I didn’t grow up religious, but it was a sin to waste a wish.
I remember countless times where I was at the store with my dad and would say, I wish I had some ice cream or I wish I had those shoes. As the years wore on, I began wishing I looked like Melinda Gordon from “Ghost Whisperer” or wishing I didn’t have straight hair. Whenever my dad heard me say, I wish, he would immediately turn to me and respond, Lauren, don’t waste a wish. He didn’t say it sternly; it was more of a knowing, singsong-tone. He would then follow that with something like, If you had a magic genie, would you really want that to be one of your wishes?
Over time, I was afraid some forest witch or magical spirit would hear me and grant one of my insignificant wishes, then evilly laugh at me for being a fool and wanting something so flippant. It sounds childish, but I am still afraid to wish for anything unless I have thoroughly thought it through.
There are many things that parents pass onto their children, such as genetics or family heirlooms. However, I inherited the superstitions and phrases my parents repeated throughout my childhood.
My parents grew up in Chicago in the ‘60s, where small homes were packed full of family members and children were to be seen, not heard (my mom ate dinner in silence because my grandfather declared dinnertime as his quiet time.) While we do inherit a lot from our parents, we also learn how to be different from them. I believe my mom purposely raised us in an environment that was opposite of her own. She encouraged my brother and I to laugh at the dinner table and never silence our voices. Playing outside was also a significant part of our childhood: being able to let my imagination take me wherever I pleased while roaming around the backyard was important to me.
When I write now, I often try to channel my childhood imagination, and most of the time it helps me clear my head and allow my mind to conjure entirely new storylines, characters and worlds. As a child, I was never confined to reality, which taught me to dream and imagine anything and everything, even if it seemed unrealistic.
My dad has worked in construction since he was 13, so I always loved the smell of sawdust after a day of him working outside. After work, he would sit in a lawn chair and enjoy the sound of the cool wind rustling the leaves and listen to the bugs and bullfrogs. When I joined him, we tried to spot UFOs. When we couldn’t find any, he pointed to different stars and pondered our place in the world and what lay beyond the stars in other galaxies. We talked about what alien creatures may look like on other planets and if our backyard had any portals we could use to travel in time.
My dad instilled in me that there is too much unknown for anything to be certain, and the universe is too strange for anything to be impossible. Now, one of my favorite times of the year is when it’s warm enough that I can sit outside and inhale fresh air after a long winter. That fresh air reminds me of my dad’s superstitions which taught me to stay curious about what may be in the air around me or in a universe nearby.
After playing outside as a child, I would sometimes come back in the house with excruciating headaches that brought me to uncontrollable tears. My mom inherited a booming voice from my grandfather’s deep Ukrainian accent and my great-grandmother’s rich Polish one, but she always knew to have a calm tone when I needed it. Between my sobs, my mom would quietly ask, Do you want me to find the beep? I would nod and lay my head on her lap. She guided her finger to my forehead and temples until she found the point in my head that was throbbing with the headache. There’s the beep! It’s going in my finger now. Then with some sort of “spell or magic,” she transferred the throbbing in my head into the tip of her finger.
As I got older, I asked her how she transferred the beep and she simply said mind over matter. It wasn’t until I grew into adulthood and had to deal with headaches on my own that I realized she meant that it would stop hurting once I stopped thinking about how badly it hurt.
That message has helped me through many more headaches and moments of pain. Nowadays, I often catch my mind dwelling too much on small daily stresses, like waking up too late or pondering the uncertainty of the future—all the what if’s and fear of regret. But every time I find myself falling down a rabbit hole of my own thoughts, her voice pops in my head saying mind over matter, and I am able to reassess what is fueling my fear rather than giving power to fearful emotions. That small phrase that I heard throughout my childhood is now like a refrain in my mind.
My parents never intended for these moments to stay with me into adulthood, but they have added up to create the person I am today. From my dad, I learned to have an open and curious mind; from my mom, I learned to be myself, allow my brain to create worlds and help ground me in this one. All of these passed-on thoughts are like puzzle pieces—and over time, as I add more pieces, I’m able to understand the portrait of myself more and more.
Photo by Lauren Jonaitis