Monday, July 26, 2010

Stories You Keep from Your Parents

If there's a statute of limitations for our youthful misconduct, it must expire about the time we turn thirty. That appears to be roughly the age most of us finally 'fess up to our parents about the bad behavior we entertained between junior high and college.

By the time we've morphed into full adulthood--perhaps married or college graduates--we figure we've turned out decently enough that our parents might finally laugh at our misdeeds. Or maybe they'll at least determine it's much too late in the game to ground us.

So, late in the evening at a holiday family gathering, we'll pour a third glass of wine, push back from the dining room table, and tell a story or two. We don't spout them all during one setting; we don't wish to be the cause of our mother's cardiac arrest. No, we dole them out gradually, eventually, over a matter of years.

Oh yes, the most interesting stories of our lives are those we choose to keep from our parents for more than a decade.

(The following true stories may or may not be fully autobiographical. One or more stories have been relayed by siblings or friends. No names are given, to protect the guilty.)

We finger the rim of our wine glass, and divulge the school escapades: "So Dad, remember how you caught me skipping school in freshman year and you grounded me, and because I never got caught again, you figured I'd learned my lesson? Well, here's the funny thing. I worked in the school office for the first semester of my sophomore year, stole a few pads of excused absence slips, and used carbon paper to trace the principal's signature for the next three years! Haha! You have to admit, it was somewhat genius!"

We wink at our mother, and share the tales that involved teenage lies. "Oh, that's right, you never knew I saw the Rolling Stones in concert. Yeah, you wouldn't let me go to that concert, so I told you I was sleeping over at a friend's house that night. Instead, we caught a ride to Cleveland with a couple older guys we barely knew. After the concert, their car broke down in this horrific storm, and we hitchhiked to a nearby house of one of their friends, but he wasn't home. So we took shelter under his back porch, until the neighbors thought we were trying to break in and they called the police, who showed up and questioned us and asked us all for identification, but all I had to show--since I wasn't old enough to drive--was my library card and my school bus pass. But boy, it was a great concert."

We pat our mother's hand and ease into the clearly illegal stuff. "Glad you like the silk flower arrangement I bought you. So, remember that beautiful terrarium I brought home to you as a Mother's Day gift when I was thirteen? You oohed and aahed about how beautiful it was and how I shouldn't have spent that kind of money? Well... I didn't spend a cent. But it was the thought that counted, right?"

We cringe a bit and tread ever so carefully into the area of really dangerous items. "OK, so speaking of trains (of course you've waited until a relevant and appropriate discussion for this particular segue so as to soften the jolt), I guess I could tell you now about the time I was at a party on the golf course one night during high school, and we thought it would be fun to walk out on the train trestle to admire the view over the river. But then a train came, ROARING toward us, and we only made it safely back to ground by a matter of seconds, and it was just like that scene in the movie Stand By Me, except we were 15 not 12, and most of us didn't comprehend the true terror of our near-death experience until the next morning when we were sober."

A few of these long ago stories elicit the hoped-for smile, a snort of laughter from our parents. Others are met with a sigh or perhaps a silent Sign of the Cross.

They're comforted, of course, that we lived through it all. And likely relieved that they weren't privy to the details until many years later.

We tell our parents these tales and, as we reminisce, we shake our own heads at our bad youthful decisions and smile at our good fortune at reaching adulthood, alive, nearly responsible and respectable.

And we vow that if we ever hear similar stories from our own adult children, we will somehow find a way to ground them.


  1. I learned about the terrarium Mothers Day gift years ago. Learned of the scary train incident in the last couple years. The other two are new, the school absence slips no surprise, but the Rolling Stones night is the new one to behold!
    Love from,
    Your mother (who is 71 and has no gray hair even under the blonde hi-lights!) Go figure....

  2. My Mother: Just to clarify--the terrarium incident was courtesy of your other two daughters. I was totally innocent!

  3. I'm always getting into trouble for bringing up stuff my mom didn't know about. . although I'm actually much to old to officially get into trouble at this point!

  4. I'm so glad I wasn't involved in all of your escapades! I'm also so very glad that you've grown up to be a responsible adult!!

  5. I have a theory that parenting is a sine wave. A generation of strict, controlling parents produces a generation of kids who grow up to be liberal, easy-going parents, whose kids in-turn swing back to the controlling side of the pendulum. Why? Because, as you say, they knew what they got away with as kids. Another theory from a friends of mine, that goes back well before the Darwin Awards and video games, was that childhood (and adolescence especially) is a contest to see if you can figure out how the world works before it kills you.

  6. Memoirista: My mom got revenge by telling my 15-year-old son I was voted Best Party Giver of my high school senior class. So unless you want your cover blown (and your house trashed by 120 teenagers some Saturday night while you're gone), I'd monitor your mother's visits until your daughter is at least 25.

    Peggy: Since your first sentence was so obviously sarcastic, I have to question the intent behind your second sentence. And now I'm offended.

    Steve: Both your theories are spot-on!

  7. this one definately needs to go in your book. also, would love to see what you can do with the topic we discussed last week--Things Our Parents Let Us Do..

  8. DC: "Things Our Parents Let Us Do" could be interesting. Guess the statue of limitations is up for them, too...