When Ava was diagnosed at age 2, Owen was 6. They say that when a child is diagnosed with type 1 diabetes it affects the whole family. That we all will have to adjust to the “new normal.” Back then, I often worried about how it all affected Owen – between the trauma of the hospital experience, the separation from me (which he was not accustomed to), and eating on a schedule, and listening to mom and dad screaming at each other over yet something else – what did he take away from all this? How much of it did he internalize, and how much is subconsciously harbored today?
Almost 2 weeks ago he broke his collar bone. He was x-rayed at the ER and sent home with a sling. So last Thursday we followed up with an orthopedist and Owen was really excited to see the x-ray of his shoulder. While we were waiting for the doctor, we chatted about the injury and looked at the charts of other common injuries and surgeries on the wall.
He said this place smells like the hospital. I said something about the ER and he said, no – the hospital where Ava was. He remembered the way the hospital smelled. All these years later, and he had a profound sensory memory. I was blown away that this just came out of the blue. I have similar memories, but mine are very specific to the scent of the hand sanitizer that hung outside all the patient rooms in the PICU. It took me years – I mean years – to not feel nauseated by that smell. Because every single person who passed through her door smelled the same and, this being Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, there were nurses, doctors, phlebotomists, ancillaries, interns, and fellows.
When I asked him what else he remembered, his memories were more vague – like who he stayed with while we were at CHOP, and eating McDonald’s downstairs on one of those days. The conversation inspired me to ask Ava what her earliest memories are. She has no memory of her diagnosis or hospital stay, thank God. But what she did say – blindsided me.
She remembers dad and me fighting. Those are her earliest memories. Owen, of course, remembers the fighting, but he doesn’t talk about it much. And there is another thing I think about – what about those experiences? What impact has that had on him? On her? As I said in a previous post, I knew that leaving was my only option – if I wanted a chance to live free and be happy. But more than that – way more than that – was the long-term impact my choice to stay or go would have on my children.
My choice, therefore, to leave was not just for me. It was so that my children would see what it means to stand up for oneself and for what is right. So that they would know that this isn’t normal. That my daughter wouldn’t grow up and find herself trapped in an abusive relationship. That my son wouldn’t grow up and believe that women are to be controlled, or to serve him, or that it’s okay to call your girlfriend or your wife a fucking c@#t. I really did worry at night sometimes, while I laid in bed, about the what-ifs of my son’s upbringing. Worrying that he’d end up arrested for punching or pushing his girlfriend, and how that would positively kill me. I know it sounds extreme, but it’s a very real aspect of domestic abuse – the lessons those children take away. You know, the sins of the fathers…
So now my post, which began as a rambling post about memories, unintentionally jumped on the circle and turned into a PSA. I rarely write without purpose anymore – usually I need an inspiration or a good story and just sit down and blam! I guess aimless rambling can be a good thing sometimes, like they taught me in writing class so many years ago.
Anyway, in another turn that makes little sense – my earliest memory? I think it’s a tie. Since I was so young I can hardly say which came first. I remember sitting in my high chair, in the kitchen, eating a powdered angel cream donut. Mom was downstairs, I think, doing laundry. I remember looking to the counter where the Dunkin Donuts box stood, and wanting another. So now ya’ll know what my favorite donut is. Still. I also remember sitting on my mom and dad’s bed – mom was in the bathroom and dad was lying on the bed – twirling a Q-tip in my ear. That’s it. But it’s a very early memory – and one in which my parents were still married. I would have been about 2 years old, maybe 3, when we lived in that house.
These brief snapshots of my early childhood with mom and dad are somehow precious … I have no memory of them together, only memories of them apart. Memories of the bitterness that existed for so many years afterward. But never violence. My mother’s childhood memories, by stark contrast, are peppered with nasty arguments and an alcoholic father. I guess that’s what she took away from a situation she couldn’t control – she made herself a better life as an adult, and made sure her child never had to grow up in an ugly household.
We all seek to improve on the past with our own families, don’t we? Whatever our reasons, we want our children to have the best. We raise them with the hope that they’ll never need a psychiatrist, or suffer with unspecified depression from suppressed memories of dad’s constant threats of suicide. We don’t want history to repeat itself.
What I have done is only what I can do. I use specific current incidents to explain why this is good, or that isn't acceptable, because the life I used to live has been reduced to he said-she said and the court order for custody is pretty clear that we are not to paint either parent in a negative light. Whether it is followed remains to be seen, but what my children do see each and every day is a strong mother who isn't someone's doormat or servant - who loves and is loved and cherished by a man who is faithful, compassionate, fair, and fun. I am forever grateful and blessed, and my hope is that they will one day be too.