Liz Froese enjoys a moment with her mom, Dr. Jean Chamberlain Froese, in this 2004 family photo. We all have our childhood memories, writes Thomas Froese, while touching on themes of family and blessing for this Mother’s Day weekend.
(Thomas Froese photo)
(The Hamilton Spectator, Saturday, May 9, 2020)
Today’s offering is about a dog. And children. And a couple of books and a movie. Seems like the right mix for Mother’s Day.
The dog is Oscar, a friendly Shih Tzu Poodle wanting to be touched. There he is following me in the nearby cemetery where I often walk in the fresh morning light. Oscar’s owners call him. No luck. He still wants that touch amidst the tombstones. Just a touch. I turn and reach down. Good boy.
We need touch like we need air, dogs and people, both. Even mothers grieving their stillborn children benefit from having those tiny dead bodies placed on their bare skin. A nurse in Africa once elaborated this to me.
Yes, go without touch long enough and you’ll die in one way or another. Likewise for words of affirmation. Children also need this dearly. Even as our kids need to be given high value with a picture of a promising future. And commitment, that is time, from their parents.
Meaningful touch, affirming words, high value with a promising future, and commitment. It’s all oxygen for the kids. Don’t get enough of these when you’re young, and later you’ll need to work hard to repair the harm. Or spend the rest of your life looking for your lost blessing in all the wrong places.
You might develop addictive behaviours or painful relationships or other harmful patterns. This is the social science on family life. I came across it, again, in an old book I opened after many years, right around when I met Oscar. It’s called The Blessing.
Now the word blessing is a shaky word these days. Hashtag Blessed, for example, gets plenty of online attention for posts usually revolving around some superficial success or acquisition or good fortune. This other blessing, though, from your parents, is very different.
So did you receive the blessing from your folks? Fully? Then consider yourself lucky. Most of us have a family heritage that’s more of a mixed bag. Then there are those more painful childhoods, from homes led by parents who are more like emotional terrorist organizations.
Books are written about this too. Jeanette Walls comes from one such family. Later, Jeanette, a long-time New York journalist, did write eloquently about it in her remarkable memoir The Glass Castle.
There’s Jeannette’s family: mom, dad, two sisters and a brother. They have no dog. Just each other, for better or worse. Often worse. Think dumpster-diving for food. You might say they were all drowning in sh*!. When he was young, that’s how Jeanette’s alcoholic father described his own boyhood.
My eldest, Liz, recently wrote a high school paper on The Glass Castle. Then one Friday night our entire family watched the movie adaptation portrayed brilliantly by Brie Larson and Woody Harrelson and Naomi Watts. It was bizarre and remarkable, both.
It’s easy to dumb down home life. Good home. Bad home. But home life, like all of life, is more nuanced, more of a roiling complexity. People too are multi-dimensional. So while, sure, Jeanette’s parents were toxic, she decided to work through her memories with both generous honesty and grace. In this she found healing and a different kind of blessing, awareness and certain strengths she otherwise wouldn’t have had. She also found a way to bless others.
“Things that had haunted me are now just part of the story,” is how Jeanette once put it. “That’s why I’m such a big fan of story-telling, whether through books or movies. Honest story-telling helps others be honest about their stories. Because the details of our lives might be different, but we all have things from our past that we grapple with.”
Which is to say that I have my own childhood memories. As do you. As do our loved ones. As do the neighbours. And so on. But maybe in times like now, these days of closer home confinement, this weekend of celebrating moms, we can help each other see our past, even what may be the darker corners of family life, with more clarity.
And while we can’t easily touch each other (thanks COVID-19) maybe in this, in uncovering more meaning and purpose in our stories, we can touch one another in a different way.