Wednesday, May 24, 2006
Teach your children well
And it's still possible they'll go to hell in a handbasket. Sometimes, thank heavens, it's temporary; other times, it's permanent. There are no guarantees in life, and the child-to-adult transition is just one example. That cute gap-toothed kid in first grade who brings home hand-woven potholders and pictures that say "I heart Mom and Dad!" can turn into the adolescent or grown-up who gives you heartache, instead. OmegaMom's family history is full of kids who go off on wild tears, some of whom then continued on to settle down to a nice staid adult life, others who didn't. I don't speak much of Eldest Brother (now deceased), but he was a "one who didn't". He didn't do drugs or much drinking (that I know of)--his drug of choice was Dr Pepper. But his adult life was typified by a "me-first" attitude; he would be the first to call the police if someone else was impinging on his life, but be loudly and indignantly angry if someone else thought he should have the police called on him. In my twenties, I amused friends and coworkers with tales of his exploits which left them gasping with awe, saying, "No! He didn't!" Well, yes, he did. This was the brother who scandalized one elderly auntie at my grandfather's funeral by regaling her with the tale of how he took potshots at rats from his taxicab while waiting for a fare at the Evanston El station. Then he complained about how the police impounded the weapon and arrested him and how unfair it all was. The elderly auntie, to her credit, fell back on her upbringing, and upheld her end of the conversation with poise and flair. He was raised by the same mother as OmegaBro, a fuddy duddy in biology who planned out his life at age 14 and followed that path steadfastly for decades. Same mom, different results. I have a dear friend who was a mess in her teens. Sent to drug rehab at age 13. Miserable with a move to Colorado, she ran away from home at 16. She dropped out of high school, and led a wandering existence for a few years. All of this, I'm sure, helped her mom's hair go grey. At 27, tired of the direction her life was going, she got her GED, returned to college to get a degree in creative writing, and proceeded to get a 4.0 GPA. In her last year, due to a personal encounter with people in the medical profession, she switched majors from creative writing to pre-med, maintained her perfect GPA, and is now, years later, a successful doctor. Her mother never would have imagined that end result during those turbulent teen years. A family member raised as an only child by doting parents Met A Boy at age 15...the boy was 19. The parents, figuring "better the Devil you know", allowed the relationship, while other family members gave it the hairy eyeball. (OmegaDad and OmegaBro were amusingly parallel in their varied cynical commentary.) When she turned 18, she promptly married him. They promptly had a child. When she turned 19, she filed for divorce. I don't know how her parents viewed the whole affair, but they must have had some of those nights that parents have, the kind where both of you are lying on your back in bed, staring into the darkness, and saying, "So...what do we do about this?!" A cousin of mine ran away from home at age 16; he and his girlfriend disappeared, then resurfaced months later after having lived together in Texas. I remember him climbing the steps of our front porch and shouting out, "HOWDY, y'all!" when he returned...it seemed very romantic to me at the time (age 9), but I know his mother had six months of nightly miseries, wondering where he was, whether he was doing okay, whether he was even alive or not. Now he's a stout, greying bureaucrat working for the state, happily married with a grown child of his own. Even I, mousy and quiet as I was (a Good Girl), probably gave my parents some of those moments of angst in the middle of the night, the wondering "what on earth is she doing??". There are, as I said, no guarantees. An internet friend, sweet and kind and thoughtful, is dealing with her eldest daughter entering adulthood and making some big mistakes, causing her severe heartache. All we can do is recount our own mistakes and those of other on-the-verge-of-adulthood people we know or knew, and try to reassure her. My own sweet dotter with her twinkling toes who peeps around the door jamb and dissolves into giggles when I chase after her with the Tickle Hands--who knows what adolescence and adulthood will bring? I think of C., of my aunt, of my friend's mom, of my dad, and I know that, on the whole, (cliché alert!) kids ride out the stormy transition to adulthood and come out the other side older and wiser. But during that wild ride, the parents are left to stand back, to let go, to let the kids make their own mistakes, to hope like hell the end result is good, and to pop Tums and pad the house in their slippers and robes in the middle of the night, with a lump in their stomach and the knowledge that "I can't fix it for them". Here's to all the parents in the middle of that stage right now. I have a very small inkling now of how hard it must be.