Why parents can play it cool
By: Samantha Gendler
Growing up, I couldn’t wait to get out of the house so I could finally prove to my parents that I was right and they were wrong on every level.
I was that kid in school with the worst lunch. While other kids stood in line to buy pizza and donuts, I was stuck munching carrot sticks or pita and hummus in a baggie. My dad put everything in a baggie, even salad with dressing.
I was envious of the people with the good lunches—my best friend Sharon always had white bread with marshmallow fluff and peanut butter. I wanted white bread so badly but my parents balked at my begging. Meanwhile, I was struggling to find the actual dough in the slices that made up my own sandwich; it was always incredibly dense, about 2 inches thick, and comprised only of seeds, grains and nuts. My dad proudly made these creations in his breadmaker, tossing in anything (and everything) he could find. The closest I ever came to soda was being allowed to add a splash of seltzer water into my apple juice. At friends’ houses, I binged crazily on every chip, candy and video game in sight. Yeah, we didn’t have those either.
My mom was equally embarrassingly horrible. The woman just could not make a good ponytail. We’d fight every morning about it. She’d make my pony, it’d be full of bumps, I’d cry and pull it out. She insisted that it was cooler to have it look a little messy anyway. What did she know about cool? Then we’d hear the school bus come around the corner, and I’d race out the door, pulling the ponytail out, as she screamed after me “WEAR YOUR COAT!”
Together, my parents made it virtually impossible for me to rebel. I plastered my room in posters of Billy Corgan and Jim Morrison—they loved it! I had parties when they went out of town—they trusted me! I became a vegetarian—it was my choice! I’m telling you, it was bizarre. In fact, they often introduced me to the very music other parents were forbidding their kids to hear. It was not unusual for my mom to be bombing through the carpool line, windows down in the Volvo station wagon (complete with Silverchair sticker) rocking out to Alanis Morisette and the Violent Femmes. She’d turn it down on every “f” word, but she wasn’t fooling me.
Years later, before I left for college, mom and dad tried to outfit me with a good backpack, tennis shoes and puffy coat for walking around campus. Were they crazy? I was going to be a cute, sophisticated college girl. I would carry a purse, wear tank tops and most certainly not wear sneakers. But I humored them—in any case, they would be clueless as to what I was doing at school (a whole 30 minutes away).
At last, I was in college, rooming with my best friend since middle school, Danielle. The first day of classes came, and we set out on the sprawling campus together. I wore platform sandals, a tank top, and carried my books (they wouldn’t fit in my college-girl purse). We were anxious and excited as we headed off to the lecture hall, which was just down a stone staircase and across the parking lot from our dorm. Then I tripped on my platform sandal and tumbled down every step of that stone staircase. My books went flying. My college-girl purse and I were covered in mud. And Danielle, my supportive best-friend since sixth grade, just about died from laughter. It had to have been a good solid minute before she could catch her breath enough to ask if I was OK. There was no time to change, so I headed into Greek Mythology looking like a mud puddle, where all of the other girls were in sweatshirts and sneakers. This was the first of many sandal-induced falls that semester, two of which landed me in the hospital. After that, I invested in a few cute pairs of Pumas.
Throughout the rest of that first semester, I tried other forms of rebellion. I drank Diet Coke every morning before my 8 a.m. class, and often in the middle of the night—it made me gassy and bloated. I stayed on my laptop in bed playing games and chatting until 4 a.m.—Danielle couldn’t sleep and I couldn’t wake up for class. I used all my meal points on Ben & Jerry’s—I gained a good 15 pounds. I didn’t shower for long periods of time or shave my legs—Danielle informed me that I smelled like feta cheese.
And the worst part was, I still couldn’t do much to upset the parents. I left for entire summers to travel with rock bands—mom packed me first aid kits. I dated much older guys—they didn’t bat an eye. I told them I was voting for Dennis Kucinich—still not fazed. I traveled in RVs to dirty hippie music festivals—they decided to come too!
Pretty soon it became clear—my parents had been right about everything. Really though, everything. This realization was dreadful and reassuring all at once. I was going to make the right choices, because somehow, they instilled it within me, without outwardly nagging me (too much). It’s still a weird phenomenon to me that I find myself buying granola, grainy bread and seltzer water; that I’d rather read a book than play a video game any day; and that I think Volvo station wagons are actually pretty awesome. My advice to parents today is to just go with the flow. You can annoy your kids to no end with the reassurance that you trust them. It will drive them crazy and they will behave: a win-win situation.
And yes Mom, you were right, messy ponytails are way cooler than perfect ones.
Tell us: What have you realized your parents were right about? Do you want to follow in the footsteps of their parenting style?