17 March 2017

"My Childhood—Only an Abstraction to Me Now"

Recently, I came across and took a survey for a project on the effects of family composition.

One of the questions was, "What is your happiest childhood memory, relating to one or more of the adults in your household?" This isn't a question I can remember ever being asked before, certainly not in this format, and I was surprised how difficult it was to come up with an answer. Not because I had an unhappy childhood, but for two reasons. The first is that I had a pretty happy childhood as far as I am concerned (certainly I think so now, and maybe I even thought so at the time), and so the whole thing is sort of a blob of nice things happening. The second is related to the first: happiest is a pretty high bar, and it's hard to grab any particular childhood memory and say, "That's it, that's my happiest childhood memory relating to one or more adults in my household."

Definitely there was good stuff: I will always look back with fondness on my family's road trips to various national parks, and my father trained me to build sandcastles on the beach with the best of them, and of course Thanksgivings in my family are a thing of legend.

But what I ended up typing into the survey was going on car rides with my mother. I don't mean long, epic trips, I just mean driving from place to place. My mom was stay-at-home for the first fourteen or fifteen years of my childhood, so she drove all of us lots of places. There's one in particular that sticks with me: telling me, shortly before my twelfth birthday, that I actually was not my father's son, but that she had been impregnated by an alien (via ray beam), and since that alien came from a planet six light-years from Earth, he'd be returning for me on my twelfth birthday.

It's not just that one conversation, though: it stands in for a larger set of conversations with my mother, where she took me seriously. I am sure I must have asked a lot of questions and said a lot of strange things as a child, and in retrospect I had some pretty poor emotional intelligence at times, so I'm sure car rides with me at any point where I was capable of talking could be pretty vexing. But as far I can remember, my mother always engaged with me fully and thoughtfully.

"Fully and thoughtfully," as the space alien story shows, though, did not rule out whimsically. My family had a variety of talking dolls and animals and whatevers with various personalities-- everything talked, and this was mostly because of my mother. Imaginative play was taken as seriously as anything else we did.

The next question on the survey was, "What, if any, effect did event that have on your development or who you are today?" I find this hard to answer because the effect seems immeasurable. Taking my curiosity and my imagination seriously: well, look where I am now.

Thanks for all the car rides, mom.

1 comment:

  1. I loved this. And your mom's imagination and engagement are an inspiration - that's how I'd like to be remembered as a mom too :)