Later this month, my son turns 8 years old. The world is his for the taking. He tells me that he does not plan to get a job when he is a grown up as he is going to be a professional baseball player, who gets to play instead of work. He is constantly laughing, playing with his hair, negotiating, being goofy. He is a fantastic first child, making it almost seem possible to reproduce enough to populate a basketball team, if only some higher power could promise four more just like him.
Most of the time, I stay in the present, focused on my incredibly blessed life. But as he approaches third grade, all in, there are times when my defenses are down, after I marvel at his confidence and joie de vivre, when I think about the 8 year old girl I once was.
Of course, elementary school memories from over three decades ago are hardly reliable. I have fuzzy but warm recall of great friends, exciting class plays, independence, the time I tried to bring a pet mouse to school in the pocket of my bomber jacket. But there are other recollections as well.
When I was 8 years old, my world turned on its head. Before I entered third grade, my father was kind enough to lie to us when explaining that my parents’ decision to separate was a mutual one. My mother moved out to live with family two blocks away, able to be there in the morning before we headed off to school, and she, to law school, her new adventure. At 8 years old, I learned to do laundry and felt important to have such a crucial job in my family, never recognizing the enormous burden that was placed on my little shoulders. All after school activities and religious training ceased. My parents began navigating the dating world, including the three of us in some of the outings, which was exciting, but confusing.
Whether or not they are accurate, my recollections of the last few years of elementary school are laced with uncertainty and self doubt. I no longer expected a lead role in a play just because I wanted it. I was full of anxiety when meeting with a teacher to review my journal after I failed to properly complete an assignment, waiting for some sort of rebuke that never came. I silently struggled to find my place in a world that once embraced me.
Clearly, the insecurity was coming. No one gets through childhood unscathed. But it is hard for me to separate those changes in how I felt about myself and my abilities with this unpredictable time of my life.
I look at my vibrant, self-confident, almost 8 year old son, and I feel so fortunate to have helped create a stable home life for him, where he never questions how much we love and believe in him, where he eagerly awaits his next challenge. But somewhere deep, I hurt for the 8 year old I once was, and I wonder how my childhood –- and even adulthood — would have been different, if I could have held on to such confidence and security just a little bit longer.