When I was young, I watched a TV program called “The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet.” They were the perfect parents. They had all the right answers and never raised their voices.
Ricky Nelson was allowed to sit on the kitchen counter while his mother mixed cookie batter. I wished my parents could be that laid-back. Harriet’s crisp dress and perfectly coiffed hair projected a perfect motherly figure with a calm, cool, sweet demeanor. Ozzie always wore a suit and tie. His profession was unknown. He always “acted” the gentleman. That was the point. They were paid actors.
In real life, our parents were not as perfect. My two brothers and I were not allowed to sit on kitchen counters, and there were rules. We knew we were loved because our parents worked for our better good. Their job was to teach us how to respect others and ourselves and how to survive independently in the world.
They did this – sometimes by example, sometimes by admonishment and sometimes by storytelling. “So and so’s kid was caught stealing candy at the grocery. His poor parents must be mortified!”
Our parents were in love; that was evident in the respect and care they showed each other. However, we did not appreciate their embarrassing displays of affection – like hand-holding – witnessed by our teenage friends. “Gee, your parents are so cute,” they would say.
Everyone had an important job in our family. The team could not function without us. The boys mowed the lawn and shoveled snow. I dusted the furniture and washed the dishes. Phone calls were limited. We did not expect payment for helping. We also thought of our parents as quite ancient, and in need of help. My mother reminded me: “Do you realize I am 40 years old?”
Schoolwork superseded everything else. Family Monopoly was fun. Sometimes, just as I was about to win, my brother would drop the bomb: “What? You have a test tomorrow?” Game over.
Diplomacy used at the right moment could sometimes bend the rules. “Dad,” my brother said, “if I leave the dance at 9 when everyone else is leaving at 10 they will think I am a loser.”
“I’ll talk to your mother.”
Our parents were not afraid to correct us. “What do you think inappropriate behavior like that will get you in the real world?” The real world, seemed like a scary place.
Although we had a cozy home, by the time I reached my teens, I felt stifled and controlled. “I can’t wait to live my own life,” I thought, as fantasies of freedom invaded my dreams.
Eventually my dreams materialized. We all left home and, magically, everything changed. It was as if our parents were now our equals. No more advice was offered, no forewarnings were administered. My father shook my brothers’ hands when we arrived for Sunday dinner. We appreciated a meal cooked by someone else. Beer or wine was offered.
Wait a moment. I thought, I am not prepared! Our family dynamics had drastically changed. I had been gone only two weeks. It dawned on me that I was solely responsible for my own actions and decisions. Everything I learned from now on would be a result of my experiences in the real world.
I called my mother and asked for advice. We had lunch once a week. Although it was exciting to be considered an adult, I sometimes missed the cocoon I had successfully shed and felt like saying, “Mom do you realize I am only 20 years old?”