Monday, June 20, 2016

Early Childhood Experiences and How They Shaped Me

I was born in Pine Bluff, Arkansas, but I never lived there. My dad moved our family to Little Rock while my mom was in the hospital with me. My mom and step-dad moved us from Little Rock to Alexander while I was in second grade. 

My earliest memories were when I lived at 7115 Eddy Lane in Little Rock, Arkansas - all memories before I was eight-years-old. 

Eddy Lane was a couple of blocks away from "Sin City" (Adkins Street between Oak Grove and Chico Rd via Acorn Place) - an apartment complex ("the projects") that was so dangerous police rarely responded to 911 calls - at least that was the story.

The common joke was: "You ride in on a bicycle and come out with just the handlebars."

As kids, we did not understand that, but we did fully comprehend our mom's warnings of bodily harm if we ever wondered off our street alone.

Eddy Lane was a dead-end street that had one other dead-end street connected to it, Lark Place. Most of my memories happened on these streets since we were not allowed anywhere else.

My Sweet Farrah

I remember one Christmas begging for a Farrah Faucett "barbie." I was so in love with Farrah Faucett. I watched Charlie's Angels religiously. It was my favorite show.

Looking back, I wonder why a child under eight could have been so interested in such an adult show, but I was.

I could not wait for the big day to come. I looked over my wrapped presents frantically for a box that could be "the one." When I found the shoe-box sized one, I knew I had found gold. I tore open the paper and looked at the box. I was ecstatic!

After all the excitement died down, I opened the box, took out my Farrah...

And started crying.

The Farrah Faucett doll was larger than a "Barbie" and looked nothing like my Farrah. It was quite an ugly doll, in fact. 

I was crushed. 

It was my first lesson in words - what we call things is not always true for what they are.

Learning to Fly

Before I started school and my working mom was home with me for some reason. About the time school let out (my sisters went to school a couple of miles up Oak Grove street by our house), my mom heard an ambulance going up the street toward the school. I remember her pure panic while she grabbed my arm and ran toward the school. She was worried a car had hit a child on their way home from school - she was most worried it was one of her children. She was correct that a car did hit a child - fortunately, it was not one of hers. 

What I remember most was her running and me flying behind her. I remember her holding my wrist tight while I watched the sidewalk swoop by below me... and every once in a while one of my feet briefly touching the ground. 

I thought, "This is what flying must feel like. How cool!"

The Stork Is A Lie

Another memory I have is of the den in our house. It was in the back of the house, a few steps lower than the main house, and stretched the entire length of the house. It was our haven. We could be as loud as we wanted without disturbing anyone else in the house. We often built forts out of furniture and blankets - much to my mother's distress. 

I still do not understand when parents get upset about kids building "forts." I know it is "messy" but it seems such a great use of a child's imagination, keeps them occupied for hours, and is one of the least dangerous physical activities a child can do.

On Saturday mornings, I would wake up at 7 am and go to the den to watch cartoons. The large television had its place on a huge step in the corner of the room near the entry stairs and glass sliding door. 

One morning, I guess I got up earlier than normal, and cartoons were not on yet. Instead, it was a documentary on childbirth. It showed all the gory details - the obvious pain to the blood covered baby's delivery, even the cutting of the umbilical cord. 

I had a very early education of where babies come from as well as an early understanding of the lies parents tell their children - maybe with good intentions but lies just the same.

Funny thing about kids, they can absorb information much more easily, and accept reality much more calmly, than we give them credit.

Fear of Dogs

A neighbor a few houses down had a dog, a German Shephard. We heard it was a retired police attack dog and very dangerous. It was always chained up, with an actual chain. She had a "puppy," though it was quite large. The puppy was named "Snow" because it was so white. I am not sure if that was its real name or one made up by the neighborhood kids. 

A group of us would go to the house and call Snow over to the street so we could pet her. This always made the mother dog ferociously mad, but she was chained up, so we rarely worried about her. 

Then one day while we were on the street calling Snow, she would not come. I do not know if it was a dare or my sister just decided to do it, but my sister walked onto the property to call Snow over for some petting. 

It all happened so fast. 

The mother dog shot toward my sister - she was not chained!

My sister, who could not have been more than eight or ten herself, suddenly jumped on the hood of the car parked in the driveway, then the roof.  The mother dog tried everything to get to her but couldn't. 

It was like a scene from the horror movie Cujo - though that movie did not come out for several years.

The owner eventually came out, got the dog so my sister could get off the car, and yelled at us. 

Surprisingly, my sister was never scared of dogs after that. I, however, was terrified of any dog I did not know, regardless of size or breed, until my adulthood. 

Walking down any street with barking dogs made me tense up. A strange dog running toward me made me freeze in fear. 

It was not until I was an adult and walking down the street with my husband, who is also afraid of strange dogs, did I face my fear.

We were walking down a street, and a big dog started running toward us. I stepped in front of my husband, between him and the dog, to protect him. That protective instinct for someone I love was what forced me, without thought, to face my fears. 

From that day, my fear of dogs vanished. 

The Dare

Once, I was playing with some older kids in the neighborhood. We went to a house on Lark Lane and started playing in the backyard of a two-story house that was empty. The family moved. I have no idea if it was for rent or sale, but no one lived there at the time.

A family that had lived there many years before had built a tree house in the backyard. A teenager, Brian, dared us to climb the tree house. We all said "no" because it was old and dangerous.

Brian climbed to the second level and began jumping on the "floor" board, saying "See, it is safe. I can jump on it with no problem."

I took the challenge. 

I climbed to the second level and jumped on the "floor" board - and promptly fell through to the ground. We had no idea Brian was jumping on the sides, not the middle, of the board.

Though I fell from the "second story" to the ground, I had no broken bones or major bruises. I did, however, arrive at the bottom with a giant stick jammed into my underarm.

Brian, in his infinite wisdom, tried to help but only accomplished breaking the stick at the entry point. Then I just had a stick jammed into my underarm with a small portion visible.

I guess I should count myself lucky he was not "smart" enough to pull the stick out - who knows if it would have caused major blood loss. 

I walked all the way home, alone, because all the other kids were scared to get in trouble for what happened.

Let us not forget I was less than eight-years-old.

We called an ambulance which drove me to the University Hospital. I remember the drive; it was painful. Every time the ambulance hit a slight bump, pain shot through my arm.

I also remember the nurse in the hospital room trying to distract me by having me squeeze her hand as hard as I could while the doctor removed the stick.

I still have the scar.

Playing Doctor

And yet another time, I went to play at the house of a boy my age who lived at the very end at the end of Eddy Lane. We were playing doctor. Not the nasty one. 

He played the doctor and me the patient. I came to his "office" feeling sick and he gave me "medicine" to drink. He told me all the ingredients, which meant little to me. After a while, I told him I had to go home - mainly because I needed to go to the bathroom and was too embarrassed to go at a stranger's house. 

Oh, the crazy things kids worry about.

Once I got home, I started feeling sick for real. My mom asked what I had eaten or drank, and I told her about my "medicine." The ingredients, things from the fridge and from under the kitchen sink, meant a lot more to her than me. 

She rushed me to the emergency room, where they gave me chocolate milk and observed me for a few hours before sending me home. 

Lucky for me, I had avoided the "stomach pump" - something I did not understand until years later.

The Death of a Child

Once on Lark Place at the circle, all the kids were gathered in the backyard of one of the houses - looking over the fence. On the other side of the fence was a trailer park, Sundale Village now, not sure if that was the same name then. Police and ambulances were there. A husband and wife had been arguing inside their trailer, and the angry husband decided to leave in his car. 

During their argument, they had lost track of their toddler, who was playing behind the car. When the husband pulled out of the driveway in anger, he ran over his own child. The child, about two-years-old, did not survive. 

I am often reminded of this story when I hear of children drowning in pools - a much larger phenomenon in Arizona than I ever remember in Arkansas. It's so big in Arizona we have a reminder motto, "Two seconds is too long... to take your eyes off kids around water"

I always think, "There is no greater punishment or anguish these parents could ever feel after this, and there is no moment in their life they could more wish for a do-over." 

And yet, I see society literally out for blood in their desire to see the parents suffer even more for their "neglect." 

I hear people say, "Where were the parents?" To which I reply, "Usually doing the best they can."

While my mom would no doubt cringe at the reminders of my childhood episodes - and I am only one of three daughters who had their own brushes with accidents - I am grateful society was not so vindictive against parents during my childhood.

Lessons Learned

My experiences, frightening as they may be on reflection, taught me a lot of valuable lessons.  
  • Cause and effect - every action has a reaction. I knew this law as a reality of life well before I reached science classes on Newton.
  • The meaning of words is important, as well as their common usage. I wanted to be clear with my words. I was known for reading the dictionary like a book.
  • Dares have consequences. Sometimes you just have to deal with the peer pressure and name calling that comes with saying "no" because the consequences might be too grave - a valuable lesson during my teenage years when Truth or Dare was so popular. 
  • Children are not as dumb as we like to think, and they have a potential for understanding that we stifle by trying to raise them in a protective bubble. Yes, protect them, but let them explore and take chances too. And talk to them. Stop avoiding "uncomfortable" and "scary" topics. The topics are much more scary to adults than children - if we communicate with them.
  • I learned empathy, not just sympathy. Ever observant of others, I could not fail to recognize their struggles. See how their struggles affected them and wonder how things could be done differently. I could learn to see things from their perspective, recognize the consequences, to add that information for future struggles of my own.
  • Sometimes there is no "right" answer - just the best answer for you. Trying to conform to social expectation is dangerous to the psyche that sees and feels things differently.
  • Everything adults tell you is not the truth. This one was hard. I still believed in adults, I just questioned a lot of things instead of taking everything they said as fact - and I often got in trouble for that. Adults so often hate being questioned - especially about concepts they don't understand or have never questioned themselves. Discussing such concepts with a "child" seems almost offensive.
My mom taught me never to talk about religion, politics, or money. 

I learned there were a lot more topics people were not comfortable discussing.

I learned to stop asking adults about most things.

And I learned at an early age to keep most opinions to myself. 

Instead, I got lost in books. Books, all kinds of books, became my teachers. Not that I believed everything in books either - they were written by adults, after all - but I was able to read about different opinions, different perspectives, and roll them around in my brain looking for my answers.  What made sense to me. 

I was a teenager before I recognized communication as the most valuable concept, but it was not until I reached mature adulthood that I found my voice

Though it made for a difficult childhood, always analyzing everything around me, being confused by what I saw - actions not matching words - I would never regret any of my experiences. 

Neither did all my experiences and analysis protect me from making decisions I later thought better of - I dislike calling experiences "mistakes."

My experiences, every single one, good or bad, helped me be the person I am today and will help me become the person I will be tomorrow. 

I am ever evolving and that would not be possible had I had different experiences. 

Deedra Abboud is the founder of the Global Institute of Solution Oriented Leadership, a "rising tide raising all boats" resource on the art and science of finding solutions, not fault - at work, at home, and in the community. She is an author, keynote speaker, lawyer, and frequent media resource. When she's not helping clients or speaking at organization events, she's traveling the world.  At last count, she's been to over 15 countries including Bahrain, China, Egypt, France, Germany, Italy, Mexico, Turkey, United Arab Emirates, and the United Kingdom.

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