Thursday, November 22, 2012

Who decides the 'Normal' childhood?

"Surely a 11 year old girl is too young to act this way (survival and violence)." She paused, "My 12 year old is still into ponies." She gave me the ‘respond!’ look.

I was thinking, "What kind of FREAK childhood…Ponies? What did I want at 5, 7, 9, 11 and 13? FOOD. FOOD. Shelter. FOOD." I said something banal about child soldier and slums on trash heaps.

It was a radio interview on Zed and has bothered me since. I understood that Babel doesn’t end when you both speak English..

Before I went to school, the paper I drew and wrote on were company memos, notes, invoices scavenged from industrial garbage. We grew as much of the food in our yard as we could. For the rest there was oatmeal.

It wasn’t bad. It just was. When I was a teen, my father told people that we weren’t poor. Most of the time we had no vehicle, lived in a rural area and rummaged from garbage. I had to move away before I experienced buying clothes from a store. I told him what I remembered and asked, "What is poor then?"

"When you have nothing."

Clothes from charities, no meat, never full. Bliss was a pinch of cinnamon on the oatmeal.

The life I lived is what I assumed all life was like. Having no TV helped that belief. It was neither bad nor good, it simply was.

I never envied what I did not know existed. And I certainly cannot understand this child view of plenty as an adult. Perhaps in part I never grew up, perhaps in part I grew up quickly because it was the best choice. I cannot think of an age where I did not already have a spot in mind in case I needed to sleep outside. At nine I started storing things, making secret nests, burying money.

As I got older, we got a car. Sometimes the family slept in it.



Kate J said...

Many many children have a childhood more like the one you describe,than the one with ponies and treats, even in countries like USA and UK. When I was working for a women's housing association I went into homes where there was no bedding, no heating, no electricity because there was no money to put in the meter, and where a 'main meal' was a bowl of cereal. There probably was a TV... but not a lot else. Other families were in 'bed and breakfast' - that's a joke, there was often only one bed for mum and several kids, and certainly no breakfast. With the current recession things are getting worse. And if it's like this in a country with a welfare 'safety net' how about places without this?
When I read Zed I found the character and the scenario only too believable.
Love & peace

Devi said...

Only too true. It isn't even "just" families with no money, can be those with theoretically enough money but too little sanity too.

Anonymous said...

Hi Beth,
I guess people just couldn't believe that Zed's childhood had any basis in the reality of your own. I also find it unfair that your folks seem to be so well off now and still won't help you.
Things have been bad for a lot of people here in the USA. But you know those children who dare to think that they are "entitled" to food will never grow up to be god republicans.
You probably weren't allowed to have friends, or couldn't make friends because of the strictness of your up-bringing. No other house to hang out where someone's nice mother might feed you something.

We had six kids in our family. Despite verbal & some physical abuse, our parents managed to feed, clothe us and we even had toys.And compassion even love on some occasions
We were definitely working class, lower middle class - whatever you want to call it. I didn't know any different until I started visiting friends who live in the more affluent neighborhoods. And when I got a little older & realized most of my friends parents were sending them to college. I had to make my own way to a BA, MA & almost a doctorate. One more year of half decent health and I would have made it.
How are you Beth? did you make it to the Y?
I have good news here. We sold the house! And we will make a modest profit which will allow us enough to live on. Dennis' pay is just not enough to cover living expenses and medical costs. And they want a fast escrow, but have agreed to let us stay rent free until the end of January.A dear friend of ours and Dennis' mother lent us some money recently to help us to get by. Now we will be able to repay them soon.

Watched To Kill a Mocking Bird a few days ago -hadn't seen it for a long time. Still a great movie.

Love, Sharon

Elizabeth McClung said...

Kate: Thanks, I find more people who relate to my experience than the 'ponies and tennis lessons' but perhaps that is just a status structure aspect.

Devi: Yes, All happy families look the same, ..... (Anna K. - Tolstoy)

Sharon MV: I think my progenitors still are in shock that we arrived.

Glad you have good news, or a future that is more hopeful.

Neil said...

I learned at work yesterday that there is a family of three living in their car and in a park near my house. They have two large dogs for heat in the car.

Meanwhile, there are prents and children who come to my workplace to practice their figure skating every afternoon. This means the kids are home-schooling, or making arrangements to attend school only in the mornings. But they won't ge to the Olympics if they don't practice every day.

Also, I get phone calls every day at work from coaches of minor hockey teams who want to schedle more practice time than their league allotted them. They're happy to pay $231/hr so that 5 and 6-yr-olds get the practice they need' presumably the scouts from the NHL are expected to ntethe dedication of these children's parents and coaches...

15 or so years ago, I was volunteering as a first aider at a North American Arabian horse competition, and watched a 14-yr-old girl break down in tears because she "lost" - by which I mean she came in second in an internation competition. Her "normal" is to train and ride on a horse worth possibly a million dollars, wearing costumes for which her family paid up to $20,000, and expect to win every competition she enters.

Life is just full of those little dichomoties, isn't it?

And like Kate and Sharon, I have read Zed, and realized that it contained at least a small hint of your own life.

Love and zen hugs,

Neil said...

Um, PARENTS and childrens. Prents, indeed. Stupid keyboard...
And the scouts are expecte to NOTICE the dedication of the child-prodigy hockey players. Stupid preafrooder... :)

More hugs, giant bear-hugs that enfold you and Linda and Cheryl and won't hurt becaue they're also very gentle, not to mention virtual,

Linda McClung said...

I ache for the young Beth when I read this. Sure we have it rough now, but not nearly as bad as what you had growing up. When I look back on my childhood I realize how lucky I was growing up on a farm - big gardens, free-range chickens, beef, fresh milk from the cows, lots of room to play indoors and out, lots of wood to chop which kept us warm in the prairie winters, and yeah, we even had the pony. It was a Welsh-Shetland mare who had an evil attitude and would take you for a ride, more often than not into the wooden fences. Ouch!

I can see the similarities between you and Zed. You both are always looking 5 steps ahead for survival while living by a strong moral code.

You're both survivors.