Nature vs Nurture

The more I analyze my childhood, trying to understand what led to my behaviours as an “adult”, the more I realize that my parents did nothing wrong. I mean, I had never blamed them, but of course psychology often dictates that it’s the environmental influences that can make a person the way they become.

It’s true, I had a very unique childhood, and opportunities to experience things most people don’t get to their entire lives. From around age 4 to age 13, my family would travel down the Baja of Mexico via RV caravan. Most often it was my parents and I, my mother’s parents, some maternal cousins, and often some other friends of the family. Some traveled with us the whole route, and some we met along the way. We also owned a large 66″ retired forestry boat, which my parents loaded with “stuff” and we’d travel the north coast of BC, hitting marinas, inlets, lodges, and native villages selling all kinds of goods. I met so many different people, learned about so many different cultures, and fostered not just a welcoming acceptance of what I was introduced to, but also a curiosity to discover more.

I have vague memories of course, being so young, but I remember being happy. For the most part. Obviously there were some fights and drama that growing up bring, but nothing that was so damaging or traumatic to me as to change me for the negative. I remember doing laundry on a beach in Cabo San Lucas, long before it was made into resorts. We’d park in a little clearing and set up a couple tents, and mom would put me in the blue bucket with the clothes and water to dance around and clean the clothes. After rinsing, we’d lay it all out along the sparse bushes around the campsite. I would run naked along the beach for many years, with other children of similar ages, also naked. It was innocent and free of any sexual anything, until I told friends at my elementary school about it. They were more interested in if I had seen a boy’s wee wee than any of the shrines I’d visited or souvenirs I had brought.

I think I’ll derail the travel train of thought to delve into a possible case of nature vs nurture. I do have some fond memories of my elementary school days, but more often than not it’s nightmares that plague me. I had always been “different”, not just because we traveled but also because, well, I just was.

Re: Nature
I remember being around 3rd grade in a school assembly, all the kids sitting in the gym being treated to a small orchestra concert they had brought in. The band started playing the Simpsons (TV show) theme, and it just made me so manically happy that I started laughing. It wasn’t like, giggling, no it was like full blown hysterical laughter that bubbled up and out and over, and I couldn’t control it. I remember the looks of the teaches and students, as I sat there and laughed uncontrollably, until I finally managed to calm it somehow and go back to “normal”.

I remember being in a very early grade, like 1 or 2, and using the budding obsession with the idea of sex to gain negative attention. I had 2 “boyfriends” who would hold my hands during story time and argue over who I liked better. I remember taking my undershirt off during some indoor thing where the teacher wasn’t present, and waving it around like some stripper looking for tips.

I was what they called back then a “tomboy”, and preferred Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles over Barbies. I still had Barbies, and did enjoy dressing them up in the fashionable outfits we collected. But I also enjoyed playing out sex scene fantasies between Barbie and Ken, and Halloween was always a fun time for creating a house of horrors out of my room with them. I loved to play soccer, and had no qualms that I was one of the only girls who would play just as hard as the boys. At first, those who didn’t know me would play more gently around me, probably thinking “oh I can’t hurt a girl”. But after watching me take hits and roll them off, or give them hits befitting a true soccer player, they soon learned that I was pretty much just “one of the guys”.

I remember some birthday party or whatnot at the local leisure center pool, with a large group of fellow students from my elementary school. The memory I have is sharp, and painful, and the events before and after have faded to vagueness. But that memory, of being teamed up on by the other kids, to play the “push their head under the water” game… it was terrifying. I can still feel the fear and desperation for breath, the thought that I was going to drown, my cries for help and struggles against the kids. At first I defended myself gently, not wanting to actually hurt anyone. But as it went on, my defense became more and more violent, kicking and punching and even biting. At that point I became the weirdo, the psycho who scratched and bit when they were just “having some fun”.

Now that I look back at it from a different perspective, I kind of wonder if my acting out in sexual manners, with a perverted sense of humour and exaggerated sexual manner, was me trying to compensate for my lack of “feminine” qualities. At that time, it was all about sex, not so much the having of, but of learning about and how it affected us as we grew up. Other students unofficially voted me the most likely to have sex by 13. One trip, I came back to school to be informed by the good friends I had that another student, during an indoor lunch with no teacher present, had drawn a crude picture of a cat with a condom on its tail and “me”. The disgusting rumour that I had had sex with my cat’s tail followed me into high school.

Re: Nurture
I was always very smart for my grade, which was mostly because of my parents and our traveling. While in transit, I’d often be reading some book or another, or listening to books on tape with my parents. Mom bought all the “educational supplement” books on every topic she could find to keep me engaged. My teachers would send packages of “correspondence” style work that spanned the curriculum time frame of when we’d be gone. I’d often finish the entirety of it quite early, and be ahead of the class when I got back. At one point, it was discussed if I should be skipped a grade, but it was decided that although I was smart enough for the next grade, socially I was still far behind.

Although I acted out in perverted manners, often for the attention (not understanding how negative it was and the impact it would have on me socially) I was rather ambivalent towards sex itself. I was naturally curious about this whole idea of romantic interest, and had kissed boys innocently (no tongue, often not even on the mouth) – I remember chasing the boys around the schoolyard threatening to kiss them, which they would run from because, of course, girls had cooties. I had even snuck in some reading of my mom’s Harlequin romance novels, which she was very upset to discover I had been reading. Though from what she tells me, when she confronted her about it, I merely said, “Don’t worry mom, I don’t read THOSE parts.” (Aside: I still don’t read THOSE parts) But being more on the masculine side in presentation and behaviour, most guys weren’t interested in me like that. It wasn’t until beginning high school that I started to “bloom” and gain that kind of interest from boys, and I did NOT handle it well at all. My family was very mute on the topic of sex, except for some basic scientific teachings and warnings about safe sex. They didn’t discourage me from it, nor did they encourage it either. It was taunts of the schoolyard that ingrained the belief that masturbation was a “bad” thing and something to be ridiculed for, not enjoyed as a natural human response to their bodies’ sexual drive. It wasn’t until my 30s that I began to actually resolve those negative feelings and just accept masturbation as a thing people do. I still get anxious when talking about it for real or revealing my absolute lack of experience in the matter, but I no longer think negatively of myself for either having the desire to, or acting on that desire.

My parents and family treated me with complete love and kindness. Discipline was to the measure of the crime, and sometimes with leniency if I had learned something out of it. My father did occasionally put his belt to my bottom, but it was never in abuse. He had a warning system – first he took off the belt, then he put the belt on my door handle. If after that point I continued the warned against behaviour, I would get a couple smacks. It was enough to hurt, but not enough to do any kind of permanent damage, either physically or mentally. My father stopped this kind of discipline after I had gotten to the point of stronger will, where I refused to cry when the belt hit, and continued to defy his warnings with my behaviour. I guess at that time I had stopped being the petulant child and was growing towards my petulant teens. A different approach needed to be used. (Aside: my father was of a very different generations than most fathers of kids my age – my mother was his second wife, and he was 22 years her senior. I believe he was approximately 45 or 46 when I was born)

Oh dear. This has certainly turned into a rather jumbled bunch of thoughts in a staggeringly random order, and I apologize for my ramblings. I’ll have to take this train of thought away to my notes and try to find some better sense of it all, so I can try to actually make a point here. If you’re still reading this, thanks for joining me in this little jaunt down memory lane. Exit is to your left.

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