sound ad before the previews at the movie theater, where every sound in the spectrum winds up to a super-sonic crescendo. It’s my favorite part of going to the movies. It’s just loud and pleasing.

I always think that moment is like the sound of an orchestra tuning up -- an awesome sonic experience full of potential.

eaucoin said...

Recently my second oldest daughter told me she felt that she had just the right amount of "things" growing up to enjoy her current good fortune. This is the same child who was always happy with her Christmas presents until she went back to school after the holidays and saw what the other kids got (starting in junior high). It's sometimes a blessing not to have enough resources to give our children everything they want or think they need, because we will give to the limits of our resources.