Monday, February 16, 2015


My cousins and I at my maternal grandmother's funeral.  I'm 9 years old.

Latency and adrenarche are almost the same span of years in a life, but there is very little helpful information about either one.  “Latency” was the years Freud labeled sexless -- between phallic and genital.  Maybe age 6 to 12 or more.  He was quite wrong.  His label is a sort of excuse for ignoring children that age. They didn’t interest him, probably because they are the most powerful years and the most elusive.

The husbands and wives, mostly Hatfield men who married Pinkerton women.
My mother did not -- she ran off to the big city of Portland.

Adrenarche is the switch-on years when the adrenals are developed enough to begin turning on the process of growing the long bones of the limbs, the muscles attached to them, and the brain behind the forehead.  In the primal tribal places a girl in these years is put to work, taking care of younger kids, cooking, gathering wood.  Boys are simply turned loose and may run in packs hunting small animals or herding animals.  Girls stay with moms unless it’s a place where future husbands claim little girls.  In the rural country children this age are raising domestic livestock and hoeing gardens, learning about living creatures.

Sisters and cousins after the funeral.  Sun, garden, connection.

In Erik Erikson’s theories, this was the time for the evolution of the ego. The latency phase corresponds to the stage he called “competence”, or ‘industry and inferiority’, age 6 to puberty. The child is eager to learn new skills. During this stage, the child compares his/her self-worth to others.  Outside the family I was labeled smart and conscientious, which was a major drag to my brothers, who were just as smart but left-handed and not quite as bookish.  Teachers expected more from them because of my example.  I was "above-average" but not brilliant.

Christian Bale in latency.  ("Empire of the Sun")

Many childhood books are about this stage:  Harry Potter, Kim, the Little Prince, Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm.   Amazon offers a list:  “100 Children's Books to Read in a Lifetime: Selections for Ages 9-12.”  It’s the age for fairytales, mythology, sci-fi.  “The Princess and the Goblin,” “The Red Planet Mars.”  “Empire of the Sun.”  “My Friend Flicka,” “Heidi,” “Two Little Savages."   Life is an adventure that calls for heroism.  Latency aged kids think they can do anything, even save alcoholic parents.  Hans Brinker saved a country with his thumb.

In my personal case, these were confusing, literally painful times.  I had terrifying nightmares, possibly because of ocular migraine; my legs ached, which was diagnosed as “growing pains”; my maternal grandmother died of cancer which threw my mother into a grief depression; my father was in a head-on mountain highway collision with a drunk driver and sustained a concussion that affected his personality.  With three growing children in the family, there simply wasn’t enough room or enough money; and I was beginning to feel the first tendrils of sex. 

My world before glasses.

For some people, kids this age are objects of desire, esp. if the adults are predators who like to torture and beat up children.  They’re little enough to push around but old enough to comprehend and be terrorized, smart enough for mind games.  But still too young to get pregnant which would give some games away.  Children are physically small: they have been choked to death by forced fellatio and torn open by penetration.  Child bodies are seriously damaged by the drain of pregnancy.

In benign relationships, children this age are capable of great loyalty and intimacy.  In same-sex pairs they attach and bond, in gangs they crave secrecy and the power of the group.  To many of them animals carry magic.  It’s also one of the most rewarding school grades to teach.  The kids are growing, transforming, full of surprises, eager to learn.  They still think adults know a few things and will help them.

My brief career as a Campfire Girl.

It’s my life default age: about nine.   Under stress I become nine again.  That was the year my fourth grade teacher, a former WWII sergeant who was used to intervening, saw that I needed glasses, that it was the reason I got so angry and frustrated, read all the time, and cried too easily.  I simply I couldn’t see.  Glasses transformed the world.  And me.  My mother was chagrined to think she hadn’t noticed.  My brothers were tested right away.  Also at this point, my teeth began to disintegrate.  They weren’t malformed, but they were cavity-ridden and I spent hours with the dentist and have ever since -- in the periods when I had dental insurance.  In those early days it meant pain and humiliation.  Later on my father began to get very angry over the dental bills.  

Boy Scouts, preparation for the draft.
My brother is by the marker stuck in the ground.

Those were the music lesson years.  Piano for Mark and I.  Then violin for Mark.  Nothing for Paul.  None of us ended up playing.  I took ballet for which I was totally unsuited except for the intensity of my longing.  I took ballroom which I loathed and spent in the bathroom.  It wasn’t that we had bad teachers, but that we were undisciplined.  We didn’t practice, didn’t know how to focus and move ourselves into that frame of mind.  We had no strategy but opposition to authoritarian pressure.  

My mother’s group was the PTA (Parent Teacher Association) which she interpreted as a new version of the Professional Business Woman’s Club where she had been a leader in Roseburg.  My father’s affiliation was the Portland Chess Club and the Mazamas.  My mother and I were conscientious Presbyterians attending the neighborhood church which had an overambitious arrogant pastor.  

The Bruce Strachan nuclear family.

Our parents were also undisciplined.  A person needs to be taught how to accept being taught: listen, open up, assimilate new ideas.  They just did whatever had to be done.  As children they had been expected to work hard for the family and grab what escape they could.  They knew there was more, “higher” education, but not really what it was.  It seemed to them to be more an honor than an economic route.  A few people in their ancestry had been prosperous but none had been learned.

A child in latency is both reaching out as far as possible and also creating boundaries so as to have a private life.  The Revised Standard Edition of the Bible had just been completed so I sat down to read it.  When I got to the part about Noah’s daughters getting him drunk since, as the only man, he had to start a new generation, I was outta there.  I lasted longer with the "Decameron of Boccaccio", mostly because our high-status copy was one of a heritage set with thin paper and tooled leather binding.  My mother left the set to my brother, all the while railing against primogeniture.  The family tangle.  

I went into my bedroom and closed the door to read “Riders of the Purple Sage,” which was impressive enough that I eventually did it in real life.  For me the line between books and real life is very thin.  But I made a conscious decision to live the kind of life I had read about, so that I could write about it.  Survival puts limits on that, both the real and the romanticized.  My Depression-conscious parents and the media struggle to interpret Cold War kept raw survival always in front of us, but their response was to “fort up,” stick to family, never risk, stay in early jobs, travel but never get involved with locals, pay off the house you live in and never move again.  Do not modernize.  Depression and War are always there.  And the occasional catastrophe.

My father's 1948 accident.

He was thought to be okay, but he was not.
I suspect his overweight began here.

Of course, all this time my father was living out of cheap small town hotels for traveling salesmen while driving to Eastern Oregon or the Coast Range to keep up trade for an ag wholesale cooperative.  When he came home on weekends, there was a little festival of movies and ice cream sodas at Jolly Joan’s.  Then he would go into a rage of frustration while doing his expense account.  No adult became violent to another adult, no one at all drank, nor did we cuss or smoke or gamble.  There was no sexual cheating and none of we kids can remember sexual abuse.  Therefore we were respectable Scots-descent people.  But the sub-text was not like that.  In latency children sense everything and try to explain it all, but generally fail.

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