When I am deep into my recurring fantasy of becoming a guitar virtuoso and studying new chord progressions and fingerings, I hear guitar licks everywhere. On the radio, at the mall, in elevators. That Am7 sounds so great after a D—why didn’t I ever think of that? I get out my binoculars at Eric Clapton and Bonnie Raitt concerts to watch their hands fly down the fret board and see whether they are using a flat pick or a bottleneck.
If I am on a cooking jag, I notice the ingredients in every meal I order at a restaurant. Oh, they’re using saffron in this. Or fresh basil. Ah, I detect a dash of nutmeg. I study the way Ina Garten chops garlic or debones a chicken. How does Bobby Flay make that vinaigrette? And, when I’m shopping for a car, I notice the brand I’ve been test driving at every traffic light.
The lens that shapes my view of the world shifted again when I was immersed in the research for my memoir, Replacement Child. I’ve been told by others that they have noticed the same thing after reading it, that once you are familiar with the term, you find replacement children everywhere. As characters in books, or hiding in history books. Whether they take a front seat, or are mentioned in passing, their presence reminds me that my experience is not an isolated occurence. I get to wondering why didn’t recognize myself in these characters and stories before?
Recently I was reading Ursula Hegi’s Salt Dancers and was startled by the description of the father in the story as a classic replacement child. He was named for the brother who died in a drowning accident. When he was taken to the cemetery to visit his brother’s grave, he would see his own name on the marker.
In John Irving’s Widow for One Year, the daughter Ruth is born after the death of the couple’s twin boys. The mother, Marion, leaves, and instead of trying for custody of Ruth, she takes the photos and negatives of the deceased boys. She didn’t want Ruth in the first place. It was her husband’s idea.
Pat Conroy’s narrator in South of Broad, Leopold Bloom King, is the replacement for his brother who committed suicide, with the family struggling through the shattering effects of the death.
They even show up in TV series. In one Private Practice episode a couple of years back, Dr. Cooper Freedman (Coop) described himself as a replacement child, having been adopted, and described how his role in his family accounted for some of his neuroses; never being good enough, never having a sense of his own identity.
History is filled with high profile replacement children. Some of the more famous are Shakespeare, Carl Gustav Jung, Freud and Picasso. But, not many talk about the fact that Adolf Hitler was also a replacement child of sorts, his mother losing three children to diphtheria, all within a matter of weeks, just a year and a half before Hitler was born.
That brings us to the multitude of second and third generation replacement children resulting from the holocaust. There are over 150,000 second generation children of survivors (Children of Job, Alan L. Berger, 1997). Some scholarly papers suggest that an entire generation of Jews is a replacement generation, with the responsibility to live ever more fully and accomplish what a lost generation never would. In a haunting sentence, Elie Wiesel says in the foreward of Berger’s book, “’The children of Job’ will never detach themselves from the tragedy that gave birth to them.
There is also argument made in psychological circles about China being a country of replacement children; with mandated one-child families and parents who manifest their only child with the full force of the parents’ hopes, dreams and expectations.
When I began writing Replacement Child, I truly thought it was about my own singular experience; written through my lens of being a replacement child. Quickly, I recognized the multitude of variations the term encompasses, and I see brethren everywhere.