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.