A Wonderful, Happy Life

When I found the online pictures of our San Clemente beach house a few weeks ago, I sent the link to my brother and sister knowing they would most likely enjoy seeing the house as much as I did. A few days later my sister sent me two photos, including the one above, which was taken at the beach house, in the vacant lot next door. I have no memory of the picture being taken or who took it. I don’t know how old I am in the picture, but I believe the photo was taken by my mom. I think it came from her collection of photos and slides that my brother took with him after Mom died, and transferred to jpgs. He sent some (all?) of the photos to my sister, including apparently some ones of me.

My first reaction when I saw the photo was, “What a sad, serious little girl.” Maybe I didn’t want to look at the camera that day (was the sun’s glare too much?). Was my mom going for an arty sort of photo with me looking pensive or serious? Was I there just to provide a contrast to the giant sunflower? Whatever was going on, the end result was a picture of a not very happy child.

A couple of other things leaped out at me from the photo as well. Growing up I always wore my hair boy-short because it was supposedly “too curly” and Mom complained she couldn’t manage it. What I see in that picture though is lovely thick, possibly wavy hair, and not the unmanageable curls my mom always inferred. Also, I was told that I couldn’t own or wear a skirt because I “didn’t have a waist” and a skirt would slip right off of me (I didn’t own a skirt until I reached high school). And yet, there I am in a pair of shorts with a waistband and they are not falling off or anything close to it. The reasons/excuses I was given as a child for not getting to wear a much-desired skirt or grow out my hair do not match the reality in the photo.

I did not have a miserable childhood by any stretch of the imagination, but I did have an unhappy one, and the photo above triggered deep memories of having to often live with different rules and expectations than were applied to my brothers and sisters. I know now that much of the sadness I felt back then was actually depression, something that did not go away until I reached my mid-20s. It took only a moment for this single photograph to quickly bring up so many of the old feelings, and a few days for those feelings to evaporate. Even decades later the memories have power.

When I look at that picture I wish I could go back and whisper in that little girl’s ear, to let her know even though life will be hard at times:

  • She will have a long and happy marriage, and the best friend ever for a partner.
  • She will raise four smart, successful, caring children, gain the best daughter-in-law, and have two beautiful grandchildren.
  • She will form deep, long-lasting friendships over the years.
  • She will make dreams come true, and learn to trust her own power to make good decisions and follow them through.
  • She will have more determination and strength than she can imagine, and yet remain full of hope and optimism.
  • When she needs it most, there will be people along the way who see her potential, and who will be there to support and encourage her.
  • She will grow up healthy, with strong legs, a strong heart, and a strong mind to keep her active and carry her into old age.
  • She will travel the world, and visit and experience places she can’t even dream of now.
  • She will grow up to enjoy a full, wonderful, happy life, one that she is going to create.

I am thankful that in spite of the unpleasantness of the memories this photo brought back it also led me to reflect on how fortunate I have been with the life I have had, and for all that I have experienced, learned, and been given along the way . . . a blessed life.

19 thoughts on “A Wonderful, Happy Life

  1. You know, when I saw the title of your post, I almost passed it up. Not because I don’t love you and Brett, but it’s getting to be the time of year when my husband died, and I just don’t deal well with “happy life” posts. But I opened it, and my heart just broke for this little girl. What a gift for you to see that and be able to process some things and also realize what a wonderful life you’re living. I’m glad I read this – and glad you’re my friend!

    On a side note, your ad this morning is for Tucker Carlson and I can’t find a way to close it or tell Ad Choices I find it objectionable!

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    1. I almost titled this post “The Best Revenge” (“living well is . . .”) except revenge is wasn’t what I feel or want. It’s been the best antidote though, but that doesn’t make for a catchy title.

      I am so glad you’re my friend as well. I hope our paths can cross again sooner rather than later – we’ve missed seeing you.

      Tucker Carlson must be pretty desperate if he is running ads on my blog.

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      1. Happy that you have had so much happiness. A lot of us had unhappy childhoods but found soulmates and great kids and changed our lives for the better.

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      2. I can pinpoint now the two events that turned things around for me: 1) finishing navy boot camp, and 2) meeting Brett. Both were and have been truly life changing, helping me appreciate more all that has come after.

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      3. Meeting Joe was life changing for me. Having my babies was everything I wanted. 27 years of being so happy. Still happy but the broken part of my heart is an everyday thing. Still joy but never as fully wonderful. So many who never experienced the happiness so I always try to keep that in mind💔❤️

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      4. I often think on that scene in Downton Abbey where Lady Mary, Tom Branson, and Isobel Crawley are up in the nursery. They’re all at different ages and stages of life, but all have lost someone dear to them. Isobel says something to the effect that they were all lucky for experiencing such love. I’ve never forgotten that, and how lucky I’ve been in that regard. You’re right – many never get to experience it.

        My kids have been like the icing on the cake for me. They could be more challenging than I imaged at times, but mostly “what did I do to deserve these four?”

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  2. I’m so sorry your childhood was unhappy, and I find it hard to understand why, not knowing your parents. I hope you take heart in the beautiful story you have written on your own in spite of your history. I read once that we have the life we are not in control of (childhood) and the life we are (everything else). Thank goodness for the one we are in control of, and that we have the opportunity do so much better with our own children. Like you, I have tried to do better by my own children than one parent, my mother, did with me.

    Currently I am feeling rather emotional that my daughter and granddaughters have just relocated to German, along with my Navy officer son-in-law. Happy for them of course, but, well, not happy for me. Trying to walk that line of supporting them 100%, while allowing myself to grieve that they are now so far away. Once Germany reopens and we can book our first flight to visit I am sure I will feel better, but for now it’s a bit of an up and down emotional struggle.

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    1. Growing up, I was clothed, fed, and comfortably housed. We went on vacations. Our family ate dinner together every night. However, I did not receive any affection from my parents – there were no hugs, cuddles, etc. Nothing. There were never any positive affirmations either, nothing to let me know I was smart, pretty, special, or doing well in any way. Again, nothing. Much of the time I felt like I was a bother to them. I spent my childhood trying hard to please my parents, but still wonder to this day, “what was wrong with me?” I can’t speak for my siblings experiences or what they remember but to my young eyes they were often treated differently. My grandmother was my rock when I was a child – she gave me affection, she gave me affirmations and made me feel special. I was her “diamond in the rough,” destined to do great things. Other friends’ parents also stepped up when I needed help, especially as a teenager, and provided love and affirmation when it was most needed.

      With all our children and grandchildren so far away these days, I know how you must be grieving about the physical distance that now exists. I learned during our navy days how to deal with long separations, and get through them. They never got any easier, but the reunions were all the sweeter for our time apart, and I always knew the separation wasn’t going to last for ever. It’s been over a year now since we’ve seen our grandkids, and they are growing like weeds right now. We have over a year until we see them again – I’ve never been so grateful for social media, and Facebook Messenger!

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  3. Laura, your childhood sounds so similar to mine. I have not retained any childhood photos because all I see is a sad little girl who was confused as to why her mother did not like her. Like you my hair was so short that I used to regularly get teased by the other kids. I can recall crying asking my mother could I please grow my hair but the answer was always no because she knew I would not look after it. Until the day she died there was never so much as a hug or a kind word for me. There was never a bed time story. However I think the best revenge has been like you, living a good life of your choosing. Actually revenge is the wrong word because none of my actions have been intended as revenge but rather making choices that enhance my life rather than going down the road of bitterness as my mother did.

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    1. Revenge is the wrong word, isn’t it? Life isn’t about looking back or getting even (although I don’t think we can’t help feeling that at times), but looking forward, changing the things that can be changed, and doing better with our own lives. I hate that the memories still hold some power over me, but thankfully not for very long these days. I hope there was someone else there for you – my grandmother was my angel, and I don’t know where I’d be now without having her there for me when I was young.

      My mom became a little more affectionate toward the end of her life, but still made it clear in small ways that I was not her favorite.

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  4. I wonder if birth control was acceptable, would I be here? Would she have done better. emotionally, working? A real partner in the family business? Five children in ten years- ow!
    I know my younger sister had loads of medical issues. My youngest brother feels like he raised himself. Always the “fat”, teased, middle child–lots there to let go of. My spiritual growth really comes from the maid my step grandmother brought into the family when my younger sister was born! My mom, literally, remembers nothing of the youngest three’s childhood….that says it all doesn’t it?
    The funny thing is the daughter who most resents her childhood is the one who mom spent the most time and money on.The oldest lives a life that he did not lead—in my grandfather’s prosperous footsteps. He should have been an only child. LOL.
    The three youngest are the ones who care for Mom’s needs-even from afar. She is 90. Irony?
    Maybe it was the time we were brought up in? I have spent some serious time trying to figure out what went wrong with so many families after the war. No clue. What a mess.
    There must have been something there though–we all seemed to raise some pretty good adults on our own.

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    1. I have often wondered the same about my mom – if she had had access to birth control would we or only some of us be here? I tend to think maybe not. As it was, after a short (less than two months) courtship and marriage, she had four (very active) kids in less than eight years, and for all of her energy we wore her out (she also worked full time, which was unusual for the times). My dad was also “typical” for the time and pretty hands off and detached. My younger brother once said of our family, “we were dysfunctional before dysfunctional was cool” and that we could have provided any psychology Ph.D. candidate with a slew of dissertation topics. I consider it a miracle what we have all accomplished.

      One thing that sticks out the most to me is the rampant mysogyny that played out in our family. Part of the times maybe, but my mother bought into it completely even though she personally embraced many feminist ideals. She once told my sister and I that she had never wanted to have girls, only boys, but she made that pretty obvious in other ways as well.

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  5. This is a really poignant post. I would never imagine from reading your blog that your childhood was anything but happy. I think our parents’ generation was definitely less affectionate and emotional than many of us have turned out, but I am sad for that little girl. It’s so wonderful that your life has gone so well. No small credit belong to you and your hard work and positive attitude. And a great partner…they make all the difference.

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    1. That photo brought up a lot of things, and it was helpful for me to write about it. My parents were unaffectionate, but there were other things going on under the surface as well. I am so grateful for all those people who were there for me over the years, from my grandmother on, and for the positive influence they brought to my life as well as helping me see my own potential and that there was another way.

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