Tag Archives: Childhood

The Sky

The sky is changing.

My bike spent time in the shop this week, which meant I walked to work. At first I was annoyed, because of course there were things I’d planned to do on that first surprising morning and I wanted to get to work early to do them. I took a moment to be frustrated and then, because there was no other option, pulled myself out of my head and into the day.

This is when I noticed the sky changing. The gray was no longer steely and imposing, but softer, gentler. The light not hours away, but minutes. People riding without bike lights were suddenly less foolish and more visible. Morning was not long in coming, but rather already here.

Just over a year ago, when I first knew I was moving to Germany, I received photos of snow from the colleague I replaced. This was atypical, I was told, and I have since learned that snow like that, snow like the snow I grew up with, only happens every ten years or so.

When I was a child, we waited impatiently for snow days that never came, no matter how many spoons were carefully placed under pillows or pajamas worn inside out. Rochester, New York gets a lot of snow, or at least it used to, and we lived with it. The climate has certainly changed, but my parents’ photos of snow still look like I remember it. Lake effect, they say on the news, as though the type of snow makes any difference to children playing. I only remember one time when a snowball thrown contained more ice than snow and a neighbourhood boy went home crying; I’m sure that happened more than one time.

I remember climbing on the piles of shovelled snow to see the white, white world from a point higher than the lamppost in our yard. I remember the time my dad left his car at the top of the hill behind our house and hiked down, snow up to his waist. I used to keep sandbags in the trunk of my car so that I could drive through the hills leading to our neighbourhood, though sometimes I took the long way to avoid the sharpest right. There was always the danger of missing it. Cycling up that hill in the summer was no one’s idea of fun, so we never did. From the top, there was first a red barn and then fields and then sky.

Two weekends ago, a group of friends headed south into the Thüringer Wald to go for a walk in the snow. There’s usually snow there, I’m told, though it rained there this winter, too.

We greeted cross-country skiers and children sledding and kept the dog away from other dogs. We climbed the tower and were forced back down by the wind, tossed two tiny frisbees, ate delicious muffins and other snacks pulled from backpacks. The boys had a snowball fight and I played photographer as the group built two snowmen. We played in the snow because that’s what snow is for.

The sky was right there through the trees.

The house I grew up in was at the top of one hill and the bottom of a smaller hill, but a hill all the same. The cul-de-sac gave us a snow mountain that grew gradually larger each time the plows came around. As children, we named it after our street and friends from outside the neighbourhood would come over to play in the snow. Building a fort using recycling boxes was always harder than we thought it would be. My siblings and I used to dress our snowmen in Hawaiian shirts from our dress-up box; Mum always gave us a carrot for the nose.

You could see the world from the top of that hill. You could look out across neighbourhoods, across trees, and watch the leaves and the sky change. The atmosphere was peaceful well before I knew the world. Rochester is a cloudy place, a place where, on the rare sunny days, people suddenly come out of their shells. You see smiles where there were previously faces hidden in scarves or behind hoods of raincoats. People greet one another more warmly and the general mood is one of optimism and joy. I have never in my life known people so happy to see the sun.

I forgot that feeling, and then I left the equator and came to another place that is cloudy, a place where I have recently felt the sky change. In Singapore, my apartment looked out over a highway and then the towns to the north. When the sky took over the buildings in the distance, rain was coming. Sky in the tropics changes in a flash, in a second, and if you don’t look now, it’ll be different in a breath. Hours could pass watching it.

This week I saw the sky changing.

And today, clouds are moving across the sun.

Coming of Age

I remember the moment when I realized I was no longer a child. But I know a few things about memory and I know that we make mistakes. Recall is often error-filled. It is malleable, fluid, heavily influenced by context and those around us. Yet, I would like to think that this moment existed as I remember it. And even if it did not, even if it’s entirely a figment of my imagination, it frames the beginning of an era that was significant to how I understand myself, others, and the world we share.

I am part of the American generation that finds commonality in where we were on September 11, 2001, the beginning of a time in which the US entered wars that are still ongoing. I remember where I was and what I said, or I think I do. But that is not the moment when I realized I was no longer a child.

I remember my dad watching TV in my parents’ bedroom and I remember asking him to explain to me what was happening. He talked about people doing terrible things and I asked why. I can’t remember what he said, but I walked away understanding, for the first time, that hatred and war don’t only exist in books.

That moment, I knew I was no longer a child.

There is a clear separation in my mind between life before and after grade 6, a separation that I knew existed but one that I did not delve into until a handful of years ago. When my parents split up for just under a year, I learned that adults are people, that love takes work, and that bad things really happen. They don’t only exist in books.

It is hard now to think about the anguish I felt as a not-quite-child at that time. It is hard to think about how awful I was in my actions towards people who were deeply hurting, even as I knew I was screaming only because there was something ripping me apart and I couldn’t make it stop.

The opening line of an essay I wrote when applying to university: “I used to make him cry and I did it on purpose.”

I was 11 and my world had shattered.

I was 11 and my world had shattered, which meant that I knew worlds could shatter. I knew impermanence, disappointment, fear, and a thousand emotions I could not name then and cannot name now.

But I learned, I think we all learned, lessons that I would not have learned any other way. I have always known that relationships are a choice. They take work, they take communication, they take people who care enough about each other to do something to be together. Love is a verb and sometimes the word itself is not enough. I have understood this for a long time.

Suicide bombers flew into Manhattan’s Twin Towers. Two months and two weeks later, my family lived in two houses and I watched adults cry. I cried with them and I was no longer a child.

However, it is one thing to understand and another thing to do. It is one thing to be aware and another thing to act. Lots of walls, lots of work, and so much safer to rebuild the walls than to stand tall without them.

We’re all afraid of being hurt, aren’t we?

And I have never wanted to hurt anyone. I do believe that most people feel this way. And this is what makes it hard to not only know what the right thing is, but to do it.

When I learned that the world and my world could change in seconds, I was no longer a child.

And there was no turning back.

Thüringer Wald – January 2022