I once heard that you spend your whole life trying to get over your childhood. I’d say that’s a pretty true statement- at least for me. Perhaps I took my childhood for granted. I didn’t see the valuable lessons there until recently- until I had my own child, until I met others who had “fairytale” childhoods and recognized mine was streaked with difference. I guess difference in the way I felt- I remember feeling a lot of embarrassment, envy, shame. As I got older, those differences turned into strength, resilience, and perspective.
I don’t know the exact moment I realized it but from a very young age I knew my family wasn’t “normal.” The one thing I recall vividly was the feeling of embarrassment. I don’t mean the type of embarrassment you feel when your mom drops you off at school and gives you a wet kiss goodbye, or when your parents ask about your day in front of your friends. Those were the types of embarrassment I envied of other kids. I longed to be embarrassed about the things that would mark me as just another regular kid “embarrassed” about her parents being too affectionate or nosy. I wished to be average, to be normal, to not stand out for being different. I didn’t want anyone to know that my family was poor, that our house was always crowded and filthy, that my parents spoke broken English with heavy accents, that they were immigrants with little formal education, and that growing up we never had regular family meals around the dinner table discussing everyone’s days.
When you’re a kid, everything is humiliating, everything feels like the end of the world- it’s almost like a rite of passage at that age. If you were anything but ordinary you learned very quickly that you were different. And soon that distinction would either set you apart as “worthy” or “other.” As an “other,” I constantly compared my life to everyone else’s life forever thinking the grass was always greener. I was resentful of all the things we didn’t have, all the things my parents couldn’t afford; I was envious of my friends with clean, spacious homes and close-knit families. Why do my parents have to work factory jobs? Why do I always have to share a room with my sisters and grandparents? Why do we have to go to the laundromat to do our laundry? Why don’t we have a car? Why do we always live in broken, dirty, and dysfunctional homes? Why can’t I ever have friends over without feeling shame about how we live? Why can’t we be normal, like everybody else?
In hindsight, it’s those exact things that formulated my childhood I appreciate the most. My sisters and I came from so very little, and we managed to make something of ourselves. While I don’t enjoy the actual misfortunes we were dealt as kids (and wouldn’t wish it on anyone else), I wouldn’t erase it because without it I don’t think I could be as grateful a person as I am now. All of that gloom and grit has given my story some edge. My hope for my daughter is that she embraces her uniqueness the way I never did. As a parent you’re always trying to do better than your own parents; change the tide, rectify mistakes. Indeed, I’m trying to give her everything I never had (structure, routine, boundaries, a clean home, safety net, plenty of affection), but at the same time I’m trying to be mindful of injecting a bit of organic hardship here and there so she can get some edge too. If only there was a way to bottle some of that struggle and sprinkle it on her so she could learn the same lessons I did. She doesn’t know it yet, but she won’t always have the latest toys, the newest clothes, the fanciest accessories. Like her parents, she will have to work hard for the things she wants in life but we will be there along the way to guide her.
Adversity has taught me to have humility, offer empathy, recognize abundance, stay kind, be humble, chase real happiness, remain resilient, treasure the little things, and shift perspectives. Without it, I wouldn’t be who I am. And if I like even an ounce of the person I’ve become then I reckon my parents did something right. To my parents, whether by accident or on purpose, thank you for laying the groundwork- I am forever thankful. The way I see it is no one gets to choose their parents or create their perfect childhood. So you can blame it on the rain, or you can dance in it. I’m dancing.
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