ICSA Today, Vol. 7, No. 1, 2016, 31-33
“Mommy, Did You Get to See the Dolphins?”
Eva Mackey Meyrat
In the summer of 2013, I took a trip with my husband’s family to Paris. We were going to attend the marriage of my husband’s older brother. Many friends and relatives were coming from all over France, America, and Europe. It was going to be a big family reunion, and we wouldn’t have missed it for the world. My kids were especially excited because my oldest son was to be the ring bearer and my daughter the flower girl. We spent about a week in Paris before the wedding.
There are a million things to do and see in Paris, and I would have loved to do all of them; but I had to stick to things that would interest my kids. My big boy, Olivier (all names are pseudonyms), was 8 years old. Colette, my little princess, was 5 years old; and my sweet baby boy, Antoine, was 3. These kids are so precious to me. They are my life, my love, and my everything; but at this young age they seriously limited my museum and monument viewing. I thought it would be more fun to take them to one of the amusement parks right outside of Paris, Euro-Disney or Parc Asterix.
My prior experiences with these two parks were as a child in the South Indian Hindu cult that followed Guru Dev. Our cult took trips abroad every few years for the purpose of recruitment. During the early years of the group, London, England, and Austin, Texas were the preferred destinations.
I went to England twice when I was quite small. We did some sightseeing during those early trips, but the later recruitment trips were consumed almost entirely with spiritual work. I remember visiting English castles and Stratford-upon-Avon, which is the birthplace of Shakespeare, when I was a little girl no more than 4 years old.
My second trip to England, around the age of 8, involved little sightseeing. The kids spent all day in the servant’s quarters of a large mansion occupied by the guru and his family. Our parents’ time was consumed in talks with the guru, and we kids spent all day watching TV. At the end of our 2-week trip, the picture on the TV started to flicker and falter, and eventually, on the last day, it died for good. I was convinced that we had broken the TV by watching it for more than twelve hours a day.
As I got older, the cult began traveling to France instead of England because France proved to be a more fertile recruiting ground. After the birth of the guru’s grandson, it was important to find ways to keep him entertained during the trips. That is how the disciples became interested in French amusement parks.
Because I was not one of the grandson’s favorites, I was not required to go on these trips, and I never went to Euro-Disney. I heard about it from my friends who did go, and that was enough to convince me that I wasn’t interested. The alternative was to just hang around the guru’s mansion, but that wasn’t much fun either. At the mansion, I could participate in the adults’ spiritual work or try to find a way to amuse myself alone; it got pretty boring. That is why when the grandson’s attendants were rounding up people to go to Parc Asterix, I decided to go, even though I knew that my enjoyment was not the purpose of the trip.
So I liked having the opportunity to revisit Parc Asterix as an adult with my own kids. I wanted to see how the experience would be different from the first time when I was forced to serve a subordinate role to a spoiled brat. In addition, my French relatives had criticized me, saying that an amusement park wasn’t a truly French experience. So I figured that I could make the experience a little more French by going to Parc Asterix rather than Euro-Disney.
I also looked forward to introducing my kids to Asterix, one of my favorite Gallic heroes from the quintessentially French comic Asterix and Obelix. English translations of these comics are often found in Indian airports and hotels, and they were part of the reading repertoire of the cult kids. I had grown to love the comic antics of Asterix and his goofball sidekick Obelix as they battled the Romans and resisted defeat during the heyday of the Roman Empire.
The commute to the park presented challenges of its own. We took public transportation and were accompanied by the bride’s nephew, a young adult probably 19 or 20 years old. My mother was with us, too. On the trip to the park, she eagerly chatted up the bride’s nephew. She expounded on how thrilled she was to be here in France, and how she really enjoyed the opportunity to see this part of Europe. “I’ve never been to this part of France before,” she lied. The lies roll off her tongue so effortlessly; I think she must believe them herself. But to me, they sound like fingernails on a chalkboard.
These lies have caused a tremendous amount of pain in my life, and it is cruel and unusual punishment for me to have to sit and listen to them again. My other option is no more appealing. I could call my mother out on her lies and remind her of all the times she has been here before. In other words, I could pick a fight with her on a crowded subway in front of family and strangers. I could insist that the truth be told even though I know that it would humiliate her and make her mad. It is a hard choice, and I’m faced with it just about every time my mother is around. I usually choose to keep quiet, but it is getting harder for me to do so.
As expected, my kids had a blast at Parc Asterix. We went during the middle of the week, and as a result the lines weren’t long for the rides. The weather was perfect; it was warm but not too warm. It kept threatening to rain but never did. I found the overcast sky much nicer than the blazing, unrelenting sun that would have been the alternative.
We went on as many rides as we could squeeze in. My kids were too small for a lot of the rides. Of course, my little Antoine knows no fear, and the biggest, scariest roller coasters were the ones that he wanted to go on the most. I told him, “No, Antoine, you are much too big for that ride. That one is for babies. This one over here is for big boys like you.” Then I would steer him toward the teacups or the miniature airplane rides.
My kids knew that I had been to the park before when I was a kid, and they had lots of questions for me. “Which rides did you go on, Mommy? Did you go on the teacups? Which ride was your favorite?” asked Olivier.
How could I explain to them that my experience of the park as a child was nothing like theirs? When I came to the park I was part of a large entourage of about 30 kids and adults. We were with the grandson, and our job was to serve and entertain him. There was no thought given to our happiness; we were not individuals in our own right. We were toys, his toys, and we had no other purpose than to keep him happy. We went on rides only when and if he deemed it appropriate.
The grandson had chosen some of the kids to go on rides, but for the most part I was overlooked. Finally, he picked me for a midsized roller coaster. I was happy, but only guardedly so. I knew how easily my happiness could be snatched away. As predicted, after I had stood in line for at least 45 minutes, and right before I was about to get on the ride, the grandson decided that I couldn’t go on the ride after all. No explanation was given; he didn’t need to justify his choices. Luckily I had not invested too much hope in the possibility of going on the ride. I knew better than to allow my hopes to be so bitterly dashed. I had become comfortably, yet uncomfortably, numb.
Now, I tried to explain to my kids, “Well, I really didn’t go on too many rides. I was with a large group of people and they wouldn’t let me.”
The kids looked confused. “Was it a school field trip?” asked Olivier. “Did you have a mean teacher?” Colette persisted.
“Well not exactly sweetie,” I fumbled. “Look,” I said, trying to change the subject,” I think I remember that ride!” I had spotted the ride that I had stood in line for, but didn’t go on. Moved by nostalgia, I said to the kids, “Hey, let’s check that one out!” We bounded up hopefully, but I soon realized that it would be too scary for my little kids. “On second thought, I remember this one, it wasn’t fun at all,” I said, “Let’s go find a better one.”
I hate lies. My mother’s lies are so hurtful; I have vowed to raise my kids differently. I want my kids to know the truth, but how on earth do I tell them? How could I possibly explain to them that their dearly beloved mommy was raised in a cult in which my needs were routinely ignored? My childhood was so different from theirs. It is hard for me to feel anything other than a dissociated numbness when it comes to my childhood. If anything could move me out of this catatonic state, it would be the sadness of my children when they learned what I went through. I can’t mourn my losses, but the thought that they might almost moves me to tears. I’m not sure if I can stand that kind of vulnerability. They will have to learn the truth someday, but honestly they aren’t ready for the whole truth yet. Their young minds are still too innocent. All they need to know is that the ride wasn’t any fun for me.
So we turn away from the ride that I had waited in line for but hadn’t ridden on. Across the walkway, we see an aquatic area with dolphins. The show is going to start in about five minutes, and I know this is just the thing for my kids. “Let’s try this!” I say enthusiastically.
As predicted, my kids loved it. They were totally impressed with the way the dolphins dived, leaped in the air, and twisted in unison. I loved seeing their little faces light up. “Did you see that, Mommy? Did you see the dolphin catch the ball in his mouth?” shouts Antoine. “Oh yes, baby. That is really amazing!”
“Did you get to see the dolphins, Mommy?” asked Olivier. “Of course,” I say, not understanding at first. “No, I mean when you were a kid and you came here. Did you see the dolphins then?” “Oh, well no sweetie,” I respond, “Maybe they didn’t have dolphins back then.”
I can’t remember for sure if they had dolphins back then. Something tells me that they did but the grandson wasn’t interested. If I had noticed the dolphins at the time, I’m sure that I quickly blocked it out lest I feel the forbidden stirring of a desire to see them. Better to stay oblivious to the park and what it had to offer. Any joy I got out of that trip to Parc Asterix was derived from the opportunity to talk to my friends when their attention wasn’t immediately required by our little despot.
As the rides started closing down at Parc Asterix, we made our way to the exit. On the way out, I got ice cream for the kids. They were so cute trying to say chocolate, strawberry, and vanilla in French.
After the ice cream, I stopped by the gift shop strategically located by the park exit and got Gallic warrior outfits for all of them: swords, helmets, shields, and a bottle for magic potion. By now they all knew the story of how the tiny Gallic village resisted the Romans with the help of the druid’s magic potion. I watched them bang around with their swords. The park employees were dressed as Roman centurions, and I loved watching the kids’ staged mock fights with them.
“Mommy, did you get a Gallic warrior outfit when you were here before? Did you get ice cream?” the kids persist. By now I would think they should know the answer. “No, my sweet babies,” I sighed. “I’m afraid when I was here before having fun wasn’t the main point.” “Why not, Mommy?” asks Colette. She is confused.
“Well, I was with a large group,” I try to explain again. “But it wasn’t exactly a mean teacher; actually, it was another kid.” “Was he a bully?” asks Antoine. He is trying to make sense of this, “I want to kick the bully in the wiener!” he says. I can definitely relate to this sentiment, but I feel the need to temper it a little. “No sweetie,” I say,” That isn’t the right thing to do. If a bully is picking on you, you should tell your parents or a teacher.”
“So why didn’t you do that?” insists Olivier. “Why didn’t you tell your teacher?” “You must have had a really mean teacher!” Colette is back to the teacher theory.
In a way that isn’t totally off. You could think of Guru Dev as the mean teacher and his grandson as the bully who inexplicably was allowed to get away with murder. I decided to go along with that for the time being. The kids will learn about the evil of cults and their leaders in the years to come, but not yet.
“Yes, babies. My mother had a really mean teacher, and he was mean to me, too. He let the bully do whatever he wanted. There weren’t any grown-ups who would listen or help. But don’t worry; if a bully is mean to you, I will always be here to help. I want to hear about it and I will do everything that I can to help you.” If only someone had said those words to me as a child!
“It doesn’t sound like you had much fun the first time you were here, Mommy,” observed Olivier. He has hit the nail on the head. Truth comes out of the mouths of babes who are honest and innocent. “No, I didn’t have much fun,” I confess. “I’m having a lot more fun today with you. Let’s focus on that. I’m so glad I got to come here again with you. I love you, my sweet babies.”
Eva Mackey Meyrat, MD, is a second-generation adult whose father was a tenured professor of philosophy at the University of Texas at Austin. Her mother was a devotee of an Eastern cult that practiced a branch of Hinduism called Advaita Vedanta, a nondualistic philosophy that teaches that the self is one with the ultimate truth or reality. Half of Eva’s childhood was spent in an ashram in India, where she and the other children were unsupervised much of the day. Despite the upheavals and instability that characterized her childhood, Eva managed to get out of the cult at the age of 16 and eventually earned her MD degree from the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston. Dr. Meyrat has a busy family practice, and she lives near Dallas with her three small children.