I remember fighting my poor mother ferociously against her insistence that I go to sleep every night at 9 PM. I recall being 7 and calling her a Fascist, not because I knew what it meant but because I had heard someone on TV spew it accusingly at someone else on TV who was being a real dick. My sister and I, who shared a room, would turn on reruns of I Love Lucy and watch them with the sound turned off for hours past bedtime. In hindsight, there’s no possible way we were enjoying that, but it didn’t matter – delaying going to sleep as long as we could, both in defiance of our mother and of our bodies, was the only goal. As an adult, I fanaticize about having enough money to hire someone whose sole duty it is to go around at 9 PM every night, turn everything off, put me in bed, and spend the whole night guarding my sleep from interruption by the rest of the world.
If you’re being cranky, you’re probably hungry or tired
The memories I can recall start at an unusually early age, and some of my first involve what was, to 2-year-old me, the most infuriating conversation in the world: I would tell my mom I wanted/didn’t want something, she would disagree with my wishes, I would proceed to become a red-faced, whiny, little terror, and then she would look at me and say, “Looks like someone needs a naaa-aaaap!” in this condescending sing-song voice that made tiny me unspeakably livid. Even as an older kid, maybe 7 or 8, if I was being a petulant jerk, she would say the same thing, as if to imply that I was still a baby – by far the worst thing you can imply about a 7 or 8-year-old. I would look at her with an enraged glare like, “You bitch. You just made this all so much worse than it already was.” Alternate: “Looks like someone’s hungry!”
But now, LOL, joke’s on me, Mom. Because now I know that if I’m being fussy and short-tempered for no obvious reason, you can damn sure bet it could be fixed with a nap and a snack.
Imagine if someone offered to come over to your house and make you a well-balanced dinner full of diverse, nutrient-rich foods. For free. Every night. Prepared for you while you watched Full House on the couch. Why on earth did we ever not love this? Kids are real shits, you guys. We kinda sucked. We just wanted everything to taste like, what, Pop Tarts? And hated our parents because they didn’t want us to get scurvy? I think it’s not until you go out on your own, spend a few weeks living mostly off of burritos and beer, realize you feel like your soul is rotting, hastily go pay too much at Whole Foods for a fresh green juice because you need salvation and you need it fast, that you finally get it – you need real food as regularly as possible because without it, your body literally will not function.
Not hanging out with “bad influences”
When my mom told me that certain (okay, all) of my high school friends were bad influences, I thought she just hated weed and fun. My friends were, by most standards, really good friends – they were really supportive and loyal and genuinely loved each other. Even still, it seemed natural and obvious when, after high school, I drastically parted ways with just about all of them. It’s not that they were bad people – they weren’t – it’s just that they had really limited ambition, and a very narrow view of the world. That wasn’t me at all. I wanted to go everywhere and do everything, and looking back, I’m sure now that when my mom called my friends “a bad influence”, she wasn’t deeming them “bad” as people. She was just afraid that they would change my view of myself, and the world, and make me and my dreams smaller. And really, she was right. That could have happened. And that’s an infinitely more damaging thing than drugs or drinking or skipping school.
I think when our parents are disapproving of our friends, only sometimes is it because of the concrete, tangible things about them; it’s rarely what they do. It’s usually who they are. Being so in love with our friends, and feeling protective of them when we’re young, it’s hard to see that. As adults, one of the most important things we learn is how to identity the ones who, even if we love them and they love us, are dangerously capable of being bad for us in a bigger way. In their own dumb parent way, I think this is what warning us about “bad influences” was about.
Grounding you when you step out of line
When we were young, there was nothing quite so infuriating as being grounded. It meant different things depending on who your parents were; maybe you couldn’t go anywhere except school and family shit, maybe it included phone and internet, possibly even a ban on TV. It also depended how badly you’d fucked up. Regardless, it didn’t make a lot of sense to me in terms of it being an actual solid parenting practice wherein real lessons would be learned. Sure, it was a pretty good deterrent; I didn’t want to be grounded, therefore I tried not to get caught doing bad things. But did the punishment itself really teach us anything? I finally realized it did.
You know how you can get into a phase where you’re doing more and more of something that you know isn’t healthy? Maybe you’ve been going out and drinking a lot more than you should in recent weeks, or perhaps you keep ending up in bed with that person who you know isn’t right for you, but you’re like a snowball rolling down a hill – sometimes you can’t stop the bad habits until you force yourself to hide out in your apartment for a week or two and just stop. Just take a break, hit the reset button on your life, evaluate what you’ve been doing that isn’t working, why it’s not working, and what you can possibly do better as you go forward, and then go back out into the world. In other words, we ground ourselves all the time. We just hated it when our parents did it because A) it was sold to us as punishment rather than a helpful thing, and B) we didn’t yet understand that everyone needs to put themselves in time out occasionally.
Ignoring the haters
When I was 9, I moved to a new school. I was in third grade, which meant by Standard School Bus Protocol, I was supposed to sit somewhere in the middle of the bus. But our bus was overcrowded, and my stop was the last pick-up of the morning, so by the time I got on, finding a seat took a painfully long moment. A moment of awkward, 9-year-old me standing, directionless and homeless, swaying precariously as the bus driving just fucking started driving anyway, like what even was that, I wasn’t even sitting. Point being, this mean 5th grader name Tiffani (of course that’s how she spelled it. Fucking of course.) Walker yelled at me “SIT DOWN, YOU E.T.-LOOKIN’ BITCH!” To be fair, it wasn’t a great insult. I didn’t look like E.T. I mean, I didn’t fully have my sexy game together at 9, but there as literally zero resemblance between me and that little alien. Regardless, it was at least scarring enough that I’m now 27 and still remember her name and how she spelled it, so needless to say, I was upset at the time. I spent days trying to figure out what to say to her to verbally destroy her will to live. I mentally tried to concoct some way to viciously compare her to Teddy Ruxpin or Uncle Joey or someone equally unattractive.
My mother, in an act of insight that took me years to understand, told me to say nothing. To let it go. I was all, “Yes, but she is a cunt and I am smarter than her so I’m basically required to come up with a better insult.” In the end, I’m pretty sure I said nothing, and while the social nuance of elementary schoolers is essentially non-existent, I now understand that if the adult equivalent of that situation were to arise (and it does, all the goddamn time), you will always look like the better person for not engaging haters who have nothing but baseless insults to throw. Throwing down in an intelligent debate with someone who disagrees with you and has thoughtful arguments that might lead to mutual understanding? Do that. Do that thing all day long. But haters merely being senseless haters? Ignore them, and focus on navigating the swaying bus as you try to find your place.