Now I understand why my mother always brushed my bangs out of my eyes before we visited my grandmother. There’s something about seeing your parents that makes you turn a critical eye on your own child-rearing, and nothing says “bad parenting” like bangs in the eyes. Except, perhaps, pajamas during the daytime, long hair on a boy, and total silence, which is pretty much what my children presented to my parents when we arrived in New York City last weekend to celebrate my mother’s 75th birthday.
Normally I am proud–or at least tolerant–of their quirks, but they became less and less appealing the closer we got to New York. My youngest daughter, who is 9, has a very distinct fashion sense, which runs toward flannel pajama pants, her brother’s ratty, old football t-shirts and deliberately mismatched socks. Most of the time, I find her style immeasurably preferable to the Hollister and Abercrombie her peers are starting to wear. But when I turned around to look at her in the back seat on our way down, all I could see was the stains on her t-shirt. At least when we went to see “Mary Poppins” the next day, she put on a skirt over her PJ shorts, though I had to talk her out of pairing it with the Nike soccer sandals that her big brother recently outgrew. As for my boy, he and some other 8th graders had made a pact not to cut their hair before Memorial Day. Well, the other kids have abandoned their end of the deal, but my son is still holding true. When I suggested he get a haircut “before we see Grandpa,” who likes his grandson to look like a grandson, he scoffed gleefully. “Nope, I like it long!” he said. And, being 14, he likes to deny every parental request he can.
But the icing on the cake was my oldest daughter, 17, who elected to take a vow of silence the very day we left for New York. She wasn’t being sullen, defiant or difficult, but she was trying to make a statement: she was participating in the Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network’s “Day of Silence,” in solidarity with all the teens who feel they can’t express their sexuality. Whenever anyone tried to talk to her, she handed over a little slip of paper that read:Please understand my reasons for not speaking today. I am participating in the Day of Silence (DOS), a national youth movement bringing attention to the silence faced by lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people and their allies. My deliberate silence echoes that silence, which is caused by anti-LGBT bullying, name-calling and harassment. I believe that ending the silence is the first step toward building awareness and making a commitment to address these injustices.
I totally admired her empathy and conviction. But I still felt annoyed that she couldn’t answer my parents’ questions and had to pantomime what she wanted for dinner. In any case, my father wasn’t buying it. “What about Rachel Maddow?” he said. “She’s certainly not silent about being gay!” “She’s not a student, Dad,” I answered for my daughter.
I suppose it’s natural to want your children to look and act their best when they visit your parents; after all, we’re all still trying to make Mom and Dad proud, aren’t we? But that’s my problem, not theirs. They figured out a long time ago that Grandma and Grandpa will love them no matter what they’re wearing or how quiet they are, and that they can get away with behavior my brother and I never could have. Little surprise, then, that we had an absolutely lovely weekend, and my parents didn’t mention the word “haircut” once.