Freud was keen on the influence of early experiences on personality development. Recently, I explored memories of my own solitary, fantasy, play themes from childhood. I chose solitary play, when a child is playing alone with only simple toys and his/her imagination, because the manifestations are a pure reflection of the child's inner world. What I found was a fascinating consistency in patterns that have endured throughout my life! I discussed the phenomenon with my girlfriend who was, likewise, able to recognize play themes that became woven into the very fabric of her personal identity and sense of purpose.

I grew up on the coast of South Carolina. My parents took me to the beach as regularly as parents from other places might have taken their kids to the park. After swimming, body surfing, and feeding some of my snacks to the seagulls, I always built an elaborate sand castle with multiple walls and moats to protect the it from the incoming tide. I gained huge satisfaction from re-fighting this losing battle of frantically fortifying my creation against ever advancing waves. The theme of the underdog, bravely taking on impossible odds and fighting until the end resonated deep inside me.

At home, I liked to play smash up derby with my toy cars. I would repeatedly crash two cars together in head on collisions until one of the cars capsized. The winner would be the car that landed with all four tires on the ground. Some cars were “good guys” others were “bad guys.” My favorite car was the oldest, most beat up vehicle in my collection. The dilapidated car was an old veteran of the game, battle worn and over the hill, but with such heart that, win or lose, it would fight with its last ounce of strength.

Fighting for the underdog continues to provide a deep sense of meaning in my life. For good or ill, I equate suffering for a good cause with nobility. I have always considered myself peculiar in that, while “winning” in a challenge is nice, it has never been my top priority. For me, "fighting the good fight” takes precedence above all else. Giving my best effort and enduring whatever difficulties that might emerge, represent my gut level measures of success. Winning and goal achievement are wonderful, but of much less importance than giving my all.

My girlfriend's early fantasy play involved pretending to organize elaborate fashion shows. Her role was always to provide support and encouragement to aid her imaginary friends in successfully “starring” in the shows. For my girlfriend, her own inner knowledge of the importance of her contributions and NOT recognition from others, defined nobility of character. As an adult, creativity, fashion, and working “behind the scenes” continue to shape her personal sense of meaning.

What were the themes of your fantasy play as a child? Do those themes continue to play out in your adult life? I would love to hear your stories.

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Comment by Edward Teach on May 31, 2014 at 4:22pm

Luara, Michael Penn, and Billie Culver. thank you so much for sharing your stories. This really opening my eyes to the impact of childhood experiences

Comment by Billie Culver on May 3, 2014 at 7:26pm

As a child I went to a catholic school. I loved the ceremony and ritual of the mass. I partook of all the sacraments, cried at the stations of the cross, rejoiced and brought flowers to the statue of the virgin for the May crowning, and honestly believed in all the myths the church was feeding me. I wanted to be a nun. Sister Mary Esther was to be my destiny. I just knew I had "the calling." At home I would play make-believe by draping towels or curtains on my head to try to see what I would look like as a nun, and would practice looking holy. I was going to be a nurse nun, wear a white habit and take care of sick and orphaned babies. Not a mean and hateful nun like my teachers who smacked my palms with their pointers (about a 3' wooden dowel with a rubber tip) when I couldn't write my letters correctly. All my life I have been dyslexic, but back then no one knew what dyslexia was. The nuns thought I was just being contrary and would unmercifully smack my hands with that damned thing. 

I loved Jesus and couldn't wait until I was grown-up enough to become the bride of christ. My fourth grade teacher was a nun I could actually talk to. We would have discussions about my going into the convent, and other stuff too... like, "Why do I have to cover my head to go into the church? If god doesn't want to see my head, why did he give me such pretty hair?" The big questions for me came when I realized that religion was a cultural thing. "So... everyone from India, all the Hindus are going to HELL?" "And all the Chinese are going to HELL?" "And all the babies who die before they are baptized are going to HELL?" "And my dad who was not Catholic is going to HELL?" "And the mongoloid (pre downs-syndrom identification) kid down the block is going to HELL?" It was at that point that I realized in my child's mind that that this god I had been worshiping was one mean sonovabitch. Why would he send everyone but a fewf catholics, to hell? And that started my quest to learn everything I could about the different religions of the world.

My favorite hobby was going to all the different churches and places of worship of different religions in my neighborhood. And studying all the information on them I could obtain. Bible studies, church groups, choirs... You name it, I was there. I was on a mission to find the "right" god. Over the past 50 years, for a period of time I have been lutheran, methodist, seventh-day adventist, greek orthodox, jehovah's witness, mormon, pentecostal, nazarene, and baptist. I have studied buddhism, judaism, sikhism, muslim, theosophy, and new age ideology. Wiccan, pagan and native american. And probably others that don't come to mind right now.

And after all these years of seeking, you may ask "Did I find the right one?" "Did I find the right god?" Yes. I am an atheist. 

Comment by Michael Penn on April 29, 2014 at 2:54pm

My father was much older than my mother. I never met him, but all of the important papers, pictures, etc. were convieniently left for me to find as I got older. He was said to play piano in St. Louis bars and carry money in sacks. The Crown Room no longer exists but was one of his favorite hangouts. He and mom were always dressed in suits and it was 1945. Then she ran away from him, and he sent 2 friends to find her. One of them was "a blind man."

I got the above story from my aunt because she said she had taken in my pregnant mom (carrying me) for a time. My aunt lied when the 2 men came by and said she had not seen mom.

Later my mom told me that my father had left her. He "went out for a loaf of bread and never came back." Anyone heard that one before? Over the years I've had many theories and possible stories, but I believe my aunt here. Why would my aunt lie?

Now if we ask why would my mother lie, we have to admit that it was because she did not want to look bad. She didn't want to be a "bad parent." Up until the time of her death she argued that my grandparents did not keep me or raise me. She simply let me stay with them when school was out. The truth is, I went through 2 school years while living with my grandparents and coming home to them evry night. My cousins lived up the road and we all went to school together. They remember it too.

Mom, aunts, uncles, grandparents, etc. They are all dead now. My memory of these times was spotty, but mom's idea of it all barely allowed me to exist.

Again, why was this so? Mom did not want to appear as a "bad parent." It is because of things like this that I have had issues with my mother and my step dad my entire life!

Comment by Luara on April 29, 2014 at 1:57pm

No. it's not that nature came to feel threatening.  It's the danger of sexual assault from men, that is threatening.   Males who show up are dangerous.  That's the sad part, that I was separated from nature by this threat.

I don't know that we had a lot of fantasies going when we played, it was more that we were interacting with the outdoors.  One of my brothers found an albino frog once.  There were horned toads still in California then, and we found a very beautiful huge one.  Also I had bluebellied lizards as pets. 

Comment by Joan Denoo on April 29, 2014 at 1:30pm

I have very few memories from my birth in 1936 to 1945, when all our daddies came home from building airfields and army posts for a construction company, Morrison & Knudsen. I do remember looking through the wood slats of my crib watching Dad give Mom a horrid beating that left blood on the bed, walls and ceiling. I scream silently in my crib hoping Dad wouldn't hear me and come after me. I learned from those early memories that there was nothing I could do to protect myself except to hide and remain silent.

My father was gone for five years during the war. When living with my grandmother Whitehead and my mother, we had a relatively quiet time doing chores, doing the laundry on a boiler on the wood burning stove, tending to animals and gardens, making quilts, taking food to the sick and stuff like that. When Dad returned home, the violence returned. 

On one occasion, I called the police because I thought Dad was killing Mom. When the police arrived they asked her what she did to cause him to beat her so terribly. This was another important learning of my childhood, don't count on others to help, and women are to blame for their beatings. 

A neighbor, an elderly couple who never had children, had lots of dogs, cats, chickens, guinea hens and a parrot named Polly. When things got rough at home I headed over to the Robinson's to play with the animals. Mrs. Robinson would set up a tea table and we would sit in the garden, she with sweat running down her cheeks from working in the vegetable garden and her little orchard. In the winter time we sat at her little breakfast table and looked out at the garden and all the animals making paths in the snow. We did a lot of chores in addition to our little tea times.

There were no children in the neighborhood and I mostly played there. The Robinson's had a wood burning furnace and ordered truck loads of scrap wood from the lumber mill. It was dumped in the driveway. I spent hours and hours making pathways, roads, homes, and buildings from those wood scraps and would catch the various animals to live in my little village.

I learned very young to fill my time with building things, caring for animals and gardens, being silent and not complaining, finding pleasure in doing the tasks of life. I loved school because it was safe, and the library on the second floor was full of books with adventures and where I could get my questions answered. I had a great love for the sciences, history, social studies, math. I spent recess time in the library travelling with the authors to exciting places and doing interesting things.

In high school, I excelled in all my classes, had very many friends and took a leadership role in school activities. I held offices in the student body, Latin club, Tri-Sci club, and my senior year I had the honor of representing my school in the city's Lilac Festival. I didn't like nor did I join any of the social clubs because I didn't like smoking, alcohol and parties. I was far more comfortable with the activities of doing science experiments or working out math problems or speaking in Latin. 

In college, my hormones kicked in big time and all I wanted to do was get married to my boyfriend who was in dental school. We were high school sweethearts, three years apart. I quit college after my sophomore year and moved to Seattle to be the wife of a dental student. It didn't take me long to realize what a beating from a husband was like. I relied on my proven coping strategies: work harder, remain silent, don't complain, do nothing to cause a beating. It wasn't until years later that I realized that the beating were caused, not by me, but the pressures of learning a complex skill of dentistry and then the pressures of having a private practice with all the complexities it brings to a marriage. The children came along because I wanted something to love and care for. It was not a good choice on my part because my husband figured children would distract me so he could do what he wanted.

It wasn't until my three children were ten years old and my daughter stood up to him and told him he didn't have the right to treat us the way he was. Something snapped in me. I have the responsibility to keep my children and myself safe. Off we went, taking all the skills I learned as a child and bought a condemned house infested with mice. It was sitting on a patch of Earth 50' x 185' and we cut down trees, pulled out wild things tilled the soil and planted a garden. In the fall we made sauerkraut from our cabbages, canned and dried food that got us through that first winter. A mom and pop grocer supplied me with milk, cheese, and meats from his outdated stock for $1.00 a box for that first year.

I worked at minimum wage jobs, took classes evenings and weekend until I earned my bachelor's degree, master's and all but dissertation on my doctorate. My master's thesis was "Toward a Theory of Family Violence: its antecedents, treatment and prevention". My doctoral dissertation was "A Splendid Heresy" in which I described how religion maintains and perpetuates violence in the home and how to escape.  

The learnings I acquired from those first few months of my life until today serve me well in meeting challenges and overcoming hardships. Poverty is no stranger to me, nor am I problem free. The reality is that life is hard, requires thought and action to make a life worth living. I can stand with pride, self-respect and dignity before a president of the USA (which I did, President LBJohnson), or U.S senator (Daniel Evans), or before governor  (Governor Booth Gardner), city mayors (Mayor James Chase, Micki McNeill, Sheri Barnard, and James West), city council (Spokane City Council), and anyone that needs to hear my point of view. 

I have a brain that is able to think, a mouth that is able to speak, and a body that is able to do things to bring about positive change. 

Comment by Edward Teach on April 28, 2014 at 3:43pm

Luara, do you remember any fantasy themes from when you played in nature? Robin Hood? Damsel in distress? Frontier woman? Tolkien character? You had an abusive family and found nature a safe escape, but now nature feels threatening. Did your fantasy play involve themes of escape? Do you still seek out safe havens?

Many thanks for sharing. This seems to click with a lot of people.

Comment by Luara on April 28, 2014 at 10:09am

When I was a child I loved nature, I loved roaming around in the outdoors (we lived in a safe enough place that I could do that).  Nature for me was a refuge from my abusive family. 

I still love nature, but when I turned into a woman, roaming in nature became dangerous to do by myself. 

Comment by Edward Teach on April 28, 2014 at 10:08am

Thank you, Michael. Good stuff!

Comment by Michael Penn on April 28, 2014 at 9:35am

Yes, Edward, I do. The world today is to me - good guys, bad guys, in between guys. I still improvise in so much that I "do projects" or I invent. Building TV antennas is one example of this. I started that one once everything went digital.

The funny thing is that I will be in Lowe's or a hardware store looking for something. It always gets down to the clerk asking me what I'm building. Why do they want to know? Are they going to help me with the project?

When you talk of things like I do people think you are inherently stupid, but I build and modify things that othrs have paid good money for, and I do it all the time.

Comment by Edward Teach on April 28, 2014 at 9:19am

I love these! I found that folks who did not engage in a lot of imaginative play as a child tend to have few or sparse memories from childhood. For example, my son spent his alone time shooting baskets or hitting golf balls. He really doesn't remember much from that time in his life.



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