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Sewa's Birthday

October 2001

Last week Anne Marie and I attended Sewa's birthday party. It was a typical gathering of the Valenzuela household. What particularly impressed us about this and other gatherings of the Valenzuela family is how the children are enveloped in so much love and security along with the unique degree of adult and child interaction. This led me to muse on how different family structures affect children.

For those of you unfamiliar with the Valenzuela family here is a brief geography or genealogy of their family. Daul Valenzuela is Anne Marie's younger sister. Daul has six grown children. Five of the children live locally with two of them, Elizabeth and Sewa, living in Daul's home. Daul's husband, Amondo Valenzuela, is a Yaqui Indian and is the father to Maureen, Elizabeth and Sewa. Daul's other two children, from a different marriage, who live locally, are Jason and Serena. Sewa has two children, ages 2 1/2 years and 18 months. Jason has one child, age 22 months. Serena has three children ages 9 years, 2 years and 7 weeks.

If one were to visit Daul's house on any given day you would find any combination of adults, including spouses and significant others, and children. The adult participants in the household come and go in no particular pattern. There is always a lot going on. Daul also has a number of holiday parties as well as birthday parties for each of the adult children and young children. Thus, beside the usual ebb and flow of adults into her household, every few weeks brings a gathering of all for a birthday or holiday celebration. All of the adults seem very accepting and loving toward the children. I have never seen anything like it for positive adult-children interaction.

At Sewa's birthday party this past week, I was given Serena's young baby boy, seven week old Shea Angel, to hold. Much praise was given to me for holding the baby for an half hour without any fuss by the baby. The parent's swore that no else has ever done this. I enjoyed the praise, however I did think they were helping me along with the bonding to the newest member of the Valenzuela clan. And it worked; Shea Angel is special to me. And so the family way is maintained, by giving much importance to bringing the adults and children to closeness and intimacy with one another.

I contrasted the Valenzuela way with my own family of origin. In my family of origin, I had hardly any family or adult interaction. I had no siblings, thus my only family interaction was with my mother and father. I did not see my father from the time I was ten until I was seventeen and my mother, after I was ten years old, vanished into an alcoholic haze and eventual mental illness. Thus, even parental interaction was limited. Other than with schoolteachers my interaction with adults was non-existent. As for my maternal and paternal families, my father's family was overseas in England and New Zealand and my mother's was concentrated in Dayton, Ohio, seven hundred miles away--an almost insurmountable distance at the time of my childhood. I spent two weeks when I was six years old and two months when ten years old with my mother's family in Dayton, Ohio. Other than that I was pretty much on my own. Yet for all this, I enjoyed my childhood. I enjoyed my freedom and the tremendous diversity of interests that New York City provided. True I was often lonely and did develop an apprehension, from the very real experience with my parents, that people I loved would desert me. But this only reinforced in me the knowledge that I needed to be self-sufficient in myself. This from the old adage, "if an experience doesn't kill you, you'll learn and gain from it."

I have no way to know how the children in Daul's family will turn out. At this point they seem quite secure, and they see adults as a source of comfort and security. Perhaps the childhood circumstance simply relates to the degree of happiness children feel while children and does not portend any particular personality or sense of security when they become adults. This is an old dispute, the relative importance of nature and nurture in development. Perhaps it would be interesting for each of us to think of how our childhood has impacted on us as adults and would we truly be different if our childhood had been of another circumstance.

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