I've heard from child psychologists and experts that children assume every family is like their own, because it's the only thing they have ever known. I don’t know if that's true in general, but I do know it's not true for me.
Having grown up in Mexico in the 1970’s, I always knew that other people's parents were married to each other. That other people did not have brothers and sisters from different mothers or fathers. That other people went to mass on Sundays and I went to the movies. That while other people went to summer camp or Disney World I went to Egypt, China, Italy, Greece, France and Japan.
My mother hated Walt Disney. I didn't know who Snow White was, Sleeping Beauty or Cinderella. I never assumed people lived happily ever after. I was not once even offered a bite from the poisoned apple of fairy tales.
In the stories I was told, the only girls who wore fluffy white dresses and dainty shoes were the dancers of Degas. I did not believe I needed to be kissed to wake up and I did not believe waiting for anything would be conducive to my happiness. While I never believed in Prince Charming, I did believe the image of a pipe was not a pipe because it said so.
Distinguishing between a villain and a hero was never black and white. Attila the Hun promised his brother tribe, the Magyars in Hungary, that he would always be there for them. He said if they needed him they would hear the thunder of the hoof beats of his horses as his troops came to their rescue. “Alive I shall cross the Earth” he said “and dead I will descend from the heavens”. Ruthless, maybe, but Attila kept his word to the people that he loved.
I heard more about tropical islands than enchanted castles, and yet I never really warmed up to Gauguin, who left Van Gogh when he needed him the most.
I learned that if even the Gods living in Olympus had characteristics of mortals, then it was fair to make allowances for a mortal's limitations.
In our house, there was no honor in having ruby red lips and blue eyes with long lashes. Admiration was reserved for heroes, for the man in the arena, for people who achieved against all odds, for men whose reach exceeded their grasp.
At school, after the teacher heard fourteen "How I spent my Summer vacation" recounts, I would talk about the 8,000 terracotta soldiers of Xian, how each of their hair styles and faces was different, how the site included terracotta camels and horses, and that I had seen them all.
By now you’ve probably gathered I was not the most popular kid. The funny thing is, contrary to everyone else, I did not ever feel that these differences made me strange. I assumed they made me special.
You can expect this from children, you know. Being made to feel special was the only thing I had ever known.
(Photo: my mom and me, circa 1969.)