Until I was 6 year old, I lived in the San Diego metro area. My parents were very young and pretty poor, but they managed to provide for me and my sister on one income only. My mom stayed home with us. We had grandparents and lots of cousins to love. We played at beaches and frequented the San Diego Wild Animal Park, the San Diego Zoo and SeaWorld. We even made it to Disneyland fairly often. I have snippets of memories of these places but my most vivid memories come from the year before we left California, and mostly mundane daily living stuff.
Sometime in 1985 I remember being awake watching cartoons on TV while my parents were still sleeping. I think my sister must have been sleeping too. And I must have been up pretty early, because I remember hearing my dad’s alarm clock go off. I didn’t think much of it, just that Dad would be getting up. But it kept going off. So eventually I walked into my parents’ bedroom. I remember being paralyzed by this decision– should I wake Dad up? At first I thought I should; his alarm clock was going off after all. But then I thought, “Well he is my Dad, and a grown-up, so he probably knows exactly what he is doing, right? Maybe he wants to sleep in. Maybe I’ll get in trouble if I wake him up before he wants to wake up.” I don’t know how long I stood there letting my mind vacillate between these thoughts, but eventually my Dad woke up on his own. I distinctly remember how his face looked when he woke up, saw me and realized he had slept in. It was a look of confusion and a mix of anger and terror. I remember him asking me why I didn’t wake him up?!? And I remember not knowing what to say and feeling really stupid. Quickly my dad got out of bed and rushed to work. A while later he returned, having been fired for being late.
As a result of that day, my Dad lost his job as a trash man. He loved that job. I am not sure if we just couldn’t pay the rent, but we ended up living out of a 10 foot trailer until kindergarten ended. We parked that little trailer in the back of friends’ yards until I was out of school and then we moved to Eastern Washington State where my dad’s parents had moved a year before to retire and build their dream house. We arrived there July 4, 1986.
That was a defining moment in my life. My dad couldn’t find a job and so we up and moved across the country, from the Mexican border to the Canadian. He ended up finally finding a job in a saw mill, a physically demanding job for sure. But that move took my mom away from both her parents and the city she had grown up in. A city girl at heart, my mom would remain in a small town until she died. I am not sure she ever really enjoyed it.
It took me a VERY long time to forgive myself for that error– of not waking my dad up when he had slept through that alarm. I really felt responsible for him losing his job and nobody ever told me that I wasn’t. It was perhaps close to 20 years before I could lift that burden of guilt from myself. I felt that if I had only woken my dad up, our lives would have turned out so much differently, and maybe it wouldn’t be such a tough life. Maybe we would have had more money. Maybe my mom would have been happier.
The lesson I learn from that experience is two-fold. First, don’t ever allow your children to feel like they are responsible for your mistakes. It is so easy for them to take guilt upon themselves and feel helpless. Their little minds can’t understand the big picture. It is so easy for your disappointment in yourself to look like disappointment in them.
Secondly, I realize that it was probably a very positive thing for us to move out of the city. Now that I am an adult with a little perspective, I can’t see that staying in the city would have made our lives any better at all. After all, it allowed me to find the true gospel. I have since learned to trust in the Lord that he will make all things turn out for our good. It gives me such comfort to know that he has a plan for me, regardless of the little mistakes I make along the way (and whether they are my mistakes or not!).