Some of you are going home for the holidays this season and dreading the monsters in the closet. I have been very fortunate as far as this goes. I always had a great excuse to not go. After all, Brazil is 10+ hours by flight from New York, the tickets are too expensive around the holidays, and I had a hectic job.
Because this is a Holiday Story, I won’t drag you down with the reasons. Instead, I want you to feel happy, inspired, and at least content to go back and ready to eradicate any childhood monster to the basement of the wicked neighbors of your childhood time. It doesn’t matter if they don’t live there anymore. And if you can think of someone right now, then somehow, they sort of deserve it.
My holiday story started in September. I was secretly looking for discount flights to Paris. I was there in July with my daughters and wanted to return alone. Please don’t read too much into it. My girls were fun to be around, and we visited the sights, but I wanted to roam the streets of Paris alone, smell the air, and spend all my time in museums, cafes, and in my journal. I wanted three secret lovers in Paris: Silence, Inspiration, and the words flowing on paper; I am a hopeless romantic (proudly.)
One morning, after meditating, I felt disappointed of myself (this is one of two downies – I promise). I was looking to go to an amazing city I had just visited 2 months earlier instead of seeing my mother. So I came into my heart and booked a trip to Brazil for my mother’s 89th birthday.
My mother is a fantastic woman. If you read my first book, Women, Rice, and Beans, you would be surprised by my hesitation to go to Brazil. It’s not the crime, the politics, or the constant horrible news television seems to share with the world; it’s the complaints my family has every time I call, text, or visit. Things have escalated since my mother was diagnosed with dementia.
I tried to post good news but received pictures of soiled sheets. I video-called to strictly speak with my mother- she can’t hear well and was bombarded with accusations about my sibling’s lack of help and money. Being the third of six children, I always have been the peacemaker.
As my departure day approached and realized I had two missions, one, to take my mother for a week to give my brother’s family a break, and two, to solve financial and physical support for her.
I always stop in São Paulo before going to Rio de Janeiro to see my young brother, his ex-wife, their children, and her family. Luciana is my sister of another mother, and her mother is just one of those women you meet once and can’t let go of her because she makes you laugh, forget about being a grouch and remember that you are cared for with a “cafezinho” – a small Brazilian coffee used to welcoming visitors – and a sweet treat.
The morning of, I received guidance to help build a bridge with my siblings right after I spoke out loud with my dad, who passed away on January 23, 1997.
“Dad, this is all your fault. You better solve this.”
Don’t worry; I didn’t hear a voice back. It’s easy to blame the dead because they can’t talk back. But driving to JFK Airport and still anxious about bringing people together who didn’t speak with each other for a while was not the way I wanted to spend my vacation hours previously allocated to spend in Paris.
On the flight to Brazil, I slept and meditated when I woke up. I was given guidance that I want to share with you:
All memories distort the truth and call our attention to the memories that hurt us most. My sibling’s beef with each other started in childhood. Some things happen in childhood that we use as a lens to filter our current life. We tend to recall hurtful memories. And each time we do, we relive the emotions again. How about the good ones? So I began to remember three great memories from my childhood.
I remember doing my chores early to go to the beach and swim to a large metal barge anchored about a mile from the beach. We did it in a group, and my young brother had a floater board to help those who got too tired on the way back. We never lost anyone.
I recalled the sunsets from our living room second-floor apartment. We lived five houses from the bay, and before the tree on the path grew too tall, I saw incredible sunsets and the gorgeous plump orangy full moons rising from the water. It’s was poetry at its best.
Another memory that came to mind was the little church on the hill, where we attended mass and did the first communion, and I became interested in singing and playing guitar. The small white church was less than two miles from our home. We walked on the sidewalk adjacent to the water, cut through the park we played at every Saturday, passed the Elementary School, and walked up a dirt road until we reached the broad stairs. I used to sit on the top of the stairs and see the beach, the skies, and the birds. I know the poet in me woke up on those stairs.
As I arrived in Rio and began to clear the air so our family could have a good chance to be close as we used to be as children, I asked my siblings one by one about their three favorite memories growing up. This was a good heart warm-up. And we all laughed and realized we shared similar memories.
At my mother’s 89th birthday party, we asked everyone to share their childhood memories. My nephews and niece had great surprises for us. Only my 13-year nephew didn’t want to participate. He still has time to grow good memories.
The most amazing one was one of my sister’s memory. When she was about 9 years old, she recalled my father teaching her to ride a bicycle without training wheels. My father was holding her and then let her go. She turned around, headed straight to him, and hit my father with the bicycle. Back then, bicycles were pure metal. The sharp curved metal that covered the front wheel cut my father on his leg when my sister drove into him. The cut was wide and deep and needed stitches.
Immediately, we correct her: “We ask you for a good memory. Running over dad is not a nice memory.”
“I know, but we all know our father. This is a good memory for me.”
My older brother interrupted, “Caramba, she wanted to kill him.”
We all laughed.
“I was petrified with fear when I hit him,”- my sister said. “I thought he would not let me ride the bicycle anymore or punish me, but he didn’t get mad at all and told me to get on the bike again as if nothing had happened. And he was bleeding. You all got mad at me because it was Father’s Day, and dad needed to go to the hospital. I got so much grief from all of you that day but none from dad.”
I vaguely remember the incident. And we all agree it was a lovely memory.
All of my siblings, friends, and in-laws are in their 50ths. We each had at least 18,250 days to live. So where are the good memories? How can we only remember the bad ones?
Could you recall the three best memories from your childhood?
I challenge you to find 50 great memories, write them down, and share them with others. You cannot be anxious, depressed, or upset and happy at the same time. These good memories bring joyful feelings. Find your great memories before going home for the holidays, and share this heart warm-up at the party. If memories lie, then let them lie about the good things.
I am thrilled to announce that five of the six children my mother had are very close today and grateful to be together. And from that positive state, my siblings and I worked together to solve my mother’s problems. So I will be going home more often from this visit on.