how we are who we are

168th Street

I’ve had a fine life—with moments, and choices, and paths and people. And I like to think that I remember them all, and how they helped me become myself.

My theory about raising kids and how they turn out is a theory of thirds, and has been repeated many times with our friends, usually over a second or third bottle of wine. I typically trot this out when one of us is struggling with something our adult child is doing, as we try to understand how to watch from the sidelines.

This is my theory of how our kids become who they are: One third is family, what they get from us. Either through DNA, experiences, structure, rituals, traditions, or lack of. Family includes siblings, grandparents, cousins, aunts and uncles. The second third is what our kids get from others, the circumstances that surround them. Schools and teachers, coaches, trainers, neighbors, friends, youth leaders. It’s opportunities, trips, and camps. It’s timing. It’s the hand they are dealt, through luck or privilege, or not. And the final third is what each child decides to put on the table, how they decide to manage their own life. It’s their heart and soul, and where they detour, where they persevere, how they choose to show up.

Until today, I never considered how this theory of thirds applied to my own life. On Tuesday night, as Steve was making dinner, I sat in the chair in the kitchen corner, drinking wine (always the wine, you know), and starting searching for childhood friends on Facebook. I had been thinking about memory and loss all day, and somehow I felt brave. I was already friends with two of them, and I quickly found four more. Without thinking, I quickly hit the “friend requested” button. Isn’t this silly, that at age 59, I required courage to ask to be friends? (As an aside, at Kate’s wedding, I mentioned to my friend Kevin that I was concerned at what people would think of me. Kevin, who has known me for 40 years, said, “Do you mean you don’t already know?”)

One by one “friend request accepted” popped up on my phone, along with sweet notes and memories. There was a group of girls in our neighborhood, and we all had little brothers. We also had Barbies and jump ropes and play houses in our back yards. We were Indian Maidens together, and then in Tri-Gra-Y (it was part of the YMCA, and we had vests instead of Chippewa Indian costumes, but we learned to cook and stuff). We had birthday parties and slumber parties and pool parties. We rode bikes, and I think one summer we played softball, but this was before Title IX and team sports weren’t part of our experiences together. But I remember my mom made bases out of newspapers and green cotton fabric, and we played ball in our street. Four-square in our driveway (Dad painted a court for us), and tetherball in the back back yard (that wasn’t a typo, we had a double back yard, which may have been one of the greatest gifts our parents gave us).

Lori, and Laurie (who was also Muffy), Renee and Mary Pat. There were others too, Gayle and Colleen, and Robin, another Lori, and a Laura. Later there was Donna, and Pam, there was a Peggy who was in and out. At the beginning there was a Big Kim, and I was Little Kim (and to my chagrin, Kimmy). There may have been a Diana who was also Naomi, but I might be making that one up.

This was my first posse (you know, tribe, but since I have already used my cultural appropriation chits on the unfortunately named Indian Maidens, we are now a posse. By the way, my Indian Maiden name was Sparkling Waters, and my mom was Still Waters.) Laurie, Renee and Mary Pat all had older sisters, and they offered an inside peek into the world of teased hair, boyfriends and music.


Lori and I lived on the long street, and our homes were the same, at least in floor plan. But as she reminded me this week, they were also very different, and she thanked my mom for welcoming her into ours. I found a picture of some of us, and was surprised that I could remember everyone by name. I had drawn an arrow over my head, as if I was worried I wouldn’t recognized myself later. The date on the photo is June 1967. I see Lori next to me, in the center, and her sister Karen, in front of me. My brother Doug, their brother Billy. Other kids who had moved away, making way for newcomers. I see the long sidewalk, the one that stretched between our house and Lori’s, past the curve that connected and separated us. I can still remember how that curve, with a dip and then a slight rise, made bike riding and wagon pulling tricky and somewhat adventurous.

I belonged, until I didn’t.

I am guessing it began to shift when we were ten. Some of it had to do with rules imposed by my parents (and in my imagination, no one else had rules…I was the only one). We were friendly, but we were dividing up. They were part of the popular group. I wasn’t unpopular, but I wasn’t part of them. I had a church youth group that held me through those tween years, and I remember feeling I had a posse at the First Presbyterian Church of Gardena.

It wasn’t painful, it was just a turn in the path.

Our elementary school went through 8th grade, and we all went to high school in 9th. Our family moved the summer I started 10th grade, and I found a new group, where sometimes I fit, and sometimes I didn’t. But I was more prepared this time, and had other friends outside of my high school, and transitioned easily to college, and the newspaper, and my marriage to Steve, and the life that has became mine.

We were ten, and now we are almost sixty. Facebook statuses note retirement, grandchildren and parents lost. We have wrinkles. Gray hair, some of us more than others (that would be my gray hair). This is just weird.

If I follow my own theory of thirds, they are part of who I am, where we began. Where we played all day long, into the evening. Exploring each others’ homes and yards and parents and siblings. It’s where I noticed how my family was the same, and different. Where my parents made a place for us, where we had the big back yard, with the cool fort, and a row of trees where we were allowed to dig and climb and hide and hang out by ourselves. It was the neighborhood where we would gather in someone’s family room, spread out with our dolls and their cars, Barbie and Ken and Midge and Skipper, figuring out what our dreams for our next life might be.

It’s where I belonged until I didn’t.

We all had our own experiences and memories. Of course, I’m not sure if mine are true, or if they have been created in my head in the fifty years between 168th Street in Torrance and Brentwood Place in Davis. And in the end, it doesn’t matter. Earlier this week, Steve and I were talking about how we got here (it’s been a very emotional week). He said, “We’ve both been given so much, but we worked hard, and we didn’t drop the ball.” I like to think he’s right. I hope he is.

In the end, we are all doing the best we can, with what we’ve been given. The rest we’ve discovered along the way. The part that really matters is where we go from here.


One Comment

  1. Martin Pat Orozco Sierras

    Oh how I loved reading this Kim.Visions of our childhood activities danced in my head as you recalled your memories! You had the best backyard was huge and we had so much fun there. The Indian Maidens with the “Y” was a fun group with our friends & mother’s. I was Running Dear and mom was Sitting Dear.

    Thanks so much for reaching out to me. You are such a special part of my childhood.. so many fond memories! Looking forward to getting closer to you again.


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