Sunday, February 21, 2010


My parents split up when I was five. The truth of the matter is that I really don't remember much from that age, so I guess it was better than if I had been, say, 15. Whatever hostilities were present have been swept into the cobwebby corners of my brain that house unwanted memories. There are some that lurk around. Some positive: my parents in their Star Wars Halloween costumes, sliding down the stairs on the Naugahyde sofa cushions; and some not quite so happy: getting violently ill from tomato soup (I wasn't able to eat it again until I was 20), hitting my head on a concrete step badly enough to require stitches, the giant, scary tortoise walking down the street. That last one might have been a dream. Anyhoo, I do have one memory from that time that has stuck with me all these years. It has absolutely nothing to do with the divorce, but that sets up the story.

My mom, younger sister and I had just moved to a new town. We had rented one side of a newish duplex in a development of block after block of the exact same buildings. I had begun kindergarten back in our old town, but due to the split, I was starting again in a new school. If I had been more prescient, I would have seen the foreshadowing and realized that this was to be the first of many school changes. They totaled twelve by the time I graduated from high school. But I was just five, so the subtleties were lost on me.

My first day at the new school, my mom walked me to the bus stop and waited with me, waving goodbye as the bus pulled off. At five, best friends are made over milk and cookies, so I had secured a pal who lived in my same neighborhood by the end of the day. When it came time to take the bus home, I assured the teacher that I knew where I was going and that I had my new buddy to help me. Imagine that sort of thing nowadays. The bus ride home was fun, I laughed with my new friend and we bonded over a discussion of the relative merits of wonder woman vs spider woman underoos. As we came to our development, I began to notice that the streets all looked the same and I got a little scared that I wouldn't know which stop was mine since I didn't even know what our street name was yet, but my new friend assured me that we were okay.

When we came to her stop, I got off with her, because I didn't know what else to do. We said our goodbyes and I looked around at the rows of duplexes that all looked exactly like ours and I had no idea where to go or what to do. The only thing I could think was that my best bet was to stay put and hopefully someone would find me. Meanwhile, my mom was waiting at my bus stop and when I wasn't on the bus, she panicked. She asked the bus driver about me, who, of course, had no recollection of one kid among the many she saw each day and couldn't tell her if I had been on the bus, let alone what stop I had gotten off at. My mom ran back to our house and hopped in her car and started driving around the neighborhood. I honestly don't know how long it took for her to find me, but I know that it felt like an eternity.

When she finally found me, she was fit to be tied. As she jumped out of the car to come over and hug me, she yelled at me for getting off at the wrong stop. That memory has haunted me ever since then. I never understood how my mom could yell at me for such an easy mistake. I think I have always harbored a little resentment about that. I was just a kid. I felt ashamed and hurt. And probably angry.

Now I am a parent in my own right. There have been plenty of times where my daredevil daughter has teetered precariously on the edge of a staircase or toddled faster than seems possible much closer to the street than I am comfortable with. And I have yelled. I yelled not because I was angry, but because I was scared. So scared that I couldn't even think. In those moments, I had a completely visceral response to my child's danger. And I finally understood.


  1. That story is so familiar. And isn't it amazing how much better we understand our mothers now that we are mothers ourselves?

  2. are learning little one :)

    Yup...don't you love when life circles round and smacks you in the face.

    Life lessons.

    Parenting brings them a plenty.

    {{beautifully written}}

  3. My mom lost me on an elevator once, when the doors shut too quickly. Only now, as a mother myself, do I understand the frightening mix of adrenaline and fear she felt that day. You picked the exact right word for it: visceral. We love and worry and scold and reach for our children viscerally, with every ounce of ourselves.

  4. Being a parent, brings a whole new light to why our parents did the things that they did. It is an eye opening experience.

  5. Isn't it strange to get this different perspective on that painful memory?

    I think we have all had that same experience now that we are moms. Sure makes you look at your own momma in a different light, doesn't it?

    So, did you call her?

  6. Yes, it's funny how memories change after you become a mom, lol. I yell out of being scared too. Mine are all a bit older than Sophie, but I still yell out of scared-ness.

    And, as I tell my kids...they'll understand only when they themselves become a parent.

    A vicious cycle, lol.

    p.s. my parents divorced when I was about 5 also, how weird.

  7. Last year, my then 4 year old pulled his hand out of mine and ran out into the street, directly into the path of a woman driving while talking on her phone and not really paying attention. I screamed at the top of my lungs, yanked him back onto the sidewalk so hard I was worried I hurt his arm, and then screamed in his face. And then burst into hysterical tears.

    It happens to all of us. I felt terrible afterwards, and apologized to him and explained why it happened (IE, he scared the shit out of me.). Your post gives me hope that one day he'll get it.

  8. Great post! It's a roller coaster ride of emotion, being a momma!
    (p.s. There was an extra ticket to Bloggy Boot Camp....will be there!)

  9. I know exactly what you mean. There were so many times that I didn't understand why my parents acted the way they did, but now that I'm a parent of 3, there have been a number of times when I haven't been able to find one of them and the panic that sets in is horrible. I have yelled more as a release of the adrenaline that's pumping through my veins.
    Thanks for sharing your story.

  10. I love the way you capture this story. I remember shopping with my mom when I was little, and just hoping on an elevator...getting off who knows where. Wandering around. And then breaking a manequin. Yeah. Karma is getting the better of me!

  11. Great post. Being a parent definitely makes it all come full circle.

  12. I am of the belief that kids don't really believe us when we say bad things can happen to them (pain, injury, death). They are, after all, invincible, dontchaknow? But they DO know that they should fear the wrath of Mommy and if that makes them get off at the right bus stop/look both ways/not run with sticks in their mouths? Then by all means; fear me. At least you'll still be alive.

  13. This post gave me chills because in the circle of life, I find myself saying or doing things that I swore I never would. I guess the truth is you don't know until you're there in the situation what you would do.

  14. Yup, that visceral response surfaces at least 2-3 times a day.

    Then my head wants to explode.

    12 moves? Yikes! I cannot even imagine how rough that was.

  15. Many childhood moments become clear as we become the mom.

    I counted 22 moves* prior to college (and ?? since). No wonder I have issues.

    *This is in no way to one-up you, just so you know Iiii KNOW.

  16. Wow.
    I did this EXACT same thing when I was about 7 years old. I was so engrossed in chit-chat with a new friend that I got on her bus and took it all the way to the END. That's when I sat there looking pretty foolish because I did not recognize the neighborhood, and the bus driver called my school to tell my mother where I was. She laughed about it, though. I was not lost for very long, and she had a chance to calm down before retrieving me.

  17. AH yes. There is nothing like parenthood to kick me in the ass and finally GET my parents a bit more. It's unnerving the life lessons we learn as parents. I sometimes am scared at my daredevil child as well and yell. But it's because I am so scared for my child and I just want to protect her!

    Beautiful post...

  18. I think it truly takes becoming a parent to understand what our parents went through and better understand them.


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