My daughter turned five years old this week. I am now a five-year-old-mother of one. Big Five <3. I’ve been thinking a lot about the fact that this is the age when children’s brains are developed enough to start creating more permanent memories of their childhood. What will my daughter’s earliest memories be when she is grown?
Four was a pretty chock-full year.
Fires—though those may seem like just another California season to her by now. Pandemic; staying home with Mommy, Daddy, and our new roommates, Auntie and Uncle for weeks on end.
Learning to ride a bike.
Pages upon pages of art, including a whole notebook almost exclusively dedicated to her “study” of “Hazel Vampire” (I blame Uncle and Auntie for this one).
Pandemic. More pandemic.
Protests in the center of town. More protests. A night with Daddy because, “we’ll see Mommy after the protest.” Learning about why people are protesting, though I know she doesn’t completely understand. She knows that people are being killed… I have not yet explained murder. I’m pretty sure she doesn’t totally understand death yet either—but neither do I, so who am I to point fingers. She knows that people who look like us want to kill people who look like her friend Aria because they are afraid of difference and want more than their fair share. She knows that mommy said our job is to do better.
Auntie’s birthday. Daddy’s birthday. TK (Transitional Kindergarten)! Mommy and Uncle’s birthday. Mommy on crutches; and crutches are fun! (For her; and yes, this was to do with my birthday *shakes head at self.*) Great Auntie dies and, “she didn’t get to meet me.” Trick-or-treat at Haunted-Home!
Election stress. I know she was confused by this one: why would a room full of adults who say to be kind to others and not to use certain words all get so angry and start using those same words? I heard her talking to her friend one day: “President Trump is stupid; and its okay to say that about him.” (This one is credited to Mimi.) Daddy and I have multiple, real, important conversations with her to explain why we voted for Joe Biden in “real life” and not for her.
Her last day of being four.
Of course, these are my memories for her. When we asked her what her favorite part of being four was, she said, “getting to spend more time with my friends.” I wonder how she will remember this year, years from now.
I also wonder if all parent’s feel this: that their children are normalizing a context that they see as filled with tremendous change. I read a great book once, wrote about it too. It’s called The Fifth Season, by N.K. Jemisin. The “fifth season,” is a season of death and destruction that arrives suddenly with devastating effects in an already damaged and broken world. The entire world’s culture is built around surviving the inevitable season… until the book series isn’t about just survival anymore. I read a great book with my daughter too. It’s called Pandora by Victoria Turnbull. A little fox lives alone on a mountain of trash, fixing “broken things.” She makes a friend, and the world regrows. Pandora’s ‘destruction,’ retains hope.
What will it mean that some of my daughter’s earliest memories are of quarantine and social distancing? How will it change her view and create for her, a perspective radically different from mine? What is she ‘norming’ that I cannot see?
I frequently ask my students, “what is your earliest political memory?” By that I mean: a memory that had national or global significance. For a long time, many of my students answered 9/11. Now, they talk about the 2008 Recession. My father’s memory is having rocks thrown at their cars as he and his family, Swedish missionaries to India, left the country with the British. Mine is watching the Berlin Wall come down on TV; a man pulling down a stone from that wall. What will my daughter’s be; and will it be from now? I hope that I’ve helped her to understand as best she can.
I wonder. I hope. I write about being five because she’s changed my view—my view of me, my view of justice, my view of teaching, and learning, and innocence, and hope, and fear. I want to protect her from everything, but realize that to make justice, I can’t. I realize for her to be her, I can’t— though it is hard to let go of control. “Yes, Hazel, our ancestors… no, they’re dead; an ancestor is someone who is already dead.” “Yes, sweetie, it is sad—and it’s wrong too.” “We can do better. What do you think we can do to do better?”
As I am writing this, though, I realize, I keep thinking of who my daughter will be as an adult—as though my job is to make her into a finished product, and not to enjoy her every day. To see her every day.
I made a painting for Hazel that hangs on her wall: Pusheen with her mother, Sunflower, hugging under a mantra from Thich Nhat Hanh. “Dear one, I see you and it makes me happy.” Since I read the book True Love, I say this mantra to her and my husband sometimes; and every time I do, they smile, lighting up, like flowers or stars. I have yet to paint her the sequel, which will feature Thich Nhat Hanh’s first mantra from the book: “Dear one, I am here for you.”
I am here for you, daughter. Remember that.
I hope for you. I wonder.
Sara Frykenberg, Ph.D.: Graduate of the women studies in religion program at Claremont Graduate University, Sara’s research considers the way in which process feminist theo/alogies reveal a kind transitory violence present in the liminal space between abusive paradigms and new non-abusive creations: a counter-necessary violence. In addition to her feminist, theo/alogical and pedagogical pursuits, Sara is also an avid fan of science fiction and fantasy literature, and a level one Kundalini yoga teacher.