A long time ago, I realized that I was going to have to, in certain ways, take care of myself. That didn’t mean that no one cared about me or that I had to get a salaried job as a kid, but sometime in the years from 6th grade to high school, it was quite evident that my life as a kid was not the same “kid life” that my buddies had.
When I was not quite 11, my parents separated and, in the summer before 6th grade, my mom and I moved from our family home to a temporary stay at a residential hotel. Living in an apartment hotel with Mom (I’m an “only child”) that summer was a realization that my life as a kid that I had known was now different from anything else I’d experienced or even witnessed.
Quite soon, Mom went back to MD training for a Specialty Board, we moved to a real apartment when school started and I spent most of my time there, at the playground or in the apartment with our Spanish-speaking housekeeper. I guess everyone was lucky because I was responsible and reliable and life was lots less complicated in the early 60’s than it is now. I did my homework, talked on the phone to my friends, had some weekend plans (when I was not with my Dad) and read a lot of books. I also made great friends with the kids in the apartment buildings nearby. School was close to us and it was a busy neighborhood. Many Saturdays were with my dad till he moved away.
My homework was always done on time and my grades were good! Life was not boring, but I never seemed to get into trouble – neither did my friends.
I’m an Interior Designer now, and I remember helping my mom rearrange furniture as we kept trading sleeping spaces from room to room and somehow finally settled on a layout that should have always made sense. There were only so many rooms and I moved into most of them at one point! I started cooking sometime after 6-7th grade because I hated being chubby and being teased, so I figured out what to do for myself. As I put this memory together, there does not seem to be a moment, but rather a cluster of events out of my control that made me grow up. I knew that traveling on a plane to see my dad and making a grocery list for myself at about 12 years old was not what most other kids did. They probably didn’t read “Exodus” when they were 11 or 12 either.
From time to time, I have been told that I “raised myself”. That’s certainly an exaggeration because my parents were always both involved and my mom went back to a normal life when I got to high school (inasmuch as there were only 8 female professors at NU Med in the 60’s.) She worked into her 80’s and had the same housekeeper till 1977 – after I was on my own and a mom! No one officially taught me to do laundry or cook, but I did help Mom put together her data for Tax Time every year!
So, I suppose the “moment” was when I was about 11 or 12 years old – maybe 13 or 14, and spent so much time by myself. It may not have been “sink or swim”, but had not I been capable, thoughtful, able to deliberate and gotten used to making my own choices, I would have remained a child much longer.
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