I visited my parent’s home this weekend to help with some yard work and landscaping. It’s weird to say “my parent’s home” since I grew up in that house. No matter where I’ve moved or how long I’ve been gone, the place where my parents live will always seem like my home.
Poking around my old bedroom, I found one of my old yearbooks on the shelf. I paged through it until I found the picture I sought. When I was a kid, no matter how bad I felt, no matter how miserable things seemed to be, I would look at that picture and say to myself: Thank goodness that’s not my picture. (The school photographer moved on to the DMV shortly after taking this shot).
I stood in my room and took it all in. These four walls contained 18 years of my life. In this room I upgraded from diapers to undies, a crib to a twin bed. This room held my fears, my dreams, my frustrations, my secret laughs, my hormones. This room oversaw my transition from childhood into the teen years. In this room I told myself hundreds of times “When I grow up…“, and then I inserted a promise that I would do things differently than from how my parents did things.
And yet sitting on the floor looking around, I didn’t relive feelings of resentment or oppression. Thoughts of tyrannical parents were far from my mind. Replacing any negative thoughts that had consumed me toward the end of my 18-year stay in my childhood home were feelings of understanding, even gratitude.
Maybe I’ve grown up a little over the last several years. Or maybe it’s that I’m a parent now, and I have two teenagers of my own. Most days my kids look at me as if I’m wearing an “I’M WITH STUPID” t-shirt with the arrow pointed to my head. As a parent, I have to play the bad guy. I have to say NO. Sometimes I have to say a lot more than NO. I have to say, “Over my dead body!” Or “Sure, go ahead and get that pierced. But then, where are you going to live?” And many times each day I find that I am the most unpopular member of my family.
Thinking back to all of the times I said “When I grow up…“, I realize that I haven’t followed through on my promises. I don’t think I’ve ever drunk milk right out of the jug and put it back in my own fridge. I’ve not eaten a box of Captain Crunch in one setting. I haven’t managed to sleep until 9 AM, much less noon. And I don’t think I’ve jumped on the bed even once.
Driving away from my parent’s home, I said to my son, “I think I finally understand what Maya Angelou said about home.”
“What did she say?” he asked.
“‘You can never go home again, but the truth is you can never leave home, so it’s all right.'”
The home I was brought up in is always with me. Every time I parent my children, I look backyards first at the values in which I was raised. Now I understand why my parents wouldn’t let the 16-year-old-me go on a road trip for several days with friends they didn’t know to places I wouldn’t tell them about just because I said, “I promise that I will be good.” I now know the frustration of preparing meals that are greeted with comments like, “Can I have a clean plate? Someone threw up on mine.” I finally understand that being “liked” is a goal best reached when the kids are adults. Be a parent, teacher, and protector first. Being liked and becoming a friend happens after you’ve done the tough part of parenting well.
I can visit those old haunts of my childhood, and I can leave again. But the values I learned back there inside those four walls are never far from me.
What values have you brought with you from your childhood home that you keep with you today and pass on to others?