Learning from the Past (haha)

The gardener and I went to California for a couple of days last week. That was our first time out and about in six months. The only interesting thing I saw on the trip was a fire in the mountains near Palm Springs. A huge red helicopter was sucking up water out of a pond that had been created for the purpose of firefighting. Then it flew up toward the smoke pouring out of the side of the mountain.

This photo was taken through the car window as we zipped along the freeway. Notice the pond under the helicopter.

The day after we got back from California my neck went BONKERS. It was so painful that I couldn’t even lie down as the pressure was excruciating. It reminded me of when I injured my neck in sixth grade.

That incident belongs in the category of what were my parents thinking? 


I was eleven, and we had been tumbling in gym class. I’d always been so-so to lousy in PE. My best events were sprinting and square dancing. Definitely not gymnastics.

The kids from both sixth grade classes were in a line, rushing through barrel rolls on a padded-top vaulting “horse.” As I eased myself over the vinyl for the third time, almost folding my over-long neck in two, I felt something crack. By the time I completed the mile-long walk home after school, the pain demanded attention. It gored me anew as if with an awl with every slight movement of my body.

At the emergency room, my parents gathered round the doctor as he pointed to the damaged vertebrae on an X-ray. “This is why she has to brace her neck. It will also help keep down the inflammation.” Mom’s shoulders were hunched. She had pulled into herself. Dad bounced on the balls of his feet.

At home, Dad wrapped my neck with a faded beach towel and pinned it with one of my brother’s diaper pins. The towel still held the out-of-context smell of sand and Coppertone.

After a night spent awake more often than asleep because of the lump under my neck, I finally fell into a deep sleep sometime after the glow-in-the-dark hands on my alarm clock displayed 5:30. But at 6:30, I awoke to find my arms wrapped around my limp ragdoll, my mother gently shaking my arm. “Wake up. You’ve got to get ready for school.”

I couldn’t believe what she was saying. “School? I can’t go to school.” I wrapped the covers tightly around my shoulders.

Mom pulled the cover down to the foot of the bed. “Rise and shine, Lulu. Your friends will be here for you pretty soon. I made eggs and sausage.” Every morning, the neighbor kids stopped by my house so I could join the group walking to school.

“What about the towel?” It had gotten twisted while I slept, and I tugged on it, trying to straighten it.

As Mom unpinned the towel, I could smell fried pork patties on her hands. “You have to wear it,” she said, as she re-wrapped the towel around my neck.

I didn’t think I had understood her correctly. “I can’t wear a towel to school!”

“You heard the doctor. It’s not negotiable.” I knew that voice, and I knew Dad’s iron hand lurked somewhere behind Mom’s no-nonsense tone.

Reluctantly, and perhaps in shock, I got dressed, ate a few bites of breakfast, and when the doorbell rang, I was ready to go, beach towel and all. When I opened the door, my friends all spoke at once.

“Gaaah, what’s that around your neck?!”

“What’s the deal?”

“Wha . . . .” Karen collapsed into a sputtering laugh.

That day I suffered. Kids pointed their fingers and mimed explosive laughter attacks as they walked past me in the hall. In class, they whispered behind their hands, staring openly at me.

I stood alone at my locker and caught a glimpse of my reflection in the windows across the hall. A girl with a giant donut around her neck.

A neck brace would have drawn attention to me in a negative, pitiful way. But a beach towel and diaper pin? That launched the pitiful on a swift path to the ridiculous.

Underneath the towel, the swelling increased, the pain intensified, and my voice began to diminish. By lunchtime, I could only rasp. Pain closed off all but the sensory part of my mind.

I sheepishly approached my teacher’s desk and croaked unintelligibly.

“Let’s go to the office.” Her suggestion seemed a relief. The office was far from the laughing eyes of the kids.

To the secretary seated behind the counter who stared with an open mouth at my beach towel, my teacher said, “I don’t think school is the place for her. Can you please call her mother to pick her up?”

In the car on the way home, my mother said, “Why didn’t you tell me it hurt?”

I thought I’d made clear that I was in no condition to go to school and that a towel did not make a neck brace that I could wear in public. But my mother seemed to think it was my fault that I didn’t communicate better.

“I did tell you! And it got worse today at school!” I gulped in some air. “It was horrible!” Sobs burst from my mouth before I could control them and that began a shuddery crying jag. Every time my mother would try to pat my arm with a jerky, awkward movement, I cried louder.

“I’m sorry. I didn’t know you disliked it so.” My mother frowned as if she were confused.

The doctor must have set my mother straight when she called him about the swelling and pain because she kept me home from school for a month after that.

Now that I’ve been a mother long enough to see my kids reach adulthood, I can see the scene through Mother’s Eyes. The reactions of my parents perplex me more than they ever did. I never doubted that they loved me, but they didn’t listen to me or imagine things from my perspective.


Having lived through that experience gave me the idea the other night to wrap a pair of yoga pants around my neck. Perfect! I was able to sleep through the night wearing that “brace” around my neck. My neck got much better because the brace took weight off my neck. So now I am sleeping with the pants around my neck every night!

Do you have a childhood memory where you wondered what in the world your parent or parents were thinking?




Filed under #amrevising, #AmWriting, Family history, Memoir, Nonfiction, Writing

75 responses to “Learning from the Past (haha)

  1. Wow! I have no idea what your parents were thinking, but also it seems likes the doctor did not give very clear advice. No, I can’t think of anything like that happening to me. Kind of the opposite actually–a couple of times when I was bullied, and I don’t even remember telling my mom about it, she talked to the school and fixed things.
    Hope your neck feels better soon!

  2. I feel so bad for that little girl with the giant towel donut around her neck. And yes, I have plenty of childhood memories that call to mind: What were my parents thinking?!? Truth be known, as hyper-attentive as I was to my daughters (and I was uber-hyper-attentive), I’m sure they can point out a few of those childhood moments involving me, too. It’s difficult being a parent. It’s difficult being a human.
    But I love that your grown-up self wraps those yoga pants around your neck without a second thought (albeit with a memory or two)! We carry on, by god. Somehow, we carry on.
    I hope your neck is feeling better real soon. Take care. xo

  3. I’m stunned the doc didn’t give you (or prescribe) a legitimate neck brace of some sort. I was only really sick one. It was a really bad ear infection and I was out of school for 3 weeks. I went to a Catholic school and I heard they were saying all sorts of prayer and rosaries for me. I got into a pleasant routine at home that it was hard to go back to school. I also didn’t miss the heated oil my mother used to try to fix the earache at the start of it all.

  4. A sign of the times perhaps? I had a similar experience – injured my neck in a diving accident. My mom sent me to a movie with my sister while we waited for the doctor to review the test results. When I got home, a flustered mom explained that I had damaged vertebrae and needed to lie flat. Found out years later that they wanted to hospitalize me and put me in traction but my Mom said No; she could handle it. What the heck?

  5. ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

  6. Beautifully written piece – What strikes me about your childhood memories are the scents – vividly recalled.

    I agree with others who suggest that in hindsight, it appears the adults dropped the ball, but then again, it was the times. When I was 10, in the mid 60s, I fell off the second floor balcony. Mom called the MD, he asked a few questions, and that was that. The family continued with their evening plans of attending the drive in theatre.

  7. Times were different in their day. I know my parents thought much the same as yours. Well-meaning, but ….

    • It must be. I have a theory that it’s not just when our parents were born but when their parents were born as well. Their own training as parents could be from a really early generation if one of the generations is significantly older. I’m glad it’s not just mine!

  8. What a painful memory. I feel very lucky that I never had a big injury like yours.
    I think that now that I am older, I am seeing some things through my parents’ eyes. Twice when I was young, I needed stitches — once when my brother accidently hit me in the face with a golf club and once when my sister chopped my hand with a carving knife (not knowing it would actually cut me). The first time, I was seven, and under no condition would I let my dad put stitches in my face although stitching was part of his job as a dentist. I cried and insisted that we see a doctor. The second time I relented, but with tears and complaints. Dad’s two or three little stitches were just fine. I recall having been very afraid when I sustained those injuries, and I now know that I had nothing to fear.

    • I would have been Terrified!!!! You poor dear! Someone I know who is a vet used to X-ray his kids’ injuries with the veterinary X-ray. To my mind it’s not the equipment—it’s who reads the x-ray that’s important.

  9. Such a terrible happening to your poor neck and psyche. The things our mothers say that live indelible impressions on our minds. Bless your heart. Take care, my friend.

  10. In my day parents and kids seem to operate on a different planet. Whenever I tried to complain I always got a “suck it up.” Kind of speech. I remember getting stabbed in the leg with a sharp stick. I didn’t bother to report it since it was close to my parts. Eventually, it turned to blood poisoning which I needed to report. (A shriek and car ride to the doctor followed quickly.) Glad your neck is better.

    • Oh my! That suck it up thing was big back then. My parents raised my brother with the notion of laughing when a toddler starts to cry so that he doesn’t “carry on.” I used to think it was so mean. But my mother read it in a book somewhere.

  11. That must have been such a tough experience for a kid. (I was terrified of that vaulting horse in gym.) My mother was always very careful with our injusries and illnesses. The only “what was she thinking” that I recall from childhood applied to me. I hope your neck is feeling better!

  12. Yoga pants sound *so* much more comfortable than a beach towel. Good choice, Dr. Luanne. 😉

  13. Yoga pants will do in a pinch but it sounds like you need a neck brace in the cupboard for the long haul. Once damaged, it will always be more vulnerable. I enjoyed reading this story. Did we have the same parents?? Oh, the stories I could tell. Gym class was my all time worst. I was never, ever athletic in any capacity. But me in a back yard and I will dig a hole big enough for an oak tree and lift the tree. That’s my kind of gym. Jumping jacks put my back out so bad I couldn’t walk from class. I need to write these things down. Thanks for the memories. I’m trying to collect what my old mind lost. Hope you are feeling better after watching helicopters bale water. Calif has it bad there.

    • I hear you on “gym” versus physical activity. I never liked the atmosphere. Too competitively fake social, too mindless, as if they pared away any humanity from the PE subject. It can be a good trick to capture your memories on video or audio. And if you feel like writing about them you can after the initial talking phase. Thank you again for your reminder to just work on getting better.

  14. Amy

    OK, first—what did you do to your neck? Is it related to that childhood injury? Have you seen a doctor? (Jewish mother talking here.)

    Second, did your parents ever get you a proper neck brace?

    Now as for “what were my parents thinking” memories. Let’s see. So many. I will just pick one. When our first dog was run over by a car in front of me and killed, my father’s response (I was 11) was to offer me some scotch. WTF?? And then the next day my parents went to the shelter and got another dog. No time to mourn Colleen. Just move on.

    Of course, I’ve likely made similar mistakes as a mother. But usually I’ve realized them before it’s too late. When we went to DisneyWorld when my kids were 11 and 7, I plotted out the whole day using some book giving you tips on avoiding lines at the most popular rides. We got to the Magic Kingdom and were walking to get to whatever Ride # 1 was to beat the crowd, and my then 11 year old daughter stopped to snap a picture of Cinderella’s castle. I scolded her, saying we had no time to take pictures. She looked at me, jaw dropped, as if I were nuts. I was. I took a deep breath and relaxed. I don’t think I ever ignored an injury or illness though, but since the older daughter was/is a bit of a drama queen, I did have to be careful not to be manipulated. At camp and at school, she loved hanging out in the nurse’s office.

    And I hated gym and especially gymnastics. In junior high school we were supposed to do cartwheels across the gym. I refused and just walked across. I told the teacher to just flunk me in gymnastics. I didn’t care. I got a D in gym that quarter. But at least I didn’t hurt my neck!

  15. Oh, yes. My human has many of these stories. But I am sorry about your neck pain. Hugs to you and a nice pic of those yoga pants brace would be cool.

    • You should see me now. Over two weeks into Valley Fever. I was supposed to finally get my hair done the day I got sick. Now I need to wear the yoga pants over my whole head. I’m sorry that your human has had to go through some of those lovely childhood events.

  16. Hope that your neck is feeling better! Children cannot always communicate to adults what they are going through. Glad you had a doctor who stepped in and gave you the time you needed to heal.

    • You are right about that. What if they kept trying to send me back to school? Oh my, now there’s a fiction story I could create! Lol

  17. Val

    That’s a horrible experience that you had to endure when you were a child. I think a lot of parents (well, a lot of adults, not just parents) can’t understand a child’s mind. I hope your neck is getting better now from its recent problem.

    As for my ‘what were they thinking’ moments… too many to mention, really, and most of my realisations of them came long after I grew up.

    • My mother treated Dr. Spock’s book like a Bible. I remember her reliance on it because my brother is eight years younger. She probably did not have it yet when I was very little. But the fact that the book was so important to her shows me how insecure she felt as a mother. She is a good example of an adult who has no idea what is in a child’s mind. I imagine that some people are better at that than others but maybe the keyword is imagine. You have to have some imagination. When I wonder about generations and if this was worse years ago I do remember that my grandmother thought her upbringing was wonderful. She had a great set of parents. I am guessing that was particularly rare in those days.

  18. Hi, Luanne. I hope you are feeling better. I am thinking about you.

  19. Oh, Luanne! Your poor neck! I do hope you are feeling better now. And what a terrible time you had when you were a child! My sister hurt her neck when she was about twelve and she actually got a proper neck brace. Unfortunately, it looked like a monster-big sanitary towel and she had an awful time at school until she was allowed to take it off.

  20. Like the time I fell out of the moving car on the way to church when I was six. The car was a two door, and “they” let me stand behind Daddy’s driver’s seat and lean on his door. It wasn’t closed all the way, and WHOOPS! Out she goes! I came to later with the car parked across the road and daddy bending over me. I had been knocked out. What were they thinking?

  21. Your only responsibility is to get well. Period. No need to answer comments until you can. Everyone should understand. If they don’t, it’s on them. Keeping good thoughts for you. Hugs.

    • Thank you, Marlene. When I read this I felt so much better. It gave me a few more days of not thinking about blogging. But I don’t want to get too isolated. A delicate balance. XO

  22. What a story! And a terrible one. Is you current neck injury related to your childhood neck injury? I love the photo of the helicopter getting the water.

  23. Pooor youuuuu!!!! Argghhh! Hurting because of neck, parents and schoolmates! Ay yi yi.
    I knew there was a reason I always hated gym!