Part 2 – The only Child

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Boy AloneIn spite of my “only child” –like status I was a very social little boy. I loved playing with all the other kids in my neighborhood who were close to my age. By my eighth summer I spent as much of my time as possible playing with other kids. I hated being called home for supper or to come in for the night because these social relationships were of prime importance in my life.

You may remember from my previous blog that my parents made two major decisions during the summer of 1947 that affected me in many ways. The first decision was to take the multi-state vacation trip to the West Coast and back to Eastern Kansas. The second decision was to move from our little bungalow on Crawford Street in town to “the farm” about 3 miles south and east of town. This move is what I’m going to tell you about now.

My two hardest changes with our move were  adjusting to “farm life” in general and adjusting to the bullying I experienced in my new school.  Because it was a very small school and most of the kids were older, I felt out-of-place most of the time, and was often tormented as “the town kid”.

“The farm” was a 5-acre plot of land with an old farmhouse, a small garage, a little barn with a shed on the side, and a brick chicken house. All of these structures sat at the top of a hill among much larger tracts of 80-160 acres that peppered the rural areas of Eastern Kansas. Many of our neighbors were older farm couples who were still living on and farming these family farms. Few had children living at home so my need to socialize was sharply curtailed by the lack of young children living anywhere within walking or bicycling distance from our new home. In fact, I remember distinctly my mother telling someone that part of the reason for the move was to break me away from some of the kids in the old town neighborhood that she felt were not good influences on me. I was angry and sad when I learned this.

We moved about the middle of August that summer and for the rest of the month, we were kept busy getting settled in the old farmhouse and beginning “improvements” that would allow us to have a degree of “modern living” like we had enjoyed in town. For example, our bathroom was a tiny one-holer situated at the end of the dirt path between the garage and chicken house. It was about a 100-foot walk from our back door to get relief! The garage may have had electric lights, but none of the other buildings did. So going out for the last bit of business before bedtime required carrying a flashlight to see the way.  The only water that came into the house was pumped by hand into a wash-basin in the kitchen, mounted on the wall just inside the back door. Without running water in the kitchen getting a drink or water for washing dishes was a difficulty.  These inconveniences of living on “the farm” made it hard for all of the family.

But even more difficulties for me were yet to come.

When school started at the beginning of September I didn’t have to walk far because the school was almost right across the road from our house.  It was a little one-room schoolhouse and our teacher was a young lady who was fresh out of high school. jeffrey-hamilton-571428-unsplash Miss Brown taught a group of about 12 kids who were distributed in all grades from 1 to 8.  For the smaller kids there were smaller desks in the front of the room and larger desks at the back.  Miss Brown taught us by spending a little time with each grade on their different subjects. Although there was one boy near my age, most of the other kids were older and in grades 6, 7, and 8. Inside the schoolhouse, these boys behaved pretty well for the young teacher.  But at recess time the older boys decided to pick on the new “town boy” who didn’t understand much of anything they were talking about.  They teased and tormented me all of my 3rd grade year.  Each teasing made me angrier and I was ashamed with the tears and crying. One time a big 8th grader grabbed me and turned me upside-down, and holding me by the ankles he tamped my head in the dirt. When he finally dropped me, I was so angry I picked up a loose board that was lying near the schoolhouse and chased him and others who were teasing, swinging the board at them.

The two kids who lived nearest to our house were both named Bob. The older Bob was a 7th grader and the younger was a 6th grader. Although these Bobs were older, Mom and Dad let me go to their homes to play on occasion although neither of them was consistently kind to me. The older Bob, who also lived the closest, was the friendlier of the two and he sometimes came to my house to ride bikes with me. There was a big hump of dirt between two road ditches with a nice path across it and it was fun to ride down one road as fast as we could, then onto the ditch, over the hump, and onto the other road. Big Bob kept encouraging me to ride over it faster and faster until I had a massive wipe-out, falling on my face and cutting my lip.  This time he pushed my bicycle home for me, but Big Bob wasn’t full of kindness. That school year he introduced me to sexual play that was completely new to me and totally inappropriate for a 8 year old boy.  Because we did this in secret, I felt full of shame, and I never talked about it with with my parents or any other adult. Almost all of my third grade year was an unhappy one with many other things that upset me emotionally and caused me physical pain. I welcomed the end of the school year in early May knowing that most of those older boys who had tormented me that year would be gone the next year.

I wish I had been able to tell my parents about how I felt about going to that school and about how those older boys bullied me and took advantage of my naivety.  I felt so ashamed of my short temper and crying.  And I knew the things Bob and I did secretly were wrong.  If my parents had known more about what was happening to me that year they might have been able to help. But I was too embarrassed and ashamed to tell either Mom or Dad about it.  And if they ever asked about school I learned to say that all was fine.

Parents of young children today are much more aware of the social and emotional damage that bullying does to children at all ages.  Dads are learning to find more time to spend with their children one-on-one, encouraging them to talk openly about their experiences with others without judging too harshly.  And moms are learning to take time to really listen attentively as their sons and daughters talk about their days.  I wish my parents and I had developed a relationship of openness and honesty and that I could have made them aware of my struggles while I was still young.  Instead, it has taken me most of my life to shed the shame and pain of my early years on the farm.  By forgiving them and others who hurt me, I have been able to enjoy God’s forgiveness as well.

If you are a parent, do you talk with your children daily about the things they find difficult to cope with in their lives? If your child were to be sexually abused, does she or he feel comfortable initiating conversation with you about it?  Even what many people considered as just “child play” has left personal, emotional and social scars on children that affect their ability to heal and mature as adults.  It’s time for all parents to step up to the challenges of helping each of their children navigate their youth and adolescence in such a way that adults of the next generation will be free of the social and emotional pain most of us have experienced.

Please share your thoughts and feelings on this topic.

Photo Credits:        TopStaring Into The Sun, Japheth Mast (@japhethmast) on Unsplash    In Text:  (Inside old schoolhouse) by Jeffrey Hamilton on Unsplash

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Only Child

I don’t know about your’s, but my experiences with children who are the only one in their family would tell me that very often they are very narcissistic, self-centered, and victor-van-welden-596129-unsplashspoiled. Because these only children often get an abundance of attention from their parents and others, they learn to expect to be the center of attention in the extended family, at school, with peer friends, and with adult friends of their parents.   This is not to say that every only-child gets an abundance of attention from their parents.  Sometimes it’s just the opposite and they are sent away from home to boarding schools, private summer camps, or stay home with nannies or nursemaids, thus relieving parents of the need to be with them while they are young.  In any case a child who grows up without siblings or other children around them frequently displays the above kinds of behavior.

When the only child begins school or is involved with other groups of children, they also display self-centeredness and expect others to cater to their wishes and plans.  When others fail to oblige them, anger, rage, defiance, and threatening behaviors emerge as temper tantrums.  These behaviors frequently scare other children or bring out retaliation, avoidance, and other behaviors that exclude the only child. In order to avoid threatening behaviors and to placate the only child, others will sometimes be cooperative or supportive to him.

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In my home, I grew up like an only child. My two siblings were considerably older and lived away from home when I was young.  Because of this I received a lot of attention from my parents, my siblings when they were home, and often other adult friends of others in my family.  I relished that attention and grew to expect it from others, both children and adults.  Like the only child, I wanted to be the center of attention and acted selfishly much of the time.  When others rejected me for my inappropriate behaviors I would withdraw and feel sorry for myself.  Or, I would fly into a rage, threatening those who whom I perceived were hurting me.

The summer I turned 8 my parents made two decisions that affected me in ways I never dreamed of before.  Their first decision was to take a month of vacation and travel from Kansas to the West Coast.  That July of travel broadened my horizons considerably through many first time experiences.

Before that trip, which would take us through 9 new western states, I had only visited neighboring states Missouri and Oklahoma. For the first time I saw mountains, first in the distance from Eastern Colorado and then up close as we drove through the Rockies. We visited the Royal Gorge, The Garden of the Gods, and my first visit below Earth’s surface at The Cave of the Winds!  In Denver we visited the Zoo and Natural History Museum, two new experiences for me.  We watched big fireworks displays and visited the airport on July 4th, and were involved in a fender-bender auto accident the next day as we left Denver for Wyoming.  I had never been an accident before and it scared me so I was anxious and afraid to go on!  As we headed across desolate Wyoming, I was depressed and begged Mom and Dad to turn around and go home.

Then we arrived at Lander, Wyoming, just in time to watch a big Indian pow-wow!  Another first:  Real Indians and Indians Dancing to the beat of their big drums.  My depression dissipated quickly.  And Mom told me we’d be arriving at Yellowstone National Park the next day.  While trying to wrap my mind around a park so big, Mom taught me how to read the road map that was really a big atlas of road maps of the U.S. my folks bought before the trip.  She showed me how she had marked the route of our travels so far and how to orient the map with North at the top.  I quickly found that “reading” the map book was exciting and I wanted to know where we would be going from there.

The next parts of the trip were rather non-exciting as they took us to visit people I didn’t really know in Montana and Idaho, across a corner of Oregon and on West to San Francisco.  The longest suspension bridge in the world, between Oakland and San Francisco and the cable cars there were exciting, but paled in comparison to my first glimpse of the Pacific Ocean!

Gary-at-OceanSeeing a real ocean for the first time was overwhelming!  I had learned the word “horizon” before, but actually seeing the horizon as a straight line far in the distance with nothing but water in between made it real to my almost 8-year-old self.  I ran from the car, hurrying down the beach to the water.  Mom was crying-out something from the car, but I couldn’t hear her.  As I reached the water’s edge, I realized, too late,  that the water was moving in my direction and REALLY FAST!  The surf swept over my shoes and quickly climbed almost to my knees, scaring me so much I almost fell over into it as I turned and ran to the dry beach.  It was then I decided to scramble upon a nearby plank of wood that was sticking upright in the sand where it looked much safer.

From the Pacific shore we headed south along the length of California and east across the Mohave Desert, another first for me, then into Arizona and New Mexico.  As we crept across these states at what seemed a snail’s pace we saw more Indians and lots of dry, red earth with little growing in it.  We saw more petrified wood than I could shake a stick at (petrified, of course). My 8thbirthday was celebrated when we reached Albuquerque and I remember my folks buying me a small bow and arrow from a road-side Navajo stand. While they rested I had fun shooting my arrow all around the place where we stopped for the night.

The rest of the trip home, I remember little about except that it seemed never to end.  I missed my friends and wanted to get home to tell them all about all the new experiences I had!

I guess you’ll have to wait for my next blog post to find out about the rest of that summer and the other big decision my parents made that was a big change for me.


Do my experiences during the first part of the summer I turned 8 remind you of times when you had a whole bunch of new all in a short time?  If so, what did you experience and learn about the world?  I’d be honored if you would like to tell me about them by responding to this post.

Color photos by Victor Van Welden  & Bonnie Kittle on Unsplash

B&W photo by C.R. Armour

Family

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The family I grew up in was small. I had one brother and one sister who were both in their teens when I was born. I guess I was a so-called “accident”.  By the time I was in grade school, my sister was married and my brother was serving in the Navy in WWII.  Being the youngest, I suppose I was pretty spoiled as a kid. Not that I was given lots of “things” but rather I was allowed a lot of freedom and encouraged to try new things.

I remember my mom gave me a book when I was about 8 titled The Boy Mechanic that was published by Popular Mechanics Magazine.  I loved that book!  It was full of ideas and things to make, and I spent many hours perusing it’s pages. Sometimes I would decide to try building one of the projects, only to discover I didn’t have the skills needed or I was impatient and grew tired or frustrated. Mom, bless her, would try to help me whenever she could, but so often I had to do things by myself. It was in those days that I longed for a brother nearer my age with whom I could read, explore, adventure. But my parents were older and had no plans for another child.

What made matters worse, for me, was that my parents decided to move to “the country” when I was eight, leaving behind the few friends I had in my old town neighborhood.  My new school was a small, one-room building and our young teacher was barely out of high school. There were kids in about all of the eight grades With two in some of them.  Most of those students were older and had little interest in this little “town boy”  who knew nothing of their lives on their farms.  Most of the boys smelled of the barnyard and seemed to like to hold their stinky hands over my face when I cried out at their teasing. Needless to say I didn’t fit in with their culture and felt lonely much of the time.

Fast forward, now, to about 1958.  I had finished high school and started junior college in our nearby town. I had recently started attending a small church where some friends attended. Although there were few young people my age there, the adults soon took me in and made me feel welcome and a part of their group.  Even though I was still living at home, these loving people made me feel like I was part of a new family.

About that time Mom and Dad decided to sell the “farm”, the five acres where I had grown up, and move to Joplin, Missouri, where my brother and his family lived.  Dad had retired early from his 38-year employment at the local electric company and decided he didn’t want to raise 1500 turkeys a year in retirement. When they moved the summer between my two years in junior college, I took a room in the home of an older, widowed lady whose family was grown and gone.  Living there I could finish junior college.  Although I Did little more than sleep in my rented room, I missed having family around and longed for the day I might have my own.

And then, into the midst of my small church family, God brought a new family, the Rohrers. Donald, the father, moved his own family from Mississippi to become our new pastor.  He, his wife, Ethlyn, and their five young children rented a small farm on the Missouri side of the Kansas Border east of town.  Before long Donald and Ethlyn started inviting me to Sunday meals with their family. I grew close to them and their children, and soon felt right at home at their house.  God had finally answered my boyhood prayer for a younger brother. He provided three young brothers and two young sisters!animals-back-light-beaks-733478

For the next year, I spent much time hanging out with my new family, helping them with chores on the farm and going to programs at the girls’ school.  Tom, who was only 5 years younger and a 9th grader, liked to run around with me in my little black Ford coup.  The two little boys would sit by me in church, snuggling against me while their father preached.  God taught me how to give and receive love from this special family.  He also showed me his call on my life:  to be a teacher for young children.

I remained in contact with the Rohrers for several years after I left my home town, until I moved to Colorado with my young wife in 1965.  But God brought another wonderful family into my life while I finished college in Emporia, Kansas.  And eventually three sons of my own during my first marriage.   Today, I count myself blessed to have six children and eleven grandkids.

So, just what is a family?  Is it just those who are related to you through birth into a physical group of people:  parents and siblings?  Does it include other children who may be adopted by your parents?  How about foster children or step-siblings?  Or, is family more than this?

In 1970, Bill and Gloria Gaither published a song they had written titled, The Family of God.  On the Gaither website, they introduce the story behind the song with these words:

“As Thanksgiving, Christmas and the New Year draw near, some people look forward to spending time with family while others find this holiday season to be an especially painful reminder of people they miss, broken relationships and their deep longing to be surrounded by a loving family.  The good news is, when we are children of God we have an unlimited supply of brothers and sisters!  We encourage you to gather with those you love, whether they’re actual family or your spiritual family!”

A few years later, I sat with my own family, on the front row in our church in Denver when The Gaither Trio sang this song in concert one Christmas Eve.  The tears on their faces as they told this story and sang the words bore testimony that Ephesians 4:4-7 was true:

“From the door of an orph’nage to the house of the King,
No longer an outcast; a new song I sing.
From rags unto riches, from the weak to the strong,
I’m not worthy to be here, but praise God, I belong!”

This was the family I first experienced back in 1958 with the Rohrers and the others of that small church in Southeastern Kansas.  And today we experience it when we gather with our small Cell Group on Wednesday evenings to worship, pray for, and care for each other.  A part of God’s family here in Western Colorado.

How have you experienced family in your life?  Are you a part of God’s family, enjoying His Kingdom now, and looking to that which gives us hope after this life is over?  Does “family” bring a sense of pain and separation, or does it bring you joy and peace?

If you are not yet a part of God’s family, I urge you to read the third chapter of the book of John in the Bible. There you will learn His plan for you to be born again, spiritually, into an eternal family where you will never be alone again.