The cliche that becoming a parent changes your world view in a profound way gets kind of old, but it is so true. My outward view of the world and how my children’s lives will be affected by their environment is at once richer and more complex.
The breadth of information and experience I desire for them to know is infinite; the protection I want for them emotionally and physically is visceral – all pretty predictable stuff in the cliche. What has surprised me, however, is the inward reflection on myself, particularly my memories, the way they have shaped who I am today. It makes me wonder how my children’s own memories will shape who they become.
Do you have memories from your early childhood which make you wonder if they actually happened the way you remember them? How did you feel at the time and how has that feeling stayed with you? Real or not, your memories exist and how you feel about those memories has probably impacted certain decisions or actions in your adult life. They have certainly impacted mine…in significant ways.
I could not have been more than four years old, yet I remember the feeling of joy frolicking on the floor with my mother and biological father. I could not have been more than five, yet I remember the sadness of crying in the back seat of their car while they fought. Somehow, I knew then that my father would be a stranger to me forever. To this day I do not know him.
From that moment I learned that people do not necessarily stay in our lives forever. I believe I’ve drawn upon this early experience in my transient adult life, having the ability to let go of immediate friendships with every move from place to place and enduring long distances away from family, both abilities crafted by that first memory.
During my pre-teen years two potent memories taught me to appreciate what I have in life and to not take things for granted. The first was during a trip back to Bangkok from the US one summer. Darkness was falling upon the city while we drove along busy commercial streets lit by glowing neon lights, glossy storefronts and air-conditioned malls.
As we turned off the main street it quickly became darker, grittier, dirtier. It was difficult to make out details of this contrast with my eyes, but I remember feeling the contrast. I felt the difference between the two worlds juxtaposed by a turn of the corner. At that moment I saw a girl, a girl reflecting such a contrast to my young self. She was in rags, a pauper, standing in a dark doorway of a building. I recall asking myself, “What made her life different from mine? I was born here, too.”
Ever since that moment, I knew that only by the sheer luck of birth to a mother who had made life-changing decisions for her family was the only reason why I was in that car and not standing in that doorway. That example by my mother, ingrained into my subconsciousness on that day in Bangkok, gave me the strength to make my own life-changing decisions as an adult that resulted in the wonderful life that I now live.
A few years later on a sunny Spring day , I remember taking a day out of school to go with my step-father into New York City to do something with our passports. He must have gotten lost because somehow we found ourselves driving through blocks of tenement buildings that were nowhere near where we needed to go.
I had my window rolled down to feel the spring sunshine on my arm and the cool breeze. At a stop light I was drawn by sounds of kids playing. “A city school,” I thought. No. It was just basketball courts. “Hmm…?” While my dad meandered his way around the city and finally found his way to the passport office, I pondered on the facts that “Yes, it was a school day. Yes, my parents took me out of school on purpose. Yes, I have an excuse…”
The kind of logic that a girl who never wanted to get into trouble goes through to define situations that seem to defy the rules. And so, I continued to ponder, “Why are these kids not in school today? They should go to school because it is a privilege and it’s free…” I tried hard to find a logical conclusion to something that didn’t have a parallel in my own world.
It made no sense to me except to realize that school was a way out of these tenements for the kids I saw that day, and that entitlements like education shouldn’t be taken for granted. Since then, I rarely missed a day of school and I took advantage of every scholarship and student loan offered to me to help my parents put me through college.
And so, I wonder. I wonder which memories that we create for our children will give them their values and mold their personalities? Which ones will help them or hinder them as adults? My children won’t remember their first two years here in Mexico even though they understand and can say a few Spanish words, but they will form their first memories during our next few years in Laos.
Will the sight of saffron-robed monks receiving early morning alms allow them to know reverence and generosity in their hearts? Will the contrast between our embassy housing and local villages give them a sense of gratitude? Or will our privileged jet-setting life-style make them feel superior and entitled? Will the gentle kindness of the Lao culture teach them grace and respect? On, and on, I wonder…
Which early memories of yours have you drawn upon as adults? How do you believe the world in which your children grow will mold them?
This is an original post to World Moms Blog by our mother of twins writer, Dee Harlow in Mexico.
Photo credit attributed to Kristina B. This photo has a creative commons noncommercial no derivatives attribution license.