I was a child in the sixties: a tumultuous time to say the least. My parents were very much a product of the fifties: that June Cleaver, Leave it to Beaver time when Mommies wore pretty dresses and did their hair and make-up every single day and Daddies went to work before the children were up and came back home just in time to kiss their offspring’s fresh, clean little faces before Mommy whisked them off to bed so she could serve Daddy his supper in peace.
I understand, now, how very, very difficult it must have been to be a parent – especially a mother – back in those days but oh, how I sometimes wish I had been born in another era. There was so much pressure on parents to be perfect and to raise the perfect child. Those were the days when children understood that they were to be seen but not heard. If a child got in trouble at school, their fervent hope was that the teacher didn’t call home to report it. When that happened, you were going to get a thrashing and you were going to be grounded. And woe be it if the neighbours caught you up to no good. There wasn’t a chance that they weren’t going to tell your mother (and then tell all the ladies at the sewing circle). Parenting and social standing walked hand in hand.
A few years ago, I found a letter that my grandmother had written to my parents: “Be careful with Patti,” she cautioned, “She is such a sensitive little soul. I think M_ (my sister) will be okay; she’s so feisty; but I do fear for little Patti.” When all was said and done, neither one of us would fare especially well: despite my sister’s outward spirited demeanor, turns out she was just as sensitive as her big sister ever was. She just hid it better.
I was still just a child when I started to imagine love as a brick wall. Each gesture; each loving look; each term of endearment; each hug was a brick. Enough bricks created a wall of love all around me. But each time I made Mommy or Daddy mad; each time I was bad; each time I got in trouble; they would get angry and that wall would come crashing down around me. In my childish mind, it was always my job to build the wall back up; to be good enough to once more merit the hugs; the loving looks; the praise that would restore that wall. It was exhausting because parents can and do get mad. Each time they were upset with me, I was devastated. Crushed. In complete despair. Each time meant starting over; rebuilding that wall back up again. It never seemed to get much higher than waist level. Just enough to cower behind; never enough to stand up straight.
I ‘get’ that my parents loved me with every single fibre of their being. I ‘get’ that they were the product of a fifties generation that made marriage look like a fairy tale followed by a generation of hippies that made the generation of the 50s look like the biggest of jokes, followed by many generations of excess, greed and unthinkable pressure. I ‘get’ that it was not an easy time to raise oneself, let alone attempt to raise a child.
When my children were born, like every other parent who has ever lived, I wanted to be better and do better. I had an advantage, though: I had that wall I had been working on my entire life. Love is never going to feel that solid for me. It’s too late. I am too broken. But it didn’t have to be that way for my children.
Like that little Patti my grandmother tried to protect all those years ago, my children were a fresh slate. And before they were ever born, I decided that I would build their walls differently. Each gesture; each kiss; each time I tucked them into bed was a brick, but before I turned away, I was careful to add a thick layer of mortar. No matter what happened, THIS was a wall that would never come down. I wanted them to feel – with no doubt whatsoever – that the wall I was building around them was a solid as a mountain. Indeed, I have placed so many loving bricks around them over the years that their walls must be higher than any mountain that exits.
And stronger than the sun.
Nothing they will ever do; nothing they will ever say could cause so much as one of those bricks to fall. They know this. They trust this. My love for them is completely, unequivocally, resoundingly unconditional.
No matter what…
Patti Moore Wilson/© wednesdayschildca.wordpress.com