Thursday, January 10, 2013
Way back at the end of the last "chronological story telling" post I made, I mentioned how that I knew from my earliest recollection the requirement of instant and implicit obedience and the consequences if that didn't happen. There were also a few "behavioral" things which I knew must be followed without injunction or there would be consequences. One of these things was sitting still. Be it church, our nightly "family worship", if we were out visiting, at a restaurant (the rare times we went), or any other public setting.
I don't sit still. Ask my husband. I must fidget with something - drum with my fingers or hands, fiddle with whatever is at hand, or generally just shift constantly. I didn't used to think that me having ADD was a possible diagnosis simply because I remember knowing I had to sit still when I was a kid and given that I was almost never in trouble for fidgeting, didn't even stop to think any deeper into things.
Now I look at my 6month old daughter and see so much of that side of me in her and I started wondering where the disconnect between my "kid" self and my "adult" self lay.
Then it hit me.
I was too scared to fidget and not sit still.
Not scared in the sense of feeling fear itself, but simply intrinsically knowing what would happen if I didn't follow what was expected. I've lived all my life with my mother bragging to me how she had me sitting still through an entire church service by the time my sister was born - I was only a year and half when she was. And I look at my daughter, superimpose what I was probably like as a baby (based on how I am now), and I truly shudder to think how my compliance to their expected behavior was obtained. It's not natural for any baby to sit still through something like an adult church service, let alone one whose compulsion is to constantly move. It also explains how I don't remember not being the most "compliant" of me and my siblings: I knew the consequences.
No explanations for anything were allowed. I remember when I was three and we were at church, the top of my head had an itch. My parents are staunch believers that women are supposed to wear head coverings in church, so little tiny me had a bonnet of some sort on. I tried to surreptitiously (because being too obvious would be considering fidgeting) scratch the itch through my bonnet. It wasn't at all effective. So I slid my bonnet back and scratched the itch. My dad noticed and quick pulled my bonnet forward and told me not to take it off. Well, I wasn't trying to take it off so I didn't pay any attention whatsoever since clearly the warning didn't apply to what I was doing. I sat for a couple more minutes before the itch came back. I slid my bonnet back again (now mind you, I wasn't even close to taking it off) and scratched. And that was it. I was taken in the most back room of the church and was spanked. I was three. I had no idea how to explain that I wasn't even remotely trying to take my bonnet off, and even if I had, any sort of explanation would have only been considered making excuses and gotten me nowhere.
I remember several other instances where things I did got me swiftly punished (there was no form of punishment other than spanking...such concepts as redirection weren't even considered as all children regardless of age are sinful creatures who choose to do "bad" things) and where I wanted to protest that I had no clue I had done anything wrong. I still remember my thought process as a three or four year old that led me to doing whatever it was and why it would be okay. Sometimes it was the simplistic logic of a toddler, sometimes it was pure impulsivity of an action that at the time seemed fairly minor (apparently I supposed to know otherwise). But what I do recall was that it was not willful disobedience. Hell, my sister and I recalled recently that when we were kids, we didn't even know what the term "temper tantrum" meant. We'd hear it mentioned in either books or by someone else and not have the slightest idea. Why? From the time we were babies we were made too petrified to exhibit a temper, let alone a tantrum of any sort. But how else do babies express themselves besides exhibitions of pure emotion? They don't. They don't have the vocabulary or thought process necessary.
I'm immensely glad I don't have memories any earlier than I do because I can't imagine what I'd have to do to straight-lace my bouncing, moving, fidgety little girl into a picture of "perfect public behavior".
And why is that even necessary? I think the answer is in how my mother still views her "success" with us. Bragging rights. I know for a fact my parents took a great deal of pride whenever they'd be complimented at church or when we were out at how well behaved us kids were, and they definitely shook their heads at parents who didn't "achieve" the same result. This isn't to say pride and appearance were their sole motive - children were to implicitly behave their parents because the Scripture said so - but looking good to others was a factor I picked up on early. In part because everyone in the fundamentalist mindset is so incredibly judgmental, that one kind of has to one-up everyone else's parenting "skills" by having the most well behaved robot kids.
So how did I coral my ADD way back then? Looking back it's now obvious. Fear was definitely a very powerful motivator, but my distractability and imagination was my savior. During impossibly long prayers I'd pretend I was blind in order to keep my eyes closed, and I'd try to see if I could correctly guess the color of any sort of hard candy we were allowed to have while my eyes were closed. When I was eight and nine, saving the church Indiana Jones style from armed thugs occupied my mental wanderings, as did imagining that Earth was a planet in the Unknown Regions in Star Wars and that a Jedi exploration ship showed up. I did a lot of imagining and pretending even throughout my teens years, and it was a world and circumstances and possibilities that had no restrictions and no one could control except me.
That place I learned to fall into when quiet behavior was expected is a skill that remains to this day, and to a certain extent has had its usefulness. One usefulness. There is really only one place in society that expects implicit and instant obedience, and that is the military. I had a far easier time adapting to the environment when I went through Basic Training than a lot of my peers simply because I already had learned to recognize an environment were resistance was an exercise in futility and conformity got one through anything. But what does it say that I had the skills and mindset to get through military boot camp by the time I was three...?