Remembering Turning Seven

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My birthday is Aug. 1 and every year I reflect a lot around this time. Last year’s thoughts were particularly intense. It was because my older granddaughter, Hannah, turned seven. My birth date falls in a small cluster with other family members. My sister Paula’s is July 29 and Hannah’s is July 27. In my mind, these dates and people are connected in a collection of moments and memories.

The summer I turned seven was a defining time for me. It was 1945 and World War II was ending. My recollections of preceding years are of war preparedness – air raid drills, soldiers, sailors, rationing, and blackened headlights. But that year when the world was consumed by news of wars in Europe and the Pacific my main concern was the impending birth of a sibling.

My mother wanted this new baby and me to have the same birthday – maybe for economy of celebration. In any event, she knew that she wouldn’t be home on Aug. 1. In those days, women spent about a week in the hospital after delivery so she planned ahead. First, she made sure I had a present. The two of us took the bus into downtown, climbed the stairs of a seedy building to a second-floor jeweler to pick out a Star of David for a necklace. I remember sensing that having this symbol was a step towards being grown up – old enough to take on responsibility. She made it clear that it was my choice and I selected a small gold one with raised edges. I felt proud of my decision. Over subsequent years I wore it a lot and have it tucked away in my old jewelry pouch. From time to time I take it out and look at it – especially during the summer round of birthdays.

The second thing was that my parents sent my older brother to a camp for a week (he was not happy about this) so as not to have two kids to worry about while my dad was at work. A neighbor watched over me during the day but I didn’t like her, and tried to avoid her as much as possible. But mostly, I was insulted because I believed I was capable of taking care of myself. I could play with friends in the playground, go inside and make a sandwich, or rest if I got tired. I was annoyed that no one saw how competent I was. After all, my mother trusted me to pick out my own gift.

Often, I take long walks to figure out what I am trying to get at in my writings. This time, as I probed my spirit, I realized that my ramblings were not about sentimental longing or nostalgia for a simpler time. Nor were they about sadness for everything that has been lost between then and now, or even pleasure in all the good things that have happened. Most assuredly, they were about shaping my concept of who I am at my core.

I am always surprised when I recall my strong sense of competence at age seven, particularly because it took many years for this impression to re-emerge in my adulthood after being hidden for decades. Why it became concealed, I don’t know. Someday I will explore this but for now I only acknowledge that it faded away without a clear explanation.

More important is how I can use this memory to consider who I want to be as a mature adult. I don’t have any memories of caring what my sister was experiencing when she turned seven, probably because I was 14 and immersed in school, friends, and parties. I don’t think I was purposely callous. It was probably just that Paula and I were in vastly dissimilar worlds. Only now do I see that I missed really knowing who she was in her growing-up years.

This brings me back to Hannah. Because memories of my sense of myself are so powerful I wondered what she thought about herself at seven (and now eight). Does she have a good idea of who she is at this young age? I can watch and observe how she confronts the world but how much do I really understand her inner core? Right now, I cannot fully grasp her most intimate feelings. However, I do know that, whatever its shape, there is a depth of understanding and awareness within her. And, I comprehend how significant it is to respect it. When I am with her, I try to encourage a sense of self-worth, wanting her to sustain it, unbroken, over time. That is my gift to her for the past, for now, and for the future.

Copyright 2011 Newton TAB. Some rights reserved

Comments

  1. Carolyn

    October 7, 2011

    Marian, Wonderful!!!! You have such a great way with words! Jen & Josh enjoyed seeing you @ the Cape! They loved dancing with Hannah, too! 🙂

    • marianlknapp

      October 7, 2011

      Carolyn,

      Thanks. Yes, I loved being with Josh and Jen!

      Hope you are getting better and better.

      Love, Marian

  2. Barbara

    October 7, 2011

    Hi Marian,
    Your comment about your sense of competence at 7 and wondering why it was concealed for decades reminded me of Carole Gilligan’s seminal work, In a Different Voice, from the 1980s. (Interesting similarity of titles of book and blog.) It’s been discredited from many directions since, but I recall that the findings hit home for me then. You might have read it.
    Love,
    Barbara

    • marianlknapp

      October 7, 2011

      Barbara,

      I read “In a Different Voice” many years ago and will read it again. Why has it been discredited?

      Marian

  3. Sandra Kopel

    October 7, 2011

    Marian: You do have such a way with words. I have an 8-year-old grandson, and you are spot on about encouraging self worth for now and now on. I am going to print this blog and have my daughter and son-in-law read it. They do foster independence and feelings of self worth in their children, but they can always benefit from articles such as yours.

    Keep up the good work.

    Sandra

    • marianlknapp

      October 9, 2011

      Sandy, I am so glad this resonated with you and that perhaps your daughter and son-in-law might find it useful. Marian

  4. Randy

    October 8, 2011

    Hey Leah,

    My seventh BD. I threw a party and invited most of my 2nd grade class. Raphael dropped off a present and left; Georgia Jones was the only person to stay and have cake. I kept asking my mom when the kids would be there. It was the first time I remember seeing my mom worry about me and be upset because I was hurting. I still look back at the day as when I realized my mom really loved me.

    Randy

    • marianlknapp

      October 9, 2011

      Randy,
      It still amazes me how these events in our early lives shape our concepts of ourselves.

      Marian

  5. Sondra Meyer

    October 19, 2011

    Hi Mar,

    Again, I was so impressed with your article. It brought back memories that I had long forgotten. There is one special incident in 1945 when I, too, was seven – an older neighbor across the street, came running out of his house, in tears, yelling, “The President has died, the President has died.” I was playing with friends in the driveway and we all just froze when we heard him; there was complete silence in the street. I don’t know if that incident affected me in any way as I grew older, but I never forgot it and that neighbor.

    My oldest granddaughter is 7 years old now and I hope she matures with much self-worth and respect for herself and others. I, too, will forward your article to my son and daughter-in-law. They will really appreciate your thoughts.

    Looking forward to your next article!
    Soni

    • marianlknapp

      October 21, 2011

      I just checked on-line for the date of Franklin Roosevelt death. It was April 12, 1945.

  6. shirleyselhub

    November 10, 2011

    Hi, Marian,
    Seven is a fabulous age. My granddaughter at 7 was full of vim, vigor and vitality, exuberance and joy. Now, at age 9, I can see the transition beginning. The best friend selection game started (thereby excluding others), gossip is rampant, and labeling (she’s too skinny, too fat, etc.) is intense. We all encourage her to hold on to her joy, but I see it getting pushed back by school, by peers, and by ‘norms’ of maturity.

    Yesterday she joined me in an adult art class. She painted the most wonderful painting, and her uninhibited spirit stimulated the rest of us.
    So, I’m happy she still has the “it” factor…for now.

    SS

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About Marian

Marian Leah Knapp, Ph.D., wants to start a new conversation about “aging with intent.” Much of what is written about elders is from the point of view of physicians, psychiatrists, gerontologists, and adult children. In her roles as author, columnist, speaker and elder activist, Marian is reporting from the front lines.
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