Category Archives: childhood

Bringing Order

As a child I had a fierce longing for order in my world. I wanted a place for everything and everything in its place. The oldest of six children by the time I was 10, my early years were spent trying to manage a lot of toys.

This was difficult, because though I loved playing with little people, wooden blocks, and Duplos, when I outgrew these things there were still younger siblings enjoying them. They would leave pieces strewn about the house. When it was time to clean up, everything came back to me.

Whose toys are these?

They’re Julie’s.

While technically true, it was immensely frustrating. I was the first, and as such they were mine originally. I scurried to try to pick up and bring peace and order to the situation. If only I could get it right.

There was great tension between reality and fantasy. The ideal in my mind could not match what was actually able to happen. This played out while cleaning my room, a space that I shared with several littles.

We had a light blue wooden toy box with a hinged lid. One had to be careful when opening it, because the lid could easily slam shut. Cleaning the room often involved tossing everything into this toy box. When closed, the top doubled a seat. The trick was to get everything flat inside so that the lid would shut all the way. Not easy.

I tried organizing the toys. I sorted them by category, gathered all the pieces of different sets together, and carefully placed them inside the toy box, hoping the propped lid would not come slamming down on me in the process.

My efforts were thwarted by eager younger siblings as they scrambled and dug through and dumped out their newfound favorite things as quickly as I could tidy and sort out and put back. As much as I longed to bring order to the chaos, chaos always prevailed.

There was just so much to manage. So many people with so many things sharing so little space. I remember my mom’s frustration with this, also. She tried making containers out of recycled plastic milk jugs to use for sorting the toys. It was a valiant, hopeful effort.

As a mom myself, I recognize the feeling that if I only had the right bins and boxes to collect items, everything would fall into place, but there is also the piece of teaching children how to pick up after themselves. There were so many children. There still are so many children. There have always been many children.

Instead of calm, orderly space with things tidied and put away, there were toys everywhere, and tension and stress. My dad would say am I the only one that sees XYZ on the floor and I would see it too.

After all, the mess came back to me. I felt like the common denominator of the endless clutter. I would pick things up and hurry to try to put them away, but the cycle was never ending.

I remember having these when I grow up thoughts such as when I grow up there’s gonna be a place for everything and everything in its place or when I grow up I’m not going to have kids to make messes everywhere or when I grow up I’m going to have matching furniture.

Somehow I lost myself between that space and the space of growing up and then ended up just replaying the same story over again and again.

After watching several episodes of Tidying Up with Marie Kondo, I have still not made it through one with dry eyes. Something always stirs inside causing a tear to escape or a torrent to let loose. These tears prompted me to explore the story with tidiness, or lack thereof, in my life.

I understand the desire for order. I get the feeling of futility that it will never happen. I feel the weight of being a child who does not know what to do with all of the things and the mom who is just trying to do her best with what she has.

I grieve not having had a space and season that was my own to settle into and navigate on my own while learning to adult. I fight the fear that something will happen to the one I love before we have a chance to figure out our life together.

All of these themes present in different episodes and prompt conversations between my love and I in our living room. The bottom line, I have discovered, is that there is no right way other than to learn from the past, to sit with the present, and to move into the future with new knowledge and hope for repair.

I still long to bring order to the chaos. With some new grown-up skills in place and the kind understanding of those in my world, these days, order is catching up.

Tin Roof Sundae

I arrived at my friend’s house exhausted from a seven hour drive. What feels different from the last trip is the intensity of emotional work in addition to the changes and transitions going on at home.

Mid-winter is also not an active time of year. That first trip was an adventure and foray into the unknown. Now I know a little more about what I am showing up for. It is also spring, a beautiful, yet busy, time of year.

I remember when I was a young girl my Aunt Marilyn came to visit us on Nicholson St. in Maryland. She drove down from Michigan. I’m sure I spent the day eagerly anticipating her arrival and all the fun we would have together.

When she finally reached us, her first words were, What a drive. I need a nap. She lay down on the couch for a rest as we waited nearby for any indication that nap time was over and she was rested. (Meaning, any sort of movement whatever)

That is how I felt when I arrived. I set a timer and went to my room for a rest. After 30 minutes of quiet I was ready for a walk. We walked to get ice cream.

It felt good to move after a day in the car, and the company was wonderful. We walked and talked and chose our ice cream.

When I saw Tin Roof Sundae was an option, I knew I had found my choice. There are several stories there about me and ice cream sundaes and where Tin Roof Sundae ice cream enters my story. I also understand better why Peanut Buster Parfaits are my Dairy Queen weakness.

Now it’s time to rest and write and read and talk and transition into what is coming. I am so grateful for a kind space and for kind people who care for my heart and soul so well.

To all of you who care for, have cared for, are caring for me on this journey, know that I am so grateful and hold you close at heart.

Idle Words

But I say unto you, That every idle word that men shall speak, they shall give account thereof in the day of judgment.
Matthew 12:36 (KJV)

As a child I grew up in a Baptist church where three times a week, Sunday morning, Sunday evening, and Wednesday night I was in the pews. Dad was up front leading music. Mom was coordinating the nursery.  Sister was shining her Strawberry Shortcake mirror into the aged pastor’s eyes. Church was familiar, comfortable, unsettling, scary. All of the above.

Familiar and comfortable were the people and routines. The red of the sanctuary cushions and carpet, the curve of the armrest at the end of each row, the red Great Hymns of the Faith hymnbook to look through finding Fanny Crosby’s name (because Fanny), the tiny pencils and offering envelopes on the back of each pew, these all brought comfort and delight.

Unsettling was an open cross panel behind the pulpit, revealing the baptismal tank, or the atmosphere of the sanctuary was tinged with tension over a business meeting, or someone choose O the Deep, Deep Love of Jesus for favorites night. These moments stirred anxiety.

Scary was the talk of judgment and hell and the end times. The rapture. The trumpet of the Lord. It seemed as if these days were imminently looming, and the only way out was 100% assurance by saying the Sinner’s Prayer, thus knowing beyond a shadow of a doubt with every head bowed and every eye closed, no one looking around.

Of course, I looked around, and if I was looking around how could I trust that no one else was?

I tried, but was never quite sure if I got it right. I never felt safe in God’s hands. I could never escape the shadow of a doubt. When that trumpet sounded and time was no more, I wasn’t certain that I would be there when the roll was called up yonder.

Those were terrifying thoughts for a child growing up outside of Washington, DC. Every midnight ambulance siren, train whistle, or police chase resulted in a frantic leap from bed to make sure my parents were sill in their room, and I had not been Left Behind.

How would I face the terror of the tribulation and the second chance that would only come if I did not receive the Mark of the Beast, enduring unspeakable torture inescapable even by death? The end of the world was always upon me, and I lived with a level of anxiety over my idle words to be given account of and shouted from the rooftops. I was a child full of words.

Therefore whatsoever ye have spoken in darkness shall be heard in the light; and that which ye have spoken in the ear in closets shall be proclaimed upon the housetops.
Luke 12:13 (KJV)

This was especially poignant, because the closet in my bedroom was the perfect hideout, clubhouse, safe place for secrets. It came complete with a sliding board (following the construction line above the stairs) and was where I told the most important things to my teddy bear or my sister.

I often pondered how all of those idle words were tracked. What would the judgement day be like, when I stood before God to give account? I pictured God turning to a card catalog, like the one at my local library only bigger, and pulling out a drawer with my name on it. There were all of my idle words, categorized.

How times change.

I never imagined the technology of today, where idle words abound and multiply. They are everywhere, our own and others. We share them in texts, comments, and emails. We carry them in our pockets on our phones. They can be retrieved with a click of a mouse or swipe of a screen or insert of a flash drive.

In having a motherly   my children recently, we discussed the importance of being thoughtful and careful with the words they use and send in cyberspace. Some are newly navigating those waters. I am well-aware I cannot monitor every word texted, sent, or spoken. I can remind them that once the words go out, they stay out there somewhere, even if we do not understand where or how.

I tried to explain my card catalog story, but I might as well have been speaking a foreign language. Times. They change. Words. They remain.

Choose wisely, choose well.

Tended Trauma

Childhood vacations consisted of camping or visiting grandparents in Michigan. Sometimes we camped with grandparents or other relatives.

The first family vacation I remember was a camping trip to Cowan’s Gap State Park. I was six years old. My sister, Deborah, was three, and my baby brother, Nick, was six months old. Mom was newly pregnant with sister, Sharon. While there was a baby and an expected baby, the focus did not seem to be all on babies, yet, like it would soon become. It was exciting to be camping.

Our family camped in a square, heavy canvas tent, secured to the ground by metal stakes. I remember the distinct canvas smell and expansive space.

Cowan’s Gap State Park had a sandy beach area for swimming. There were also rowboats for rental. I know this because they seemed so exciting, and I really wanted to ride in one. The answer was no. They cost extra money which was something my Christian school teacher father and stay at home mother did not have.

My mom’s late-seventies style consisted of blouses, wrap-around skirts, and navy blue Dr. Scholls Exercise Sandals. These sandals were wooden with a toe-grip under the single adjustable strap. The action of walking in them provided exercise for the legs, hence the name.

We were at the campsite, and I was running around wearing mom’s exercise sandals with bare feet. I dashed behind the tent, and as I circled and rounded the right side, I didn’t clear the perimeter. My left ankle raked against the edge of a metal tent stake, slicing it open. There was a lot of crying and blood.

Dad took me to a small medical facility for care. I sat on a table in an exam room under bright lights. The doctor said, We just have to squirt some ketchup and mustard on your ankle, and then we will stitch you up.

I felt safe and at ease. It was funny to think about squirting ketchup and mustard on my foot! I got six stitches and clear instructions for their care ~ especially not to get them wet in the lake. This was disappointing. Swimming was my favorite activity.

As a consolation, Dad rented a rowboat and took me out in it. He also put my foot in a bread bag on the last day, so that I could go near the water without the stitches getting wet. I felt special.

Weeks later, after returning home, it was time to remove the stitches. This was done at home using my mom’s sewing stitch ripper to break the thread before pulling it out. I remember the funny, tickly feeling.

I wore my scar as a special badge for many years. Looking at it reminded me of how brave I had been on that table getting ketchup and mustard squirted on it, and how fun it was to ride in a rowboat with my dad.

This story illustrates how a traumatic childhood event became a memory of care because the trauma was tended well. There was no yelling at me in a panic or lecture on why I should not have been acting like a child. I understood about not renting a rowboat, since I knew why we couldn’t. It made the subsequent rental more special, because my disappointment in not being able to swim was noticed and cared for with kindness. A creative solution for going near the water on the last day was thought of, again, making me feel special.

The removal of the stitches at home could have been traumatic if I were fearful and being coerced forcefully. Instead it was explained and tried and did not hurt, as my memory of the tickly feeling reveals. It felt adventuresome. In hindsight, I also know it was much less expensive for my parents to remove them at home, but that was not made an issue to me at the time. Because of how my parents cared for me in this situation, I am able to look back at this childhood story and feel loved and safe at six years old.

As you think about stories from childhood, what comes to mind? What tales are told of you, and how do they feel?

Tomorrow I embark on Certificate Training, Level 2. I will share a story of childhood trauma that was not tended well. I will hear stories of others with the goal of learning to listen to and engage with stories of heartache to foster healing and hope.