I think it’s pretty common for people to talk about how their parents fucked up. From petty grievances like, say, being an incredibly embarrassing audience member (from theater to sports) to for-real shit, like abuse, everyone has SOMETHING to say about how their parents fucked up. My grievances, I suppose, for the most part are in the former category. My parents and I managed to butt heads quite a few times over the years (we exist on opposite ends of the political spectrum), and I don’t get my irrational anger from (as my mother would say) a stick or a stone. But I’m okay! A few Things here and there, but fairly well-adjusted and not, you know, an idiot. So, those issues aside (for now), I’d like to take a second to give my parents an internet high-five for doing this thing. And this thing? Was leaving me the fuck alone.
To meet me now, you’d probably not guess it, but I was SHY. PAINFULLY FUCKING SHY. I hated talking in class. The thought of team sports, wherein people might WATCH ME DO THINGS LIKE PROBABLY FUCK IT ALL UP, brought me to tears (no joke: my parents wanted me to join the swim team in our local pool, so they took me to one practice and I almost had a panic attack AT THE AGE OF SEVEN and burst into sobs.) And meeting new people was like pulling teeth. So I didn’t have a shit ton of friends. What did I do? I read. A LOT. I played Barbies and came up with Emmy-worthy plotlines for them. If I was forced outside, I would make up spells and pretend I was a witch because sure, that’s not weird at all. But you know what? Mom and Pop never forced it on me. I joined Girl Scouts because one girl (who I hated, but was the only girl I knew in my new neighborhood) was in it. There, I met my best friend who remained so for 8 years and even made a few more friends. All on my own.
Slowly but surely, I was coming out of my shell all without the help of organized sports, or local theater, or whatever the fuck else children are supposed to do when they aren’t terrified of being seen and heard in a public space. In related news, my parents also paid little attention to what I watched or listened to. I was a G’n’R fan at age 8. Clothes were up to me. Accidentally saw a rated-R move (Flatliners, specifically)? Not the end of the world. They trusted me to decide what was appropriate, and what was not. (I do have a vivid memory of my mother fuming about how “sexist” one of the Robert Palmer videos was, and being embarrassed because she had said the word “sex.” See? IT WORKED!)
The overall message was that of trust. When I was 8, I was given a watch and when we would go to the mall with my best friend, we were told we were allowed to roam freely, so long as we met back at the allotted place in an hour. And you know what? You bet your ass I was back there with my shiny new Sanrio purchases 5 minutes before we were supposed to be. Why fuck up a good thing?
Things didn’t change much when I was in high school, either. My room was decorated how I wanted it (covering every inch of wall space with pictures of Courtney Love and Trent Reznor and L7), I was at liberty to listen to whatever music I pleased, and I could basically do whatever I wanted. So long as my parents knew about it. Seriously. They didn’t understand WHY I wanted to be at IHOP so much (it was open 24 hours! And there was a smoking section!) but if that’s where I was going to be, just please call and let them know what I was doing. Show in DC? Sure. Just call and say when I was going to be home, no matter what time.
In return? I did exactly what they asked. Sure, I had my fair share of arguments with them (we do exist on opposite ends of the political spectrum), and we did have one blowout about my curfew my senior year. It was quickly resolved when they finally realized that they knew my friends, and that, duh, I would continue to pop quarters into that payphone and let them know what I was doing (oh, pre-cellphone life…). But that sense of trust had been instilled pretty early, and I wasn’t about to let my golden ticket expire. I had chores I had to do, and I did them, begrudgingly, like any teenager would. And I was Good Kid. Any trouble I got into…well, I got into that trouble safely and within the confines of private property among trusted people. Ahem. I was smart enough not to get into REAL trouble. Let’s say that.
Now that I’m a parent of a very-quickly-growing boy, I see how hard it can be to make some of these decisions. To let go and trust that your child will make the right choice. But it’s a two way street, and I am more than willing, just like my parents were with me, to allow my son to do whatever it is he wants so long as he gives me good reason to allow him. And god knows, I’m not going to make him do anything that makes him burst into tears.