My parents had really awful lives. My father was raised in the slums of Weimar Germany, ended up in an orphanage, escaped Nazi Germany in 1935, was homeless in Tel Aviv for a little while, spent 1939-1944 fighting Nazis in North Africa and Southern Europe, and fought in the Israeli War of Independence — all before he turned 30. My mother’s life started as one of European luxury, but got derailed when her parents divorced and the money vanished. After several years of Depression-era poverty in Tel Aviv, she ended up spending the war years interned in a Japanese concentration camp in Java. Repatriation to Palestine was swiftly followed by the War of Independence.
Small wonder, therefore, that my very loving parents sought to insulate my sister and me as much as possible from the world’s hardships. Many things couldn’t be made easier, of course. My father was a brilliant man, but a poor breadwinner, so we always lived an economically fragile life, which is stressful. Life also brought its usual worries, both in the home (such as illness) and out (the general upheavals of the 1960s and 1970s). Where my parents could make things easier, though, was in protecting us from the stürm und drang of youth itself.
“Mommy, I don’t feel good.” “You can stay home then, Sweetie.”
“Mommy, I don’t like those kids.” “Okay. You don’t have to play with them again.”
“Mommy, the teacher was mean to me.” “I’ll go talk to the principal right now.”
In other words, my parents always made sure that my sister and I didn’t have to fight our own battles. Ow-ies and illness brought out the full panoply of bandaids, medicines, and days on the couch in front of the TV. Both my sister and I ended up being coddlers of our own health. I’m enough of an obsessive worker now (not to mention being a mother), that I usually don’t stop when I’m sick, but I still make very heavy weather of things.
The worst thing, though, was that my sister and I never learned how to deal with unpleasant situations on our own. We go into full retreat mode the moment things get rough at work or in a social situation. (This may go a long way to explaining why I hide my conservative identity so zealously from those around me.)
Well, just as my parents vowed not to have my childhood repeat theirs, I’ve vowed that I won’t repeat the mistakes of my childhood on my own children. I’m one tough mother. If they’re not feverish or losing body matter through various orifices, they go to school or camp or whatever. If they complain about a mean kid, I coach them through it, but stay out of it. If they don’t like a summer camp I’ve put them in, they still have to stick out the week, and cope with it. Part of me feels guilty that I don’t make life easier for my little ones (especially the younger), and part of me is extremely pleased that they’re learning important life lessons.
Sometimes my kids point longingly to friends of theirs who have parents who always step in to make things better. I’ve explained my philosophy to them, though, and they’ve actually stiffened their spines and decided that Mommy’s way probably is better. I think they like the thought of themselves as capable warriors, rather than fragile flowers.