I often compare my child life to the experience of a solider in battle, or rather a soldier in a prison camp. I was terrified from the moment I woke to the moment I put myself to rest at night.
There was never a sense of security and safety, my father ruled our home with an iron fist and attempted to control every aspect of his children’s being, he was quite clear that we were not our own, that we were his – that he had brought us here and he could take us out. And he meant it – and we children, knew it.
I was an unhappy child full of the desire to escape my body, which was often sickly and uncomfortable as well as the desire to escape my father and his shouting, and battery. By 9 years old I had total care of my brothers, as the semi shelter provided by my older sister’s presence was taken from us – I learned to stay small, out of sight and out of trouble and even these maneuvers could not guarantee that my father’s wrath would not be brought down on me.
I learned to observe my father as I imagine a small rodent learns to observe a fox or an owl – looking for signs that one can encounter the predator – and live. It was an incredibly exhausting way to live, if one could call it living.
I am writing this today about 2 weeks from Christmas 2015. I love Christmas, and feel moved today to say to share why this is so.
I was raised to be a good Catholic girl, my Catholic faith was the only aspect of my childhood from which I drew strength and emotional fuel in order to live my child life and attempt to imagine a life beyond being my father’s daughter. I loved Christmas particularly, all that talk of angels and the dear baby Jesus, the songs, gifts, prayers of Christmas brought my childhood the only beauty of the year, and the only chance to laugh and feel like child.
You see, something happened to my father during the holidays – It was completely incredible. Every year, after thanksgiving, my father would pull out the Christmas albums and the beautiful music of Nat King Cole’s Christmas Album would fill the air. That along with other sacred and secular Christmas music would play almost nonstop. My father would busy himself in the kitchen, where he would create his delicious Christmas pudding as well as coconut tarts and sugars cookies. I would be right there with him – prepping the ingredients and having everything ready so that when he came home from work – he could bake the evenings away. The goodies were gifts for his friends and business associates – many other looked forward to my father’s treats.
During Christmas, I could sit with my father and talk to him – it was this time of the year that I could ask him about his childhood and his opinions. He was – human. My brothers could misbehave and he would ignore it. I could speak to him “using the wrong tone of voice” and he would not care. It is my memory that no child was beaten in my father’s house during the weeks between thanksgiving and New Year’s Day. Ever!
It was perplexing – and by the time I reached 10 or so I stopped worrying about it and simply came to look forward to it – to the peace and the ability to laugh – to the release that Christmas brought me, and certainly to my dad. He truly seemed to enjoy Christmas morning and watching us open our presents and them taking us off to Staten island to visit family – with his arms full of baked goods that he’d baked for them as well as bottles of wine.
After gifts at home we would visit our Uncles and cousins and this required us to drop in on at least 4 other homes, ending at the home at my Uncle Francoise, and Aunt Edna, where we would have dinner and end the day. It was a long day, but a good one, my aunt and uncle were lovely people who very much loved me – the food was always wonderful – there was always wonderful calypso and merengue music playing and my father would choose me to dance with him to the delight of my family members who would remark about what a lovely child I was, how pretty and what a good dancer – my father , who usually never complimented, would agree mostly that I was a great dancer (because he had taught me to be), and would remark to the other guests – how he could never dance with my mother that she would always step on his feet.
My child’s heart was very pleased that my father found any sort of pleasure with me, and the praise warmed me and added a bit to the empty tank of my self-esteem which struggled on vapors for the majority of the year. And I would feed on that bit of fuel until the following year. I loved Christmas – I love it still.
Many years later, I found myself working to recover from my childhood. I was in my late 20’s and a hard working member of many 12 step groups and a therapy devotee’. I was unearthing my childhood with the intention of recovering my soul and with the desire to not spread poison, my father’s poison to my precious sons.
When the holidays approached, my recovery community seemed to implode. Many were rocked with painful memories, for in their stories, the holidays were times when family dysfunctions seemed to become enhanced – there was more drinking, using or abusing for them, more abuse in their families during that time so everyone seemed doubled over with the weight of remembering the Holiday abuses. Everyone, that is but me.
I was the one with the ability to make merry, and so I did. I loved my friends invited them to my house – gave them gifts and created rituals that would bring us pleasure and help us as we created our new family of choice and lived out one of my favorite sayings. “A happy life is the best revenge.” I made merry for myself and made merry for my children – I attempted to show them that I loved them and tried to make their Christmas dreams come true. More importantly, I actively worked to have them feel loved 365 days of the year; I worked to be a conscious loving mother, to never actively harm them and to ferret out from within myself the ways that I might subconsciously harm them. I wasn’t perfect, but I did my best.
I know that my sons and I had many more happy days together than sad ones. That my children do not fear me, and that now that they are young adults in their 30’s we are working establish a new relationship – that of mother and grown up children. I am working to see them as they are, not as I wish them to be and the have my energy be open so that they will feel free to share themselves with me, I want to help them live and be happy – but it is now their job to take active steps in their lives, dreams and futures. I am the president of each of their fan clubs, and support them in any and all life affirming acts.
Christmas is almost here, my Christmas music playlist is on night and day – my prayers are full of thoughts of angels, the sweet mother Mary and her infant son, Jesus. I think on these things with gratitude for the peace they brought to my child life, as well as for the vision of family this story played in my psyche. The peaceful vision of Mary, Joseph and the babe Jesus, surrounded by love and light and God’s grace was a vision that very often was able to recreate with my young sons – happy Christmas mornings, laughter friends good food family – not for a few weeks of the year – but often throughout the year.
I pray for the soul of my father and hope that he has found peace. A peace which completely eluded him during his lifetime except , its seems during the last few weeks of the year where his souls would reach out in memory and find a scant memory of what life could be like. I wish that I had asked more about that – I wished that I knew what it was that as stirring my father’s soul, lightening his daemons and allowing him to laugh, smile and truly enjoy his children. What a shame that he could only remain connected toot for about 4 weeks each year. My father had lovely children; my brothers and I were pretty, smart and witty kids. – and he never knew this. He was a very wealthy man financially, but never knew where his greatest treasure actually was.
I pray for my father and turn my attention back to own life, and I turn my eyes up to heaven with tremendous gratitude. I am so grateful that I was able to find a path of recovery. That I was able to want to heal, and then at every step of the way was given the tools an opportunity to heal. I am glad that I was able to take the breaks I was offered and not allow myself to drown in my family’s despair.
I look forward to this Christmas with my sons and grandchildren. We have great plans, seeing the new Star Wars movie, and then gathering together for Christmas services, Christmas Day and Dinner, gifts and music and each other. I cannot wait. I cannot wait.
If you have need my friend – let me share my Christmas joy with you, let it fill your life, and breath, may it uplift your soul and bring you smiles, may it warm and grace you as you take the steps needed to make joy of your own. I have only one request. Please pass it on. Share it with friends’, family, coworkers, let it travel the world and fill every dark corner in need of Peace. Share it, please, and as it blesses you, send blessings to me in return, and let’s all feel together the true power we have to be the cause of our own happiness. The power we have to give happiness to others, and once we feel this – let us make the commitment to not be the cause, directly or indirectly, of pain to other beings, adult child plant animal – or planet.
Let us be what we seek – Peace.
Let us give what we deserve – Peace.
Let there be, as the sweet songs say, Peace.
Peace in our minds, homes and hearts.
Peace on earth.
Edited by Isabel Espinal, with my unending thanks.
Samsarah Morgan, DD Cht.
Is a counselor coach and hypnotherapist in private practice in Oakland Ca. She is a doula, childbirth, breastfeeding and parenting educator and family life coach. She is the founder and executive director of Nia Healing Center for Birth and Family Life (www.niahealingcenter.org) and Oakland Better Birth Foundation (www.oaklandbetterbirthfoundation.org)
Announcing the publication of Children’s Village Tales of an Urban Nana by Samsarah Morgan.
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10% of proceeds will be donated to the work of Oakland Better Birth Foundation – a physical copy of the book will soon be available.