Seeing my daughter grow up is making me realize just how bad my childhood was

Seeing my daughter grow up is making me realize just how bad my childhood was

With each giggle from my daughter, with each silly joke or game, with each playful "Mine!" as we play-learn about sharing, my heart smiles.

With each tantrum, I take a deep breath, and remind myself--she is learning boundaries. She is growing. She is independent.

But, sometimes my heart hurts, like a cold icicle stabbing it and the pain radiating down my arms and back. I feel an ache of loss. Grief. Sadness. Sometimes I know why, and the memories pour out, like a tangled ball of broken Christmas lights, one memory bringing up another, and that one another, and that one, another.

Sometimes I don't know why. To borrow something I heard in therapy last night, I'm staring at walls I didn't realize existed in me. I'm feeling the emotions, but not knowing why. Sometimes I know the age. Teenager. Five years old. Grade school ish. When we lived in that apartment. When we lived in that house. I can build a general sense of time, and maybe some context details--but the context doesn't make sense without something to place firmly among the details.

I'm sad, feeling naked, exposed, trapped, like I need to run. But why? Or I feel profound sadness and retrospective, but about what?


Before my daughter was born, I had life mostly balanced and properly walled off.  Everything functioned, and I was functional. School and work provided a framework, and I had some downtime to do home renovations, art projects, walk the dog. Once in a while I'd have a breakdown, but then I'll feel better and forget why I had a breakdown. I grieved my siblings, with the complicating factor that they're still alive. Not knowing whether they will ever want to get in touch with me or not.

Then I held a tiny human in my arms. I felt fear. Love, yes. Profound love, and incredible fear.

As she grew into her own person, developed her own personality, I recognize so much of me in her. The stubborness. Knowing what is right and telling you if it's wrong so you can fix it. A certain penchant for "sorting" things, like I liked to do. The tantrums.

As she approaches her second birthday, I'm approaching my first memory, which was around this age.

As she tantrums, I can hear my dad in my head, talking about spoiled brats and miming violent spanking. That's what he would think, as I take a deep breath and work with her at her level. Let's count cars, I might say, if she is overwhelmed. Look, that car is blue! Or I'll get her attention, and tell her, No, we can't run into a busy street. We have to wait for the light. Look, he's waiting for the light to turn green. She's waiting for the light, too. Can you wait for the light? Good girl! Now we can walk!

I would have gotten spanked. Yanked around. Yelled at.

How can anyone do that to a young child? Her bright spirit would be extinguished. Was mine? Undoubtedly, in its own way.


I recognize her changing opinions. She still doesn't like mac and cheese. She loves purple and trucks and glitter. Wheels on the Bus. Twinkle Twinkle (Little Star). She loves cats. They are her own, not mine. And they can change.

My dad never liked that I stopped liking steak. Coleslaw. That I picked at meat, cutting around all the fatty bits. That I hate dark meat on the turkey. He made fun of me, or else punished me for not eating the entire steak or pork chop. No dessert. No food until breakfast. Or perhaps the punishment would be exact food portions. 1/2 cup of cereal for breakfast. No more until lunch. Then measure out the peanut butter and the jelly.


My first memory was around her age, of riding in an ambulance. I had jumped off the couch onto a carpeted floor, and for some reason that freaked my parents out. Why? Dad told me the ambulance bill was expensive, that it took a while to pay off. ("I'm sorry for getting hurt as a 2 year old.")

When I was around 1, family friends told them that they didn't think I could hear. Maybe 1 1/2. I don't know.

Maybe when I fell off the couch, I didn't respond to them. Maybe they thought I lost my hearing or got injured.

Maybe instead of being declared "fine" at the hospital, I was diagnosed as deaf.

My dad always said that I stopped babbling around 2 years old, when they took me in and they said I was deaf and they got me hearing aids.

My daughter is speaking 3 word sentences. She is interacting with us. She is not "babbling." How is it that I only babbled for that long? I  am second guessing my dad's story, after all these years.

And all this--from the safety of my little family in my little apartment, I am realizing just now. As I see my daughter grow up.

The story was never quite right, and the pieces never quite fit together...until now.


It's like my baptism. I have two sets of baptismal pictures. One when I was a few months old. One when I was over 2 years old. One as a Lutheran with my mom, and one as Catholic with my baby brother. The facts never seemed incongruent...until a couple years ago.

I wrote to the Lutheran church, and they had my record and sent me a copy of my baptismal certificate, of the "forgotten" first baptism. Now I have more of the story. More of the truth.

I feel like there are more moments like these yet to come as my daughter grows up. As I am reminded of my own childhood. As I am reminded of my little siblings. How could my parents do that to us kids? How could they do that to me? How could dad spank my brother so fiercely with anger? How could he be so angry and rude and upsetting about my brother's and my deafness? I can't imagine doing that to my own daughter. All that abuse, previously justified, and now exposed for what it is.


As the disassociative walls grow weak and leak details, as I am made aware of walls I didn't realize existed in the first place, I'm going to keep having these moments.

I feel like there are more pieces forgotten. And I'm a little afraid to find out what those pieces are. But my daughter is growing so fast, and I have no choice but to accept this healing process as she grows, be exposed to more of my own childhood through her.

It would have happened sooner or later, whenever my husband and I would have had a child.

As it is, we have one wonderful spunky little girl now, a happy little surprise, my little sunshine.

And her joy is forcing me to address my sorrows and shine light on the dark places inside.

As she giggles, I giggle too, and wince at the psychosomatic pain. The weight of cold grief, behind the happy face I put on for her.

But I am working through this for her and because of her.

And we will all be better for it.


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