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So, I’m pretty sure my mother didn’t exactly know what sex was until after marriage. My dad casually told me one day that he actually never really wanted to get married and wanted to become part of a monastic order that traced its guru-disciple lineage to Sri Ramakrishna.
My parents are simple, good people who never traced out specific rules with regards to boys, drugs, or alcohol because they just assumed my brother and I would turn out to be saintly creatures like themselves. I once asked to go to a movie with a guy friend in high school and the answer was a “no” with a look of disapproval. I never asked again. Those looks of disapproval or disappointment were enough to leave me ashamed and ready to reevaluate my life. Every time.
I then went to college and let the first interested person have his way with me. For most girls coming from the same kind of sheltered life that I did, this ends up as just an embarrassing mistake they can laugh about or shelf and forget about, but for me it was something more sinister, something I carry about as a kind of scar. I resent the time I spent with this person and the person I was during that time.
We leave our shelters, no longer safe under the protection of our parents and into a world where things are far less simple, far less loving. Our parents do their best to equip us with the tools to make good decisions. They hope that telling us not to make messes will mean that we won’t make messes, that they won’t have to help us clean any messes because they told us preemptively not to make any messes and we’re smart so we learn the first time.
I am not built of the rock hard virtue that my parents are. I have not experienced much at all to claim any wisdom to my name. I left my home more fragile and susceptible to all the soul-crushing entities in the world than I could have imagined. I thought my dad was overreacting when he cried the day I was moving less than 2 hours away for college, but I finally get it. Of course all dads are softies on the inside. Who else could be more terrifyingly aware of what’s out there?
There are lots of evils in this world (some within us, perhaps) and lots of bad situations that we can avoid if we know what to look for. Whether you dabble with sex, drugs, and alcohol, or steer clear and make the decisions that would make your parents proud, the biggest part of growing up, I think, is developing sensitivity to people from all walks of life. Emotional intelligence is a gift. Having that wonderful empathy and being able to recognize just how a small a slip could have anyone, even you, tumbling down into a seeming abyss…is a gift. Whatever we have, whoever we are, whatever good is in us, we do not get to be self-righteous and smug about, because chances are that it has a lot less to do with our spotless character and awe-inspiring will than the efforts of our parents and sheer luck. Better people will and have obtained far less in life than you or me. So, whatever, I’ve faltered but I’ve learned from my mistakes and I’m a better person for it. There’s a major difference between knowing through reading and knowing through experiencing, and the latter can come with a whole lot of blood, sweat, and tears. Life. Deal. We all do.
What really sucked though was feeling alone in this particularly critical growing up phase. Not being able to tell my mom everything I did on a daily basis. Not being able to tell her when I was unhappy because then I would have to tell her why. There was a time when I went home and just cried in her lap while lazing and watching a movie and I hoped she wouldn’t notice. But I also kind of really hoped she did.
You might ask why I didn’t go to a girlfriend, and I don’t have a great answer because I have some stellar girlfriends. I just know I wanted and needed my mother.
At 24, in a PhD program, finally having eased my parents’ worries about my future, I can be excited about telling my mom about cute guys I meet (will let you know when it happens, too). I told her the other day how I was teaching myself how to read and write Tamil and her first reaction was, “Have you met a Tamil boy??” To which I just sighed. And she says, “It’s okay, Tamil is not a requirement, I was just curious. Okay, tell me more.” About the boy I never mentioned, of course.
Anyway, as someone who tells her life story to anyone who will listen (clearly) it was insanely stifling to not be able to share it with the one that means the world to me–my mother. So, mothers, future mothers, set aside your discomfort and judgment and do what you do best, hold your babies and accept us for who we are because the rest of the world is so much less forgiving. Something analogous goes for sisters and girlfriends, too. Asking this of anyone of the male species may be too much, so I will stick to crying out to the ladies. We must be there for one another, we must hold back on the judgment, and we must talk until we can talk no more.
In the name of not bottling anything up, spill to your heart’s content here: South Asian Parent, a wonderful, wonderful resource for parents trying to figure out how best to raise their children, x parts East + y parts West. Give parents some pointers or share anonymous thoughts that you feel need some expressing, and become a voice in the CanWeTalkAboutThis campaign. It could help someone out 🙂