I Guess I’m Still Angry

December 28, 2010

My flu did not go away in time for our trip to my parents’ house.  It stayed with me.  I had my 102 degree fever through the 2.5 hour drive south, through the Christmas Eve gathering with my brother and his absolutely adorable young children, through that night’s sleep, through the Christmas morning gift-extravaganza, through my almost-all-day-long-nap on Christmas Day, through the 2 short hours of Christmas Day that I was awake, through the snow storm that started on Sunday morning and drove us into our car more than 24 hours ahead of schedule, through the 6 hour drive home, where we apparently did not beat the storm into Boston, and through that night where I was unable to enjoy the snow and the wind and the awesomeness of winter.  Finally, yesterday, the fever waned, but I was left a little dizzy and without much energy to speak of.

I was sick enough, with little to no voice, that I could not talk to my husband about many things I wanted to talk to him about.  I just didn’t have the energy for real conversations.

One of things that kept running through my mind to discuss with him happened at the tail end of Christmas dinner, long after I had to flee to a recliner in the other room.  Let’s set the stage.

My dad invited some old family friends over.  He thought they’d come after dinner.  They did come after *their* dinner, and arrived 20 minutes before ours.  So they sat with us through our dinner, and for a few hours after.

These family friends became friends around the time that I was Mouse’s age.  12.  My mom had just found a “church home,” and was born again and baptized.  She had one mission in life:  To Convert My Father.  He had one mission in life:  To Give God the Finger.  Those missions were in conflict.

But then my mom met our family friend, who had long been a member of the church that was new to us.  He was 10 years younger than my dad, but relatively similar in appearance.  Bearded, gruff-looking.  He shared many interests with my dad.  He hunted!  He fished!  He had a motorcycle!  These things were important things in Winning Dad Over.

The short story – he was instrumental in winning my dad over.  My dad – after 3 long years – was Won Over.  Since then, the family friends and my parents no longer attend the same church, and they are not quite as close as they used to be. Even though we were very close for several years.  I think that their younger age lent to them being close to us kids, as well as to my parents.  The wives had less in common with each other, and I got along better with the wife than my mom did.  So family dynamics changed with my siblings and I growing up and moving (far) away, my dad and the husband stayed friends, but independent of the families.  They still hunt and fish together.  Once they came to Boston together, Patriots tickets in hand, and WD and I went to the game with them.

My dad remains very much Born Again and very conservative, but he is a little less conservative – behavior wise – than the family friend.  For instance, my dad enjoys alcohol beverages, while the family friend eschews all alcohol, and always has (freak).  This probably also keeps them from spending as much time together as they used to in larger social circles.  My parents now hang out with other born again people who don’t mind giggling over the fact that their margaritas went to their head.

But the family friend came over on Christmas, with his (only) daughter, who is one year older than my Lemon.   His wife was sick (she had a COLD, not the much-more-serious FLU that I had/have).

I have the same uneasy and relatively guarded relationship with this person as I do with many of my parents’ friends from that period of my life.  They must know – from my life choices and from my parents’ “prayer requests” that I no longer share their faith.  But we don’t discuss it.  I don’t cuss like a sailor around them, nor do I flaunt my Sunday Morning Sleep Ins or my raucous partying ways (ha!).  They may mention people we used to know in common, but rarely will talk about god or their faith with me.

So it was after I left the table that the Conversation happened.  I thought WD was still there.  But he doesn’t remember the conversation the way I heard it.  So maybe his feelers were up, and he left before things turned.  Maybe I hallucinated in my fever.  But this is what *I* heard, and what *I* stewed over for 3 days before I had the energy (last night at 12:30 while WD scratched my back trying to calm me down) to rant and rave with my squeaky-barely-a-whisper voice:

Family Friend’s Daughter:   Dad says I should go to B____ college in Boston. [I’m not being craftily anonymous.  I have no idea what she said — I was 3 rooms away.]

My Father:  Yeah, but not until your third year.

My Husband:  Well, what do you want to do?

Daughter:  I want to be a teacher.

My Father:  You really should just stay home for the first two years.

[small pause – perhaps wherein my husband and the high school girls left the room?]

My Father:  After all my experience with my three kids, I really feel strongly that it’s important that kids stay home for the first two years of college.  It’s a good way to ease the separation.

My Mother:  Yeah, you know, all that really matters is what the degree says, it doesn’t matter where they go to school leading up until then.

My Father:  Suzie stayed home, you know.  She went to college the first year right down the street.  And that was real good for her.   You know, they go from being dependent on you and under your roof to just out there on their own.  It’s just too much.  They need more time to ease the separation.

Family Friend:  Well, yeah, but B____ is a Christian College (why I have no clue what school he’s talking about.  What “christian” college is in Boston?  Also, for the record, in this conversation, “Christian College” means “evangelical born again college” – not “a school grounded in any faith that believes in Jesus.”  ]

My Father:  Yeah, pfft.  So was Liberty.  I mean, it was christian enough when Suzie went, but by the time her sister went, it lost a lot of its values.  [Although, for the record, if my sister got caught kissing her boyfriend, she would have gotten kicked out.  And if my sister wore a skirt that came above her knees (skirts being the only thing we were allowed to wear outside the dorms before 6 p.m.), she would have had to pay a fine.  And my sister still had to attend church 3x a week, chapel 3x a week, prayer meeting 2x a week, and had a midnight curfew.  She also wasn’t allowed to watch television, and couldn’t listen to non-evangelical music without paying a fine.]

Family Friend:  Yeah, no kidding.

My Father:  They really should stay home for 2 years.  It really helps with the separation, and the transition.

Yeah, dad, you said that already.

I think that’s a fine idea.  A good plan.  Worked well for all your kids:  Shelter your kids, tell them what to believe, who to be friends with, allow no questions to be asked – basically, refuse to prepare them for the outside world.  Then, because they are UNPREPARED, oh!  Just keep them home even longer!

Then, when they do leave all the series of bubbles that you built for them, they will not be at all maladjusted, or delayed in their maturation process.  They will not ( in 3 out of 3 cases) rush into a premature marriage at a ridiculously young age, in light of pressure from said bubble environments, eventually ending in divorce.

But wait.

This has been sarcasm.

No, let’s continue the sarcasm for a minute to say – who cares about the quality of the actual education your offspring receives during their college experience?  That is not important.  What is important is the amount of indoctrination received, the amount of oversight by adults who will ensure that children (I mean … young adults) will not be kissing other children (I mean, young adults), will not be watching Rated R movies, will not be dancing, will not be listening to music with lyrics that may suggest intimate relationships with people of the same gender, and hopefully (although less importantly … especially if they’re athletes, or boys) won’t be drinking alcohol.

Maybe I will stop ranting now.  And I will just say … I do not share my father’s priorities.  I am working to prepare my children to be ready to face the world after high school  – whether they choose to head directly to college, to partake in a gap year activity, or otherwise.  I understand that they will not be fully formed upon their graduation from high school, and I am okay with that.  I am okay with them making mistakes during their still-formative years, and making those mistakes away from home.  I feel that I can trust that those mistakes will not have life-long impacts, because they will be leaving our home armed with enough education to know what consequences result from what behavior.  They will leave our home with enough self-confidence and education to know where their own limits are.  And maybe that won’t protect them.  Maybe serious mistakes will *still* happen.  But I will have done all I can – and I will have done my best, and I will be UNABLE to prevent everything from happening to my ADULT children.


The whole time I was in high school, my parents insisted that I get “good grades” so I could “go to college.”  It didn’t sink in for me.  I didn’t want to do the work to get “good grades.”  I didn’t have a goal other than to “go to college.”   At the same time, mother often talked about my future ONLY as when I got married and had children and took care of my children … While I do not remember exactly how I viewed my own future during my childhood, I am not surprised today at my lack of goals then.

I didn’t do well in high school.  I was smart enough – I could pull off my final exams with As and A+s, but after averaging them in with a semester’s worth of missing and late homework assignments, I was a pretty solid C student.

When I was a junior in high school, I started dating a boy that my parents hated. We fought about it.  I kind of won, and kept dating him.  Until they found out that we had … well … that I wasn’t a virgin.

Two years of intense fighting, grounding, family counseling – absolute misery – ensued.  My grades suffered.  I almost enjoyed the look on my parents’ faces when they saw the grades I brought home.  There weren’t many ways that I could return the misery that I felt they were inflicting on me (of course, the entire package of this mess inflicted plenty of suffering on all of us.)  I was solidly a non-college path.

During that time, I had a job in a law office working as a Girl Friday.  I did secretarial tasks, I ran to the court, I ran to other offices.  I did computer projects.  I liked it.  My mom started to fantasize about my life as a Legal Secretary, and how well I would do.  “Did you know that Aunt Marge knows someone who works as a Legal Secretary in the City, and she makes $70,000!!  Just think of the things you could do?”

It wasn’t until spring of my senior year that I realized that everything in my life was about rebelling against my parents, and I was sick of it.  I broke up with the boyfriend, and started caring about school.  I filled out college applications.  I told my parents I accepted Jesus as my Lord & Savior, and that I was sorry for being so stubborn.

But they told me I couldn’t go away to college.  Not until I proved myself.

Academically, it made sense.  I really didn’t get decent grades until my last semester of high school.  Then I got all As.  They didn’t want to pay for room and board just to watch me flunk out.  They weren’t super well off, and that made sense.

But they also made it clear that they “didn’t trust me yet.”  To behave.  Not to slip into my non-Christian ways.

So I stayed home. For my first year of college.

It really didn’t have anything to do with “easing the separation” or the fact that I was “depending on getting everything under their roof for my whole life.”  (What does that even MEAN?)

I guess we all try to do things with our past to make it work for us.  That makes us feel better about the decisions we made, and the paths we chose.  But when I hear my parents contort the things that shaped my life in relatively meaningful ways so that it works for them, it really upsets me.   I think my dad looks at where I am now, and glosses over what happened in between.  Maybe he really thinks that I am “where I am today” because he didn’t trust me to move out of his house when I was 17 years old and a freshman in college.

He looks at me, and sees the first person on his side of the family to graduate with a college degree.  He looks, and he sees that I went to law school, that I work in a very tall building in a very big city.  I live in a city.  I have two teen daughters who get straight As and play sports and have really great senses of humor.

Sure, I got divorced, and he does not approve.  But do you know how easy it is for him to place all the blame on my ex husband?  Just as easy as it is for my ex husband’s family to place all the blame on ME.  So they can continue to love their son, unconditionally, and enjoy his new spouse and his new family.

I look at me, and I wonder what I could have done with my life if I left my parents’ house solid in who I was?  If I didn’t squander away high school rebelling against rules designed to keep me biblical, if I didn’t spend 3 years at Liberty being told how to think, what to believe, what party to join?  And then another 3 years — while getting married and having babies — wrestling with how that all conflicted with the world BEYOND Liberty?  Then another 3 years trying to take this new reality and figure out who I was inside of it?  Now with a divorce, a 6-year-old, a 3-year-old, and a house to support?  Then another 3 years, as the kids inched their way through Kindergarten, first grade, second grade … trying to get my feet under me, paying off the debt from the ex’s ph.d., the years of floundering, and figuring out how to pursue my OWN goals?  Then another 3 years attending law school?

And now I’m 38 years old, my oldest is 3 years away from college which is almost completely un-funded, I still rent in a very expensive city, and feel way behind.

Of course this is not ONLY because I stayed home for my first year of college.

But I believe it’s all twisted up into the point of view that makes him say that.  At least somewhat.



One comment

  1. I have friends that put so much energy into trying to keep their kids home–or close. I have a friend who has very quietly manipulated her kids into choosing colleges that are in towns where the college is really the only major business–this way they won’t get jobs and not come home. It baffles me.

    My husband and I both agree that we are willing to move heaven and earth to give our kids the away experience and to let them fly.

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