“I loved you even during the years
When you knew nothing
And I knew everything, I loved you still.
Condescendingly of course,
From my high perch
Of teenage wisdom.
I spoke sharply to you, often
Because you were slow to understand.
I grew older and
Was stunned to find
How much wisdom you had gleaned.
And so quickly.”
-Maya Angelou, from her book “Mother, A Cradle to Hold Me”
While there was certainly a time I could never imagine thanking my parents for anything, that time is fortunately long gone. Certainly becoming a mother has had something to do with that, as has the very-gradual development of my frontal cortex. And now I can appreciate many of the brilliant and selfless things they did for me.
However, in an age when children playing kick the can until the streetlights turn on is a nostalgic vision from the past, I can truly appreciate that aspects of my childhood were charmed.
Here are some things my parents did right:
They taught myself and my siblings to say no to drugs, not to talk to strangers, and how to respond if anyone tries to touch us inappropriately. They taught us to look both ways before crossing the street. They had us always tell them where we were going and when we would be back. They taught us what to do if we get lost anywhere (look for a mother with children and ask for help) via this song.
Then, they let us run outside.
While my friends next door were only allowed to venture one house down in either direction, I walked to the neighborhood pool with my siblings, biked to the ice cream shop, and bought Sunkist sodas to drink while exploring the deep creeks that functioned as irrigation ditches in our neighborhood.
I remember times when I didn’t even bring my backpack inside after coming home from school; I just dropped it on the front lawn and got right to the business of playing. And yes, I frequently didn’t go inside until dinner. And no, my backpack was never stolen.
And yes, I also did weird things like build myself a “nest” in our pecan tree and sit up there for hours, pretending I was a bird. Or a squirrel. I built a lean-to to live in. Then my sister and I decided we wanted to move in to our backyard storage shed, so we cleaned it out and pretended it was our house.
We were only allowed to watch T.V. on weekends and dial-up internet was gratingly slow. Thus, although I have wonderful memories of death by dysentery while playing Oregon Trail on rainy evenings, most of our entertainment was self-made.
This environment fostered creativity, imagination, problem-solving, and active lifestyles for us. We made up innumerable games, many of which featured us as oppressed-but-persevering heroes and heroines, running away from the orphanage, sailing on dangerous voyages, and surviving evil captors who only allowed us to eat one raisin per day. We put on plays (which also featured us as oppressed-but-persevering, brilliant and bold characters), played capture the flag and red rover, “invented” things, climbed trees, and created art.
This kind of childhood is now more the exception than the rule, which I see as being quite unfortunate. Admittedly, not all neighborhoods are safe enough to allow children such freedom, and thus there is privilege in growing up the way I did. Add to that sensationalist news coverage, societal emphasis on giving our children the best opportunities through micro-managing, and the normal protective-parent instinct, and you have the perfect storm for parent-directed entertainment and limited time outside for children that is seen so frequently with our youngest generation.
And I completely get the protective parent thing, as the first emotion I was overcome with when my first daughter slipped into my hands and into this world was less warm-and-fuzzy and more “I will kill for this child and gladly lay down my life for her so I just dare anyone to try and hurt her because I will transform into a literal psycho grizzly bear and destroy said hypothetical person.” Then: “Oh yes, please do help me limp over to the bed and pour water into my mouth because I am so weak at the moment. Thank you. Also, please give me all the percocet. Thanks again.”
(The warm fuzzies came later).
So to give Warrior Girl and her future sister the opportunities for freedom, fresh air, and self-determination I was granted as a child, I will have to practice my FAVORITE THING IN THE WHOLE WORLD: letting go. Actually, I hate letting go. But sometimes there’s just no way around it and I have to stop making things harder on myself by being completely nuts.
Fortunately, Warrior Girl is only 2, so I have some time to get my Zen on before she is walking to the playground by herself.
But anyway, thanks Mom and Dad! 😀
Were your parents more the free-range type, the helicopter-y type, or somewhere in between? How did that impact you growing up? Where on the spectrum would you say your style falls, and where do you wish it fell?
Share in the comments below!