Last week I travelled back in time. I returned to my family cottage where I had spent many, many summers; where I had suffered my only childhood physical injuries – a broken tooth from a nasty bike fall, a sprained ankle from a weeping willow jump, and a hatcheted thumb from poor log-splitting technique. I had spent countless hours catching frogs on sunny days, watching soap operas on rainy days, and playing Monopoly on any day my family would humour me enough to start a game.
As I strolled along the receding creek, I saw flashes of myself as a young girl wearing oversized rubber boots, searching intently for frogs to scoop up into my tiny hands. That little girl thought life would all just fall into place in the natural order at the appropriate times – graduations, boyfriends, marriage, children, farm ownership. That little girl thought the coldness in her family was normal, and that persistent loneliness was something everyone felt.
It wasn’t until my late thirties that I learned my childhood experience actually wasn’t ‘normal’ and, for years after, I tumbled through the stages of grief – deep sadness, dark anger, eventual acceptance. And just when I thought I was done…
In a cardboard box in a back room at the cottage, I discovered piles of papers with stories and poems I had written as a child. Hundreds of pieces of paper documenting my desire to feel loved and valued and respected (and, apparently, my admiration for the colour blue). I found a school journal entry that lamented how much I had needed my mother after my bike fall, and felt lost that she wasn’t there. I found a note from my father to my teacher, written on a permission slip for a school excursion, offering to pick me up at a subway station but stating in no uncertain terms that I was not to be left anywhere unsupervised.
This box held the utmost minutiae of my life from 1985-1986. After these last few years of feeling angry at my parents for everything they hadn’t done for me, I was suddenly overwhelmed by such a deep appreciation for everything they had done for me. What kind of father would pack up and store a box like that for 30 years? A father who loves his daughter. And what kind of mother is so deeply needed and longed for when pain and fear overwhelm a young child who made the simple mistake of speeding down a hill too quickly on her bicycle? A mother who provides love and comfort to her daughter. They weren’t perfect but they did love me the best they could.
As an adult, standing on the same ground where those little-but-big rubber boots once stood, I wanted to crouch down, reach through the time-space continuum and give my little girl a big hug. I wanted to tell her life doesn’t go the way you think it will, it’s full of surprises – good and bad – but in the end, you’re ok. You’re not perfect, but the good news is: nobody is.
And love isn’t perfect. It’s messy, but that’s ok too. People will love you in all sorts of ways, and not love you in all sorts of ways, but the good news is you actually don’t need any of them in order to love yourself.
And even though at the beginning of my journey back in time I had wanted to apologize to my little self for being such a disappointment and making such a mess of her grand plans for our life, by the end of it I felt like we both could look at the mess and see what a beautiful work of art (in progress) it actually is.
Now, I can hardly wait to time travel again. Backward or forward, it seems to me it’s a pretty amazing journey either way.