Tuesday, October 19, 2010

The Mystery Called Childhood

In the small town school I attended there was no kindergarten. We went from the safety of home right to first grade. The only introduction we had to that new world, besides our siblings who had gone before, was something called Spring Roundup. We went to school for part of a day in the spring to meet our teacher, our fellow classmates, and to get a sense of what it was all about. The only thing I now recall about that day was a circular game we played out in the schoolyard. You know, one of those games that appears to be designed so that we all feel a part of something, part of the circle, but then the singling-out starts. I did not like to be singled out. I'm sure I wasn't alone. Usually this meant a losing situation for pretty much every one in that circle. I couldn't tell you if I won or lost. Doesn't matter. All I knew was that I could feel the freedom of unstructured days slipping away.

I had gotten a taste of what this meant the previous year when one spring day, as I was playing some make-believe game with my cousin Mark under the clothes line (what is it with this clothes line?), his mom pulled up at the end of our driveway and Mark ran off to get in the car, hollering as he went that he was on his way to Spring Roundup. After the car pulled out of sight on that dirt road heading to town, I remember sitting there on the grass, feeling very alone. He was my last best hope and there it went, along with him, in a brown and tan car that I only and ever saw as our way to get to the lake for an afternoon swim on hot summer days. How could this be?  It was as though I was watching myself from a short distance away, watching the life of someone else unfold.  On that day, I knew everything had changed.

The next year, when I found myself at Spring Roundup, it was something no more to be resisted, but an inevitable bridge I had to cross.

As I looked around at that small sea of unfamiliar faces, my eyes kept going to Marlene, someone new, from somewhere else. She was dressed in a fancy, white ruffly dress and had long brown curls with a white bow, in what can only be described as a Lillian Gish look-a-like hairdo. Out of synch, and out of time, I was intrigued, but quietly embarrassed for her, in her out-of-place attire and her slightly southern accent. What was she doing here, in north central Minnesota, in our circle of mostly farm kids? She wasn't a distant cousin and she didn't go to our church. Could I be friends with this puzzling little thing? I was already desperately wanting to fly under the radar. Have you heard the saying that goes something like,  "Don't draw fire. The people next to you frown on it?"  No, friendship didn't appear to be an option. She stayed to herself pretty much anyway and so I didn't feel an obligation. Not as enlightened as I wish I'd been, I kept a safe distance and watched this strange little being in the midst of us.

Now, in retrospect, from the distance of many years, I see it differently. Maybe she was me, that part of me that needed to create someone else, someone even more out there, someone who could be a buffer between myself and the real world, the world I wasn't quite comfortable in yet. I'm starting to look at the possibility and even to embrace her. Now, she'd be the person I'd gravitate towards, knowing she might possibly be the one who held the key, the key that would help me unlock the mystery called childhood.

I did not sit down this morning to write about Marlene. I was planning to write about Dennis, who sat across from me in both first and second grade. But, the Universe had other plans. I think I needed to look at this, to see aspects of myself more clearly, that self that's part of the Greater Self, to make friends with that little girl that's me, and to know I hold the key, and always have.

Forgive me. I appear to be on a Winslow Homer bender again. They are:
"Sunlight and Shadow"    
"Girl and Daisies"     
"Shepherdesses Resting"  


  1. You are just bursting with art, wisdom and insights today! I was struck by the Homer Winslow painting of the dogs in the boat. One looks just like Carmella who has a blog at
    littlebrownblog.com. You can also see the link on my page. Carmella has (rather slyly) appeared in many famous paintings which I'm sure you'd enjoy.

  2. I see Marlene as me as a child, one who moved around so many times, always torn from my friends just as I made them and hoping to make a friend at the next school before we moved again, hoping you'd reach out to me, and too shy to reach out to you.

  3. I totally agree with Ms Sparrow, you are bursting with art and inspiration.

    About that inner child...I have a dear friend who lives outside Boston. Two years ago a gal from Kansas moved to the area and obtained work in the same office where my friend worked. Time passed. My friend, out of the blue, remarked that the gal from Kansas seemed lonely. I asked my friend if she had invited the gal to have lunch with her group of friends, the majority office employees save for the gal from Kansas.

    No, she replied, I have enough friends already.

    Six months later the gal from Kansas returned to Kansas.

  4. Well this is just some seriously beautiful and poetic writing, Teresa. And can I just say, you would LOVE the field of Transpersonal Psychology. You live it here in your writing.

  5. Oh Kittie, that is seriously sad! But I myself have worn both pair of shoes- the rejector and the rejectee... Haven't we all, really. Something to ponder.

  6. Beautiful art pieces Teresa.
    As I read about your Spring Roundup I couldn't help feel as though all the young children were being rounded up in the same way as a group of young untamed horses. How terribly frightening.
    I too didn't go to kindergarten as I grew up on a farm isolated from other children in the community and was sent to the town school not the local country school so it was very much a big new frightening world. I think I would have liked being approached by another who was just that bit different as I was. Maybe I should have looked around and been the one who made that move.

  7. You are a dream writer Teresa, your words are floating like music.

    We did not have a kindergarten either , I went directly to school and there wasn't any preparations. Strict discipline. I have often thought of those small children like us , afraid of the teachers. There was one little girl, who was so thin and scared that I still remember the look on her face. Ketty was her name. She wasn't there for long. I wonder what became of her.
    You have made me think about all this now.
    Another thing, which came up: At that time it was not yet forbidden to slap the kids. But then I loved the mild teachers. They were the teachers who really gave us knowledge, which we took in, because they treated us well. I still despise the teachers with loose hands. We were strictly split up in girls' and boys' school with fence between us in the school-yard, we were forbidden to talk to each other. The boys had one special brutal teacher we called the Devil. Another one was called Hitler. (it was in the war-time).

    I like that you call it "The Mystery of Childhood". It is. The story has moved me very much.
    Those Winslow Homer - paintings are so beautiful.They suit your writing perfectly.

  8. I can feel the passion and warmth in your writing Teresa. Beautiful! Together with your choice of paintings ~ wonderful!

    Have a beautiful day!
    xo Catherine

  9. Your phrases are like a diaphanous veil, where only the bright light filters through. Many years earlier (than you) we had kindergarten. The strange thing is, I still connect with 5 of the women from my kindergarten class. All are well and still kick'n, live in their houses, have never had a mammogram, and are witty and funny. Here's a little example that gave me a good laugh last week. I was talking to Marj who lives in Windom. I said, "Rember Betty Howard? She did something great in her life." Marj quiiped, "You mean like winning the Nobel Peace Prize?" (I know, you had to be there!). My point of kindergarten, I can't recall anything I learned but I sure did get life-long friends of the experience. Love and peace to you, my dear Teresa.

  10. Ms. Sparrow, yes, Carmella. She looks so fine there, in her very fetching loungewear. : )

    Linda, children who move around a lot when young must face some real challenges, and children are all too often afraid to take that first step.... Friendships are vital.

    Kittie, Yes, as Kristy said, I think we all have found ourselves on both sides of that equation. I try to be much more aware now of those who might need the comfort of friendship.

    Kristy, Thank you for your kind words about my writing. I trust your studies are going very well and are illuminating. It does sound intriguing.

    Marilyn, "Roundup" it was. Surely there's a better way and why haven't we implemented it? I look at that question often, so many children in a system that is unhealthy and unbalanced.

    Grethe, Thank you, so much. I always appreciate your comments. Teachers can have such a profound effect on their students. I'm so glad they have to curtail their worst impulses now. I just hope they don't compensate with their words, which are just as stinging and hurtful, often very long-term. I did not suffer at the hands of either, but saw those who did and I still can cringe at the thought.
    I could not resist illustrating this with Winslow Homer's beautiful watercolors.

    Catherin, Thank you, so much. Have a beautiful day, as well!

    Manzi, Tell us about Betty! I did laugh out loud at reading even those few sentences. Friends to laugh with is precious time, indeed. The long term ones that have been with you through thick and thin hold a special place. And, thank you for your words about my writing. My, My, how very kind of you and Love and peace to you, my wild and witty friend! T

  11. A note of clarification: the top painting is done in oils, rather than watercolor.

  12. Childhood was like a fog to me. We lived in the burbs of a rapidly growing city. We didn't move, but being a "boomer", new schools were built yearly. Each year we were moved to a school closer to our homes. Each year, we lost friends and had to make new ones...all of us. I was pretty much of loner anyway. Looking back, I guess I was pretty much of a strange child...often lost in my own world. hmmmm...grew up to be pretty much of a strange adult! ha ha ha...but, true!

  13. I moved once, just before eighth grade, but had already made some new friends from the new school that summer. I always had a group of friends, but felt like a stranger inside, always feeling a bit on the fringe, trying to hide the fact that I felt that way. My Lord, growing up is a pain in the ass, isn't it? LOL

  14. When I was 46 years old I moved into my 49th house. I would have loved to spend childhood in just one place - maybe that's why I haven't moved in 15 years.

    I'm in Orvieto, Italy, settling in for a 16-day tour with 19 other souls. In the introductions I heard advanced degrees aplenty - but still little children wanting to be liked and understood.

  15. Linda, That's a lot of moves. Childhood has such an impact on our lives. Of course, what we do with it Now is all that matters, really. And, you are in Italy! I can just imagine how interesting group tours must be with all the different personalities, each with their idiosyncrasies. That's an interesting observation, seeing that your fellow travelers are still children inside who want to be liked and understood. I wonder if being in a group again doesn't bring out that old schoolyard feeling - will I fit in? Will I be liked? These things can become so ingrained and when we mature it seems we have to meet that challenge again when in similar scenarios, until...we don't. : )

    Have a great time! Keep us posted!

  16. You are a writer of magic TeresaE. I love the art and your insightful writing. The inner child and the memories. Thank you thank you.

  17. You are most welcome. I appreciate your kind remarks.

  18. Another great post, Teresa. You've tweaked a bunch of my own memories. Especially that I was taught "not to make waves." I still struggle with that.

    Now I want to read about Dennis who sat across from you! :-)

  19. We are all taught not to make waves, it seems, which leads us into creating a society that rebuffs those who do. What a shame. Time to rethink, recreate, through our own thoughts and actions.

    Dennis is waiting, or I'm waiting for Dennis...soon.