My Empty Carriage

Posts Tagged ‘disclosure’

Disclosure down the line

Thursday, July 1st, 2010

Disclosure Down the Line

Disclosure of personal information can be a funny thing. The definition according to Webster’s is “making a secret public” The process of sharing information between sides.”  That definition is not very specific because it doesn’t tell you if disclosure is a good thing or if it is something that should be carefully measured. My maternal grandmother, for instance, was under the impression that disclosure of anything personal was bad regardless of the subject matter. She believed that any and all personal family information should always be kept secret. If a family secret was made public she viewed it as a criminal offense. She and all her sisters believed whole heartedly that secrets were private and should be stored in a deep dark place. My grandmother and her family arrived from Italy in the 1920’s. Many of the families that entered Ellis Island at the time had their last names changed by the immigration officials that registered their arrival in America. This was done often because the immigrants did not speak English and the agents could not understand their names when they were told them. So when they entered America many families did so with either shortened versions of their last names or entirely new ones that did not reflect their heritage.

On arrival in America my grandmother and her sisters learned the English language as quickly as they could to assimilate themselves into their new culture. My great-grandparents did not want their children to be teased or shunned because they were immigrants. Italian immigrants were considered at that time to be the absolute bottom of the social ladder. My grandmother and her sisters were told by their parents to always speak English, even though they themselves did not speak the language. Any new siblings born into her family in America were taught English only to insure that they were true Americans born and raised. Italian was spoken only at home in the presence of family. This is the point where I can trace the lack of disclosure in my family. It was thought best that what their children did not know would not hurt them. At that point, in my opinion, my family of origin was compromised. The foundation they were building in America was built on untruths even though they felt they were protecting their children and helping them to succeed in their new country. There was no malice intended but in those years many of the traditions and mores of my Italian culture died because my ancestors felt that abandoning those would insure success in future generations.

My great-grandmother and my grandmother in turn did whatever they could to protect their children from public shame. My mother was taught and firmly believed that if a man touched her breast she would get cancer. She was also taught as a fact that if a man’s penis brushed up against her, even through his pants, she would get pregnant. The shame of being an unmarried pregnant woman in the fifties especially in an Italian family was insurmountable. Therefore preposterous lies and crazy stories were told to their daughters that they believed would protect them and their family name from misfortune and shame. My mother learned through embarrassment that the facts her mother had taught her, to help her lead a healthy and good life, were indeed false and in many instances plucked from the dark ages. So when my mother started a family of her own she made a promise to herself that she would tell us the truth about the facts of life always. She believed that teaching us word’s like vagina and penis was healthy and would not bring disgrace upon us or our family. She was living in a more progressive time and knew how it felt to not have knowledge on her side. She never wanted any of her children to feel uninformed and therefore ashamed by a lack of factual knowledge.

My mother kept her promise to all six of her children to be honest and because of that we all developed healthy attitudes about our bodies and intimacy. In fact much to the dismay of my father and my own husband they have been gently nudged into a world of expressing true facts and details to their own children about subjects that they never thought they would be discussing aloud.  But they understand that power is knowledge and no matter how uncomfortable a conversation may be for them they are willing to suffer so that their children are always armed with the truth.

I have decided to carry on the tradition started by my mother to give my children  information that is actually their’s for the taking you mean with The facts of where they came from and how they got here. It may not always be what they want to hear but the facts are what they need to have a healthy and true sense of who they are. It is amazing to see the evolution of disclosure in my family. Disclosure didn’t really exist generations ago because of fear and recrimination. But as my family evolved in the new world and became educated instead of fearful it took them to a place where truth and freedom reigned. They say the truth will set you free and I wholeheartedly agree. I believe that disclosure of the details of life’s big events, at the appropriate age and time, gives our children the chance to process and incorporate these truths into the fabric of who they are and to teach the generations to come.