“Do you know what a GPA is and how it works?” I asked my daughter a few years ago.
“I think so,” she said. Instead of taking her at her word, I began a long explanation that included what GPA means, how it averages, and how it can be affected by just one grade. “Okay, I understand,” she told me, her right arm raised as a stop sign.
I grew up in the 80s and 90s and entered adulthood dangerously naive. My parents thought I would learn the world in school or through peers. More likely, they assumed that if I was raised in a sheltered, safe parochial environment, I would be spared the harsh reality of life when I grow up.
It turned out just the opposite.
As a freshman in Southern California, I did a quiz on safe behavior in college with a few girls. I failed every question. The girl who lived opposite me asked me, “Why don’t you know that?” I blamed growing up in the small town of Oregon for that. In the absence of any tangible understanding of how the world works, I blindly stumbled into adulthood with the assumption that everything would somehow come out on its own. We all know what they say about assumptions, and for me, that has proven to be true time and time again.
A few years later, I experienced a panic attack when I was told that my driver’s license would be revoked for one year because I had not paid the speeding fine. It may sound ridiculous, but I came to this desperate place because of the movie “Liar, Liar.” There is a scene in the film where Fletcher Reed, played by Jim Carrey, is stopped by a police officer. Reed, who can’t lie, tells the officer he has a large supply of unpaid parking tickets in his glove compartment. I don’t remember anyone being fined for speeding in my small hometown of 2,000 residents, so after watching the film I really assumed that people didn’t pay for the tickets and that issuing them was a stricter warning than requiring are met. and actually address them. I managed to raise money and pay the fine, but for the next few weeks I scolded myself and wondered how I could be so stupid.
In my early adulthood, I can recall dozens of such experiences. From recognizing and understanding different cultures, religions, and ethnic backgrounds to how credit rating works and why it’s important, I want my parents to introduce me to any number of real-world objects and scenarios as I grow up. Eventually, I started looking for knowledge that I felt I was missing. Problem? I often didn’t know what I didn’t know. Too many times I was faced with a situation that I wasn’t aware I didn’t understand until I was in the middle of it, which forced me to learn things the hard way.
When I became a mother, I vowed to make sure my child was armed with knowledge I never had so that he could go into adulthood equally or even ahead of everyone else. This has become an obsession for me and I regularly explain too much to my daughter. I keep telling myself that I would rather be in the blink of an eye of a teenager than send her out into the world without realizing I have to make my way.
When I talked to other members of Generation X about my eloquent propensity, I realized I wasn’t alone. We are extreme communicators who transform ourselves into walking, talking dictionaries and encyclopedias that vomit information that our children don’t know they need. And no wonder: Generations X are labeled self-sufficient and resourceful, but also grim and cynical, not to mention rebellious. My rebellion consists of taking my mother’s and father’s method of parenting and doing the opposite.
I often find opportunities to fill my child with knowledge, and I never let them down without opening up to this topic. I am known to have stopped the TV shows and movies we watch to talk to her about something that is happening on the screen. She has learned not to complain as I hold the remote hostage until I say my own.
“I always tell myself that I’d rather have teenage eyes than send her out into the world without realizing I have to make my way.”
My daughter is starting high school this year and this has opened a new chapter for me, as well as too much of an interpreter and too much of an interpreter about her experiences from that time in my life. She will have a lot of information to successfully navigate the world as a woman.
I struggled with memories of my first year of high school, where, all 100 pounds the size of DDD breasts, I received unwanted glances and calls from older students every day. When I finally admitted to my mom that my band teacher was joking with my breasts in a room full of hormonal peers, she was angry but did nothing. In 1989, where I lived, you didn’t complain, let alone go to the administration to formally object. My stomach churns when I imagine my daughter receiving such unwanted attention. In the age of Me Too, when sexual harassment is more often acknowledged, I promise to raise holy hell on behalf of my daughter if it ever happens to her.
For now, I let her know that any unwanted look, touch, or comment cannot be ignored. I remind her that she can tell me anything, even if she’s afraid that what she has to say will upset me. I assure her that as her parent, it is my job to arm her with the information she will need as she makes her way through high school and beyond. I promise her that I will try to listen to her when she tells me that I don’t have to expose a particular topic again, but I explain where my passion for her education comes from, and I agree that she won’t hesitate to ask when she has them. I swear to her that every question is important and that her willingness to ask is valuable.
When I’m done, he nods. I suspect she may agree just to silence me, but even if half of what I passed on to her sinks in, that’s a lot more than I had to continue at her age. My pattern of exaggerated explanation has become a kind of joke in our household and I’m fine with that. I will be happy to take it from her and my husband if I can rest in the awareness that I am doing everything in my power to protect my child from the negative experiences I have endured.
In the last few months, my child has acquired a new habit: entering a room or opening a dialogue with the phrase, “I have a question”. Just hearing her say those words triggers a flood of relief in me, because I know she’s comfortable enough to look for information about something she doesn’t know. They say knowledge is power, and I know that’s true because I’ve lived the other side of that coin as well. I want to make my child a strong adult, one explanation after another too much.
Jeanne Epstein lives, writes and works in the Berkshire Mountains of western Massachusetts. Her work was published in Skirt magazine! in Kveller.