the past, only a reference point

I don’t think it’s possible to escape one’s past. From what I’ve observed first-hand and with others, childhood experiences, good and bad, establish the paths our lives take. Where improvements are possible, we should make them for our own sake, and for the sake of our children. As parents we are empowered to discontinue the cycle of negativity.

Remembering back to when our daughter was to begin kindergarten, one specific memory stays with me. An evaluation was required to familiarize the staff with, among other things, her likes, her needs, her trepidations, as well as our own. On the appointed day, I met with the school psychologist. As I approached her I was nervous, as though I was the kindergartener. In reviewing the form with her, I lingered over a particular answer. The question had asked what qualities we would like in a teacher. It was amazing to think we had a choice. I replied that our daughter was with me most of the day and I was the disciplinarian. Therefore I would prefer that her teacher be more fun-loving like my husband, who enjoyed play time with our daughter. As I spoke, tears welled in my eyes and my voice choked. When I confessed to my guilt at not being more playful, the psychologist assured me that my husband and I were each performing very crucial tasks in our daughter’s upbringing. My equilibrium restored, I left feeling we were on the right path to being good parents.

As a child I wasn’t allowed to play until all my chores were done. Though not unique, it probably influenced the direction my life took. Because my mom was a single parent, working much of the time, it fell to us children to keep our home in order. Once a week I had to clean my room, dust, sweep and mop the living room, weed the small patch of garden at the front of our house, and help my siblings wash the car. Daily chores included setting the table for meals, as well as clearing it off afterwards, and watering the greenhouse plants. When I was older I also had to hand-wash clothes in the water-filled tub; hang them to dry on the clothesline; and hand starch and iron dressy-wear. Then there was homework to be done which, of course, took precedence over everything else. For a number of years, nap time was always part of the mix. So when I was allowed out to play, for I had to ask permission, I enjoyed every precious second, staying out until the sun set if possible. Summers spent with older sisters in Honolulu meant fun, fun, fun. Even though I still had chores to do, there were less of them, and no school meant no homework!

For the most part, doing chores before playing remains my life’s routine. Being 61 and married 40 years has given me license to cut myself some slack. So now I blog before I clean the bathroom. But keeping a clean and orderly home will never be wiped from my DNA, it is too deeply ingrained from a lifetime of repetition, beginning as a child. Just as allowing myself to “play” will never be without a sense of guilt for which I will always apologize, looking for a “pass” from my husband. Raised as 1 of 5 sons, with 7 sisters, he was not as burdened with chores as a youngster. So a clean house is not a must for him, but it is for me. The obsession can also extend to the orderly functioning of my mind as well. If my surroundings are in disarray, my brain seems overwhelmed by what it sees, becoming immobilized. That alone motivates me to straighten and vacuum. Since the presence of dust is only in the eye of the beholder, my mother-in-law living too far away to perform the “glove test,” dusting is one chore which is left for tomorrow, or the day after, or…

I did not insist that my daughter do a list of chores growing up. The cycle was broken with her. I enjoyed keeping house, having youthful energy on my side then. Being a mom was preferential to commuting into NYC to sit at a desk, watching the clock. But perhaps while I was doing what I knew best, keeping house, I allowed our child to have a different life. She was able to find her own passion, not one imposed by circumstances. I like to think that’s why she’s a career ballerina. And, she has proven to be a good housekeeper too. Having lived in an orderly home probably became part of her DNA. Fortunately she tends to play without first having to do all her chores. Thank God!

we are who we are, making the best of it…hugmamma.