baggage

I loved Roy Rogers when I was a kid. I would fantasize that he would adopt me like he did some of his other children. I would spend hours thinking about what to call my horse and dream what it would be like to live on the ranch. Roy would be the perfect father and Dale–the perfect mom. They wouldn’t be at all–like my real parents.

My parents weren’t like any of those families I watched on TV when I was young. I often wondered what my friend’s families were like. They all seemed happy and normal. I knew instinctively, “what happens in the family, stays in the family.” Secrets were buried—but certainly not forgotten.

Don’t leave home without it. It’s been a life-long journey to discover just how much my early childhood affected my life. Sure, my baggage arrived with me when I got married, but I hadn’t realized all the baggage I was lugging around when I worked.

My mom wanted to raise a child that everyone liked–an expectation that haunted me throughout my life. When I sensed that a manager didn’t like me and nothing I did could change that, I allowed it to destroy my self esteem. After all, I failed my mission.

Additionally, I lived in fear that if I made a mistake, I would no longer be liked–I wouldn’t be perfect. I took everything personally. The larger the company I worked for, the more helpless I felt when I couldn’t make the changes that “should” be made—triggering those buried feelings when I felt helpless about changing my family’s situation.

Crisco in the ‘frig. Not only did I mirror my mother in her values and ways of thinking, but also in other not-so-obvious ways. When I was in college, a bunch of my friends rented a cottage on the Jersey shore. We felt so grown-up by having our own place to ourselves—including doing our own cooking.

As a few of my friends were making dinner, they began looking through all the cupboards–where on earth was the Crisco? When I finally showed up on the scene, I quickly pointed to the refrigerator. Everyone laughed (except me) and I was stunned to realize that no one else put their Crisco in the refrigerator. I quickly read the label to prove I was right, but to no avail. It didn’t need refrigeration.

This was one of my first reminders how many things we do on automatic pilot and don’t even realize where we learn them. BTW, when I asked my mother why she put the Crisco in the refrigerator she said, “So the ants can’t get in.”

The gift that keeps on giving. There were many things I promised myself I would never do to my own kids. Sure, my parents had issues, but it would be some time later when I reflected how their issues shaped who I became. As close to perfection as I am (ha, ha), I am sure that despite my good intentions, I’m sure I have passed down some of my foibles to my own daughters.

I remember a co-worker of mine back in the ’80’s sharing how he and his wife had made a commitment that as they raised their children, they would make sure they had good self-esteem. At the time of this conversation, he was struggling with his daughter’s anorexia.

Huh? Perhaps you’ve had the occasion to be in the same place at the same time with someone and the other person remembers the “scene” totally different. It sometimes makes you scratch your head and think, “Did I miss something here?” Happenings like this demonstrate how we perceive events through our own lens.

And so, it seems impossible to get through life unscathed without any “issues;” without any baggage. But despite the memories we wished we could forget and inheriting less-than-positive behaviors and mind-traps–most of us are survivors.

Mom’s legacy. The older I get the more I seem to channel my mother. I hear her whispering in my ears and cheering me on. When I was afraid I would never learn to drive, she told me, “Look at all the people driving. If they can do it, so can you. You’re as smart as they are.”

My mother was the one who “made me” take piano lessons when I was five which has brought so much joy to my life. My mom quit school in eighth grade to go to work, so it was she who made sure I went to college—the first in my family.

When I first got married and money was always “tight,” it was mom who would put an unexpected check in a letter with a note to spend it on a steak or pizza. I knew no matter what, she would support me, through good or bad and loved me unconditionally.

I remember Mama. The things I used to make fun of my mother about are the very things I miss. I would get so mad at her when she gave away some of my “stuff” when one of my little cousins would visit. Now I find I have inherited her giving spirit.

I hated her Blue Willow dishes but treasure my own little Blue Willow tea set (from when I was a kid) because it reminds me of Mom. My mom always put tissues in her apron or “house dress.” Perhaps that’s another hereditary behavior as well, because I do that myself (not in a house dress)–leaving them between the couch cushions or in kitchen. (It drives my kids nuts too!)

My mother couldn’t carry a tune and I’m sorry to say I used to ask her not to sing in church (if I was next to her). Now, whenever I hear the favorite hymns she loved (i.e. In the Garden), tears quickly come to my eyes. I can still hear her singing “I’m Forever Blowing Bubbles” (usually after a few drinks) and I wished she would sing it one more time.

The good news. Our experiences shape who we are–but we can change who we become. We are not victims. Sure it’s not easy to undo some behaviors or thought patterns, but if we become more conscious, we can create new patterns. We can learn to live with duality—not condoning bad behavior; but loving and forgiving at the same time.

I was 29 when my mother died. I wish I could tell her, “I love you,” one more time — and that I know now she did the best she could. I wonder what she’d say about how I lived my life and who I’ve become–as of today.

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