My parents, bless their hearts, put up with a lot from me through the years. Perfectly nice, middle class suburban types, and I felt the need to press their boundaries.
There was the time in middle school that I became a devout evangelical and spent years of puberty weeping that they were both going to hell and insisting that I would never drink or smoke or even play the lottery. I also insisted on loudly saying the blessing at dinner, usually interrupting their conversation to do so. Agnostics both, they tolerated that stage with a wink and drove me to youth group.
Then, there was the time I went off to college pre-law and came home with a theatre major. And hot pink hair. And took to wearing a silk smoking jacket and combat boots for every occasion. The nine holes in my ears. Cigarettes, one of which I put out on the roof outside my bedroom window, nearly setting their house on fire. The four gay male roommates. They wondered where it all came from, since I’d never shown the slightest interest in theatre before, but they drove an hour to see every bad production. When I ran out of tuition money and moved home, they put a roof over my head and bought season tickets when I got a paying theatre job.
There was the time I went away to work for the summer and came home announcing that I was moving to Pittsburgh. Sight unseen. To live with my gay best friend. They were baffled, but my mom carried boxes to the car.
Then I went back to college. A chance for them to relax? Oh no. I added a couple of tattoos to the mix. Oh, and by the way, this is my girlfriend. Yes, girlfriend. She bench presses 210. Did they panic? Nope. My parents brought my grandmother to visit and we all went out to dinner.
Then, I went to law school in DC. Which baffled them, but they supported it. Then I decided to move back to Pittsburgh afterward and promptly met the now-infamous ex. We got engaged in six months. They’d never met him. But when I flew home, sprung a ring on them and said I was getting married, they asked what date to save. When it didn’t work out, they asked how they could help.
In short, I have done everything in my power along the way to test them. At every turn, they have loved me, supported my choices, and never once turned their back on me in a time of need. The harder I tried to shock them (subconsciously) the less they blinked.
Now, as a grown up, I catch my breath thinking how lucky I was to have the parents I did. Every day my sisters and I knew that they would always love us no matter what. In retrospect, I was testing that. I wanted to see if they really meant it. If I could do something to lose their love. And time and time again, the answer was no.
There’s nothing left to rebel against. I’m an adult and make my own choices every day. Some of them may not be traditional, but they’re hardly appalling. I’ve learned to catch myself before I take that extra step over the ledge. To teeter on the precipice and check out the horizon. And to call my mother. Lord knows, the woman’s earned a phone call after all these years.
(And in haiku, because Bad Pants asked so nicely:
Testing parents’ love:
dipping toes in a cold pool,
finding instead warmth. )