吉姆 JIM HOFMAN | Photography Faces & places in China

Childhood Scars

This is an unremarkable iPhone image, but when I saw this scene in China it jogged a drunk memory that was pretty profound and is the theme for this rant.  Beware.

While in Italy several weeks ago with my daughter and her aunt we enjoyed an evening together that included a lot of wine.  That’s worth repeating. A lot of wine.  While sitting in a local pub in the Vatican neighborhood we somehow started discussing episodes in our life where our parents did something (or failed to do something) that left a permanent childhood scar.  When I say scar, I mean an incident that has caused a person to think less of a mother or father’s parenting skills for a long, long time.

In the case of my daughter, she confessed she desperately wanted a ride-on Barbie electric car (similar to the one in the photo below) when she was 7 years old.  I remember her passion for that particular toy, and all things Barbie in general.  Her mother and I considered whether we should buy it for her as a Christmas gift but ultimately decided not to buy it for several reasons – the biggest being we were afraid she would drive-off one day and we would never see her again.  It was also expensive and we had no where to store it in the garage.  We knew she was disappointed when she didn’t get it, but it wasn’t until 15 years later that I learned HOW disappointed she was.  That decision left a scar on her childhood.  I thought nothing about making that decision that day, but she still thinks about it even today.

Motorized-Car

I began considering my own childhood scars caused by parenting decisions.  There are both material and event-related scars.  Like my daughter, I wanted a particular toy for Christmas and didn’t get it – three years in a row.  Now that I’m an adult I’m still searching on Ebay for a NIB GI Joe in a space suit with the Mercury space capsule.  Yep, that’s a little sick, but it’s still on my bucket list.  There are others, but I thought it was an interesting alignment of my scar and my daughter’s scar.  I know we can’t give our children everything they want, but I think the takeaway point for parents is to do a better job explaining to kids WHY they didn’t get a significant toy at an impressionable age.  In some cases it may be an action or decision as versus a material thing.  In either case, it  may be a difficult task considering the absence of logic processing in an adolescent child’s mind.

I’m sure my kids have a long list of scars because of poor decisions I’ve made in my life.  It’s a cross I’ll need to bear, but understanding mistakes is the first step in not repeating them.  How do parents know when a decision is going to scar their kids?  Some are easy to see coming (divorce), while others are less apparent in the short term and sneak up on you 15 years later (Barbie cars).

To put this in perspective, not getting a sought-after toy for Christmas and calling it a childhood scar is probably a “first world problem”, especially in a world full of much larger childhood problems.  But just like other deeper wounds, a scar is a scar.  It stays around a long time.

After spending some time processing this epiphany during my travels in China I started asking other people about their childhood scars caused by parental decisions.  Everyone seemed to have something they held against their parents.  Most people have forgiven their parents now that they’re older and understand the logic behind the decision(s), but listening to them talk I think the scars may still be there.

Nancy – 30 year old Chinese lady: She told me a story about her parent’s decision to send her to a second tier college instead of a better university.  She explained to her parents that she wouldn’t be as successful in life going to the lesser school, but her parents couldn’t afford the better school.  The college she went to had a good reputation years earlier, but it had since lost its prestige.  Now she understands her parents decision was the correct decision, but at the time she thought they were crippling her future.

Dennis – 56 year old American engineer traveling in China:  His parents got divorced when he was 5 years old.  They were one of the first parents in his neighborhood to divorce in the early 60’s and it left a serious scar on him.  He was the only kid in his first grade that didn’t have a dad living at home.  They never explained the reasons for their divorce and Dennis was left with some unresolved feelings in early life.

Jay – Scottish bar owner living in China: Jay was promised that if he did a good job in school his parents would take him ice skating.  He kept up his end of the arrangement and straightened up, but his parents never took him skating.  He reminded them about this broken promise later in life (in his 30’s) and his parents couldn’t remember the bargain.  Jay also shared another significant childhood scar about when he got into a fight in school and his parents didn’t stand up for him – even though he was defending a poor redhead boy that was getting beat up.  He thought they didn’t back him up when he got into trouble and Jay lost faith in them after that.  Jay decided his parents didn’t care enough to dig into the whole story and it was OK for him to be a rebel after that episode.

 

So what do childhood scars have to do with street photography in China?  Very little, except that I pondered the topic while I was in China for 3 weeks.

 

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