We carry, in us, history. The memories in the landscape are memories in our bodies.* The map of your childhood home is etched on your hands, on your feet, on your spine. When you are a small child sleeping in the back of the car, you can feel the pull of your home. With your eyes closed, half-asleep, you can feel the car making the correct turns and stops to carry you home. You can feel the map tugging inside you. This way, love, you're almost there.
Just as our maps are etched in us, so are the myths of our families. This is what you are. This is what you are not. The Smith girls laugh too loudly. All the Benets are impatient and have terrible tempers except when they work in the garden or on the yard. The Donner’s drink and smoke, and when they grieve, they sing like the Irish.
The sins of the mother. We have babies young. We get divorced. We are afraid of commitment. We are strong. We are independent. We are free when we dance. Music is life. God is good.
The judgments of the father. We don’t drink (because if we did, we would never stop.) We don’t smoke. We work hard and save every cent. We do not act foolish. Dancing is for fools. Anger is for men. Compliance is for women.
The family myths are so strong as children. Most kids can tell you their family’s code. As children what we learn, how we deiced what we “know” comes from many sources. Family myths are subtle because they are so tightly woven into the fabric of our families, because these myths are taught to us as facts, not as stories. We are taught family myths as truths. This is who you are. Full stop.
When we hit adolescence, when we are challenging all that we know about our families, about ourselves, we start to fight the “facts” of our history. We fight every thing. At least, I did. But without those myths and stories, we don’t know who we are, who we can be. Who am I if I am not my mother & father? It’s terrifying. It’s lonely. Even after we work through some of the myths in our teen years, certain grooves mapped in our brains are deep and rutted. We are poor. We are blue collar. College is a waste of time and money. Poetry is frivolous.
What happens to the kid that wants to be all the things that her family is not?
When we work to become our own people—not just our father’s daughter—these myths drag us, pull us into their grooves—try to mold us into being. The grooves so well established, itch and burn, bleed and scab when we try to rip them out or patch them over. New scars are made; to rip out the old myths, we make new ones. I am a badass. I can hold my liquor. I am uncomfortable with emotion. I am fearless. I am smart(er than you.) I can take it (anything you dish out, I can handle.) Some of the myths are even true (or true at the time.)
Then we spend the better parts of our beauty and youth creating, editing, tweaking, and proving our new myths. Scavenging the Earth to make a new map to etch into our bodies, our brains and to exercise our new myths, further proof that we are ourselves, unique, distant from our family. Here are the ways that I am a badass. See how smart I am? And maybe, we improvise we necessary, "Yeah, I like it rough."
That’s where therapy comes in, when we have lives and families of our own. We are the propagators of the myths. Which ones do I tell my daughter? Now that I am a mother myself, I can hardly even remember the sins of my mother. I have so many of my own. And what did all these myths do to me? They gave me something to rebel against? Gave me a place to start, a story to tell, an identity before I created my own.
I’m thinking about how I am making new myths for my child. What does she think we are? What we are not? I am so much more careful about my own myths now (I am bad at math. I hate cleaning out the car. I drink too much (and it’s okay.) I am a good mother.) that I may be overly sensitive. I am very conscious of what I tell myself about myself—what I say that I am, what I’m not.
The story gets richer, doesn’t it?
* Read this if you like.