EXPLOSION AND FIRE IN CROSBY! The television newsflash triggered memories of an earlier explosion. Wednesday morning, April 16, 1947, I was enjoying the sweet taste of an apple. My mother often sang or told me a story as she scraped pulp with a small spoon before placing the soft juicy treat into the mouth of her three-year-old daughter. I recall that it was one of my favorite interactions with “mommy”.
That particular crisp, cool spring morning, she smiled, chatting and playing as if the spoon was an airplane flying into my mouth. I was certain that scraping apple pulp was hard work and felt very loved and special each time she fed me half an apple in that manner.
Mommy put the spoon down; our eyes met as she wiped juice from my mouth. Her warm loving eyes filled with terror as a deafening roar boomed from the sky. Within seconds that seemed like eternity, thunderous sound waves crashed around us, shaking the house and hurting my ears. Breathing became difficult. Whimpering from fear and pain, I covered my ears with my hands. My mother lifted me and ran to the comfort of her bed where she hugged me close to her body; I clasped Brownie, my teddy bear tightly.
Daddy had left much earlier for his shift at the Humble Oil Company Refinery in Goose Creek, a small town on the Texas Gulf Coast that was eventually consolidated with Baytown. I first met my dad less than one year earlier upon his return from serving in the U. S. Army Air Corps during World War II. I was very familiar with mother’s wonderful stories about my daddy and his picture on her dressing table. Confused at being told a real man was my father, I skipped to the room that mommy and I shared, retrieved his picture and tried to explain to the young soldier that the picture was “Daddy”. `
Aware he was away at war, I often pictured and worried about arrows and bullets flying toward my daddy. Mommy (an ardent Bob Steele fan) had taken me to cowboy movies at the Jefferson Theatre in Beaumont, Texas. I assuaged my fears by imagining that I could protect him by wishing an invisible rock in front of him. In my mind, no one, not even Daddy, was aware of the rock that was protecting him.
Today, when I counsel fearful or traumatized patients, I sometimes use guided imagery of invisible shields: “Picture yourself being encircled by those who love you (grandparents, parents, friends, pets). Now feel the powerful energy of their love surrounding and shielding from the energy of angry harsh words. As they protect you, they give you some of their strength. Can you feel it?” Many hours and dollars were involved in counseling and psychology training, including that strategy. It amazes me that the mind of a two-year-old toddler came up with a similar therapy.
During the war, my mother and I lived with Grandmother Adair and my teen-age Aunt “Renie” (Irene). I must have been a welcome distraction to my family of females from their worries about my father and step-grandfather who were both serving in the military. Showered with adult attention, encouragement and love, I grew strong and confident. Favorite memories include riding on the base of my grandmother’s Hoover vacuum as she cleaned the rugs; enjoying the sun’s warmth shining through the screen door while playing with Brownie, my teddy bear; and waiting for my aunt to fall asleep first whenever she tried to help me take a nap.
Children naturally make choices early. In my second year, I decided that having to sit facing a corner when I disobeyed was too boring and unfair. I slipped out the back-screen door, climbed up into a small tree, and hid among its leaves. There I remained, watching my family and police officers search the yard for me, looking under the house and a storage/laundry building. Only when rain began to fall did I slip slowly out of the tree to reveal myself.
Most children are constantly watching, hearing and coping with the world around them. I adjusted quickly to living with a real dad. However, leaving my nest of pampering females took much longer. My Grandpa Charlie remodeled his Highlands, Texas home to accommodate our young family of three. The home was built at the top of a slope that stretched gently downward to the rich river bottom lowlands edging the historic San Jacinto River. It was only eight miles from Dad’s new job, seven miles from Crosby and 48 miles from Texas City. Thus, the Crosby/Texas City link was prevalent.
First memories usually occur from latter part of the first year through second year of life. They tend to correlate with strong sensory (vision, hearing, smell, taste, touch) experiences and with initial verbal skills. Sensory responses to traumatic events of are recorded in memories. During treatment for PTSD, memories involving each of those are addressed.
My first memory is of receiving a slap on my cheek from my startled mother when I chewed hard on her while nursing to relieve painful, itching gums from teething. The ability to recall events, thoughts and feelings from my early childhood has been valuable to my career in psychology/c
Children begin making choices early. Soon after the teething incident, I began drinking evaporated milk sweetened with Karo syrup. I recall enjoying the sweet taste and refusing bottles without the syrup. My cereal had to be sweetened with dried banana flakes. A desire for sugar had begun.
By age three, my memories included traumatic events including parental absence, worries about danger surrounding my father, surviving a train crash, losses due to changes in my primary environment, and the effects of a major explosion. Each trauma stored memories linked with my five senses: those from the explosion were visual (fear in mother’s eyes), auditory (loud noise), taste (apple) and touch (rocking of the house).
Behavior patterns develop and grow stronger with use. Behaviors enable development of neural “paths” of synaptic connections for each action. The more frequent a behavior response to a situation occurs, the stronger the path grows, and the more likely that behavior will be the response to similar events.
Thinking before acting forms a positive neural path that benefits a person throughout lifespan. Learning is at optimum level during the first years when our brains are rapidly developing. Throughout my career as a counselor and school psychology specialist, I have encouraged parents to teach young children how to think about outcomes prior to making choices. They are making choices early so why not teach them the process for wise choice-making.
Remembering and coping with the absence of a parent can be difficult and confusing for children. Children sometimes blame themselves, become fearful for safety, or angry at a parent for the separation. It’s important to keep talking with your child about the issue, monitoring feelings and how to cope. Children may also benefit from consistent routines throughout the separation.It’s also important for children to feel they are keeping in touch with loved ones instead of hearing news or greetings second-hand.
Young children communicate trauma through play and body language. It is always beneficial when a parent can reserve a special time (perhaps 20 minutes a couple of times a week) with each child to just play with toys together. Toys should be chosen by the child. The parent should not direct play activity but follow the child’s lead to enable the young one’s concerns to be naturally released. Acknowledging the child’s feelings during the play activities is also helpful, i.e., “You are making the doll play just like you want it to.”
A physician and perhaps a professional counselor, social worker, play therapist or psychologist should be consulted if symptoms such as the following persist: Intense and ongoing emotional upset, sadness or anxiety, behavioral changes, anger, difficulties with self-regulation, regression, loss of previously acquired skills, sleep difficulties, attention or learning difficulties.
More information is provided in my Keys to Parenting Magic books. Each book is a gentle guide for parents, teachers and counselors. Reading pages and activities for children are designed to enrich bonds while teaching children and reminding adults what young ones need from them.