Only The Lonely, As In Child

Something About Nothing in The Albert Lea Tribune the week of April 17, 2017

Something About Nothing by Julie Seedorf

Whoopie! There is an Only Child Day, and I happen to be an only child! We have a day to celebrate so we don’t have to feel bad anymore when all those people post their pictures on Siblings Day. But what do we do with an only child day?

I think there are many misconceptions about only children. One of the ideas is that only children are spoiled. I was spoiled when I was an only child, but I think it had more to do with the fact that I was born to parents who were in their 40s who knew I would be the only child they ever had. Also, they lost twins earlier in their marriage. Contributing to the spoiling was perhaps the fact I was left with family or alone a lot because my parents were busy working.

There were perks of being an only child. I had a lot of toys. I didn’t have to vie with siblings for attention. In my case, I lived my early years in a household with a grandmother and an uncle who also — especially my uncle — did many special things for me.

He made me my own ice skating rink in the family garden. I had a swing and a homemade teeter-totter and a merry-go-round. My uncle also built me a winter slide from the top of the hay rack, which let me slide down the track across the entire pasture. If I think about that now, I can’t imagine anyone would let their child slide on a homemade contraption like that for safety’s sake today. It’s amazing I survived and never once did the sled leave the track.

I have memories of helping load hay and learning how to drive a small tractor. I spent a great deal of time with my uncle when my parents were working.

As a teenager, I spent most of my time either alone or with my friends. My parents were busy taking care of my grandparents and uncles and running their shoe store. Those who envied my spoiled life or those adults that blamed my parents because I was spoiled, didn’t see the other side of the picture.

I had a wonderful life as I grew up, but being an only child also has its ups and downs.

I spent much of my time with adults, so I learned to talk to other adults, which helped when I became an adult, or in volunteer activities when I was a teenager. I learned to handle death, as it was never hidden from me when a family member died, and I was included in plans. I got to travel with my parents, although at the time I didn’t appreciate all I got to see because I didn’t have other kids to mingle with on our journeys, unless we were visiting relatives. And, I didn’t have to fight with my siblings for toys, bedrooms, time with parents, television shows and whatever it is siblings fight about. I have imagination because I spent so much time playing by myself.

I still feel the downside to being an only child. It can be a lonely life. I spent so much time alone that as an adult in my younger years I did not like being alone. I wish I could experience the feelings others have for their sibling being love or hate or ambivalence. When it came time to making decisions for my mom, I was alone in the decision-making process.

I miss having a brother and sister to share memories with — good times and bad. Most of my mother’s and father’s close family are gone. I miss family get togethers at holidays with other relatives. And I must admit I don’t understand when brothers and sisters do not keep their connection going throughout their life.

My friends had to become my brothers and sisters. I don’t know how I would feel about a brother or sister family member, but I would imagine it is the way I feel about some of my friends. However, there still is a difference as friends have their own siblings and families they spend holidays with.

My being an only child influenced how many children I had. I did not want to have only one child because I felt it was a lonely life after your parents are gone. I am fortunate to have three children and five grandchildren. I still have family.

Can you miss what you never had? I do. Or maybe it is the idea of what could have been and what I see with others who are blessed with siblings. Sibling love is not always rosy, but usually that close family member has your back when the chips are down. In spite of the fights and feuds, the love is there.

I can’t quite figure out how to celebrate Only Child Day. Buy myself a gift? Buy a lottery ticket? Do something I did as a child by myself?

I think I want to celebrate next year and find another only child to share the day with. It’s more fun when there is two instead of one.

Words Can Break A Heart

Something About Nothing published the Week of April 3, 2016 in the Albert Lea Tribune.

I had to visit the dentist last week and have a tooth pulled. I actually needed two teeth pulled — one on each side of my mouth — but I opted for the right side of my mouth to be tampered with first. It was the tooth that was in the most pieces.
I have a fear of the dentist that goes back to my childhood. An ungraceful badminton racket swing by a friend took out my two front teeth. I moved forward to get the birdie, while my friend moved backward. Amazingly enough it was a perfect swing, catching just my teeth but not my mouth.
The summer beginning my eighth-grade year in school was spent in the dentist office. There was no soft music, gentle touch or pain-free dental equipment, nor was there a dentist with steady hands. The fear fueled by those memories lasts a lifetime.
New technology and gentle hands by both the technicians and the dentist now make a visit to their offices as pain free as possible. My tooth is out, and I am making plans to go back for the next removal. My fear is subsiding, and I found my fear was worse than the visit. But it is hard to remove those memories of long ago from my mind.
Recently, I asked my readers for devastating words said to them at some time in their lives that stuck in their thoughts and hearts forever. I was doing research for a Lenten service I wanted to write. My readers responded, and my heart broke as I read some of the unkind and thoughtless words that were left glued inside their mind.
Here are a few examples:
• I will never forgive you.
• “You’re fat, dumb and ugly.”
• “How stupid are you to adopt disabled children? You’d return any other defective merchandise.”
• “You can’t carry a tune. Your voice is terrible.”
• “I’m going to send you home in a body bag.”
These were just a few of the responses I received. Words hurt just as much, if not more than the dentist drill of my childhood. My fear of the dentist didn’t shape my life, only the care of my teeth. Words said in the heat of anger or to wound can twist someone’s life. Kind words in the future do not seem to wipe out the memories of the past cruelties.
Of these five examples, one person did not sing in public or in a choir again. One, because they felt they were too ugly and dumb, didn’t have the confidence to go on to nursing school. And I can’t even respond to how not being forgiven or your life being threatened would change the way one lives. Luckily the person who was taunted for adopting disabled children did not listen but hurt for the children in their care who were ridiculed.
The words I remember the most from my teen years were when a boy told me I was the ugliest girl he had ever seen. I remember that boy, but luckily I had enough support that I could move on in my life. To this day, I remember that boy because of his cruel words. I always wonder what words I might have said that are remembered by someone, and I hope they have forgiven me for them. But I know they aren’t forgotten. Forgiveness and forgetting are two different things.
There is an old saying, “Sticks and stones can break my bones but words will never hurt.” I’d like to change that saying to “Sticks and stones can break my bones but words can break my heart.”

     

The Courage Of A Leader

Something About Nothing published in the Albert Lea a Tribune January 16, 2017

Today is the day we honor a great man, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. In case you don’t know, Dr. Martin Luther King was a Baptist minister and a leader in the Civil Rights movement. He was assassinated on April 4, 1968, in Memphis, Tennessee. He was awarded posthumously the Congressional Medal of Honor and the Congressional Gold Medal. Martin Luther King Jr. Day was declared a federal holiday in 1983 by President Ronald Reagan, and it began being observed three years later.

In 1963 at the March on Washington, Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his famous “I Have A Dream” speech in which he stated his wish that our nation would rise and live out the creed that we would hold our truths to be self evident and all men would be created equal. He wished for all to sit down in brotherhood and that his four children would live in a nation where people would be judged not by the color of their skin but by the content of their character. He wanted people to pray together, work together and stand up for freedom together. In spite of the oppression he felt over his lifetime, he loved this nation.

I was a senior in high school in 1968. That is 49 years ago. I never thought when I was a teenager that we would still be fighting the same race wars in 2016. I can only imagine what Dr. King would say if he would be able to speak today.

I grew up in a white community. I remember the first time I met a black person. It was in the early 1970s, and he was the husband of my best friend from childhood. It was the first time I was confronted with choosing whether I might be accepting of someone of another race, and I was. My friend made a smart choice in her husband. My children who were 3 and 5 at the time didn’t notice color — they noticed kindness. I had been sheltered from the violence and race wars where I lived and was relieved to know that I could look at a person and see the person not the race.

I think the reason I questioned how I would react to the meeting was because of what I had seen on television and heard in the media. Living where I lived I didn’t understand what the rest of the country was going through because I didn’t experience it, and so making judgements just by what I heard did put a little fear in my heart of those that were different.

I had a little taste of understanding earlier in 1968 when I read a book called “Freedom Summer” published in the ’60s. I don’t know the author, but the book had an impact on me. I read it for a book report my senior year. It highlighted white college students volunteering in Mississippi during the riots to register voters. I read it, went back to my nice life, but I never forgot that book.

I can’t imagine having the courage of Dr. King, speaking out and leading against hatred and violence that was directed at him. Yet he kept going and it cost him his life, but in doing so he left a legacy to aspire to. He believed in nonviolence and he preached nonviolence, yet violence took his life because he had the courage to stand up against those who were intolerant.

Here we are in 2017 fighting the same injustices. I don’t remember a year in my life since those early days when I have felt the fear I have been feeling. It is a fear we are going back to those early days of intolerance of those who are different than us. I don’t remember a year when I have felt hatred running out of control again.

And I don’t like feeling that fear because for me, if fear takes over, the lashing out begins. The rational thinking goes out the door and my mind fuels on what might happen and is focused on things which might never occur except in my own mind. When that happens I take it out on those I don’t understand, and it leads to family against family, neighbor against neighbor and judgement and repercussions. The blaming begins and we never blame ourselves. We always find a scapegoat for our feelings.

I read the story of the life of Martin Luther King Jr. today. He deserves our honor. He gave his life so others could have a better life. He didn’t stay silent about oppression out of fear. I find others doing that today, staying silent out of fear, bowed down by those that are louder. Staying silent because they don’t want to be targeted by those that think differently. I find myself doing that or apologizing to those that are the loudest and don’t like my viewpoint, because I don’t want to offend them even when they are offending me or I don’t want to be their target. Where is the fine line between swallowing our pride and our beliefs and our conscience and still staying friends with those who bully our opinions so we don’t speak out?

We learn from the past. Soon we will be the past. What will our children learn from us? Will it be the same as we learned from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.? Will it be an education of courage?