Misunderstood Lessons

Strawberry blonde curly hair toddler in front of me in line at Walgreens, “one tandy, two tandy, three tandy…”

“Stop it!” bellows her mother in front of her. “No one wants to buy candy you have touched.”

“I was just countin it..iss wapped..”

“I know and you were touching them. Stop it.”

Toddler resumes counting only with a barely audible voice. This action makes me smile and reminds me of my own obstinate childhood attitude towards my parents.

“One tandy..two tandy..three tandy..four…”

“I SAID STOP IT” screams her mother, loud enough for everyone at the front of the store to stop and turn their head.

Toddler stops and bows head after briefly looking up at me sheepishly.  I smile.

Her actions reminded me of my young sons when they walked up stairs holding my hand.  We always counted them out. One step, two steps, three steps, four…

Line moves up and Strawberry Hair toddler picks up a package of gummy worms while her mother’s back is turned away from her.

“Can I det dummy worms?”

“No.”

“How bout tittat?”

The pronunciation of KitKat makes me chuckle softly.

“No.”

“Dum?”

“I said NO.  You are already fat enough. You do not need more candy!”

Strawberry blonde head bows quickly in shame. There is no look at me this time.

My heart crinkles in shame with her.

—-

When I was a junior in high school, I moved out of my parents’ home and into the home of my 60 something year old Gramma Julie.  Troubles between my father and me reached reached epic proportions. Verbal and physical abuse was a daily event. I regularly stomped around, slammed doors and screamed.  During one particularly heated event my father ordered me to go to my room. As I climbed the stairs towards the second floor, my father chased me.  He grabbed at my ankles with each step I took resulting in chin and head smashing onto the steps in front of me. I crawled upstairs more than walked.

My mother’s solution to this growing problem was to send me to live with my grandmother who lived a few miles away. There was no family therapy, no discussion of my father’s less than optimal parenting skills (and drinking problem).  I was removed from the situation. My mother likely thought this was a good thing, she probably thought she was protecting me.

This may have been true. Reality was I did not feel protected. I felt abandoned by all but my grandmother who had long passed the days of raising a teenager. I was the problem. Not my abusive father.

I stayed with Gramma only a few months. The stress was too much for her. Despite me telling her she did not have to make breakfast for me she rose every morning and cooked me scrambled eggs and toast with fresh, yes, fresh squeezed orange juice in tiny glass tumbler. She waited up for me at night, often late, as in addition to going to school full time, I worked full time at a local Burlington Coat factory.  I walked home several miles in the dark from the store to my grandmothers. No matter the hour, she was always awake, laying prone on her couch, in the dark, with her hand crocheted afghan up to her chin, TV glow flashing across her face.  Even at the late hour she offered me food, usually pierogies or golumpki. I always refused and urged her to bed.

I do not know for certain but I suspect the final nail in my return to home coffin was Daniel.  Daniel was a few years older than me, drove a sports car and according to my grandmother “he was black”.  It stressed her beyond her abilities to monitor my social life in addition to my breakfast, particularly if that meant going out with older “black” men.  I did not bother to educate her or my mother on Daniel.  The fact that he was Moroccan and not “black” would not matter.  He was not white and that was all that did matter.

I was returned home.

Less than a year after this I became pregnant with my daughter. Again, I was sent away.

What did I learn?  Likely not what my mother intended.

When I was a problem, I was to be sent away.  Child is a problem? Remove the child.  By extension, my daughter was a problem? Remove the child.

This idea that if there is a problem, it is always my fault, stayed with me through most of my adult hood and certainly into my first marriage. It was during that marriage I was blessed with a skilled therapist who taught me otherwise.

I don’t share this to shame my mother or my grandmother but rather to highlight that the lessons children learn are not always what is intended.

I wish I could have hugged the Strawberry Blonde toddler. She was not fat.  She was not annoying. She was incredibly adorable and absolutely 100% toddler.  Her mother was likely stressed or in a rush or perhaps fearful of the impression her boisterous child was making on the strangers in the store. Fairly certain she had no idea that telling toddler she was “fat” might be teaching a painful lesson in body image way too early in life.

I would do anything to give my daughter a “tittat”.

6 Thoughts.

  1. “I said NO. You are already fat enough. You do not need more candy!”

    Likely those words will start a lifetime of poor self-esteem and flawed body image. My heart broke when I read those lines.

    We parents have no clue about what’s said in childhood that will affect our kids forever. Life and death are truly in the power of the tongue.

    • Agreed old friend. Lived it and likely did it to my own children (not the one I gave away, that is an entirely different sort of trauma).

  2. Wow. Reminds me of all the cryptic messages I received as a kid. People should be more careful with their little ones.

  3. Oh tears at this post. I want to hug everyone. So many teaching moments in that check out line. One of the reasons I read blogs is to gain perspective that I might be lacking in my own life. I’ve gained that, once again, from what you’ve shared. Life is short, children are sacred and everyone should get to have a Kit Kat now and then.

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