The Sandbox Writing Challenge #30 — Baby Gift!

A newborn baby snuggling into white linen

I can already tell that Calen’s challenge for this week will be a deeply personal one for me. She poses: If you were to give this baby something you lacked early in life, what would it be?

I would have to say two-fold: lots and lots of attention AND unconditional love.While I didn’t lack much of the former too early in life, I lacked a lot of the latter for much of my childhood. I shall attempt to explain.

When I was around 5 years old, I contracted mono from a water fountain at a pet cemetery in West Virginia. We had tagged along with my grandmother to lay to rest one of her precious chihuahuas. By the next day, I had a raging fever and under doctor’s advice, my mother gave me baby aspirin to bring down the fever.  At the time, there was very little known about the link between aspirin and Reye’s Syndrome. Well, I caught it and was put in the hospital. I went into a coma and nearly died. As a result, my parents kept me under watchful eyes for years. So yes, I receive a lot of attention, but not the kind I really needed, especially from my mother. Her favorite words to me were “Go sit down with your father.” I wasn’t allowed to play, help around the house, or get overly excited. This lasted until I was around the age of 11. After that, I was completely ignored by everyone because all of the focus centered around my older sister who was constantly rebelling against my parents (she was 13 at the time) and my younger brother (around 6 at the time) who was an attention-whore.

So yes, I would give that precious baby up there lots and lots of attention. Focused attention.

As for unconditional love, I never received this from my mother either. Her love always had conditions put on them. She didn’t really know how to give love since she didn’t receive much of it herself growing up. She would always say things like “If you loved me you would…” fill in that blank with whatever she wanted from me. I didn’t receive advice from her or a guiding hand. Instead, she would relate to me things about her childhood, which would make my problems or issues feel so small and insignificant. Eventually, I just stopped turning to her for help.

So that precious baby would get unconditional love from me. No conditions. None of my childhood drama. Just unconditional love.

I used to be angry at my mother for how I was treated. For years, I felt abandoned and unloved. Thankfully, after years of therapy, I’ve learned that she probably did the best she could under the circumstances. She had a disastrous childhood. She suffered from PTSD and probably Bipolar Disorder. She could have turned to drugs or drinking and been a horribly physically abusive parent, but she did none of those things. She just wasn’t emotionally engaged with me. I’ve forgiven her and myself for my anger. I am at peace with it all now.

Memories Come Flooding Back

It never ceases to amaze me where my childhood memories will stem from. First, I should tell you that I have a difficult time remembering my childhood. I had a childhood illness that has made my long-term memory fuzzy. Generally, I remember only bad things because those get repeated over and over again in my head forcing me to remember them. That is part of my mental illness. But every now and again, something will draw out of me childhood memories. I cherish this because it happens so rarely.

Today, after reading Shawn Bird’s poem Rockery, I was able to relive two memories. The first was the many times while out playing with my sister, I would fall down on pine cones and tear up the same place on my knee. While this is a painful memory, it is also a happy one. We lived in a small house in the country surrounded by a pine tree grove. A slim path led from our house through the woods to a neighbor’s house where my sister and I would go to play with the twins who lived there. My sister always ran ahead of me and I tried my best to keep up, but usually ended up stumbling and falling on the pine cones that covered the path. These were simpler and happier times for me before life got too complicated.

The next memory was of the hen and chicks that my paternal grandmother always grew in terracotta pots in the yard. I remember sitting on the porch staring at them and wondering how they could survive our harsh winters. I guess grandmother brought them inside in the winter, but at that time I had no clue. They were just so small and delicate. I remember thinking once that I wished I was a hen and chick, living in those pots and just soaking up the sun and rain. Again, a simpler and happier time in my life.