Getting Over Your Childhood

 It has been a weird week at work for me.  We sent out the spring issue of our newsletter by surface mail last Friday and emailed our online version on Monday.  By the middle of this week, thousands of RFC community members had received it.  My Executive Director’s report in the newsletter entitled “Goodbye” began: “This is my last report as Executive Director of the Rosenberg Fund for Children.  When our next newsletter is published in September, Jenn Meeropol, my daughter, will be filling this position.” [Read the full report here.]

Maybe I should have expected them, but I admit to being more than a bit overwhelmed by the many heartfelt responses this has generated from people thanking me for creating and developing the RFC.  When you keep a regular schedule following a set annual cycle of activities for almost 23 years, the work can become routine to you, even as it inspires others. I don’t want to belittle the RFC’s achievements, but they have been based, for the most part, on the collective efforts of thousands of you.  I’m thankful for the comments, but it has been a group effort by the RFC staff, board and community of supporters.

While the responses to my “Goodbye” report have been varied, one thread runs through the majority, as this person summed up:  “you have given others the opportunity to settle… our own childhood issues related to political work.”

This comment and others like it got me thinking about a critical observation an old friend made about my initial proposal to gain backers for the RFC in 1989.  I’d asked him to review a draft of what I’d written because he’d been my writing instructor in college and had served time later as a political prisoner.  He commented that some people reading this might react that I’d never gotten over my childhood.

At first I was taken aback, but then it occurred to me that I didn’t think anyone ever “got over” their childhood.  In fact, I even rejected the concept that anyone’s childhood is something to “get over.”  All of our experiences are and should remain a part of us.  They should not, in fact they cannot, be put in a box and detached from who we are if we are to function as positive and productive human beings.  What we make of our experience, childhood or otherwise, is who we become.

I think one of the key reasons the RFC is successful is that it is a project that sprang out of childhood experiences that were not only my own, but also shared by thousands of children whose progressive parents were attacked or threatened during the McCarthy period.  The RFC harnessed these profound feelings to serve the needs of children in similar situations today. 

Now, I realize that the RFC is something I would never even have thought of if I’d gotten over my childhood.  I’m so glad I didn’t.

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So many of the deepest meanings of our lives are shaped by the circumstance of birth and early childhood. Our spirit is tested by whether and how we recover from them. But you are so right in what you've thought and written.

It is in this sense that what you have created in the Rosenberg Fund for Children — and the fact of Jenn's picking up the mantle now — is so very remarkable. Bless you for all the work that you have done, and all that you have shown us of what is possible in our lives and in this world!

On one side of the family I'm the granddaughter of a woman crazy enough to stand up to the Nazis in occupied Poland--and survive. On the other, I'm the granddaughter of the only open Communists in SI, NY during the McCarthy era. My house was still being watched by the FBI when I was 10. Grandma marched with MLK and protected Paul Robeson during the Peekskill Riots protest concert. I grew up in the shadow of the Rosenbergs and lived in fear that our family could be next. My mother marched with CORE (Congress of Racial Equality).

I can't imagine what it would have been like to grow up "normal" and not as the child of activists. And I don't want to. Much as it was a challenging and scary childhood, I wouldn't change it.

I hold to the belief that our past shapes and defines us in ways that make us stronger to face our present. Without that past I would be a lesser person.

I have only recently come across the RFC and I am inspired by it. As I am inspired by my grandparents and mother. Here's to never "getting over" our childhoods!

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