Sitting in a warmish office this morning, with a temperature of 1 degree outside. It is cold. Not the wet cold, but that crawl in your bones cold that never seem to leave.
Our homes in South Africa are not really built for the cold. Many disagree with what I say, but brick and cement can almost never warm up. I know we hardly (some places do) experience the sub-zero temperatures of the Northern hemisphere… or the beautiful thick snow and the silence that comes with a snow fall… As if nature Herself is holding her breath.
A young voice lying next to me in bed last night said… mommy, please I don’t want to move to Ireland, while falling asleep. I think my entire psyche stopped for air, and the questions that came up within that innocent sentence.
Today I am not preaching about what your childhood did or did not do for you, today I am telling you story. A true story.
We grew up in a society that demanded children are to be seen and not heard. Children are not to have a voice or a choice in anything. Children, good little children must obey no matter what, and if we did not, we were beaten (or tried) into submission. And for gods sakes I am not talking about ill-mannered little brats that swear at their parents, or children with little respect for anything nowadays.
But stand still for one second – how different would your life be if you had choices growing up? A choice in moving from house to house, or shipped off to somewhere – hostels, a grandparent, an aunt or other family member. Or a simple choice of what to wear….
Good little children wear what they are given. My daughter is 6, from the age of 4, I gave her the freedom to choose her clothing, to tell me if she wants a dress, a pants, or a pair of shorts. And yeah, I shop from the cheapest places for my child as I do not see the need in spending R250 on a shirt, where there could be 4 shirts for that amount of money.
I own a “duffle” coat, I think that is what it is called. Any of you remember going to school in winter with a thick grey coat on with wooden buttons…. My duffle coat is one of my prized possessions, I take it out of the cupboard, look at it, smile at the memories, cry from some, and hang it back. Beahnca refuses to wear it, and so is her choice. Even when I tell her that I used to wear that as a little girl.
Anyway, let me get back to the story. I was forced to wear little mini dresses, miniskirts. Yes, granted it was the fashion of the time, but one memory sticks out like a splinter in my mind. Because of the sexual abuse I endured with no-one knowing, or pretending to not see, which ever it may be, I remember walking to school one morning crying… snot and tears, all the way, as I felt exposed. I carried my little brown suitcase behind me, trying desperately to “cover” myself from people.
I cried, for the bobby socks (remember those?) and the patent black shoes with the “dear heavens” short skirt, did not make me feel “pretty”, it made me scared. My body was an invitation for dirty old men, and not so old cousins that saw something to “play” with.
Imagine if I had a “voice”, if I was allowed to freely express the reasoning behind not wanting to dress in the clothing provided… I hear you, be grateful you had something to wear, and be grateful you had blah, blah… I never said I was not grateful, I am talking about the freedom of having a voice and the beauty of being heard.
As children , we do not have the capacity to express the inner turmoil we feel, we as grown ups have to guide and teach the young on how to “speak” with respect, to show them the “right” way of engaging… the right way according to whom? Of what you were shown as a child growing up?
This is where I refuse. I refuse to insist my child dresses in anything that makes her uncomfortable. I refuse to silence her voice, expressing the reason behind not “liking” a polo-neck shirt. It sounds so silly, it sounds as if I allow the 6-year-old to rule the parent. I am not an obedient parent. I am firm, and strict, sometimes a bit too much.
There is a profound saying I scrolled by this morning early at 6, “Do not buy me everything you did not have as a child growing up, teach me the things you wanted to know as a child growing up”.
My inner child heals with listening to my daughter saying no, I do not like that. My inner child is learning to express herself towards me as well, “you did not like that, and it is ok.”
I was shown from a young age, that my voice did not matter, it did not matter that I was unhappy with constant screaming and shouting, fighting and belittling the father figure. It did not matter that I finally had the courage to state what had happened to me as a child and trying my best to express what and how I felt. My voice did not matter when I asked for the wishing us dead to stop. My voice did not matter when my animals were given away. My voice did not matter when I was teased at school, for various reasons, it did not matter because there was no one to listen.
Maybe I do repeat some of the mentioned experiences. But one thing that will always be important to me, is the voice of my 6-year-old. And my promise to her the day she was born was to never lie to her. No matter how hard and no matter how painful, I will not lie, and I will listen.
I am painfully aware on the importance of being heard. Allowed to disagree, respectfully. Given choices and experiencing the consequences of the choices made… You know that thing of take a jersey, nah I’m not cold, then freezing your behind off within ten minutes.
Agonizingly aware of that little voice, this morning… And the importance of inclusion in choices that impact more than just me…
How different would life be, if you were given choices growing up?