While I was teaching, I’d often try to write the same assignments I gave my students. (Except for research papers...I excused myself from that brand of torture!) Writing the assignments helped me to work the kinks out of them, so I could see what was enjoyable to write and what wasn’t. I didn’t always share my writing with my students, but I did usually manage to do it. In the same spirit, I decided this summer that I would write some of Haley’s assignments. Is that odd? I don’t know. It appeals to me because maybe it is a way of getting closer to her, to be thinking about the same things. Or maybe it’s just the eternal student in me, looking for someone to tell me what to do. At any rate, she wrote an interesting essay tonight for her history class, and I thought I’d do it, too. The topic was "how the past affects the present." She was to think about how her parents’ and her grandparents’ decisions have affected her life. We talked about a few ideas; I reminded her about things she’d forgotten over the summer, like topic sentences and conclusions and transitions, and she was off.
But it did leave me thinking. Maybe because my parents—the way they parented me, the choices they made, my place in the family—have been in my thoughts a lot lately, anyway. Specifically, I keep thinking about a conversation I had one day with my mom. This was the summer after I turned 18, when the consequences for all my rebellion had caught up with me and it was irrevocably too late to change anything. She asked me what she could have done differently so that maybe I would have turned out better—sidestepped my teenage angst altogether. I told her that there wasn’t anything she could have done, and in a way I still think that. Looking back, it seems like I was always headed for some disastrous event. As the always-shy child, lingering-on-the-fringes preteen, perennially almost figuring things out teenager I was, it seems inevitable that I would self-destruct somehow. Throw in some strange family dynamics and it was almost guaranteed. Of course, I always had a choice in what I did. But it is also true that you can only make decisions based on what you understand and know—on the information you’ve got, so to speak, and my world view was fairly skewed.
So if my mom were to ask me that same question right now (and trust me: I don’t think she ever would), I would answer it quite differently, simply because I have more information now. If she had wanted to change my course, I think on her part (again—allowing my own culpability, too) what she could have done was to really pay attention. It had to be obvious to her that I was making awful decisions, and yet the only thing she ever commented on was my clothing choices. I wish she could have looked at me honestly, with concern for me instead of concern for what the neighbors or the ward members might think; wish she could have seen that my actions weren’t the problem, really, but the symptoms.
It’s probably fairly obvious (to get back to Haley’s history class assignment) how my parents’ choices affected the future. There are many consequences from those days that continue to affect me, including how I feel about myself and how much (or how little) I deep-down believe in what I can accomplish with my life. On the other hand, I wouldn’t change many things about those difficult years, either. Is that strange? My rebellious phase taught me many things and helped me become who I am. Plus (dare I say this?) I had a lot of fun. It helps that I’ve grown to be OK with the fact that I’ll always be a little shy, and on the fringes of things. That is simply a part of who I am.
When Haley was nearly finished with her essay tonight, she asked me how to write her final paragraph. Wanting her to think for herself, I asked her to think about what she might have learned from the assignment. Your own insight is often a great conclusion. And I think I’ve come to my own bit of insight, thinking along these lines. Honestly, more than anything else, one of the biggest consequences of those years is how they strained my relationship with my mom. I still have plenty of Mommy Issues. I am terrified of making the same mistakes my mother did. No—I am determined not to. And yet, Haley and I are already starting to have our own issues. I really thought that if I tried hard enough, she and I could have a smooth relationship during her adolescence. After all, I am a cool mom, right? I try to do the things I remember wishing my mom would do when I was growing up. I try to be as fair as I can, and to remember how it felt to be her age, and I also try to just be myself. But maybe, when it comes right down to it, maybe all moms and daughters go through a rough patch. Maybe (probably) it is normal for her to act like I am the biggest idiot ever. Maybe all moms of teenage girls walk through their days wondering what happened. I keep wishing she could just like me again. But maybe this, too: maybe if I just do a better job of paying attention than my mom did, maybe if I can distinguish symptoms from disease, maybe if I can just somehow continue to let her know I love her—maybe then I won’t have to ask myself that devastating question my mom must have asked herself: what could I have done differently?