I had an interesting conversation with my 21-year-old last night, in which he told me what he thought of how we raised him and about his childhood.
It all started with him buying himself a box of this organic cereal we used to buy for him when he was little. All the boxes have pictures of different animals on the front and he always used to call his favorite “kinkajou crunch” (even though it never had a kinkajou on it and now it has a blue macaw.)
He started talking about feeling nostalgic for his childhood and the cereal was just one example. He actually described his childhood as “magical.”
Later, we continued the conversation and he told me about so many things he appreciated about his childhood. How he still had things to enjoy like a Nintendo DS even though we didn’t have a lot of money. That we always had enough food to eat and sat down together every night for a family dinner. He didn’t realize how rare that was.
He thinks of the way I was in the era of 2005-2007 as the best years of his childhood, when I was doing crafty stuff and making all our own bread and reading tarot and was really into music. As he put it, I was a “hip mom, not a cool mom” (the former of which he considers positive, the latter of which he does not and thinks it’s trying too hard.)
He even remembers the relatively brief period when he was a latchkey kid with responsibility for watching his brothers as something really positive because it gave him a sense of competence.
It’s funny because I tend to be so hard on myself about my parenting. I was so deeply depressed during most of their childhood. I largely let them entertain each other rather than playing directly with them. We didn’t have the money to put them in a lot of activities or buy them a lot of things, although they never went without necessities. We had a house, but it was not in great condition because we couldn’t afford to repair it. I never took them on any big vacations or even to the movies very often.
And yet, despite all those things I felt we did wrong, he still describes his childhood as magical.
Even though I often thought I was failing epically at parenting, I did have really strong beliefs in what I was doing. I really felt that being home was the right thing to do, even though I had ambitions of my own that went unfulfilled. Knowing that my sacrifices did make a difference makes it feel like it was all worth it.
Now I have two children who are legal adults, the second of whom graduates high school tomorrow. The youngest is 16 and is pursuing college prep courses this summer in hopes of getting a full scholarship to college and is also interviewing for jobs.
I’m still the bridge for them, providing transportation and emotional support. My disability has kind of forced me to continue that role. It scares me to be disabled, especially in the uncertain face of my husband’s cancer.
But somehow things worked out how I wanted. I have compassionate, generous, intelligent, socially aware kids who know there’s more to life than money. They know that when push comes to shove, it’s family first above all. Home feels like a sanctuary to them and to me.
Maybe it’s time to work on forgiving myself for my failures.