One of the lessons you learn as a child welfare attorney is that neglect is harder to treat than abuse. Neglect–inadequate food, clothing, shelter, or emotional nurturing–often happens in a situation where parents are trying their hardest but life has conspired to make best efforts insufficient. It took me a long, long time to admit my own upbringing was characterized by some serious insufficiency.
The first and last time I recall sitting on my mom’s lap she shoved me off onto the floor because I wrinkled her dress.
I was afraid of the dark, but because I shared a room with three other siblings who weren’t afraid of the dark, the light was off every night.
Every night, I took blankets out to the floor of the hallway and waited until my siblings were asleep, then I’d turn on the hall light, and go back to bed. This went on for years, and my parents either didn’t know or didn’t care.
My neighborhood lacked children my own age to play with, and my sister was bored with me by about the time I turned eight (I was bored with her too). I can’t recall a single play date, or a time when a school mate came home with me on the bus.
I missed the bus once after school in second grade, but my mother didn’t realize until well after dark that I hadn’t come home with my sister. I sat outside the school for several hours, wondering if I was just supposed to spend the night there, and go straight to class the next day–assuming nobody stole me.
I was never involved in extracurricular activities. My mom simply hadn’t the time to do any chauffeuring. I could take piano lessons only because I could walk to the piano teacher’s house.
I recite this litany not to impugn my parents, who did heroically well raising seven children on a single income. I thought it was normal to have no friends, to do without affection, and to endure from one god-awful school day to the next, while being chronically sleep deprived. Other children had it so very, very much worse.
And yet, these deficits in childhood translated to problems in adulthood. I distrust authority, but can be suckered by charm. I’m not very good at building a support network. I struggle to keep healthy recreation in my life, and I’m overly attached to home.
I also see, though, the benefits of having been lost in the Burrowes family shuffle. I’m fairly self-sufficient and self-motivating. I can entertain myself home alone for days. My imagination is a good friend now, conjuring dukes instead of dragons. I value my friends highly, whether they’re blog buddies, writin’ buddies, or auld acquaintances.
I think this year has been a challenge for all us. We’re tired, frazzled, and the economy hasn’t exactly put two chickens in every pot. Are there ways, though, that you’re better off for having slogged through the last twelve months? Insights you’ve gained? Issues you have in a better perspective?
To one commenter, I’ll send a signed copy of The Trouble With Dukes.