I had a pretty idyllic childhood - a loving family, long summers at camp, fondly remembered holiday gatherings, family vacations, ski trips, parents who put their all into raising two kids they could be proud of. I got good grades, minded my teachers, listened to my parents, didn't fight (much) with my sister... Exactly what you'd hope for in a child.
And then I became a teenager, and it all went to hell.
To say that I was testing my boundaries would be a gross understatement. It would be a lot more correct to say that I chose, yes chose, to fall in with a bad crowd because they were more "interesting". I wasn't interested in the goody-two-shoes smart kids, I didn't want the reputation that went (in my snobby high school anyway) with being in the marching band, I didn't have enough money to keep up with the in-crowd, and didn't really want to anyway. I wanted, or perhaps needed, to rebel, but the truth is I had a great life with great parents. I had nothing to rebel against.
That didn't stop me from doing it anyway.
I made a conscious decision to become a burnout, with everything that went along with that. I looked around, decided they were the most appealing group, and cultivated the habits I'd need to be included. (God I was stupid, and arrogant, and foolish, and careless, and did I mention stupid? So completely, unbelievably stupid. And so very lucky to have survived fairly unscathed.)
There is no reason to detail all of my misspent youth, suffice it to say that the one-quarter of it that my parents found out enough was more than enough to ground me for life. The part they didn't know? Well that would have gotten me grounded until long after I was dead.
I pulled stunts that put my parents through hell, and even today I cringe in shame at the mere memory of some of them.
As I carried out my senseless rebellion my parents never wavered. No matter what I pulled, I always knew they loved me unconditionally. Even when they were unspeakably, and justifiably, angry, I always knew that they loved me and that I had a home and that that home was a moral touchstone.
This wasn't true for many of the others I knew. There was B*, who was always getting thrown out of the house by his mother's new husband. Seems this cop didn't like getting a screwup burnout for a step-son. We'd all leave our cars unlocked every night in case B needed a place to crash. Then there was I*, whose parents didn't even bother showing up to his high school graduation, leaving him stranded and alone when it was over. (I drove him home, while he talked about cutting up lines of cocaine in the kitchen while his father watched, afraid to say anything.) Or A*, whose mother was so helpless that she didn't even try to exert any control over what went on in her home. Or T*, who'd share bong hits with his parents. Or J*, whose single mom was so busy working 3 jobs that she was never home long enough to know what he, what we all, got up to in her living room when we should have been in school. I could go on and on... There were of course others like my parents, who were probably just as devastated as they were at what their beautiful, formerly sweet and innocent children were getting up too, but for every loving family there was at least one more that was equally disfunctional.
It took years, four of them away at college, before I was able to grow up enough to move past all of this and back towards my family. Looking at us today, 20 years later, you'd never dream of all the strife and discord that ran rampant through the house for a few years. My parents are two of my closest friends. Instead of choosing to run away, we choose to run away together - on joint vacations. On purpose. Without being forced or bribed, just because we enjoy being together. Our biggest obstacle these days is that in a fit of college-age idealism I picked up and moved halfway across the world, leaving all of my family behind. We need to work even harder to stay close emotionally since we live 6,000 miles apart physically.
During one of these early joint vacations I asked my mother why she never threw my sorry ass out of the house. Her answer has stuck with me all these years. She said:
"I'm your mother, and I love you, and I would NEVER EVER throw you out of my home, no matter what. I did however try to sell you to the gypsies once, but there was no market for used teenagers."
She then added that had the technology been available she would have happily locked me in a deep freeze for about 6 years, not letting me out until I hit 22, but that she would have kept that freezer safe at home.
I'm not in touch with many people I knew from high school anymore, but from the few that I do speak to occasionally I've seen something. We were all headed together down the wrong path in those days. The difference lay in who stayed on the path, and who managed to get themselves together and return to being happy, well-adjusted human beings.
The answer? Those with loving, supportive families. It's a terrible cliche, but true nonetheless. The ones who came from very difficult places had a much harder time clawing their way out, and often didn't, while those that came from good strong families were more able to return to their roots. I look around today at my innermost circle of high school friends, the ones from families like mine, and see that we have become doctors, and lawyers (at least 3), real estate tycoons, corporate hacks turned lactation consultants (that would be me), stay at home moms... Whatever and wherever our passions led us. And you know what? We could never have done it without our families.
So for all that you did Mom, by raising me right, by loving me unconditionally even when I probably didn't deserve it, and by welcoming me back with open arms and forgiving all my sins, I say "Thanks, Mom. (And Dad.)"
I could never have done it without you. I love you Mom. (And Dad.)
This essay was written for MamaBlogga's July Group Writing Project, on the theme "Thanks, Mom".