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transcending the lessons of our childhood

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i turn on the tv and trip over oprah interviewing rosie o'donnell. i've caught the interview underway, they are talking about how she was raised and what impact that has had on her parenting. she says that she wanted to be a better parent or at least to offer what she had lacked and it resonates with me. of course, i am not a wealthy celebrity, so the financial aspect is
different, but i think that my son didn't want for anything (especially hugs) without
being extravagantly indulged.

my mother was reared by stoic and aloof parents and herself was cooly inaccessible, what i knew of her. my father came from abuse. it seemed neither of them were unprepared and ill-equipped for the rigors of parenthood. when the family split, my father disappeared and my mother began to date. we spent a lot of time with sitters or amusing ourselves. for all intents and purposes they had both moved on. when we were apprehended by social services, my mother was relieved and my father was still nowhere to be found.

abandoned into the system my brother and i were consigned to foster care and eventually a foster home. the sort of foster home that are the stuff of movies, the bad ones. we were to be seen and not heard; to obey without question. most of my childhood was devoted to the service of the household, in more ways than one. i cooked, cleaned, did the laundry and all was to be done without complaint because to do otherwise would be seen to be "asking for it". 

as a result, i had no model for parenting when i became one, all i knew was that i did not want to be the sort of parent who yelled and screamed, who shut her child down with "because" she said so, or worst of all, used arbitrary violence instead of compassion, understanding and teaching. and i know i overcompensated. i spent a lot of energy explaining to my young son the why instead of saying "just because". i wanted to be sure he knew the why behind everything. when he got older he would roll his eyes and say to me "the short version, mom, the short version". coincidentally or not it turns out she has done a documentary
for hbo about families. i won't be able to watch it, of course, until it is released onto video or perhaps as a late night showcase entry.

an unknown history in pictures

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in the vein of preparing for any event, along with finally putting together an emergency bag, i've been organizing all my old photos for scanning to DVD. i realize with some chagrin that i failed to note dates on any past the first few months of my son's life. now, some 24 years later. it is safe to say that details of the mundane daily events have disappeared into a vague black hole of yesteryear. i'm really struggling to put the pictures in some sort of order. i've been playing the detective, taking note of haircuts, certain clothing and shoe types to help me sort them out. occasions spark a glimmer. however, the images evoke such strong feelings i can't really place. it could just be the pull of nostalgia, because i can't actually remember most of it.

what would have i done differently had i a known better?

a big green rubbermaid tote holds most of the memorabilia of our small family. along with matt's old school projects and report cards, a baseball mitt and soccer trophies are photos rescued from my grandparents' apartment after my grandfather died.

i have done the same with these photos. attempting to arrange them in some sort of chronology; sifting through a visual history that is a complete mystery to me and has been rendered out of focus and inconsequential with the passing of time. even the vessel they are contained within seems to devalue their importance as a visual history. an old metal cigar box. most of the pictures are of my grandparents when they were much
younger. how younger i wouldn't know if it weren't for a photolab's
timestamp. my grandmother vamping it up; my grandfather the handsome
rake. we saw my stoic grandparents rarely and they used their broken english sparingly, so we had no oral history. i know differently now why. if only i had known them better. if only i'd had the chance.

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