No… this isn’t a post explaining why it’s been over a month since I posted… we’ll get to that later.
Mommy? What was it like when you were my age?
Mommy? Did you have a dance class at my age?
Mommy? What did you do when you went to Paris the first time at my age?
Mommy? What did you want to be when you were my age?
I know kids ask these questions (these days). Usually, my deep explorations on my parents’ histories were met with apathy and redirection. “Go do something else.” or “That’s none of your business.” And I’d be sent away. I learned as I grew up in that household that if I just lingered in the shadows and waited for the grownups to circle around and listened quietly, I could stand to capture a glimpse into who they really were. Before they were forced to be parental. What dreams they had. What aspirations… goals? Who did THEY want to really be but ended up where they were? It was drilled into me and my brother from when we were young that this detour – to live in America – had everything to do with a bettering of life for US and not them. They were the sacrifice to offer up in exchange for my brother’s and my successful life. So I know my mom didn’t grow up wanting to be a nurse’s aide or a cleaning lady. Nor did my dad want to be on the assembly line at Ford Motor. But they did those things because doing that paid for us to go to private school and stack up on what they thought we needed to succeed. But…
Who did they want to be? Before it was our fault that they abandoned their dreams?
For my dad – who was WAY more vocal and many more people talked about than they did about my mom – once upon a time, was an athletic hopeful. Track, Javelin, Shot Put – but his crowning glory – the pole vault. A picture widely shared with our family remains a constant reminder of the story he told… how the Duvalier regime suppressed his opportunity to compete for this honor to represent Haiti and submitted someone else – a friend of the program – who was nowhere near as talented. And Haiti ultimately did not make it in to compete.
He was also an orator – had a radio show back home. Read beautiful poems. Sang. His voice was a treasure. Knowing how and when to modulate it… pausing and knowing what to say and when. It explained the STACK of pictures of beautiful women we found in a wallet he had in his boudoir that we uncovered after he died. He was a thespian. A musician. A dancer. A composer. He was vocal about the life he gave up to be here “for us”.
Mom, on the other hand, was a much tougher nut to crack. Something about her interactions with her father and his complete redirection of her life left her silent about her origins. Her dreams. Maybe it was too much to think about where she had aspired to be in the face of where she ended up. I can almost hear her saying, “This can’t be my life” even though she never utered those words. Rather… on occasion, she’d shake her fists and mutter “If I could fly… I would go sooo far away… and leave everyone behind.” She was DEFINITELY NOT where she wanted to be. She was NOT living the life she hoped to have been living at her age. And she was out on the first thing smokin’ once she kept her promise to her husband.
I was able to dig up a Diploma of Dactylographic Studies (the study of fingerprints) that was in her maiden name. This explained the fascination with the Matlock, Columbo, Murder She Wrote and other court/mystery related shows to which she was addicted. Still – not enough to paint the full picture.
Ultimately, here I stand. With my inquisitive daughter. Who wants to know more about ME. And how similar (or varied) my childhood was to hers. And it’s hard to hear my own responses because I know there are follow up questions that will delve deeper into my uncomfortable origins. And I’m not quite sure she’ll understand it all.
Mommy? What was it like when you were my age? Well… I was quiet a lot. Why? Because it was a time when children were looked to be SEEN and not heard. I played quietly with my dolls. Played quietly in my room. I didn’t bug my parents when I was “bored” – and when I did make that mistake they sent me to clean something – the dishes, the bathroom, the laundry or vacuum. So I quickly learned not to tell them when I was bored.
Mommy? Did you have dance class at my age? I wish I had, but no. Why not? Because I asked my parents to please send me to dance school and instead they sent me to piano. Those aren’t the same mommy…. I know… Then why did your parents not hear you say what you wanted? I have no idea, my love. But aren’t you happy that me and Daddy heard you? Yes I am Mommy.
Mommy? What did you do when you went to Paris the first time at my age? When we went together last year was my first time there. Really?? But you spoke the language… I know – that’s because my parents were from Haiti and they speak French there. So you never went there before? Nope. That was my first time. So you and your family didn’t travel to fun places? No… not really. Why? Because we were poor, my love. [long pause] What does “poor” mean, mommy? [longer pause]
Mommy? What did you want to be when you were my age? [longest pause] I wanted to sing and dance. Is that what you do at your job now? No… it is not. [she looks me in my eyes]
Why aren’t you doing what you love, Mommy?