It’s a natural rite of passage to hate your parents for a few months—some even let that period stretch into a series of years, decades. A rare collective even coast through a lifetime of estrangement from their folks.
I’ll be honest, I had my grousing period—I was no stranger to the angst-y, teenybopper wails of ‘you don’t understand me!’ and ‘why are you trying to ruin my liiiiii(insert nasal twang)fe?!?’ I had my share of bad-news boyfriends who got into (possibly premeditated) mini-bike crashes right around the corner of my house, I most definitely snuck out of the house donning everything from tacky, fringe skirts to fuzzy fleece PJs with only my baby brother in the know. I even tried, once, to run away from home altogether.
I was, by no barometer, an easy child. Sure, I stayed away from drugs and have still never smoked a cigarette and hadn’t had a real drink till I hit 21 (I assure you, I’m making up for lost time by drinking my weight in Sangria). But I realize now, when I look at the pie chart of my life, that my ‘wild days’ were but a sliver in comparison to the big fat chunk spent being relatively quotidian.
Now, I often feel afraid of this normalcy—quite specifically, in terms of my writing. A film I recently watched made me revisit an alarming thought I’ve always tried to cast aside—“A writer is the sum of their experiences”.
The writer in me thinks (excuse the deep-rooted fucked-upness of this thought) if I had been beaten as a child, or starved a few days…would it squeeze out those few drops of drama and intrigue that my work lacks, simply because my parents instead played The Beatles on Sunday mornings while we all ate bacon and eggs, or because they let me drink wine at age four like some sort of…of…Parisian.
But, those select days aside (more on that subject—tune in next week), I’ve had the kind of upbringing that brings a tinge of envy to my friends and colleagues’ faces (and, inevitably, adds a modicum of shock value to the conversation.
They can’t believe that my mother will talk about sex with me—you know, as if it were this regular, everyday (if you’re lucky) thing for grown-ups to do (“perish the thought!”). Or my father will happily pour me a drink as we all sit together on a Saturday, instead of pretending like I’m some liquor-celibate 25 year old who’d sooner have her intestines pierced than touch a drop of ‘the stuff’.
It seems bizarre when I mention it to people—that I was raised in an environment where I could do the things people would routinely do at any given age on the angsty-adolescent spectrum and not have to lie about it.
In degrees, everybody has, and still is, shading their folks from the full truth of their lives. And I find it odd (and frustrating) when everyone can’t be quite as ‘out there’ about their miscellaneous shenanigans as I always tend to be.
For a while, as most people are wont to do, I gave myself credit with great largesse. ‘What a hero I am,’ I thought of myself, proud and beaming inwardly for no real reason (the same act enacted physically often lands you in a straitjacket). ‘I fear NOONE! I am Thor! Slash IRONMAN! Slash some chap from one of those comics I will never read because turning green in fury and slamming hammers about is not really my jam.’
It was only after several conversations with a mix of people that I discovered I was ineligible for this grand title I had proffered upon myself. I had thought myself a stallion of steel, a true braveheart—but I’d overlooked the little fact been padded with artillery my whole life. The reason I felt so Gangster 24/7 was because my parents had raised me to believe that I could do what I wanted to, and that it was my job to get my shit together. And, that I had right to be absolutely unapologetic about it.
I’d like to illustrate the example of my case by citing the case of a friend of mine (we’ll call her T). This friend, a result of the very antithesis of my upbringing, is somebody whose style of existence has always rankled with me.
T was raised by ‘conservative’ parents (that took that word to an altogether certifiable level). T was raised to believe that she ought to stay a virgin until marriage. In fact, boys in general = bad. ‘Do not speak to, do not be friends with—try to not to be seen by too, if possible’.
She grew up going to church every Sunday (not a bad thing, if you’re actually into it…which by all accounts, she wasn’t).
She grew up being treated in a subversively sexist fashion all her life (“We’re not saying it’s your job to make us dinner, set the table, iron the clothes and help with the baby because you’re a woman….but hey, your brother or father shouldn’t have to do that kind of stuff!”)
She grew up with them pretending like sex wasn’t a real thing (“just marital duties, babylove”).
She grew up being told that night-outs with friends (even sleepovers with other girls) just weren’t kosher.
And scarily enough, I bet her parents thought they were raising her fantastically. Good values + virgin bride = Grade A renting; check.
Or so they would’ve thought.
My folks, on the other hand, played loads of classic rock on booming speakers throughout my childhood.
My mother had ‘the talk’ with me in a restaurant at the age of 11—and she brought diagrams and printouts to ensure minimal confusion.
They let boys come over and hang out and they treated them like people, not sperm-spewing threats to their daughter’s good name.
They still tell me to go backpacking around Bhutan or someplace random and exhilarating instead of encouraging me to stew in a corporate office like I am right now.
One child is currently in a job that combines what she likes doing with a degree of stability (how passé, but whatever, we all need to eat).
She’s with somebody who loves her madly, that she loves madly—who makes her happy and inspires her creatively (a douchey, but still somewhat romantic aspiration).
She has friends she’s been with for years or months or days—all of whom are in her life because those relationships are real.
She wakes up morning every honest and impenitent—whether that works to her advantage or detriment, only time will tell. But she lives an easy life, because she has nothing to hide. And nothing to fear.
The other has no semblance or notion of where she wants to go or what she wants to be. As a result, she meanders and gropes in the dark for something that makes her feel like she has a purpose.
She sleeps with countless men, ensnared regularly by liars and bastards and utter creeps in the hope of finding someone who can fix her.
She feels friendships slipping away fast and furious because, entangled in all those lies to her parents (“I’m not at a party! I’m staying in college—for work! I’ve never even kissed a boy, mother! At 25? It’d be unthinkable!”), she’s been lying to her friends too much for her to keep up. And for them to deal with.
She wakes up every morning plotting the untruths to tell, to live her life in a fashion close to normal. I can’t speak for her much (though I suppose already, have) but I can only guess she wakes up heavy with fresh and stale secrets to store and carry through her day.
Match the parents to the child, please.
In the thick of this ceaseless rambling, I do have a point—albeit not as dynamite as you might expect. The grand seed of the fruit is, my parents clearly did something right.
I’m not, by any means, attempting to portray myself as the ‘Ultimate Child—yours for 299 only!’ I’m simply attempting to thank my folks for raising me in a way that nurtured me instead of crippling me. That created a space so unfettered and free for me to grow up in that I grew up secure and happy. I wake up in the morning with problems that can be fixed—and I can be confident in who I am because they let me figure out who that was.
It saddens me that somewhere, T’s parents are sitting innocently in their Jesus-paraphernalia ridden living room, believing their pristine, unmarred daughter is working hard overnight at college while she drinks herself into oblivion and adds to her list of myriad mistakes.
It saddens me that she’ll never have something that her parents didn’t account for in their planning out of home, check; husband, check; good in-law feedback, check—it saddens me that she’ll probably never have a real sense of self respect.
Mother, father; if you’re reading this, I’m so glad you did things your way. Because if you hadn’t, I would never have learnt what it meant to do things my way.