Do you ever think of how you came to be “you”? I do. You’ll probably think that’s pretty obvious, given my introspection in this blog, but seriously, how much have you considered all of the happy (and not so happy) accidents that led to you becoming the person you are today?
The other night, I was talking with my parents on the telephone. They live in North Carolina, and I don’t see them that often – maybe once a year if we’re lucky. I could probably afford to see them more, but I hate going back to NC. It’s a huge waste of vacation days every time I go. Now how is it that I came to be the kind of person who could say what I’ve just said and only feel the slightest twinge of guilt? Maybe if they lived somewhere that had more than just a view of a corn field on one side, cotton on the other.
Anyway, my father got on the phone first, and told me about how he just got in trouble at his job for saying something that wasn’t PC. He’s a school teacher. He’s also going to be 60 this year, and grew up in a pretty isolated swatch of the country, without a lot of cultural diversity. My mother’s people are part of the cultural group that he was referencing, and he was saying something nice about this particular cultural group, just using the wrong word to compliment them. I’m saying all this because I believe in some small way, he has a slightly valid excuse for not knowing when he’s said something off-color. However…
In NO WAY do I believe he should get a pass, because there’s this little thing called the television, and another called the Internet. In my humble opinion, if you’re a school teacher (in the beleaguered NC school system, no less) that watches too much Fox News and cares nothing for growing with the times when it comes to being polite and well-spoken, it’s your own damn fault when you get in trouble for using a term that is considered a slur today. Of course, we got in a very tame argument over him being reprimanded, with him insisting that there was nothing wrong with anything he’d said, and everyone else was in the wrong. Did I learn to see both sides of an issue precisely because I realized early on that at least one of my parents was inclined to be incredibly obstinate?
After the conversation with Daddy petered out, Mum (whose name just happens to be Pat) got on the phone. She was cleaning out the back bedroom, and had just found a box of my baby clothes and some random things from high school. At first she started telling me all about the cute little outfits I had worn, and we discussed memories from my toddler years. Then we went on to talking about other things – plots of TV shows, our cats, the family, that kind of thing. Then, all of a sudden, out of seemingly nowhere, came a question.
“Did we not pay enough attention to you when you were a kid?”
I had no idea where she was coming from. I didn’t know how to answer. Then she began to elaborate: while cleaning out the bedroom, she’d found at least one (but probably multiple, if I know her avoidance techniques well) diaries from when I was in high school. She was READING it. *Groan* Apparently, I’d written about how I was doing all of these extracurricular activities, but no one seemed to care. After reading that, she found a packet of photographs from that time period, and was sorting through. She didn’t recognize any of the photos of my school dances and events.
The answer was too difficult to tell her. How do you say, “No Mum, you weren’t there enough?” when the answer is much more complicated? Neither of my parents ever came to one of my track meets. When I lost my first 400m race, the coach was the only person there to hold me as I sobbed uncontrollably. I was in the ROTC color guard and drill teams for four years of high school. Neither of my parents came to any of my drill meets, though my mother saw me present the colors at one or two school events (the intro session to parent-teacher conferences, I believe). I was on the Quiz Bowl team for four years – JV Captain for two years and Varsity Co-Captain for two years – and my father never came to a match. Mum came to one, during my senior year. My very first school dance, my father was away on a camping trip with the Boy Scouts. For my prom, all I ever wanted – and talked about – was that the stairs in my house would be finished (I grew up in a half-built house) so I could walk down them in my prom dress and meet my date at the landing. I talked about it for YEARS. It never happened, and on top of that, when my first prom came around, my father was again away on a camping trip. My second prom was a disaster, but by then I had given up, and was just excited that I’d be out of the state soon at college. I could go on, but there’s no use. Short answer: no, they didn’t pay enough attention to me.
I was a straight A student. I graduated 7th in my class, and never missed a day of school (seriously, I got an award for it). Until my senior year, I didn’t dare do a single thing out of line, and even when I misbehaved, it was VERY tame in comparison to what every other teen I’ve pretty much ever met did around that time. But Daddy was always working or off on some camping trip, and Mum, though she loved (and loves) me beyond words, wasn’t interested in anything I was doing. She has always had her own priorities, and I think my overachieving might have made her more uncomfortable than proud. It’s not her fault, it’s who she is. I’ve long ago gotten over it – but obviously I hadn’t back in high school.
Mum, if you’re reading this – I love you with all my heart. No, you weren’t there as much as I might have wanted you, but you were there as much as I needed you. Because of you I’ve grown up strong, independent, and able to understand that other peoples’ praise doesn’t matter half as much as some people think it does. I have a very strong sense of self-worth now, and it’s most likely due to having to be my own cheerleader. Yeah, I would have loved if you had come to more of my school activities, especially since I ran myself into the ground trying to impress you and Daddy, and no one noticed at all. And to be honest, we’re all probably lucky that I wasn’t needy enough to turn it around and become a bad girl to get your attention. But I didn’t, and I turned out pretty well – as did our relationship. You’ve always been the person I can talk to about (almost) anything and know you’ll try your best to understand and not judge – unlike some adorably pig-headed fathers we know. I wouldn’t trade that for anything.
Bottom line: please don’t get yourself down over reading something that 16 year-old me said way back when. Also, stop reading my diaries, crazy lady – they were private then, and they’re still private now. It’s your own fault if you find something scandalous in there.