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Are YOU my mama? Number One: I’m afraid of the water.

As I figure out who the hell this MAMA person is, I’ve been rummaging through the old memories. I decided to share some of the contents, so I’m planning a series. It’s never a good idea to announce a series when you might never get around to the second installment, but hey. Perhaps it will be an extremely short series.

So: I’m afraid of the water.

This is what it looks like when I go to the beach.

Not in an I’m actually phobic way, just in an I don’t like swimming way. I trace my discomfort with water back to early childhood. When I was four, my parents divorced and after some shuffling, my mother moved us to a tiny town in northern New Mexico. We lived in a house with no electricity and no plumbing. Because she’d recently gotten divorced, because (I learned much later) she had recently had an abortion after getting knocked up by another man, because she was living in a house with no electricity or plumbing with two young children, in a town where we were the only white folks, thus she must have felt some social ostracism, because we were extremely poor, because of all these things, she became clinically depressed. I don’t blame her. When I contemplate dealing with young children absent the ability to do a hundred loads of laundry an hour, well…  But in case it’s not obvious, clinical depression is hard on young kids (as is divorce and social ostracism).

Being poor and rural, one of the things we did for fun was hang out by the river. My mother would set me and my brother free and lie on the bank. Probably trying not to drown herself, now that I think of it… It was very isolated, and very, very beautiful.

A wonderful playground for children, really. The kind of thing I want Bun Bun to experience. Minus the surrounding context of doom. Oh, and I think I’ll probably TEACH HER TO SWIM first.*

But I began having a recurring nightmare. Now, some of you may be dubious, given the low capacity for consolidation and recall of episodic memory in young children, but I had this nightmare for years, and believe it started when I was maybe six years old. In the nightmare, I am playing in the river with my brother, and then the river carries me away. Far, far away. From my family, from everything familiar. And then I come to a waterfall, and as I’m about to go over, I wake up.

So what does this have to do with anything, you ask?

This part of my childhood contained some amazing things. Living as we did gave me a good understanding of just how little people need to get by, of what it might be like to live off the grid. And we had a lot of independence. Roaming the hills surrounding our town, and the river, gave us such an appreciation for the world. My brother and I have an impressive capacity for generating our own entertainment. And I also think having the experience of being the only family of your ethnicity in your little world is pretty useful for a white girl to have: not a lot of white people I know have been tormented and occasionally beaten up because of their race. So there was a lot about this part of my childhood that was valuable, if not always enjoyable.

But then I think of the nightmare, and the way it encapsulates all that was wrong about this part of my childhood. I mean, how much more clearly could my subconscious have said I DON’T FEEL SAFE?

And maybe I just don’t like swimming. I don’t like running, either, and it’s not because I was traumatized, it’s because…ewww, exercise. But it’s also possible that water frightens me just a tad because I still don’t feel safe. That it’s a little quirk of my psyche, a little ghost from the past.

So what does this have to do with anything, you ask again?

Well, I wonder how to give a child the valuable parts of what I experienced, without the bad parts. It might seem obvious on the surface–give her some independence, but keep her safe. Expose her to new experiences, but don’t go crazy with the novelty. But what about the value of adversity? It made me so strong, and is such an important part of me. How can I recreate that in a situation of relative privilege and security? How can I make sure Bun Bun is strong, independent, resourceful, and respectful…all without giving her nightmares?

*To be fair, it’s a shallow river in most parts.

12 Comments Post a comment
  1. I had a recurring nightmare that started when I was four and I still remember every moment of it. It involved the screen porch, fire, and the neighbor's ferret.

    June 21, 2011
  2. These are great questions, and there are no perfect answers. But it makes me think. I live in a fairly affluent area of suburbia, and I look at these teenagers running around in their designer duds with their new BMW's that they received at the Sweet 16 birthday, and I don't want that for my child. The hubs and I have said numerous times that we have to get out of here before the kids get to school, but where do we go? I grew up in a very small town in the mountains, and my parents had more money than many of my friends, but they certainly didn't let us kids have any of it. I remember begging my mom for a pair of Guess jeans, and she insisted I only have Tuffskins from Sears, even though my friends who had a much smaller house were wearing Guess. Such a small thing, but it has stuck in my head. I wish I knew how to teach our children how lucky they are, and I don't know if that's possible. Keep up the series!

    June 21, 2011
  3. SO interesting to hear about your background. I was a fairly privileged child in a protected bubble sort of environment (it's been a snakes and ladders style financial decline since then) and as you must have noticed, I am perfectly grounded and unspoiled in every way. Like Gwyneth, I am. Hey, peel this grape for me, would you? OMG I have to do EVERYthing around here, *HAIRFLICK*.Really, though, you'll teach BunBun good values. After that, she'll make her own way, I reckon, and she'll be mighty.

    June 21, 2011
  4. I echo a lot of the same issues in being brought up. My recurring dream was about vampires. Not sure what that means now. Talk about a book full of thoughts on what to give bun bun. You want all the good things that come with your experience without having to go through it. It's a magic recipe that some folks can master. I fully believe that as part of your storytelling to the bun, she'll get these qualities because YOU have them. She'll think a stick and some dirt are the bees knees because mom has awesome imagination. (Seriously, add water to the mix, and I'd bake you an awesome tasty mud pie!) The good news is that no matter what you do, bun bun will be her own character and will face her own character building, and with your help, be that resourceful, bright and downright interesting person because she's yours.

    June 21, 2011
  5. Wow… you have a really interesting background. I had no idea. I think that, the fact that you guys care so much about instilling those values in Bun Bun, means you'll find ways to make it happen. I grew up poor, too, but I really don't believe that you have to be raised with so little in order to value what you have. The fact that you care and will talk to her about this stuff will help her become the strong woman you want her to be.

    June 21, 2011
  6. My recurring nightmare is running away from a crashing jetliner that is cartwheeling toward me. Very interesting post – keep 'em coming!

    June 22, 2011
  7. Weeell, I want to tell you all about my recurring nightmares, and my traumatic childhood, which did make me strong and resilient but yet which I would never put my children through in a million years; and how I turned out fine with lots of love and compassion and respect for others, and how therefore Bun Bun will be just fine, like what Twangy said, an am sure she will be awesomely creative no matter what. But I can't. Because I am blindsided by the fact that all I can think of to say, really, is OMG we have the same HAIR!

    June 22, 2011
  8. I'm pretty confident that your little BunBun won't grow up to be an entitled, spoiled brat, even with her privileged upbringing. And sadly, I think all our little ones will encounter hardships during their lifetimes that will build resiliency and tolerance, as much as we try to protect them from everything bad. I applaud you for finding some positives in what sounds like a very difficult childhood.

    June 22, 2011
  9. I worry about this too, mainly how to make sure our little bean feels safe. I remember that I didn't even tell my parents about half of the adversity I experienced as an atheist bookworm in a tiny fundie town. I hope he's not a stoic like that.Oh, and my recurring nightmare was about bleeding to death in front of my parents, who were only mildly concerned. Yay psyche!

    June 23, 2011
  10. It's a tough question, and a good one. Sure you need to give her freedom plus safety, but it's a difficult balance. And as you say, the adversity goes into making us who and what we are. It makes us tougher. In terms of the latter, I think there are always bumps. And there should be bumps – they're what teach us to dust off our butts and get up again. Then again, maybe her grandpa's avocado soup (even via breastmilk) is bump enough?

    June 23, 2011
  11. Jem #

    thanks for sharing your story. children are amazingly resilient and you clearly were.

    June 23, 2011
  12. Bun Bun has the world at her feet to have a Momma who plans the best way to share such experiences. I am consumed with not saying how pretty Toddlerina looks every day, trying to say something aside from how delicious she is. It is tough. Reading Cinderella Ate My Daughter. And now I have your blog. Keep this up as I am loving every minute of it.

    June 28, 2011

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