This summer, my daughter turned 9. She was enjoying every day at Summer Fun with her friends and her favorite group leaders, playing outside every day, swimming in the pool, eating popsicles and generally having a blast. On her birthday, she and some of her friends took the day off, and we invited other dear friends and family for a good old fashioned birthday BBQ pool party, like we used to do before all this. She played in the pool and ate cake and hit a pinata and it was the best day of the year. And then in the fall, school and Japanese classes started full-time for her, and this time, for her little brother too. Sure, everyone is wearing masks, but they were all together again and able to play and learn and work hard every day. She has become so popular at school playing the ukulele as well. The ukulele jam group we go to has also started back up, and she enjoys attending when she can. Sure, sometimes she fights with her brother, or argues with me, or ignores her Dad, but we work it out.
She probably has a lot of worries and struggles of her own, and she has a whole lot of hobbies and interests I know nothing about, and there is a Chinami at school that is different from the Chinami at home. And this is all perfectly fine and normal for a 9 year old. I'm just her mother, I have no way of knowing or controlling everything in her life. And I have no desire to. It's her life, I'm just there to help her along with it when she needs it.
For her, being 9 seems pretty good.
For me, being 9 kind of sucked.
The summer before I turned 9 we went to Disney World. And we visited family in Florida, and our family in Pennsylvania, and we even had a big birthday party for me in a restaurant. That was fun.
And then we went back to our home at that time (we had moved about 3-4 times already up to that point) in the Caribbean, to be met head on by a Category 4 hurricane. It leveled several parts of the island. I still have the images clearly in my head, because my parents and their friends decided it would be appropriate to get in their car and drive around to gawk at all the damage, and took pictures and video as well, making jokes about the locals losing their homes and looting.
We didn't have power or running water for a long time, and I would read, craft, do other analog things and take cold sponge baths by bucket.
We spent some time after that temporarily at grandfathers in PA and I went to school there for a few weeks. I was very clearly struggling at this point.
I had experienced a massive natural disaster, had no way to contact my friends, and to top it off, a shy child entering an inner city public school after spending years at a private school for ex-pats. I was out of touch with their culture, their social hierarchy, their mannerisms. So basically, an easy target. I was relentlessly bullied, ostracized by teachers, I lost all motivation to do any school work (the work itself was at an academic level way below what I was used to. However I felt like the inside of my head was just blank most of the time). At home, my parents would watch and rewatch the videos they took of the rubble. I would cry when I saw them. There was no grief support. Just demands on me to be a good student and so I had to pretend to be resilient.
Luckily, my school reopened after another month or so, and I was able to spend the rest of the school year in a somewhat comfortable environment while my parents attempted to pick up the pieces and figure out the next steps. Yes, I acknowledge that this was a tough situation for them too. Maybe their callousness and indifference to the suffering of others was a coping mechanism for them.
After this, we moved back to Philly. I was starting 6th grade now, again in an unfamiliar, hostile inner city middle school. Middle school is hell for a lot of kids. But for me, I was over a year younger than all of my peers due to having skipped a grade, I was sheltered and out of touch with what was cool among Philly kids due to living on an island for years and going to a private expat school, and I had experienced a major natural disaster to boot. It was kind of a nightmare. I made one friend but my parents didn’t really approve of him and after a while I wasn't able to see him...now I see clearly what kind of friends my mom would have deemed acceptable...but that’s another story for another day.
The next thing that happened was my mother had a major car accident while practicing for her driving test. We all had to go to the hospital, my mother in the ICU, my father and I getting everything checked. I was not hurt at all, my father had whiplash and my mother had a broken hip and would need major surgery, 3 months of bed rest and physical therapy to walk again.
So instead of making friends, maybe going to a summer camp or something like some kids did, or doing anything enjoyable, I was stuck in an apartment for three months expected to just be resilient and "help out". I hadn’t been taught any basic life skills so I was pretty useless. My mom would ask me to hand pick up bits of hair and dirt from the carpet, shave her legs for her, and rub lotion on her feet and back. I don't remember much from most of this year actually. A lot of pain, brain fog from my brain desperately trying to shield 10 year old me from the pain, and loneliness.
Yes, I was 10 but I don't even remember a birthday happening that year. I had been traumatized and then the year just kind of passed without anything to look forward to. My parents made no effort to give me some kind of outlet or activity to enjoy and work at. I didn't have any motivation within myself to learn or do anything. I just stayed inside watching TV endlessly. How sad. I wish I could go back and give her a hug and reassure her that she can still be a kid, and that she has value and talent, and that she can still find happiness even though so much has gone so wrong.
But because of this, I am now able to look at my 9 year old daughter, and make sure she doesn't have to feel like I did. And I can find happiness as I watch her find hers.