Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Strange kid

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.)


Miguel Cane said...

Dear Dushka,

We've had this conversation before, you and me.

I also grew up in a slightly different ambience than other children. I was thinking about this now that I got together with my cousins in Barcelona... when I was four or five, my social circle consisted of middle-aged cultured married couples: my grand parents and their brothers and sisters-in-law.

So, I knew what a Picasso was before I knew how to add or substract. I knew who Audrey Hepburn was (and fell in love with her face) before I knew how to kick a ball. I had a strange education that set me apart from the other children. I was beautiful, I was special, I was free.

Of course I was. And also, of course I was not.

I lost everything as I grew up, Dushka. I lost it all, and I regained it in a different fashion. I was torn apart and glued together. But I survived. I still do.

I perfectly connect with you. I know, I understand. We were special children AND strange kids AND little adults AND sensitive souls. You felt for Van Gogh, and so did I with Sylvia Plath. We learned to see the universe from a different perspective.

I have no regrets, not eally. I know you don't, either.

Having a parent like Carol (or like my Grandfather Miguel) is a mixed blessing. Sometimes we are in awe of what we learn from them, even if we also have to learn -- sometimes the hard way- of the ways of the world in a different light.

Oh, but how do I connect with you. You've got no idea...

My love to both you and Luca.

Oodles of.


Brian said...

This gives me encouragement to keep my own children off the beaten path and on the one less travelled. Honestly, I think that's one important reason why my Judaism is so important to me. It's a way of separating ourselves from the ordinary and participate in something that's been extraordinary for a few thousand years.

Dushka said...

Brian, it's funny you should mention this. I was just having this conversation with a friend. He feels that Judaism has helped bring his family together.
Thank you for your comments.

Tessitore di Sogno said...

I have always entertained the idea that a big part of our soul and sentimental education is derived from our parents (or main relatives), they are the ones who lead the way we are learning, the books we read; they share their music with us, the ability to appreciate gourmet tasting and also cooking it, they share impressive information about other cultures and tell us amazing stories from far lands, teaching us other interesting languages; Yes indeed, I think we are mostly the result of what they (Intentionally or not) wanted us to become.

Unfortunately, I grew up in a very poor environment where I had very limited access to go beyond, however now that I am an adult I have had the opportunity to learn lots of new things that now days make my life entirely rich in knowledge and although there is still a very large road ahead I am certain that I am on the right path.

By the way, one of the biggest values I learned from my late mother is that she taught me to love, and she did a great job because that makes me special too.

Ana said...

Que buen resultado dio todo eso!

fgv said...

What, no prince charming? Youve got to be kidding!

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Anonymous said...

You Mom is truly special. How fortunate is your experience

orlandojpn said...

the beauty of a daughter's love. Few things are so pure.