I have a really, really hard time remembering my childhood. When I reflect back, there are the highlight reels, and the lowlight reels, but distinct memories are hard to recall on command. I think that part of that is protective. I had a really hard and confusing childhood. There were a lot of things that went on that my 6-, 7-, 8-year old mind found hard to comprehend, and that my 30-something mind chooses to downshift.
When I was in my 20s, I was talking to my mom on the phone about a funeral I was going to go to. A dear friend and mentor had died from cancer, decades too young. My mom gave me permission to not go-
“Honey, you’ve been to far too many funerals in your young life. It is okay if you don’t go, and take care of yourself.”
I went, and her words have always stuck with me. My young life was marked by hard things in life.
If you ask me about my life, I’m always open to share. I still feel the hot, hot heat of knowing that launching into the more painful parts makes my audience feel uncomfortable, or they may not realize what they are about to hear. And I know that, despite sharing a lot, there are still some things that I just don’t. The really hard parts that were private to me. The reactions and the beliefs I had to work through. The shit I still work through everyday.
When I do share though, I am always extraordinarily cognizant that my story is just one, and that everyone deals with the hard stuff in their lives. I am wary of making bold claims that things were the worst, or no one had it worse than I. Because I know that it isn’t the case. And more importantly, I have chosen to shift my perspective.
Even typing that last sentence feels a little too self-help guru for me. Insubstantial. So let’s get some meat on that idea of shifting my perspective. I had shitty things happen to me and in my life, especially when I was a kid. Disease, death, divorce. I was tasked with navigating through it, without today’s omnipresent search engines and self-help books.
I was driving somewhere with my little sister once, and I had been thinking about the rollercoaster ride we had been through, and said, “You know, we could have been total rebels. Addicts. Trouble children. But we came through okay.”
My mental editor reminds me there is nothing wrong with rebels, addicts, etc. My point here is that with all the developmental mayhem, there was clear opportunity to act out and find solace in a myriad of solutions, some better than other.
Mental editor- no judgement.
In all my lost memories, there are a few that stand out. One so absolutely distinctly deals with the idea of choice. I was 11 or 12, and had just moved from Virginia to Toronto. I went from fields of horses on my street to subways and gridlock. My parents had split up, and my mom was with the man who would eventually become my stepdad. As a pre-teen who loved horses and abhorred the idea of moving, I wasn’t a delight to live with. I was acting out, and finding fault with every aspect of our current living arrangement.
It was a weekend, and we were walking down our street to brunch or something. My mom, my sister and one-day-to-be stepdad were walking ahead of me. My first distinct thought was that there was only space for three across a city sidewalk. That I didn’t fit into this new normal. Of course, this thought process was not a happy one. My life had been catastrophically crumpling around me, and now I quite literally did not fit into this new life.
That was the first perspective shift I remember. After my square-peg, round-hole moment, I realized that I had two choices in my pre-teen world. Continue to be the pill that I was, reacting to everything around me, or to actually try to make the best of it. To allow for a better situation. To shift my perspective. Deep down, I knew it would make me happier, make my life easier, support my mom and help us all redefine this idea of a family, even if it meant changing our sidewalk formation.
That was one of my first shifts in perspective. Was I a dream child after that? Hell no. I was berated for being moody, and did all the shady things kids with a big city and endless subway tokens do. But I was poignantly aware that there was choice, and that my life circumstances didn’t dictate my world view. I had choice, and I could choose the positive, the gratitude. I choose to see what life has to offer and teach me, growing from it.
So my memories of my childhood are sort of fragmented and hazy. I choose to believe that’s a protective measure, and that things will come up when they need to.
This weekend, I indulged in my love of books, and checked out a few bookstores and magazine stands. I walked into them, and took a huge inhale. All of a sudden, the happy memories flooded back—ones of traveling in Europe, a shared love of reading with my creative author of a dad, promises of new books, discovering fictional tales to get lost in. I felt home again, in those busy little bookstores. I allowed myself to feel happy, and feel grateful for the memories. With my husband, I shared my nerdy love of bookstores, and the reams of the titles I loved as a kid.
Those were the memories I needed at that exact moment in time. Rooting down in a bookstore, remembering the bedrock of who I am and what I love, and sharing those memories with my love.