As a kid, I went to a YMCA day camp on the north shore of Boston that was located on an island. Every morning, the campers took a boat from the dock to camp and every afternoon, we returned by boat to our awaiting parents. It was one of those things that was far better in theory than actuality, as the camp was pretty poorly run and kind of a dump. Well it was every day, except for the visiting days when the parents got to see it and remind us 57,932 times just how lucky we were to go to camp there. Which we were… in theory.
The highlight of that camp were the days that were too rainy to take a boat out so they were spent at the Y, watching movies, listening to tapes and making macramé bracelets. That was the kind of summer camp I could get on board with. No swimming, no races, no dodge ball, no poison ivy… sign me up!
One of those days, in between braiding hair and licking orange cheese puff cheese off of our fingers, we listened to the Free to Be You and Me soundtrack to pass the time. There, on the floor of the community room listening to Marlo Thomas belt out Parents Are People, my life forever changed. “Parents are people,” she sang. “People with children. When parents were little they used to be small, like some of you. And then they grew.” Hold the (corded) phone, I remember thinking. My parents are people? My parents, the folks whom I sincerely thought were put on this earth for no reason other than to produce my brother and I, were… people? People?!
It was an epiphany of earth shattering proportions.
Until that moment, I thought of my parents solely as my mother and father and it simply never dawned on me that they had a life or existence outside of my brother and me. I mean, I suppose I was aware that they grew up in different places and met in school and eventually got married and had us, but I never spent any time reflecting on what that meant. To me, they were just my parents who knew everything and made only the wisest choices. For me.
I don’t ever recall seeing my mom flustered or overwhelmed. I can count on one hand the number of times I heard my father really yell and the single time I heard my mom utter the word “fuck” is forever burned in my brain. They could shoot a single look, which would snap my brother and I into instant obedience—one that I would pay a million dollars to possess now, as a parent. Back then, my mom and dad had all of the answers to every question I asked, and guiding us just seemed effortless.
As an adult, I know that my parents didn’t have all the answers or do everything the right way, but they did fake it really well. Or, at least well enough to fool me as a child. I never once questioned that they knew what they were doing or had any doubts themselves. Maybe that’s the key to parenthood: Pretend you know what the hell you’re doing until your kids know better than to believe it.
Unlike me, my children will never have the luxury of thinking that I’m anything other than a completely flawed human being. I raise my voice more often than I’d like to admit and my kids don’t flinch when they hear a curse word pass my lips because it’s simply not all that rare of an occurrence. They’ve seen me cry out of frustration and witnessed me slam the door in an effort to scare them into listening to me. They’ve seen me stressed out and sad and confused and angry. They’ve heard me answer with an “I don’t know” when I truly just don’t. For better or worse, they know me exactly for who I am: Just a person, who is lucky enough to be their mother, and who loves them more than anything.
Some days, I think that’s all they really need to know.