Replacement Children Show Up Everywhere #RCmandel

cropped-DSC_1967.jpgWhen 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.

An Interview That Made Me Think

Last week I had a conversation with Dr. Abigail Brenner, who blogs for Psychology Today, about her experiences with replacement children, and mine being one. Although I’ve written a great deal about the topic, our conversation brought up some new insights for me. You can read it on the Psychology Today site here.


The clarity to see inner beauty – my story of Purim

33 Mom & Dad at the Purim festival

I wanted to be Queen Esther. She was the real hero in the Purim play.

Purim is the Feast of Lots, commemorating the Jews being saved once again from extinction. There were never enough parts for girls, and I was cast as Esther’s uncle, Mordechai. I wore a black mustache and cape, which almost made up for not being the queen.

I instinctively loved Queen Esther, whose name is derived from the Hebrew saiter, meaning concealment. The story goes that she saw through to her hidden role to save her people. Her other name—Hadassah—references the clarity of her eyes to see beyond surface realities to inner beauty.

Esther belonged to no one. Her father died before her birth, her mother in childbirth. Loneliness nurtured her, preparing her for her purpose and making her a master at breaking through the illusory trappings of the physical world.

The Purim carnival featured homemade games. Knocking over milk bottles, bursting balloons with darts, throwing ping-pong balls into fishbowls to win a goldfish.

My mother and father were always the “Pic-a-Pocket Lady” and “Pic-a-Pocket Man” at the carnival. My mother sewed the costumes on her brown Singer sewing machine. Sliding material under the needle, she turned the fabric around and around while she worked the foot pedal, pulling out the straight pins as she sewed, holding them between her lips.

Her outfit had a swingy pink and blue flowered skirt covered with pockets. A poofy yellow silk flower in her blouse “just for fun.” Big gold hoop earrings to “fill my gypsy spirit.”

My father wore a straw hat from New Year’s Eve. His vest and pants had about fifty pockets sewn on them. He wore a tray over his shoulders “like a cigarette girl” with extra prizes to refill the pockets.

“Stay with your big sister,” my mother told me before the carnival started. “Come get me if you need me.”

I didn’t have to ask what she meant.

Later, she saw us both sitting in a corner and came to check on us. The toys in her pockets clacked as she sat down.

“The kids pushed me away from that bowling game. They said they are afraid they’ll catch whatever made me look like this,” Linda told her.

I nodded yes when my mother looked over at me. She got up and walked away, coming back in a few minutes and telling us to go back to the game. Linda and I looked at each other, agreeing silently to trust our mother and try again. Sure enough, all those kids had changed their attitude. I learned later that my mother had gone over and explained that Linda was not contagious, it was only scars from burns that they saw, and she elicited the support of the woman running the game.

Queen Esther could see beyond the facade of reality and make others see it, too.


Excerpted from Replacement Child – a memoir.

Carl Gustav Jung on the replacement child

carl_jung-glassesJung was a replacement child

Carl Gustav Jung was born on July 26, 1875 after his mother Emilie mourned the deaths of three children: a daughter stillborn on July 19,1870, a second daughter stillborn on April 3, 1872 and a son named Paul named after his father, born on August 18, 1873 who died five days later.(Deirdre Bair, Jung, A Biography, 2004, p. 18)

“I know only that I am without knowing what I am” (p. 304, Red Book)

“I feel very strongly that I am under the influence of things or questions which were left incomplete and unanswered by my parents and grandparents and more distant ancestors. It often seems as if there were an impersonal karma within a family which is passed on from parents to children.” C.G. Jung (Memoires, Dreams and Reflections, p. 233)

On healing the replacement child: Finding identity

“The psyche is transformed or developed by the relationship of the ego to the contents of the unconscious“ which is “the central concept of my psychology: the process of individuation,” says Carl Gustav Jung. (MDR, p.209)

Jung on the legacy of the dead: trans-generational impact

“These… are the dead, not just your dead, that is all the images of the shapes you took in the past, which your ongoing life has left behind, but also the thronging dead of human history, the ghostly procession of the past, …I see behind you, behind the mirror of your eyes, the crush of dangerous shadows, the dead, who look greedily through empty sockets of your eyes, who moan and hope to gather up through you all the loose ends of the ages, which sigh in them. Your cluelessness does not prove anything. Put your ear to that wall and you will hear the rustling of their procession.” Carl Gustav Jung, The Red Book, Liber Secundus, p. 296

“the dead will besiege you terribly to live your unlived life”. (C.G. Jung, RB, page 308)

My story in The Word @ASJA


In anticipation of my panel on memoir for 2013 ASJA Conference, I shared my writing journey to my memoir Replacement Child in The Word:

A Circuitous Road to Memoir

Find out more about the 2013 ASJA Conference.