Monday, October 31, 2016

When Parents Become Their Kids' Friends

My mom NEVER would have done this, but she found her own ways of embarrassing me.

I was talking with a close friend a few days ago about the kid/parent dynamic. The friend with whom I was conversing spent part of his career as a professional interrogator.  Being in that line of work will inevitably impact a person's style of parenting. When a parent is adept at most of the techniques available in the information-gaining trade, whether the techniques be trickery, intimidation, ability to read body language, ability to trip someone into inconsistencies in their answers and the ability to very quickly recognize those inconsistencies, and all sorts of related tactics, and the ability to remain revoltingly calm throughout the process, such skills make it next-to-impossible for a child to pull very much wool over the eyes of a parent. 

My parents were not in law enforcement or a related field, but my mom was a school administrator in my district of attendance from the time I was in middle school until I graduated from high school. Her background as a licensed clinical psychologist (in addition to school administrator) may have made her a slightly better-than-average interrogator, but there was nothing legendary in her questioning skills. What she did have going for her was connection with every school employee who had any dealings with me at school. If I went so far as to break two pencil leads in a single class session, my mother knew about it before she came home that day. I could forget all about cutting a class; being thirty seconds tardy was enough to precipitate World War III. I'm making her sound like a Nazi among parents who are school employees, which she totally was, but while she was tough in that regard, she was fair.  There were times when she came to the defense of me or of my brother. Just because she was able to act as though the world as I knew it was going to cease to rotate, revolve, or to remain in its proper place in our solar system because I became very hungry one morning forty-five minutes before lunch and [I thought] discreetly slipped a small strawberry from my lunch container in my backpack and popped it into my mouth did not mean that she was OK with teachers treating me unfairly. (In retrospect, what was it with the gestapo teacher who had nothing better to do than to run to her computer and rat a kid out to her mom because the kid, who went through high school with the nickname of "Anorexis,"  dared to sneak a strawberry into her mouth in the middle of dealing with a calculus theorem involving functions that agree on all but one point, when the kid in question was the only one in the class doing the actual work while the others were either copying my work or playing with their cell phones? Life is inherently unfair, but it was probably just as well that I learned such to be the truth at an early age.)

My dad is smart and weird enough that he probably could have been a solver of crimes in the style of the TV character "Monk," although we really didn't make him work that hard to solve most of our "crimes." On the rare occasion he had reason to believe either of us was up to something of which he would not have approved, he could usually figure it out and put a stop to it before it happened. For example, a huge unsanctioned after-graduation party for the "cool" kids (I wasn't a "cool" kid, but the organizers of the party didn't think it would be a very cool party with only about twenty kids there and were thus forced to lower their standards of coolness by inviting a few nerds) was planned to be held with booze, drugs, sex, and and God only knows what else (what else IS there?) in a largely unused barn owned by relatives of one of my classmates. My dad sometimes drove on the road past that barn to get from one of his work locations to another, and happened to notice some unusual activity, including the unloading of kegs by a couple of kids in my graduating class, there earlier on graduation day. I won't go into any more detail, but he followed us in his car on the way there. At one point we pulled over to find out what he wanted. He told us he knew all about the "cool" party, and that everyone in the car had the option of showing up at the real party (which he and my mom had signed up to chaperone; there are few things in life that are less cool and more embarrassing than  having one's parents volunteer to chaperone at one's after-graduation party) or having their parents notified that they weren't at the "official" party. (My dad paid the entrance fees for two kids who had already given all their cash to the organizers of the "cool" party. It may have been "cool," but it wasn't free. Booze and drugs cost money. As far as the sex, I have no clue as to whether or not anyone was charging for that.)  The "cool"  party was ultimately busted by the sheriff's department when neighbors down the road noticed the heightened  activity, and suffice it to say that the cool kids didn't have much fun that night.

My mom wanted perfect kids at school, but her standards at home were, by most standards, laid-back.  Hard liquor was kept in a locked cabinet, not because either my brother or I had ever gotten into it, but because of the "ounce of prevention" principle.  Curfew wasn't a huge issue because Matthew and I both went off to college at 16 1/2, though at least one of my parents remained awake and out of bed until both of us were home. They basically trusted us to do the right thing, but their trust had its limits. Most of my friends were about a year older than I and some had drivers' licenses, but in California a minor must be a licensed driver for a full year before being legally allowed to transport other minors without an adult licensed driver in the car. It was only near the end of our high school days that we were legally allowed to go out with friends without being transported by an adult. Matthew took advantage of my parents' trusting natures in that regard far more than I did, but even his exploits were tame compared to what I heard from others when I got to college.

Whenever either of us was grounded for some reason (I once had an A- on a mid-quarter progress report, which resulted in my being grounded until the quarter grades came out with a regular A [which was silly because pluses and minuses weren't even an option for teachers on quarter and semester grades] or until the teacher made unsolicited contact with my parents to inform them that the grade had risen to a full A]; a couple of other times I was caught making unauthorized departures [i.e. sneaking out] from the residential  facility for which I was treated for PTSD). I was grounded for those instances, but the grounding mysteriously was forgotten while my dad was away on job-related business. It resumed once he returned. Strangely enough, I was still happy that he was home again even though it meant a loss of freedom. 

The trouble I got into with my parents -- mostly my dad  -- was over things I said and did right in front of them, usually to make a point.  My brother and I were allowed to discuss and plead our cases in situations in which my parents wouldn't allow us to do what we wanted to do up to a point, but eventually we either had to shut up or go to time-out. My brother usually chose to shut up. I usually opted to push the issue and ended up in time-out. I spent considerable time confined to my parents' library upstairs in our house.  Many of the odd facts I still carry around in my brain are related to my frequent time-outs. Do you know the make and model of the car Ted Kennedy drove off the Dike Bridge on Chappaquiddick Island? It was a 1967 Oldsmobile Delmont 88 4-door sedan. Who was probably the most unlikely candidate Richard Nixon considered for the #2 spot on his 1968 residential ticket? It was Vince Lombardi, though the vetting process was shorter even than that of Sarah Palin, because Lombardi was a Democrat. I could share all sorts of additional useless knowledge, but you're already bored enough as it is.

Then at some point kids grow up. The dynamics of the relationships change. There's that (hopefully) very long interval between the obnoxious years of adolescence and the point of revenge of which many adolescents dream, which is the time at which a child must choose a care facility for his or her parent. It's an interesting phase in one's life, in part because it's often happening when both parties, but particularly the kids, have barely enough time to brush their teeth, much less to build new relationships with their parents. (For the record, as busy as I am at times. I DO find the time to brush my teeth.)  

When I'm texting or emailing friends, I might occasionally use the "B" word in reference to my mother. I may even have done so in this blog. i don't remember, but I would never, ever do so in person, however true it might be in a particular situation. We curse liberally in our family, but we don't direct epithets at one another. It has nothing to do with authority or with the idea that I'm living in a condo owned by my parents or that I'm not certain i have quite enough scholarship and grant money left to make it through medical school on my own. It's just a respect thing. You don't call your mother the "B" word.  I'll say that my dad is eccentric; hell. I'll call him bat-shit crazy on occasion, because he is, but that's as far as my insults directed toward him would ever go. Civilized people don't call their parents SOBs or MFs even if the shoe fits, which it doesn't in my father's case. He IS bat-shit crazy at times, but he's not any of the other things I've suggested.

My mom said once that the "friendship" between parents and their young adult children is tenuous in that the "friendship" can exist only as long as the "kids" are conducting their lives as responsible, mature adults, at least to some degree. Once drug abuse,  gambling problems of the sort that can cause large people to hunt a person down and break his or her limbs, or serious mental health issues enter the picture, the relationship reverts from mutual friendship back to more of a parent-child relationship whether either side likes it or not. Some parents may be able to look at a strung-out nineteen-year-old and say, "I did my job; it's his problem now,"  but most of the parents I know wouldn't handle such the situation in that way. 

My parents are lucky in that regard right now. Matthew and I don't have time to get into trouble. The worse thing either of us would have time to do (and it's a pretty seriously bad thing to do, I admit) would be to get behind the wheel of an automobile while under the influence of a mind-altering substance, but we've both been committed from an early age to do whatever we had to do to avoid driving while under the influence or being in a car driven by anyone else who is impaired. I know how seriously I feel about drunk driving, and I'm fairly sure that Matthew, too, understands the gravity of it.  

So for now my parents are essentially safe to go on cruises (which my dad hates; he thinks there's something sinister about them, and also thinks it's all about walking from one extravagant meal to another; he thinks people should just go to Vegas instead of going on cruises, because it's essentially the same thing minus the norovirus; remember, I never claimed he is sane) or to tour whatever parts of the world they want knowing that they have done their jobs and that we are sufficiently mature to manage our lives. That doesn't stop them from rushing up here to their home-away-from-home every time they hear that one or the other of us has sneezed, but that, too, shall pass.  Sooner or later the roles will reverse, and we will need to rush to wherever they are whenever one of them sneezes.  I hope it doesn't happen too soon, as  I like things the way they are right now and wish they could remain this way forever.

This is something I could actually have seen my dad do to my brother.

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