Rose-Colored Glasses

aged woman with pink eyeglasses smiling at camera

I once read the more you remember about your childhood, the happier it must have been. I don’t remember the credentials, if any, of the person who authored this idea; but the notion stuck with me, and I ponder it from time to time.

I have an abundance of vivid, detailed memories of my upbringing. They are predominantly pleasant, so I tend to write with humor and happiness about the life I lived as a youngster.

But I sometimes wonder if I view my childhood through rose-colored glasses and thus mislead my readers, who could imagine I had perfect parents with only one or two endearing failings and siblings who squabbled, but always in a humorous, affectionate manner. My followers could believe I lived in a constant flow of love, exemplary behavior, good grades, abundant friends, and the pink glow of pleasantness.

Of course I didn’t live in a never-ending state of bliss. Some of my memories are embarrassing, humiliating, and hurtful. Most folks would probably agree the road of life is a crowded, bumpy, pot-holed path rather than a newly paved highway traveled by decorous drivers.

Dad’s temper could flare alarmingly at inanimate objects and recalcitrant animals. Mom — weary from babies, refereeing, cleaning, and cooking — sometimes issued sharp reprimands. The ridicule and insults of my siblings could wound me by falling too near the truth, and I would rush to retaliate as hurtfully as possible.

Our sibling life included yelling, crying, sneakiness, lying used defensively, defiance of parental rules, and resentment of punishments. Our friendships and school experiences contained bouts of bleakness; and money, which did not flow easily, could cause contention.

So I do remember turmoil and outbursts of chaos; but, if given the opportunity, I would choose to be raised again by the same parents and with the same siblings. My heart sings when I know I’m going to spend time with any of my brothers and sisters and floods with love when I remember my parents and deceased brother. If given a truth serum and asked to describe in one word the years I lived under my parents’ roof, I would respond, “Happy.”

I think the truth about anyone’s past is a liquid stream of luminous gray, neither pristine white nor deep black: a stream at the mercy of human memory, wending its way through the sometimes boisterous, sometimes placid, sometimes threatening river of our lives.

My memory soothes the intervals of disturbed water in my young life, and I’m glad. Though I don’t deny my realities, I prefer to remember  my childhood as stretches of calm river etched with sunshine rather than occasional turbulences edged by a threatening sky.

I’ve made my choice: if I ever write bleakly, it will have to be fiction.

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61 thoughts on “Rose-Colored Glasses

  1. Thank heaven for those rose-colored glasses. They soften the shadows and give us a sense of accomplishment that we have survived. I would have to say my childhood was happy in retrospect, but I don’t remember having a sense of it either way. It just “was”. Nice post Janet.

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  2. The truth of childhood? I LIVED my childhood with rose-colored glasses and for that I’m VERY grateful. I don’t look back on it that way, however. I’m grateful for that, too. And the memories I hold most dear and remember with the greatest clarity are small moments of pure happiness. Somehow I only vaguely recall the moments of ugliness. I’m grateful for that, too!

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    • I share that sense of gratitude, Martha, and I have experienced “small moments of pure happiness” as you so aptly described them. But I sometimes worried that, because of the way I normally write, readers might think that nothing bad or without humor ever happened to me.

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  3. I remember my childhood vividly and with much fondness, but what you say is true – it wasn’t perfect, there were rough times. However, with the benefit of hindsight, we can see how lucky we were in the long run. If I had my time over again, I would also wish to be born to the same parents and sibling. We all muddled through life back then as it came to us, and only now do we appreciate what we probably took for granted at the time. It’s good to feel grateful for all that we had, and give credit to those who brought us up to the best of their ability.

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    • I agree that the true test is how we feel about our past”in the long run, Susan, and also that I took for granted the upbringing that I experienced. I’ll be forever grateful that I was wise enough to express my gratitude to each of my parents during my adult years.

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  4. First of all…that isn’t YOU in the funky glasses. (I kinda wish I had a pair.) I’ve been thinking all day about my childhood. Was I happy? I knew I was very loved and protected and I try to balance that with the many, many restrictions that I think were unnecessary. I don’t remember childish freedom and joy, and I miss that. Our friend, Ernie, was the first to teach me I could have outlandish fun and stil be a “proper lady”. Like you, though, I dearly loved my parents and wouldn’t trade them for anyone else.
    Your line “a liquid stream of luminous gray” is wonderfully descriptive.

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    • Thank you for noticing a line that I quite like myself, Mary. If I owned rose-colored glasses, I would have posed for a photograph, but, alas, I don’t. I think there are all sorts of parenting that work as long as the love and protection that you mention are present. And God bless Ernie; he taught so much to so many.

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  5. Childhood, I oft say mine would have been idyllic if not for school, which I could not abide, a depressed single mother, judge mental relatives, cheeky gob that always got me smacked, we had beach, ponies, Ma wanted us exposed to the classics of art and literature, of which we were immersed. unlike my siblings, I hid well the fact I did not “Fit In”, it was harder to watch them endure the cruelty around us. I would not have traded in “Ma”- she gave us the love of words in lieu of hugs and band-aids. Awesome post Janet- who is that in the glasses?

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    • Sheila, I would like to apologize to you for teachers everywhere. A bright, creative child like you who loved words, thanks to your Ma, should have had a wonderful time in school. I hate it that you didn’t.But I’m also glad your ma gave you the classics that stood by you throughout your life and started you on the path to being the writer you are. Throw in a beach and ponies and your childhood does sound happy.

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    • Thanks Janet- it was the times, and living in a small town with brutal class distinction, and teachers who were aging remnants of “The British System” of caning and belittling. Ahh, but look how I turned out! No bitterness allowed. Great responses, you are getting.

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  6. Lovely post! I think there’s a choice in there, among the good, the bad, and the ugly, about which to favor, to allow to rise to the surface first. I don’t think that’s hiding from reality–I think it’s choosing the joyous over the hurtful–never denying that the hurtful were real.

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  7. Unfortunately, I, like Laurel, came from a tumultuous “family background”….my father was a rage-aholic who regularly beat my Mother and my older brother, but I can honestly say that my siblings and I (despite our crazy upb

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    • (despite our crazy upbringing) are very close and have a very, very close relationship with each other and our Mother. Our Mother was (and continues to be) that one loving, funny source of strength and courage. I would never want to go back and relive my childhood, but I would also never exchange it for another one…..for all the bad and all the good, it made me who I am today…..and I may not be perfect, but I’m a pretty ok person (if I do say so myself!) 🙂

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      • I like the wisdom in “…..for all the bad and all the good, it made me who I am today….” because it says so much about your character and your love of laughing. You are indeed a fine, humorous, insightful person.

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      • Thanks, Janet. (I’ve been told by others that I’m a bit of a “character” 🙂 ) My reply got “sent” mid-way in my writing….who knows if it was “operator initiated” or “computer initiated”….I say it was the COMPUTER’S fault! But what do I know? I’m not too tech savy! 🙂

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  8. I was lucky enough to have a happy childhood with my family. Of course there were ups and downs, tears and tantrums, all the usual things you would expect from a large family but ultimately we loved each other and ‘had each others backs.’ My social issues prevented me from having many friends when I was a child, which makes me look at the family aspect of my childhood more fondly than other parts but that’s ok as that happiness has extended into my adult life, we are still a happy family and we still look after each other, which makes me smile.

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  9. I agree, childhood had many variables, and the good times were the best! Like you, I prefer to remember the wonder and love, rather than the bickering with my four brothers! Yes, I shall write fiction depicting the other.

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    • Interesting that you say that about fiction, Barbara. I’m seriously considering attempting short stories so I can reflect my imagination as well as my memories – which, of course, I embellish with my imagination! Have you written fiction?

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  10. It’s a mixed bag of memories for me–mostly good. There was enough bad to fill equal volumes. It depends, like you said, on what you focus on. It’s like looking in the mirror though; what is it you see? Every river (lovely imagery by the way) has its narrows and stretches of white water. I loved my dad, but he was a bullshit artist–I was in my 20s before I found out bell peppers weren’t called mangoes. I’m probably laboring under other misconceptions that have yet to come to light. We had drunks, perverts, habitual liars, and Grandpa would have come in second place in an asshole contest–being disqualified from first place by being too much of an asshole. But they are mine, and I use the memories of them as needed.

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  11. I love the line “I would choose to be raised again by the same parents and with the same siblings” – I would too. Even when it comes to a failed marriage, when I look in the rear view mirror, I tend to only see the good times and happy moments. Trying to sort out the rest of the stuff takes too much energy.

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  12. I agree entirely I believe most of us have lives like that. I try really hard not to dwell on negative things or carry grudges. I cant believe the time wasted by some people who only talk about the bad things that have happened and do not look at the nice things. We each have a choice and like you I choose happy most of the time. :0)

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  13. Memory is an amazing thing! Sometimes there are very clear moments and sometimes it is a liquid stream of grey. The way we look at things affects our memories too. Two people can stand at the edge of a canyon and see it in completely different ways. One can say “oh, I’m terrified of heights; let’s get out of here!” Another can say “this is so beautiful!”

    I think this is a fabulous post in the way it addresses memories.
    http://montanaviolist.com/

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    • Thank you, Tamara. I’ve always been interested in memories and how they function. To this day I’m amazed when my siblings disagree with how I remember something or a photograph shows my memory misremembered a detail. I like your example of the canyon.

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  14. I think of my parents looking back at life from their deathbeds. The stuff we worry about fades then—money, jobs, which child chooses which career. And yet, so hard to keep that perspective in the day to day of it. Rose-colored glasses not necessarily a bad thing:).

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  15. I agree with Utah Rob. I always see the work and careful thought you put into your pieces.
    And this piece is particularly poignant. Of course no one’s childhood is one long happy trail. Of course there is some sadness and regret. But let’s leave that for those non-fiction writers who have appeared on “Oprah”. Or, (and I agree with you here), let’s leave that to fiction.
    By the way, Janet, are there any fiction-writing classes in Craig?

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  16. I appreciate your kindness, Rita, and of course I agree with you that none of us walked a long happy trail in childhood.

    Unfortunately, there is not a fiction class in Craig or I would be there. Are you looking for one?

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    • Well, I’m not actively looking for a fiction class. But I think writing fiction is something worth exploring, if only to go outside my comfort zone and expand the creative thought process.
      We don’t have any fiction classes in Price either. Do you know anyone who has taken an online fiction class?

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      • I feel as you do about writing fiction, Rita, but my writing time is taken up with blogging and column writing, and I’m started to feel a bit frustrated. I hadn’t thought about an online fiction class. If you hear of a good one, will you let me know? And I’ll do the same for you.

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  17. I enjoyed this post, Janet, and the various comments to it. You say “if I ever write bleakly, it will have to be fiction.”
    Of course, we can choose whether to write bleakly or purely rose-coloured about our childhood. I for one would not hesitate to include some dark pieces in my memoirs, just the way I remember it and as truthfully as possible. Some unfortunate people have suffered a very bleak childhood. If they can look back at it with some kind of humour, that is good and healing. But why shouldn’t they resort to telling it as it was?

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    • It’s so nice to hear from you again, Uta, and I like your perspective on this piece, because it reflects my struggle over whether I’m too rose-colored in my writing. Interesting that since writing the post and reading all the responses, I’ve written a couple of pieces about darker times my family went through, not bleak, but difficult.

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    • Bleak is being without hope, isn’t it?
      I think it is important to see. even in dark times, that we keep believing that life is still worth living, and that we try to see the light at the end of the tunnel, so to speak.

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  18. I thought twice about leaving a comment on an older post as conversation here has already passed, but decided to do it anyway. For some reason, I recalled incorrectly that you posted on the 15th and end of each month; I now am reminded it’s the 1st & 15th. But since I was on your site, I browsed and found myself here. And as with everything you write, it provokes thought and reflection.

    I have delayed writing about my recent hospitalisation for all sorts of reasons, mostly because it was too close and too raw. Plus, do folks really want to hear about all the sordid and yucky details anyway.

    Reading Rose-Colored Glasses has given me much to reflect on. While I do want to be authentic and in-the-moment, I believe you are right. I love to read happy (though not necessarily delusional) stories so I should write happy stories myself. Why would I write something I cannot pick up and read?

    Time is a great healer. Memory a wise moderator. Thank you for giving me much needed support that I need not write weepy & tortured poetry and prose, though I fully support those who are inclined to do so. As for me, I think a little bubblegum prose is good for my soul.

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    • This is one of the most meaningful responses to my writing I have ever received because you understood my message so thoroughly and responded to it in a meaningful way. I sensed you had a major bump in the road during the time you didn’t post, wished you well in my heart and was happy and relieved when you began posting again.

      There is so much wisdom (and writing skill) in your sentences “Time is a great healer. Memory a wise moderator.” You expressed exactly what I believe in such a few words.

      I find that, as you said, I can’t write about the tough things when they are “too close and too raw” but can approach them eventually in a manner suitable to my writing voice. It was some time before I was able to write about the death of my oldest brother and express my sorrow and love for him. Maybe you will find your way to writing about your hospitalization, and maybe you won’t, but either way I will go on reading your blog, enjoying your thoughts and knowing you are being true to yourself as a writer.

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      • Janet, your empathy and understanding of where I am touches me deeply. I am grateful for friends like you who affirm what we do. May we continue to be true to ourselves, and to the things we hold dear.

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