There was a brief period of time in 1995 when Dave and I were engaged to be married, but we were living in two different states. We were young. We had jobs one would expect youngsters to have. We both lived at home with our parents. We had gotten our first taste of freedom by joining a group that toured the country and required no actual independence or responsibility- and we had spent that year falling madly in love.
There was never any question that we were going to get married. Breaking up was not an option, and we were absolutely young and naive. But, to our credit- we were right to have acted on that stupidity. It’s still the best decision I ever made.
I lived in Michigan, and Dave lived in Illinois. During this time of separation, a trip was planned for a family reunion in Wisconsin, where I would meet my future father-in-law’s family. I would take a train to Chicago, where Dave and his brother would pick me up. Then we would swing by and pick up Dave’s other brother in Madison on our way to LaCrosse. Dave’s aunt and uncle owned a motel where we would all be staying.
When we arrived at the motel, they were overbooked. Dave’s sister thought it would be fun if she and I spent the night in a tent in the motel parking lot. And yes, even though I could see a nearby motel with vacant rooms, and I had cash in my pocket- that is what we did (this isn’t crucial to my story; I just needed to talk about the fact that this happened).
The following night I had my own room at the motel.
Dave’s parents were going to be leaving a day earlier than the rest of us, and they asked if they could talk to us privately. You know what they wanted to talk about? They wanted to tell us that we were not allowed to go into my room alone together. They had enlisted spies to watch over us, and followed this announcement up with a long speech about the importance of appearances. It was horrible.
My favorite example? “You don’t know who may be in the next motel room. Someday you may need to get a loan from a bank. Maybe the banker will remember seeing you at this motel, and then you won’t be able to get a loan because he will have the wrong idea about you.”
The wrong idea. Can he even do that? Is he going to ask for proof of our marriage date, do the math, and then really have the wrong “idea” about us?
Isn’t it more likely that he would favor us over the incident? Because, really, what are the odds that both we and the banker were staying in that same motel in Wisconsin back in 1995? And that he would recognize us?
I was offended that they felt they were still in a position to control us. They wanted to make sure no one thought we would be involved in anything as scandalous as pre-marital relations. They wanted to remind us that they still made the rules. But I held back. I gave mild arguments, even though my heart was filled with clever (more stinging) responses to the craziness being thrown at us. I longed for the motel room across the street. The one without spies. The one I would pay for with my own money. The one that was far, far away from that conversation.
We were two kids being parented. We were also two adults about to be married. And even though we understood, logically, the ridiculousness of it- we still allowed it to happen.
This was only the beginning of our long road to independence. Turning another year older and getting married were not enough to propel us into adulthood, or to make Dave’s parents believe that their youngest child could possibly be allowed to go forward without supervision. Oh, I have stories.
Things are very different now…. But, when did we grow up?
I think it started with the first time my car broke down and I solved the problem myself. Solving problems on my own is how I became confident, and it kind of shattered the idea that an older generation knew more about anything. Turns out I could do anything they could do. And eventually, I discovered I could even do some of those things better.
I no longer felt intimidated, or under the thumb of my elders. I haven’t felt that way in many years.
That motel experience would go very differently if it happened today. The thing is, it wouldn’t happen today. We have all changed a lot since that summer back in 1995. When we are young, sometimes people treat us like a child because they think they can, and that is ultimately our own fault. They may be guilty of crossing the line of respect, but we might be guilty of making it easy for them.
Some people grow up a lot quicker than others, for various reasons. I was clueless about so many basic things when I first left home. It took time to figure it all out and get the lessons I needed. I used to think that I would teach my children to be independent. I imagined that I would let them do all sorts of activities on their own from a young age- pay for things at the store, pump gas, make appointments, etc.
I am already screwing this up. Teghan is not what I expected when I wrote those little parenting rules for myself; but she still needs to constantly move forward in her independence and confidence, right? I catch myself missing opportunities all of the time. I am always doing things for her that she could probably do herself. Haven’t I seen her stubborn streak when she is learning a new physical activity? This is a child who crawled at five months and walked at nine months. She walks backwards up and down our stairs with her hands full. Have you ever tried to walk backwards down the stairs? It’s impossible.
She is quite capable of a variety of tasks. I should step back and watch her problem-solve, even if it means enduring a possible mess. I need to build on these things. It could one day mean the difference between letting someone intimidate her, and having the confidence to question someone in authority.
That story about Dave’s parents is just a funny experience we had. It wasn’t serious. But I was a little mad at myself for not clearly drawing the line in the sand that night about what was acceptable. I did get around to it, eventually, but at that time I still felt they had a say in things. Because we were not entirely detached from them, and because we still felt like kids in their presence.
The story is a reminder to me of something I keep forgetting. I can no longer imagine being intimidated by parents, teachers, or even bosses. But that was a process. It’s our job to help Teghan get through her own process, so that she will know her voice matters as much as those who place themselves in a position of authority over her. She may not have all the same life experiences that naturally lead to more independence and confidence. We may be her only resource, so we had better have a plan.
I have a feeling that she is going to need those skills more than I did.
(In case you are wondering…. those “spies” also thought Dave’s parents were out of line. We spent that night together in my room- watching TV. And we never did get denied for a bank loan over it.)