Thursday, May 22, 2014

The Power of Words

I often wonder what my kids will remember about me when they are older. What things have they heard me say so many times that it will remain in their memories for all their lives? I always tell my husband that as parents of young, impressionable children, our words are more powerful than we think. It’s really quite shocking if you take a moment to sit and write everything you remember of your childhood. When I was in my late 20’s I did just that. I had a big fear of forgetting my childhood, of forgetting my mom especially. So I started writing. I came up with 20 pages typed of anecdotes – some of which I’ve already shared here. I just pulled that document out two days ago for the first time in many years and I am SO glad I have it. There were things written in there that I really had forgotten already. Even after reading them, I still had to struggle to recall some of the memories. (I was also pleased at how accurately I still remembered many of the stories as well.)

My number one reason for doing this blog is for myself but my second reason is for my children. I want them to have these stories – to know my story; to know who I was as a child, as a mother, as a daughter, and as a person. For all I know, they won’t give a crap about any of it but just in case…the information will be readily available if they ever choose to read it. I’m the type of person that is fascinated by others' life-stories, not just my own family members’. I enjoy hearing about people’s childhoods, upbringings, perceptions of their family members, and their life experiences. I ask a lot of questions because I am genuinely interested in hearing more, not because I’m being nosy! I probably would have made a good therapist – but maybe not ‘cause I do like to talk more than I like to listen.

Anyway, here some of the things I heard from my mom repeatedly and that are embedded in my memory forever:

My mom used to tell me about our family doctor, Dr. Quinn. She would tell me that Dr. Quinn was one of six children in his family. His parents had adopted one of the children but they had sworn to never tell who was the adopted one because they didn’t want any of them to feel different or to be treated differently. I was fascinated by this mystery and secret in Dr. Quinn’s family. I would wonder if he was the adopted one. I would ponder how it was possible for the adopted one to not know.

Another comment my mom made often to me was that her children were like the fingers on her hand. Come to think of it, she said this to others too, not just to me. Her analogy was that it didn’t matter which finger you cut off, they would all hurt the same. She would then go on to tell me that her children were her life and that she would do anything for any of us, even die for us, because she adored us. No matter how many times she repeated herself, I listened intently to what she told me because I felt it was important and valuable and of course, it made me feel wonderful to hear how much we meant to her.

My mom would tell me about her childhood and about her mother and sisters a lot. Unfortunately, my grandma died in Argentina when I was one-year-old and I never had the privilege of meeting her. My mom spoke so highly of my grandma though that I learned to love her just from hearing about her. My mom would also tell me that she was the youngest of her siblings, just like me. She was extremely close to her mom, just like me. And my mom was my grandma’s miracle baby, just like me. She would tell me that my grandma became a mom with her at the same age that my mom became a mom with me. (Confused?) These mother/daughter similarities gave me a strong sense of connection to my mom. I liked that we had these things in common.

Quite often my mom used to also share with me her biggest fear. She used to say that her greatest fear was dying and leaving this earth without finishing her job of raising me. She would tell me that she would pray to God to please let her live long enough to see me grow up. It was one of those things that I just shrugged off like “Oh Mom, you’re fine. Nothing’s going to happen to you.” But regardless, l didn’t like hearing it.

It’s interesting that my mom used to tell me that particular fear, because during 8th grade in 1984, I remember we had to answer the question “What is your biggest fear?” If they had asked me after my Mater Dei rejection (To Dei or Not To Dei?), I probably would have answered “Going to public high school” but since it was before that, my answer was “My mom and dad dying.” I imagine this is a fairly common fear among children. However, I feel l had legitimate reasons for having this fear. 

Around the time I was in 4th or 5th grade, my mom was in and out of hospitals for reasons unknown to me at the time. Honestly, I still don’t really know why she was in the hospital all of the various times. I know that when I was in 6th grade she began vomiting blood one night and we rushed her to the hospital. It turned out to be a bleeding ulcer. I’ve also been told that she used to hemorrhage a lot and would require blood transfusions along with D&C’s. I assume some of the hospital stays were due to that issue too. I was young and kept in the dark about all of it. What I know is mostly from eavesdropping or from asking my family once I was an adult.

About 4th or 5th grade in my dad's work van.
Funny story...whenever my dad had to run service calls, my mom and I would go with him (naturally). The van was a mini-lockshop inside and only had a driver's seat and a passenger seat. So, my seat was that little stool! I rode around all of Orange County holding on for dear life while sitting on that flimsy, unattached stool. It's a miracle I'm alive.

Whenever my mom was in the hospital, it was really hard on me. My dad would pick me up after school and drive me to the hospital. He would drop me off and I would do homework and watch TV with my mom while my dad went back to work. He would return to the hospital after work and we would stay until visiting hours were over and then do it all over again the next day. Of all my childhood memories, these are the fuzziest. It was always a worrisome time for me and I’m sure there’s probably some interesting psychological reason why I don’t have vivid memories of these hospital stays.

My mom was also kind of a hypochondriac. I suspect it was part of her anxiety. So, a lot of times when she complained about an ailment or symptom, we all just shrugged it off as “mom being mom”. Twice during my childhood I remember her thinking she was having a heart attack and calling 911 for herself. Both times it was just the two of us at home. Interestingly, I don’t remember being scared or worried, even though I was pretty young at the time (definitely under 12). I feel like I knew that she was fine and that she was just freaking out or something. When the paramedics arrived, my mom was well enough to answer the door. While they were checking her out, my dad arrived. I don’t remember if they took her to the hospital or not, but I do know she had not had a heart attack but a panic attack instead. My mom used to tell this story to friends and crack up about it. She thought it was especially funny that she had answered the door for the paramedics in the midst of a supposed heart attack. My dad did not think it was as funny since he had practically had a heart attack himself when he drove up to our house and found a slew of first responders.

Anyway, as a result of these childhood fears of mine and my mom’s many hospital stays, I find myself keeping my kids as unaware as possible whenever I’ve had any health issues (which thankfully haven’t been anything serious). I’ve had four minor, outpatient surgeries in the last five years and my son never even knew. I was in the ER a couple of years ago and I made damn sure that my son never found out about that either. I try to protect them from ever having to worry about me. I don’t want them to carry the same worries and fears I had as a child. My son is a worrier by nature so for me to add to that worry would not be good. For example, yesterday I was 10 minutes late to pick him up after school (which is the latest I’ve ever been). As soon as he saw me, he burst into tears. He told me that he was worried; that he thought something had happened. It was just TEN MINUTES but to him it was a sign that something had gone terribly wrong.

The reason I tell my husband that our words are powerful to our children is because I know how powerful my mom’s words were to me. If you hear something enough times as a child, you eventually believe it. I believed everything she told me – that I was her little gift from God; that I was her universe and her life; that I was her blessing from heaven; and that if it hadn’t been for me coming into her life, she would have given up a long time ago.  Unfortunately, I also believed the negative stuff she said too though. She called me lazy so much that I still struggle with that inner-voice that tells me I’m lazy (even though I know I’m not - most of the time.). My point is that it’s no surprise that I answered my 8th grade teacher the way I did. Not only did I fear losing my mom because of her frequent hospital stays but also because she reiterated to me so many times her fear of leaving me as well.

My lesson in all of this is to be conscious of what I say to my children, both the good and the bad, because the impact our words have are long-lasting. Today, I slipped up and called my son lazy. I was reprimanding him for putting a pencil next to the pencil cup instead of IN the pencil cup. I said “God, are you THAT lazy?” He quickly responded “I’m not lazy. I’m awesome.” I laughed at his comment while I beamed with pride at his confidence. I told him “You’re right. You ARE awesome.” And I hope he remembers it forever.

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