Don’t get too anticipatory about hearing the things I never told my parents. I lead a comparatively boring life now, and I always have. Yet, the things I never told my parents still make me wonder what my kids aren’t telling me.
Sure, there were a lot of things I never told them about my 1970s childhood activities, sometimes because they just seemed normal, and sometimes because I only realized afterward that they were possible errors in judgment that we kids survived with ingenuity and plain luck. Some of them are plain horrifying to me as a parent today. The sheer amount of time we spent playing on the train tracks, for example. How we stood hoping for taconite pellets to fall off the box cars so we could shoot them at things with our sling shots. How we laid pennies on the track and hoped for them to get squished. The time we squeezed through that slot in the curb to go down in the storm sewer pipes and almost couldn’t get back out. Our (thankfully abandoned) plans to dig into a clay bank down by the storm drain outlet and make a cave hideout that would probably have collapsed and suffocated us all. I wonder what activities in the secret lives of kids my own children had in childhood. I hope they at least had some.
Then there were the sad things. I don’t think I ever told them how bad sixth grade was. The cruelty of the other kids when we moved into town. The horror of doing a “trust fall” on that school retreat with people who I could only trust to take a shot at me on a daily basis. That time Summer invited me to her birthday party but deliberately told me the wrong day so I showed up at her door a day late with a present. The plain existential angst of high school — why am I here, why is anybody here, what is the point of it all, laughable maybe in the midst of plenty and privilege, but still real. I wonder what emotional struggles my kids aren’t telling me. I wish they’d let me help. I also know that I survived and learned how to figure things out.
I never really told them how “good” I was either. I never told them all the things I didn’t do while growing up. The choices I made to not do things that “everyone” was doing. The temptations that they maybe didn’t know were even an opportunity in our perfect town. Even when I felt like I was getting unfairly criticized even though I believed I was a freaking saint they should be grateful to have as a daughter, I didn’t tell them not to worry. It makes me wonder what things my kids are doing that they should be bragging about and aren’t.
One thing I learned when I was an English teacher, usually during the poetry writing unit, was just how deep and mysterious the hearts of children and adolescents can be. How little they share with us. How much of their growing up is done in their own worlds that we adults know not. Maybe someday, I’ll find out all the things my kids never told me.