Whatever happened yesterday is just a memory. It is not here; it is not real. But when we bring it to mind in all its color, it feels fresh and new. The memory takes over the present moment and invades today. If it is a painful memory, it can rule your life.
Many memories lay dormant and untouched by the years, and then something will happen to awaken it in you. You didn’t seek it out. You didn’t ask for it. But there it is, bringing forth its old pain. When it happens, you may not understand why you feel the way you do. What are these tears about? Why are you so angry or so sad? This is the realm of your inner child.
Your inner child does not have any logical explanations for its pain. Your inner child may not be able to identify its source. But he or she does have a visceral memory of what happened, and it has suddenly invaded your mind, your heart, and your body, causing you to literally relive the past.
Our daughter started Kindergarten today, and we have prepared her well. We have talked about it positively, we have gone to the open houses, and she has played on the school playground all summer. She was ready and excited. It is a significant milestone, and I remember thinking to myself recently that I was not feeling all that emotional or teary about it. I just felt proud.
But this morning, when I took her in, I wasn’t thinking clearly. I forgot to give our son his farewell hug at daycare, because I was rushing around to get him settled and get our daughter to school on time. When I realized this, I felt really bad, but there was nothing to be done about it.
Once at school, I went in with our daughter and waited with her until the bell rang. The feeling of “first day” and all the hustle and bustle of a new school year brought back vivid, visceral memories that I felt in my body. My inner child’s feelings came right to the surface: I felt terror. I ignored it and focused on our daughter, making sure she got to her class room. As it turns out, her Kindergarten has gradual entry, and we came on the wrong day. Fortunately, the teacher didn’t mind, and it still managed to be our daughter’s first day.
When I left, I realized I’d forgotten a packet of paperwork that we were supposed to fill out and bring back in an hour or so. It didn’t seem like I could do anything right. More terror.
I know intellectually why I felt such terror in my early years. My father was in the military, and we moved way too much during that time. I had barely started Kindergarten in New York state when we moved to Alabama. We stayed with my grandmother for a few weeks until they found a house, and I attended another Kindergarten during that time. By the time we were settled, there was no Kindergarten at the local school at all, so I coasted until the following September.
When I hit first grade, I had never been to preschool or in any kind of organized care. I was used to being free and wild, in a way, and the structure of school felt like prison. It also demanded things of me socially that I did not feel competent to provide. Worse, I attended two different first grades that year. I also came down with a bad case of pneumonia. In second grade, I attended three different schools in two states. By the time I got used to the rules and routines of one place, I was yanked out of it.
Given this background, I can see how terrifying school was for myself. Because of this, I never quite felt comfortable in school, and I often felt like an outsider. For many years, the happiest day of my life was leaving high school behind me. Since then, however, I have become very happy and had completely forgotten the pain of my school years. Until today, when it all came pouring into me again, as though someone had flipped the light switch in a long-dark room.
The good news is that shining the light on a thing can heal the thing. I can now work with my inner child to let go of that feeling of terror so that I don’t pass it on to our daughter. I’m not worried. She has far more social skills than I ever did, and she is a confident five year old. As I watch her (and eventually, her brother) matriculate through their education, I believe it will help my own spirit to heal, as it will certainly help theirs to grow.
I wrote about the inner child in my book, Discovering Your Inner Child: Transforming Toxic Patterns and Finding Your Joy.