before they were adults


When my mom was a little girl she moved a lot. I’m not exactly sure why. My grandpa was an educator, not military. But I know she never spent much time in the same school and I think she must have been kind of lonely. She worked hard in school. She was the oldest child in a family where children were seen and not heard and expectations were high. She was responsible. (As an oldest child myself, I understand the pressure of being responsible.)

She didn’t seem to have a particularly happy childhood. But I know from her younger sister that part of that may have been perception. She was extremely hard on herself. She was an achiever. She was a perfectionist.

But it was as a child, or at least a youth, she fell in love with the ocean. She lived in a number of places in California where she had access to the beach. Her love of the ocean stayed with her throughout her life. It was evident every time she would pack us kids and sack lunches in the car and drive us to Florence–Devil’s Elbow and the Heceta Head lighthouse–for a cold sandy and salty day on the rugged Oregon coast. Not at all like the warmer, milder beaches of Southern California. Her love of the crashing surf was also evident in the many wave-scenes she painted during her oil painting years.

Dad, on the other hand, was raised on a land-locked ranch. He was riding a horse as a toddler–all the Rex kids did and at least once–it may have been Uncle Bob–one of them fell asleep and slide right off said horse. He spent lonely days as a sheepherder during his childhood (and the more I learn about sheepherding, the more alarming that is to me). But by the time I fell in love with the ranch the sheep were long gone and there were just cows to feed and brand and herd.

My parents met at BYU (which is where my children’s parents met as well). According to my mom, my dad was somewhat of a legend. He was tall, dark, and handsome. And was known for wearing a Stetson and cowboy boots and walking on the grass adjacent to the sidewalk. My mom was petite. Tiny ring finger (I know because of the way her tiny ring fits so neatly inside of dad’s). Size 5 1/2 shoes. She had lovely legs. I know this because my dad told me so, but also because of their wedding picture, in which she wears an untraditional short dress. At my dad’s request, from what I understand.

They loved to dance. Or so I’m told. I recall many a night where us kids were left with dinner and instructors to “play nice” as my parents, all dressed up, left us to attend various ward and stake balls. Back in the day when such things were held.

“Before they were adults” is such a tricky phrase. The truth is, we may grow into adulthood. We have jobs and mortgages and children and cancer and high cholesterol and even–blessedly–grandchildren. But we are still kids at heart. The child and teenage versions of ourselves are still tucked inside of those flawed and imperfect adult minds and souls. We are still worried and afraid sometimes. Hard on ourselves. Excited over little things. Hurt and bewildered by unkindness, thoughtlessness or people who are hard on us or fail to appreciate how hard we work to be good people and to carry the heavy burdens of adulthood with our child-hearts.

We ought to be gentler with ourselves and with each other.

[Day 95 of Ann Dee Ellis’ 8-Minute Memoir.]