I remember when my mother got pregnant with my youngest brother. Not the actual moment when she got pregnant, because Jesus loves me and kept me from witnessing The Act until I was old enough to really understand what was going on.
We weren't supposed to know, Michael and me. It was a secret... not a particularly well-kept secret, mind you, but a secret nonetheless. I always have found it funny that grown-ups feel safe to discuss things above the heads of children, as if height was The Great Divide between the small and the tall. Do they think that there is a grand, soundproof barrier between 4'8" and 4'9"? That their not-cleverly-disguised euphemisms would not reach the ears of the ankle biters?
Everyone was milling in the back of our Holy Rolling Damnation and Hellfire church after Sunday service. Kids ran around until their parents grabbed them by an arm and beat their impressionable asses, because nothing says "I'm the boss of you" quite like a good pounding.
Sometimes I'm surprised that I still go to church, that I believe in God at all.
I was hanging around Mother, listening to her conversations; I must have received my beating of the night early on, and was behaving myself. Well, other than the eavesdropping, I was totally behaving myself.
She said it again and again and again. I heard her. I understood. And I was so sad that she chose to tell all of those other random people before she told me. It was my baby sister. (Or brother... turned out to be a brother, despite all of my pleading.)
There was great pomp! and ceremony! and contrived formality! when we arrived home. They had practiced telling people Mother was pregnant and now they were ready to face us, the terrifying three and five year old.
We have something to tell you.
Yeah, I know. You're having a baby. What's the big deal? That was me. I knew what she wanted and I was not going to give it to her. She had ruined the surprise for me by gabbing about it loudly, in front of me, to other people, and so I was going to ruin this for her. I stood up from the ugly sofa and went to my room.
Why was I so mean? How did I know how to be so mean? Where does a five year-old kid learn that kind of hateful behavior?
She learned it from her parents. I learned it from my parents. There is no other explanation.
I have children. I see myself in their actions, I hear myself in the tone of voice they take with one another, in the words they choose. I am mirrored through their humor, their facial expressions, their slightest mannerisms. They.are.me.
And I was my parents. There are many times when flashes of memory blast across my mind and I'm horrified by the things I said and the way I behaved. Where is the line between mimicry and being old enough to discern that the way you're behaving is completely inappropriate? It is so very difficult to untangle myself from the reactions that have been embossed upon my personality from my childhood.
I was my parents, but I'm not any more.