Sunday, August 20, 2006

Birthday parties and being in the right place

When I was a child, being taken to a birthday party was scary. That sounds ridiculous! Birthday parties are fun! Yet there I would be, present in hand, getting dropped off and encouraged by my mom to go knock on the door of an unfamiliar house (this was probably 1st or 2nd grade). My knees always trembled when going to that door alone. "What if it's the wrong door? What if Mom's made a mistake and it's the wrong house or the wrong day?" If that happened I would have been so embarrassed. I would've been "wrong!" It was very stressful.

Eventually, I got over it and learned to knock on doors without fear, until my marriage broke up and the fear came back. Getting left does not make for great self-confidence. You feel "wrong" all over again. I've always wondered why I have that particular fear. For many years I couldn't think of a reason. Then on Sunday I felt that feeling again and suddenly remembered a childhood experience from when I was even younger.

One night back when I was 2, my parents went out with friends and left me, and their friends' kids, with a sitter. When our parents came back I ran to my father, threw my arms about his knees, and called him Daddy. It wasn't Daddy! It was someone else's father. My memory tells me that I was very angry about this. What I suspect is, I was horribly embarrassed and everyone laughed at my discomfort while trying to reassure me that all was okay. It must have been really harmful to my child's self-esteem to go to the wrong parent. When you are that young your entire world revolves around those two people. And there I was, running to the wrong person.

Now that I've remembered this I think I can start to winnow that fear out of my system. I have some kind of reason for it. How long can a bad experience last? Quite a while it seems.

When I sat in church Sunday morning and tried to focus my thoughts, I found myself feeling like I was wrong all over again. It was really unsettling. I love God and I love going to church. Yet there I was wondering if I was "wrong" and didn't belong there. My best guess for the trigger for this time was a dream of rejection I had the night before. My reaction was to concentrate harder on the lesson and pray. The lesson was the one where Jesus says we must eat his flesh and drink his blood or we don't have life in us. So there I was pondering on the existence of flesh and blood in the Eucharist. When we got to the part where you take communion I was glad to receive it. It felt very important today. I also prayed, asking God for help with this fear. I asked for eyes that saw him clearly and didn't mistake someone else for him. It helped some, but I don't want to walk my faith always wondering if I am on the right path. And I never want to listen to someone who is not God directing my life in ways that seem good but may not be.

If this sounds like more talk about discernment, it is. I think I am coming to realize just how important discernment is, even about ourselves. And how difficult it can be. If I know one thing about myself it is that no one can mess me up as thoroughly as I can. My Spiritual Director says that is true of most of us. When our childhood experiences, or our adult ones, affect us so that we don't see clearly, we can find ourselves lost and wandering around trying to not go to the wrong place. Have I mentioned that I get lost easily? I have a poor sense of direction and prefer very clear, detailed maps for trips and life in general. That isn't always possible. So, now that I am concerned about staying on the course God sets for me, I will have to get better at recognizing his voice (as opposed to others including childhood fears) and reading the signs he sets on my path. Since Cursillo, God seems to be telling me things several times until I get the message, exhibit the needed change of heart, and move in the right direction. Trusting my gut wasn't something I learned to do as a child (poor self-esteem) so this lesson may take awhile. It takes 27 times to build a new habit, and even though I never learned to listen to that still small voice in the midst of activity...I am trying to!



Susan Palwick said...

Lee, if it's any comfort, I was always uncomfortable at birthday parties (or any other kind) when I was a kid, too. In fact, I'm not great at them even now!

At my own birthday party when I was 4, I was so embarrassed or scared or something that I hid. I wouldn't come out to open my presents.

I'm glad you figured out what one of your triggers might have been. That could indeed be very embarrassing for a little girl. I think a lot of people don't realize how easy it is to embarrass children: the world's so much bigger than they are anyway, and they're so desperately trying to figure out how things work, and it's such an overwhelming task sometimes. Adults don't enjoy being embarrassed either, and children simply can't be expected to have any kind of perspective on the experience.

And as for discernment . . . that's the struggle for all of us, isn't it?

Lee said...

Hi Susan. I think that birthdays are more for parents than for the kids. This is especially true when the child is very young. Once they have developed the desire to get presents I think it becomes a lesson in greed. Gee, imagine what lack of birthday gifts would do to the retail market.

You have my sympathies for the age 4 party experience. A friend's 4 yr old son had a birthday and they invited a 2 year old. The 2 yr old's parents had explained about presents before they brought him. He still cried everytime my frined's son opened a present. Eventually the birthday boy let his 2 year old friend open one with him. That made things much better. It was very rewarding to see this child who was only 4 showing such a giving heart.

I think you are right about adults not having full awareness of a child's feelings. Part of that is probably due to the lack of vocabulary on the part of the child. But some of it may be the adult tossing off what they learned to ignore after they experienced it enough to not need to be concerned about it. That does a disservice to the child's experience.

I've no idea what could be done to get others to give more credit to a child's feelings. Makes me wish we had mental telepathy between parents and offspring. (g)

San said...

Even though I was painfully shy as a kid, I did for the most part enjoy birthday parites, especially my own! I remember the first time I had a birthday party to which I got to invite girls AND boys. I was so excited before my guests arrived, I got sick to my stomach and had to lie down on the living room couch. When I remember that and picture myself--so skinny, with a big head of curly hair (which I just hated), and one of those stupid looking conical party hats on my head--just about to throw up for joy--I laugh out loud!

What I do have in common with your childhood fears is that poor sense of direction, which I never grew out of. I remember getting lost from Mother in Sears. She was probably just a few feet away, hidden by a shoe display or something. But it seems like I ran up and down aisle after aisle, completely panicked. The same thing happens today when I get lost driving. I get panicky and feel like I'll never find my way out of this one. But I always seem to after all. If I go a long time without posting to my blog, you can think one of two things: 1. I'm in the studio painting. 2. I'm behind the wheel, driving aimlessly in circles.

Lee said...

San, I hear you with the poor direction thing. I still get lost and as a young teenager I remember having a nightmare where I was frantically searching for my mom and sister. I too usually find my way back to where I need to be but it still makes me feel like an idiot for getting lost.

Birthday parties ARE fun. This was usually the case for me when I managed to make it through the door. And once I finally made a good friend to see at them they were even more fun. :)