I never had the cool parents. I was the 12-year-old who had to stay home when my friends went to see a PG-13 movie. I thought my world came to a crashing halt when my parents refused to let me watch “Bring It On” at a friend’s birthday. My mom got annoyed when I wanted to listen to Radio Disney in the car, even though I was determined to belt every word to “This Is What Dreams Are Made Of” by Hilary Duff (or Lizzie McGuire. Or Isabella. Not sure where we ever landed on that one.) I was discouraged to call friends’ parents by their first names, even though that’s what all my friends were doing. Even through high school I wasn’t granted much more autonomy. It wasn’t irregular for my dad to call the parents of a friend who was having a party, to make sure it would be supervised. My midnight curfew was set in stone, as I was reminded at 12:02 a.m. that “late is late.”
I blamed my sisters and my middle child status for much of my misfortune. One was perfect with straight A’s and zero wrongdoings. One was the youngest, a quirky but promising student. And I felt glazed over, like a rack of barbecue ribs, slowly turning on a less-than-perfect spit. The truth of the situation is that I was over-dramatic, ornery, and self-centered in my adolescence. I threw blame at my parents every chance I could, and I lashed out when I knew they had me mentally cornered. Fake crying about the monotony of my tragic life seemed more logical than addressing a problem at its core and talking through it, so proved my friends Kristin and LC. (Actually it was mostly Jess-ka. Screw Jess-ka.)
Things changed once I got to college. I felt “free” — and rightly so — as every college freshman should. I ate Zebra Cakes for breakfast BECAUSE I COULD, and I came home at 3 a.m. BECAUSE GREEKLAND WAS A MAZE. But by the end of first semester, I started to realize how often I called my parents (not just for money, but thankz Daddy*) but for real stuff too — like asking why business calculus was a mandatory course, why guys still thought bodily functions were funny, and also to tell them about the amazing people I met. As the semesters passed, I found myself wanting to go home not to see high school friends or go to a tax-free mall, but to see the duo that had made my “previous” life so unbearable. My parents are now the first two people I always choose to hang out with. Maybe it’s because I’ve grown up a little. Maybe it’s because they still buy my meal when we go out to eat. Maybe it’s because they were very much “parents” when I was growing up. If you think about it, being friends with your mom when you’re 14 is really an odd concept. I’m not saying parents don’t care about what’s going on in your life when you’re that age, but you can only connect on so many levels. When general interests and conversation levels veer more to that of an adult, you appreciate more of the same things. Like wine.
Hosting my parents at my favorite Ames bar during graduation weekend last spring was one of my most favorite memories from college. There were my friends, elated at our recent accomplishments; my dad, basking in the miracle of college-town cocktail tabs; my mom, shaking her head in both pride and terror at the bridge that connected my life with hers. And now as I pack up and get ready to head north for Christmas, I can’t help but think how freaking crazy you have to be, to want to be a parent. It’s a tumultuous, life-long commitment. But maybe they go through the dark days (a.k.a. when their spawn is between nine and 19-years-old) because they know the good stuff is coming: intelligent and meaningful conversations, successes that throw us forward, a genuine appreciation for all they’ve done. Merry Christmas and keep the wine coming. Our parents (and us maybe if we’re somewhat employed or doing good things with our lives) deserve it.