I was born the youngest of four children in my family. Some say that I must have been spoiled for having been the “baby” of the family, but that was not my experience.

My sister was the oldest and only girl. Being the only girl, she had a special bond with my mother. My mother gave her special attention, talked with her at bedtime, and gave her the master bedroom wherever we lived (she shared the master bathroom with my parents).

Being the youngest, I got the used items of my older siblings (i.e., “hand-me-downs”). By the time I got the teddy bear, it didn’t have any eyes; I had to draw my own. And of course I received the used clothes of my brothers.

I also remember receiving my sister’s underwear. Back when I was growing up in the 1960s, a kid being caught in his underwear was traumatic fear. Today, of course, it is nothing to see a kid with low-hanging pants that show off his underwear; even heroes like Michael Jordon parade in their underwear on TV.

But in my day no kid wanted to be seen in his underwear. Imagine my dread of being discovered in girl’s underwear!

Childhood was hard on me as I suspect it was hard on many of you. Beside parents who lacked understanding, care, or sympathy, there were the trials of school and of other children.

School in my day, and to a large extent today, did not teach the life skills necessary for adulthood. Schools focused on the three “Rs” of reading, writing, and arithmetic. I did not learn the social skills of how to make friends or be part of a group. I did not learn life skills such as setting goals or self-motivation.

Children by nature have a mean streak and can be cruel. We are born with the innate animal instinct to be top dog; there is a pecking order. As such, kids will pick on the weaker; calling them names, bullying them, or beating them up. As a kid I was on both ends of this—I was picked on and I picked on other kids.

Having been a teacher I have seen this often. Kids will withhold their friendship if they don’t get their way (“I’m not going to be your friend”). They will laugh at another’s mistakes. They will call each other cruel names.

When I finished high school I was a mess. I didn’t have any goals, I was depressed, and I was lonely. But a book about overcoming shyness, given to me as a Christmas present, started me on my path of self-help, of overcoming the traumas of childhood and learning the necessary skills for a successful life.

No matter what your childhood was like, all of us can benefit from improving ourselves. We can always be better, there is always room to grow. Life is a journey where we are constantly presented with life lessons. Take those opportunities to become the best you that you can be.

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