06 Sep The Making of A Child
Hands-off or hands on? Helicoptering is out in favor of free-range parenting. 2016 loves strong, independent minds: Montessori style, anyone? Honestly, I tire of the constant chatter on how to parent best. At forty-three and looking back, I saw huge impact in the way I was raised and did not love it, but my latest dream for Susan Polston is not a sparkling, reinvented self that is divorced from memories of past wrongs, but instead, a very great happiness from being peaceful: Muscles relaxed, little anxiety, and great joy from being with my favorite human beings, ice-cream cone in hand. May the fruit of God’s Spirit abound.
I grew up in Hong Kong, and domestic life there looked like a pile of pigeon cages, one stacked on top of the other. Our little eight hundred square footed unit came equipped with a squatting toilet (chamber pot for emergencies), flying cockroaches and unbearable humidity. My mother was small and sickly. She did not talk to me much. I remembered her underwear hanging on a clothesline to dry and dreaded growing into a woman and having to wear those ugly things. My father… he did not talk to me, either. But he went to work, dutifully, every day. There was an unchanging rhythm in my family life, where nothing ever happened but the occasional spat I had with my older sister with whom I shared a room. I was always stealing her clothes to wear.
There was no such thing as attachment theory of parenting in 1973, the year I was born. The nurse of the hospital took a look at me and cried pity to my mother that I was a girl, again. My mom’s defense of me was not that I was wholly valuable, but that “at least I had big eyes.” Somehow, my parents managed to send me to a fancy all-girls’ private school (some said, and still say, the best school in all of Asia). I did TEST in, win awards for the establishment, and pull good grades. But I did not feel that l belonged there. Other girls who attended always took fancy summer vacations to America and Australia, and when they were in town, they came to school in Rolls Royces and the best backpacks. They knew ALL the boys from our brother school. I only heard about them: Stephen, Bosco…mystery boys. There were always girls falling for boys, girls having teacher crushes (like our P.E. teacher, Mr. Tang), and girls kissing girls while other girls watched on. The rites of passage for me were observations upon observations, but no conversations, and definitely no understanding. My childhood was deafeningly silent.
In 1987, we left motherland (fleeing an imminent Communist China reclaiming of Hong Kong) and made our new home in New York City. By then, I was fully thirteen and absolutely let alone to navigate my new culture. My parents were busy trying to float our mortgage on broken English. I understood that. In their absence, my normalcy was school, school, and more school. I suppose Asian culture stuck. I tested into the best public high school in New York City, requested my own college information packets, and then I left home for good. I remembered mom crying at JFK as she sent me off on a flight to Ann Arbor, Michigan for my freshman year at the University of Michigan. A year later, I transferred to Cornell University à la Greyhound bus.
My parents managed. They launched my sister, I, and then my younger brother into the land of the brave and free, and we now have careers and roofs over our heads. I have great appreciation for their sacrifices and efforts.
Scientists can now pinpoint my sense of disconnection with others as PTSD from childhood emotional abuse (negligence). My drug of choice is perfectionism: Excel, and someone will notice me (Exhibit A: Pedigree of great schools). I suffer from dissociation, an experience of being disconnected from feelings. I do not take full breaths, and limited oxygenation impacts my memory and clarity of existence. When people think I am checked out and forgetful, I feel misunderstood.
Mom and dad did everything in their ability and power to raise me, and the return of their labor is a damaged and abused child. I have thought about this a lot. My parents are believers of Christ, and how much Jesus must love them! How tremendously inept, foolish, and proud parents they had been, yet Jesus nailed those sins onto the cross and gave them life instead.
If their lives are a metaphor of the Gospel, then I am a believer. I do not fret over parenting anymore. I realize that with every generation, there are new ideas and trends on how to parent, but I cannot bring my children up in any manner of perfection, and so I quit jumping on bandwagons, because I know deeply that we are all, in many degrees, self-deceived. I have a future line item in my family’s budget for the kids’ counseling. I take caring for them very seriously, and I am not naïve about my own problems having a trickling down effect. My sin stumbles them, and generations after. But I am glad to say that I can actively repent by trusting in my redemptive adoption by God’s own spirit. I have peace even when most of the time, I cannot breathe. Finally, I trust in the one thing I can give to my children that is right: The good news of Jesus Christ.
My parents raised a child, but God raised me up as a born-again child. Here is a well-loved passage about that, and something about breathing, too:
Ezekiel 37:1-14 (NIV)
37 The hand of the Lord was on me, and he brought me out by the Spirit of the Lord and set me in the middle of a valley; it was full of bones. 2 He led me back and forth among them, and I saw a great many bones on the floor of the valley, bones that were very dry. 3 He asked me, “Son of man, can these bones live?”
I said, “Sovereign Lord, you alone know.”
4 Then he said to me, “Prophesy to these bones and say to them, ‘Dry bones, hear the word of the Lord! 5 This is what the Sovereign Lord says to these bones: I will make breath enter you, and you will come to life. 6 I will attach tendons to you and make flesh come upon you and cover you with skin; I will put breath in you, and you will come to life. Then you will know that I am the Lord.’”
7 So I prophesied as I was commanded. And as I was prophesying, there was a noise, a rattling sound, and the bones came together, bone to bone. 8 I looked, and tendons and flesh appeared on them and skin covered them, but there was no breath in them.
9 Then he said to me, “Prophesy to the breath; prophesy, son of man, and say to it, ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: Come, breath, from the four winds and breathe into these slain, that they may live.’” 10 So I prophesied as he commanded me, and breath entered them; they came to life and stood up on their feet—a vast army.
11 Then he said to me: “Son of man, these bones are the people of Israel. They say, ‘Our bones are dried up and our hope is gone; we are cut off.’ 12 Therefore prophesy and say to them: ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: My people, I am going to open your graves and bring you up from them; I will bring you back to the land of Israel. 13 Then you, my people, will know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves and bring you up from them. 14 I will put my Spirit in you and you will live, and I will settle you in your own land. Then you will know that I the Lord have spoken, and I have done it, declares the Lord.”