Thursday, December 8, 2011

Our Childhood Baggage

The culvert I remember was probably a little wider than this one. Taken from
All of us have a few totally random memories from our childhood-snapshots frozen in time of things that might not even seem that relevant any more. One such memory of mine brings back the horror of that moment vividly.

All I remember today is standing frozen at one end of a long and wide culvert, a thin broken wooden plank connecting one end to the other. I remember my father holding my hand and willing me to just jump and cross over to the other side. I couldn't. He tried telling me it was easy but it was not. The gap from one end to the other yawned and stretched before me like an endless chasm. He might as well have been asking me to leap over the Grand Canyon. After a couple of tries, he gave up, held my hand and we walked the longer way over to the other side.

My father probably did not give the incident much thought but what he never saw was the sheer terror only I was privy to. My body had reacted viscerally, it was a totally out-of-body experience and one I would bring up time and time again when faced with similar challenges--going down steep slopes, walking on slippery surfaces, even touching extremely tactile objects.

It was only years later, when my younger daughter was born with a similar problem, that I discovered that this was a real condition with a real name--sensory integration dysfunction. This was a disorder that was treatable when caught in early childhood. My daughter's was caught and treated. For me it was too late. I still live in mortal fear of even the slightest inclines and icy walks. The saving grace though is that I know my fears are not imagined but real. Equally important, they were validated by people other than my own self.

Today's wonderful essay in the New York Times by Lavanya Sunkara brought these memories rushing back. Like me, she too lived her childhood in shame, not knowing why her body was acting the way it did. Like me, it was only in the United States, that she discovered it was okay to be who she was--to come out of her shell and make the person within shine.

There are many, many things I love about my adopted country and one of them is this: every person is respected. Every child is brought up to live up to his or her full potential.

By not diagnosing my issues early on (like Lavanya, I too had to visit the bathroom nightly with company and that was yet another 'condition') my parents were not guilty of anything. What society as a whole was guilty of however, was shrouding issues like these in secrecy and shame, for not fully giving a child a voice."It's all in your head," was an established way of undercutting a child's very real fears--and this to me, still remains unforgivable.

As Lavanya's example and mine prove, America lets children be heard. Every day, the undersides of beds are checked for monsters. Everybody, even the disenfranchised, for the most part, has a voice. So, like Lavanya, I too will say, "Thank You!"

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