Note: There are two incidents mentioned in the letter that need an explanation. The books that were burned were communist books, probably Marxist theory. The TV show that is mentioned was live coverage of the Army-McCarthy hearings. Those hearings were held in the senate and were a hunt for people with current or former Communist ties. There were many people who lost jobs and whose lives were seriously impacted. My mother had been a member of the Communist Party.
Dear nine-year-old Ellie,
I would like to tell you some things that I think will help you while you are growing up. First of all, try not to be upset by Mom’s worries. She is always worrying and it doesn’t matter what you do. If it is not one thing it is another. Even though she teaches classes on how to be a good parent, and has some children come to her to talk about their problems, she does not know how to be a good parent to you. She has no idea who you are really. Also, try to pay attention when she does something that would make someone else angry. It is important to know what she does that makes you mad. She has you feeling that being angry is bad and means something is wrong with you, so you’ve learned to hide it from her and yourself. I remember when Mom said you spilt the milk because you were angry. That was just not true but it sure was confusing. You should let Mom know when you really are angry. There is nothing wrong with being angry especially when there is a good reason.
You should also try to tell Mom how you really feel, She thinks she knows but has no idea. I know this is difficult because she is likely to see it as proof that something is the matter with you. She sent you to a psychiatrist (Grace Abbot) when you were 5 and asked her if the psychiatrist could help you not be shy. Grace liked your brother but not you and did not think you were smart, which you are, very smart. You stopped being honest with Mom and Grace when you learned to fake it and tell them what they wanted to hear, e.g. that you thought you had a penis and it was cut off.
It is important to find a way to make Mom pay attention to what is really going on with you. For example, when you saw them burning books and Mom told you that the books were about ideas some people thought were wrong. She said that she and Dad were afraid they could get in trouble if people saw the books when they were moving. This scared you. There will be something on television soon that will make them nervous. You will know that and you should tell them when it scares you.
Mom has also made you feel something is wrong with you because you are afraid to talk to other kids. Since you are living in a neighborhood where everyone else is Catholic and the kids are not allowed to talk to you because you are Jewish, it makes perfect sense that you are afraid. Especially since the kids surrounded you and told you that you killed Jesus. They also made you say the Lord’s Prayer. No wonder you believe no one will want to be your friend.
When you move, Mom is going to send you to a summer recreation program every morning in one of the parks so you can make friends. Not wanting to go, you should refuse and insist on just going to the pool where you can swim and read to your heart’s content. Going to the park, just sitting on the sidelines and refusing to play will only make Mom more nervous and she will get on your case more than she already has. When you start school and are afraid to talk, you should tell her to leave you alone, you will talk and play with other kids when you are good and ready. Just refusing to talk all year will again make her more worried and raise the risk of ANOTHER THERAPY APPOINTMENT.
Mom will do some other things that she shouldn’t do. She will start working at home as a therapist seeing patients. She will see some kids and you will have to hide when they come. There will be one boy she sees, Joseph Liff, who will be in your class. He will be the class clown and you will know he knows that your mother is supposed to know about kids. You will wonder what he thinks about you, the strange girl who doesn’t say anything and stays away from everyone. Mom should not be seeing kids who will know you. She should not be seeing patients somewhere where you have to hide when they come.
You should try to tell Mom what you are really thinking. Know this is going to be hard because Mom will analyze everything, but it is better to take that chance than to have to hide inside yourself all the time. Since she thinks something is the matter anyway you may as well tell her the truth. I know it is scarier to have her think that that the real you is a problem than it is to hear her worrying about someone she has made up in her head, but I think it is important that she get an idea of who you really are.
I want you to know that I respect you and am very proud of you. Even though Mom acts like she knows all about you and your real needs, you know better. You have your own version of the truth and you are holding on to it for dear life. When you read books you are learning how people feel and think. You have a strong version of yourself which you will develop more once you leave home. You will turn out to be a terrific person. I am sure you know I love you but I need to say it again. I love you and am there for you.
The 70 year old Ellie