monique

Woolgathering
2002-07-16 23:53:45 (UTC)

Family Stories

Sometimes when I begin telling a family story one of my sons
will say, usually in kindly tone, but sometimes with a hint
of exasperation, *Mom, you've told this story before.* Of
course, I've told the story before! They don't understand
the point of the recitation. I enjoy telling the story; all
I require from them is to look fairly attentive and nod and
smile.

As my parents and my husband's parents age, they are telling
us more stories. We've heard most of them before but every
once in a while there's a new one we haven't heard. We
listen to these carefully

Not long ago my husband's parents were telling us how they
could remember back more than seventy years, to the late
1920's and early 1930's and they wondered what the world
would be like seventy years from now. The changes we most
often think about are medical and technological ones. Few
children in developed countries die of diphtheria or
whooping cough and we have marvelous tools and toys like
microwaves, faxes, TVs and VCRs, cell phones, computers and
the Internet.

Two stories they told made me realize there have been big changes in
how we treat our children now.

My father-in-law told us his first memory. He was four years
old. His father had served in the Canadian Army in France
during World War I . He was hit by shrapnel, gassed and
left in the trenches for several days before they got him
out. His lungs weakened, he developed TB and a
few years later he died. Before that, though, he'd married
and had one child; the boy who grew up to became my
husband's father.

My father-in-law remembers being brought to see his father
who was lying on a bed but his father wouldn't speak to him
and he thought that strange. He remembered a windy, rainy
bitter spring afternoon watching a group of people trudging
up a hill. It was the cemetery where they were going to
lay his father to rest but he didn't know that. He was too
little to climb the hill and couldn't go. He knew something
important was going on but he didn't know what it was; no
one explained anything to him. All he knew was that whatever
it was it was something he should remember and he did. It
was only many years later that he realized why it was so
important.

The second story was my mother-in law's. When she was eight
her father told her that her mother had gone to visit her
auntie for a few days. This wasn't unusual so she didn't
think much about it. The next morning at the breakfast
table, however, her father announced that a new little
brother had arrived in the middle of the night; Her eyes
widened as she asked, *Does mother know?*

We talk to our children much more openly about death and
birth nowadays. We try to answer their questions honestly
and give them as much information as we feel they can
handle. We recognize that even young children are well
aware of what's going on even if they have trouble making
sense of it.

When a beloved great-grandfather dies we explain to our
children that his body is only a shell. We bring them to
the funeral and explain to them what's happening. We hug
them close and kiss them, let them express their
fears and reassure them, and talk about heaven, about love,
about sadness and about grief.

When a new child is expected into the family we explain what
is happening and what will happen. We let them feel the
baby's kicks and bring them to the doctor's office so they
can hear the heartbeat of their new little brother or
sister. We let them hold new babies and talk to them about
what it will be like to have one in the house. We talk about
sharing and let them help in the preparations.

We are more honest with our children now. And that's a good
thing.