I watched a darling three year old the other day, and had an absolute blast with her. There is something rejuvenating interacting with an innocent child and there is something refreshing watching their joy at the simple things in life. A lot of memories from my own childhood came back as I watched and listen to her prattle on about favorite things as she shared her little life with me.
As I watched her make up playmates and give her toys voices, I realized I have no memories of doing that. I frantically tried to remember any time I might have made up scenarios for my dolls or played with imaginative playmates, but I only had foggy memories. By the time I had reached 10, I was already an “adult” and had lost any desire to make my dolls my playmates. My siblings and I built forts and made up towns in our basement. That only happened though when all of us got along…which usually wasn’t very often. But when we did get along, the stories about the towns we came up with were quite elaborate. That all stopped when I was 12 though. Every once and a while I would be convinced by my brother to build the Lego houses I was quite known for. He still, at 20, reminds me of those several story houses I used to build.
At 12, I was in charge of meals, cleaning, laundry, raising my two youngest siblings, and I was supposed to still be doing my school work. Somehow I fell off the school radar around the time Mom got breast cancer, and then I was in charge of grocery shopping as well. I remember feeling like everything I did didn’t matter when families brought over meals for us. I used to silently question whether or not I was good enough to cook for my family. I used to be mad at the families who provided meals for us because I felt like everyone was doubting my ability to take care of the house or the meals. I was trapped between wanting to be affirmed for the work I did, and wanting to not have so much responsibility.
Someone was babysitting us one time and I broke down in sudden tears because she wasn’t letting me do my job and she was letting the kids be kids as they raced around the house, was loud, and played lots of games. I rarely cried, but when I did it was because I couldn’t take it anymore and a LOT had built up. She comforted me by telling me that I should let my siblings be kids and that I was just a kid and needed to act like one. I couldn’t explain to her how and why I couldn’t do that. I couldn’t make her understand why I wasn’t a kid, and I couldn’t explain the problems that wracked my family. That is when I realized that I wasn’t a child anymore and from 12 years old and on, I was an old spirit in a young confused body.
My biggest problem with large families raised in a Patriarchy/Quiverfull mindset is the weight that is put on the oldest daughter. I have read articles, and heard parents talk, about how they don’t believe in teenagers, or even that their children can’t handle the heavy theology or ideas that the parents start inducting them into at a very early age. The parents treat their children as if their children are already adults, but then lose it when a child acts like a child and the parents come down harder with the discipline. Because of being treated like an adult by my parents, it always was hugely confusing when I got in trouble for something I didn’t think I’d get in trouble for. Or something I didn’t think I should get in trouble for.
I hear a lot of parents wanting to raise their children to make good, wise decisions [on their own], but I barely see parents, especially P/Q parents, allowing their children to do that. My husband and I have had a lot of discussions about what we will or won’t allow our children to do. Even though I grew up with more maturity than most people my age, and I don’t regret having that, I don’t want my children to feel like they can’t act their age. I don’t want to see my children frozen in a state of responsibility that makes it hard for them to imagine, create, or be risk-takers in their endeavors. I am stuck right now feeling unsure of what my “gifts” are. I was so concerned about shouldering my responsibilities that I never had time to really grow creatively or let my imagination blossom.
If parents are so concerned with teaching their children to make good decisions, then why are there so many grown up children fighting to make those good decisions as their parents beat them down and still try to make decisions for them. A friend told me a few months ago that even though parents are usually wiser than us kids, even they don’t know what is best for us all of the time. Even though I knew this, I hadn’t ever put it into words. This is what frustrated me the most in my relationship with my husband, prior to marriage.
When I met my husband, I was in that unknown stage between being a child and a young adult, able to make her own decisions. I hadn’t pushed my parents [yet] into letting me make my own decisions. The decisions I had made myself were, more often than not, the decisions they wanted me to make. The frustration, the confusion, and the pain of not feeling like my parents trusted me was dizzying as I made decisions (with my now husband) like I had been taught, but was not allowed the freedom to make them. More on our relationship story later though.
I still find myself wringing my hands in frustration and confusion as I try to figure out what I am good at. I feel a great sense of loss looking back and feeling the numbness my 12 year old self felt when realizing I could never be, nor was I, a care free girl. I have broken out of the added weight of feeling responsible to raise my siblings, or to be the oldest child to set the example for my younger siblings. But I still feel lost. I still don’t know what my gifts are, or what I should pursue now.
I am good with kids because I am the oldest of 9, and have nannied for over 3 years on top of having raised most of my siblings. I have played the piano for 12 years and am good at it because it was my dad’s dream for me, and yet it carries some harsh memories because of his disappointment when his dream crumbled because I couldn’t play anymore. I am a historically accurate seamstress because the only way we were going to be able to do reenacting was if I made the clothes myself. I took voice lessons for 1 1/2 years because I wanted to, but had to stop when Mom couldn’t afford to drive me to lessons each week since i wasn’t taking piano lessons at the same place anymore. I sometimes wonder if the reason why I couldn’t take voice lessons anymore was because I could no longer follow my dad’s dream with the piano. I love to write because this is the only outlet I have left for the emotions that erupt from my heart and mind at times. But am I good at writing, singing, sewing, playing the piano, taking care of other’s children? I think I am, but those are all connected to the grave responsibilities I was placed under as a child.
Playing the piano became my dream when I discovered I had a natural talent for music. But that crumbled when I developed FM, carpal tunnel, and tendinitis. Singing was amazing, and I was slowly discovering bravery and confidence when that had to stop because I couldn’t play the piano anymore. I took sign language for 4 years and loved it, but the stress of living at home that brought on the Fibromyalgia, also caused me to stop signing because I had to focus on things at home. I used to write poetry, lots of it, but I stopped when it became too heavy and depressing. I showed my mom some of my poems, and she didn’t understand the pain I felt. There is a certain emptiness felt when you stand before a field of broken dreams, lost dreams, or buried dreams. I am rediscovering how to dream, but sometimes I feel too cynical or too “grown up” to dream.
do you dream? can you dream?