Wednesday, June 19, 2013

My Background - Early Childhood Years

 My family is from Jamaica.  I was also born there, but my family immigrated to the US, when I was a toddler. My parents had me when they were both very young; my mother was just barely eighteen, and my father was in his early twenties.  I actually traveled to the US with my father, while my mother stayed in Jamaica for a while longer.  When we came to the states, we stayed with some of my father's family members- his stepmother, father, and half siblings.  They all lived in the same house, and we joined them. In addition to my father taking care of me, these relatives took on the responsibility as well.  During this time, my father was getting himself together, becoming independent. He got a car and found an apartment in a city, close by.  Around this same time, my mother ended up coming to the US, but instead of coming to the state in which my father and I had settled, she went to NY, and stayed with a friend whom she had known from childhood.  We kept in touch through phone calls, and I remember missing my mother very much, and wanting to see her.  At this point, my mother and father were no longer a couple, due more to distance and circumstance than on a firm decision of not wanting to be together, but they would keep in touch on the phone, and my father would visit her in NY every now and again.

While staying with my paternal relatives/father and not seeing my mother all that often, I developed a very close relationship with my father.  He was definitely the apple of my eye, and I had put him up on a pedestal.  He could do no wrong, in my opinion.  My father was definitely a hands-on parent;  He was there to read to me, play, take me to the park, soothe my cries, comb my hair, take me to school, and discipline me when necessary.  All of the things that come along with parenting, he was there for during those early years.

While I loved being around my dad, I really disliked living with my paternal relatives.  Seeing my father on a regular basis helped to alleviate the pain of having to live with them but all the while,  my intuition warned me that most of them were not genuinely kind or good people.  Aside from my dad, my step-grandmother and two of my paternal aunts, Aunt Jane (AJ) and Aunt Mary (AM) raised me during my early years, so I spent a lot of time around them.  Out of the three of them, I felt the closest to AJ; AJ had some less than stellar ways about her, as a consequence of having been born into this family, but I felt that she was one of the "good" ones. AM was just the opposite for me.  From her, I mostly felt negative energy but hardly any warmth, caring, or true acceptance. My step-grandmother (SGM) reminded me of AM, but at the same time, she didn't give off an almost constant negative energy. I remember being able to show affection to both AJ and my SGM, like giving them hugs before going to school, but almost never hugging Mary. I think that AM knew that I could see through her, but because I was a child, I didn't have a choice but to get along with her and play by the rules. Along with my aunts, three of my uncles also lived at the house for a while.  I never had any issues with my uncles, and I enjoyed spending time with them.

The thing that made me hate living with these relatives was the fact that the women had a tendency to nitpick me and try to make me feel like I was not good enough.  While in their company, I felt like I could not do anything right because they would always find fault.  It's one thing to give a child constructive criticism, but constant nitpicking and fault finding is toxic and slowly erodes self-esteem. They also had subtle ways of demeaning me over the most trivial things, and instead of correcting me in an informative manner when I made a mistake, they pathologized me and held on to all of my mistakes and embarrassing moments to share later.  Their toxic criticism wasn't just directed toward me, either.  They enjoyed gossiping and sharing bad news about others, never really wishing anyone good will. Because of this type of behavior, the family has dealt with their share of estrangements over the years, with at least one person not talking to another family member.

When I was about six years old, things changed quite a bit.  My parents decided to live together.  My mother moved from New York and the three of us started living together. I was happy that I no longer had to live with my paternal relatives.  But even after moving out of their home, I still saw them a lot because we lived in neighboring towns, and they would sometimes keep me overnight or babysit me a few days during the week.  I still felt uncomfortable around them, but my parents didn't know the extent of my feelings toward these family members, and I was a quiet child who tried not to make trouble, and didn't know how to verbalize exactly what I was feeling about them. 

1 comment:

  1. It's hard to know where to "jump off," isn't it? I think you did a really good job of laying out some problematic territory and upheaval pretty clearly and economically. OK, moving to the next.... CS