Clara Snoyer is a sophomore English major.
As the baby of my family by a 12-year age gap, I have always been the only child in an all-adult world, and I grew up fast to fit in. But because I am significantly younger, I have always felt significantly different — even as the experience gap has narrowed as I have gotten older. I spent most of my youth fixated on my family not understanding me, but I have since been working on personally accepting my younger self, because I realized healing will only come when I no longer neglect the inner child I never embraced or deemed acceptable. Our perception begins inside of us. Thus, the immense amount of time I spent with my family this summer gave me the opportunity to correct the misperceptions I’ve had about them and myself since childhood, and better handle the weight of the pandemic with their support.
The age gaps between my family and I have been difficult to always appreciate. When I was born, my mother was 42, my father 52, and my two sisters already in their pre- and early teens. While I could not have been blessed with more loving siblings who have always looked out for me, my achievements are often overshadowed by their more significant life events unfortunately occurring at the same time. In addition, having older parents, no matter how supportive, makes it significantly harder to know how I am mirrored in them. While I have tried to not resent my family for my unconventional placement, competing with older sisters contributed to an adolescent experience of split parental attention and perception that I was in the way.
So, to get out of the way, I left for San Francisco. But after only being away at college for six months, I was lassoed home to Dallas due to the pandemic. I found I was independently and artistically hindered (and once again bickering with my parents like not a day had passed). It has been psychologically proven that when we return to the environment of our childhoods, we often revert to the roles we occupied during that time. None of us planned to return to our childhoods this soon after leaving them, but the psychological implications of our doing so now force us to confront our childhood trauma, whether we like it or not.
The circumstances of quarantine this summer made me confront exactly that. Within weeks of my return home, my family made the emotionally and financially painful decision to close the successful home-cooking restaurant we had owned for 13 years. I grew up at the restaurant and had loved it since I was six. In addition, the beautiful childhood home I was born in, located across the street from where I currently live, was torn down in June. I had to watch as my childhood was figuratively demolished a little more each day before my eyes.
Because of these events, I feel I have lost a great deal of my childhood to the pandemic — literally, with the demolition of our old house and the death of our family business. I was not ready to let it all go quite so soon. Quarantine has paradoxically asked us to suddenly grow up to handle the pandemic’s gravity and also reencounter our childhood selves at the same time. While we all love our families, it’s difficult to bear them constantly. When quarantine forced me back into a living arrangement with my family, I soon recognized an opportunity to work out my childhood trauma with them and heal our relationships. I learned that my childhood role in the family was not as permanent as I had perceived — I could now step up and be their equal, an adult.
I urge you to take advantage of quarantine, as there will likely never be another time like it — of being able to live (and stay) at home with the people who have the ability to heal us. When your inner child attempts to confront you during this time, let them. Ask your family the questions they never answered for you, and work to heal your relationship if there is unreconciled hurt. While the amount of family togetherness I’ve experienced has been steep and had me longing to return to San Francisco, I want to make sure I cherish this time with them, during a moment when all of our busy lives have been briefly paused. Childhood is gone before we know it, and as will our ability to heal it in the safe, confined space of quarantine. In the words of Edna St. Vincent Millay, “Childhood is not from birth / to a certain age / and at a certain age / The child is grown, and puts / away childish things. / Childhood is the kingdom where nobody dies.”