I had to take Childhood Psychology in college for my teaching certificate (circa 1996) and there was a lesson that stayed with me. There are events in a child’s life that can change and sometimes dictate their future, the first time I dived into the term ‘trauma’. I learned at that time that things such as the death of a parent, a loved one is one of the major ones.
My reaction? Huh? What? It didn’t register.
It may seem obvious to many but because my grandmother managed mostly to make the loss of my mother seem less traumatic, I was able to ‘not feel it’ and not see it for what it was, trauma.
The other adversity children could face that can be taken as trauma is moving. I believe anyone could agree that children need consistency, routine, stability to feel safe and a sense of balance.
Imagine removing those variables, breaking the friendships they make, the support systems they create for themselves for whatever reason the adults in their lives see fit. Not all parents can be as successful at protecting a child’s perception like the Jewish dad that created a game out of moving to a concentration camp, but wait, no! That was a movie!
Again I thought, ‘moving’?? I’ve moved about 5 times before graduating high school! and at 22 when I was taking this class had already moved twice after leaving my grandmothers’s place at 17.
I had been on an identity journey since I was little. I maintained that not knowing a parent leaves many questions unanswered about ‘self’. So many little things, the details, the minutiae makes the greatest connections between you and who you come from. And not knowing can be painful. Living day in and day out without knowing keeps the pain alive and I made it my companion while I tried to discover who my mother was.
All I had was pictures of her, a small suitcase of her belongings, and half truths.. People either had nice things to say or nothing at all. Never had a conversation about her with the man I call dad on social occasions and my grandmother had little to say.
I made peace with the fact that I will never know the whole story of who she was and at the same time struggled with the question, ‘If you don’t know your parent, your mother, your father, or your family how complete is your self-portrait?’
I’ve learned that it does not mean you CAN’T complete it on your own, without that knowledge. Everyone can claim who they are without anyone else’s say, anyone’s input or feedback. You have the power to do that. And NO ONE has the right to tell you what you can and cannot do. No one can determine your worth nor has the right or power to tear you down.
This I teach to my students.
When I address them, I add – ‘Not even if those people are the adults in your life.. and I include parents.’
Sad truth is that when I give this ‘sermon’ (as I’ve been known to give in my classroom) some students nod.. the students nodding know what I mean. To exist in a household where the adults that care for you hurt you instead, happens.
I’ve been taken to that place lately in my own home, or where I currently live I should write. I am 45 but when the verbal wars ignite, I am transported to that age again. And although emotional scar tissue served its purpose, not being able to feel when you grow up in the ‘hood’ comes in handy, it doesn’t mean I don’t feel today. As a kid I would shrug it off and keep going. Have adults yell and scream commands one moment and act as if nothing ever happened the next, evolves into you participating in the madness or being invisible to avoid being caught in the crossfire. I learned to do both.
I managed to get out, educated myself and traveled as far away, for as long as I could and after 18 years came back.. I planned to stay longer to care for my grandmother but that is proving unsuccessful. And so the stressful thoughts of ‘moving’ flood back.. Only this time it feels like I am forced to mourn my grandmother before it’s time..
I sat in this thought and realized why it hurt more than I thought it would. My grandmother had been everything to me. She has been my mother, my father, my defender and it feels like she’s being taken away from me.. I felt like a helpless child who’s mommy would never come back……. again.
And so two old pains that I managed to overcome resurface.. after all these years. That’s the funny thing about trauma, pops up when you least expect it!
I could blame COVID yet another lesson learned is laying blame where it belongs and giving credit where it is due. Forces you can’t control can never justify your cruelty and thanks to the chaos I am re-welcoming relocating.
‘No hay mal que por bien no venga‘.