I heard the story of a well known pediatrician when finally allowed to babysit his first grandkid was admonished, “ Now if there’s an issue, we’ve left the name of our doctor. Please call her”. So it goes that we, the boomers are feeling discredited by our children in many realms; as if they had discovered all the whys and wherefores of child rearing, sourly smiling at us tottering dinosaurs whose forays into Dr. Benjamin Spock and Burton L. White were to be relegated to the burning pile.
Yet sometimes I wonder how keen and alert I really was as a parent. My youngest daughter ‘s interest resides in death. And in deed, the trajectory of her professional life has revolved around caring for terminally ill children, addressing the needs of military personnel who have risked death and suffer from PTSD, working with the siblings of children who are deceased and now researching the words of the dying under the guidance of Raymond Moody who coined the phrase “near death experience”.
She says that as a young girl she was always plagued by thoughts of death.
However, when I recall her growing up years amidst childhood tantrums, mischievous tricks and schemes and teenage rebellion, I could not discern a fascination with the morbid. Did she occasionally visit the warmth of our bed when witches visited her or nighttime fears corrupted her sleep?
Did she compose stories of heroines much like limp Victorian consumptives with names like Lavender who succumbed to deadly illnesses?
But did my girl badger me with questions surrounding death and dying or an afterlife?
Not that I can recall.
Yet her older sister also relates that she too was on the ready should Nazis or murderers invade our house. She tells me there was a sweet spot beneath the stairs that she reasoned would keep her safe. Even forty years later, she explains she has an escape plan should there be a zombie invasion.
My husband blames me for prefacing many sentences with “ I’m afraid…” although for me, this phrasing was an amulet, a reverse psychology plea to the universe to keep the demons away. So I wore my fears as a shield, taunting but not truly expecting the onslaught of horned toads, spotted dragons or masked villains to ravage and tear me apart, disrupting my life.
I, of course, blame my mother, who had real reasons to fear. She recalled a picnic in Poland, a spring afternoon, a freshly ironed tablecloth set on the grass and the thunder of horses’ hooves as Cossacks approached and her father swept her up beneath his arm and away from danger. She also recalled being kidnapped but refusing to hand over her doll with the sleeping eyes, even though her sister did. From my mother’s true dramas I segued into holocaust tales where terrible thoughts admittedly crept into my head, even as I safely nestled into a soft chair at the library and my mother’s promise of a milkshake on the way home.
Apparently, my seedling fears were not to be scattered to the wind but instead planted themselves deep into my girls’ imaginative heads. And I, embarrassed to admit, had not taken their words seriously enough. Or perhaps as a working mother with three kids all below the age of seven, I was too exhausted to analyze their predictions and spurious concerns. I preferred instead the physical hug or squeeze , the brush of nighttime kiss as they finally closed their eyes at the end of a long day.
I think I might have sung out “ Don’ t worry! You’re OK. Or the proverbial soother, ‘”Sleep tight, don’t let the bedbugs bite”. Now I reflect those bed bugs must have had laser shooting eyes, green tentacles and the ability to pinch and terrify my pyjamed tots.
So I thought we were good parents providing the necessities for our offspring: being there with the necessary right words when needed, but their memories tell us NO. There were gaps, places and scary stuff that we did not cover- places where fears of wild things made lasting claw marks on their innocence.
Mea culpa, kids.