I am what some might call a “late bloomer.”
Raised in a religion known for its conservative principles and lifestyle, I was, in a word, weird. I did not wear nail polish, play organized sports, or go out with friends on Friday night. While most kids my age were eating Beanie-Weenies, watching Saturday morning cartoons, and playing Pac-Man, I was experiencing a very different version of the ’80s. One could say I had strict parents.
I was a vegetarian before vegetarianism was cool, dining on meat substitutes with names like “Big Franks” and “Stripples.” At restaurants, I was the one ordering a hamburger without the meat. I didn’t experience my first real hot dog until I was in my 20s, which was right around the time I discovered pepperoni. As it turns out, unclean meat is delicious.
No one in my bubble drank or swore or wore jewelry. My ears were not pierced, and we led a very simple life. There wasn’t much television-watching and moviegoing was frowned upon, so I often don’t understand jokes involving pop culture pre-2000. I’ve never seen Ferris Bueller’s Day Off or Sixteen Candles. My parents were very careful about what they allowed me to watch and read, because they believe that everything we take in affects our minds and hearts.
Maybe they’re right—but it still really pissed me off that I couldn’t watch The Smurfs.
On days when I just want to scream “Fuck this shit!” while cooking dinner for my own family, I’m reminded of the fact that I’ve never heard my own mother utter a curse word. It’s a high standard to live up to, and I fall terribly short (I’m working on my guilt issues), but it is helpful for me to know that it’s possible to parent without acting like a lunatic.
My parents modeled healthy behavior in marriage and parenting, and I had no idea how fortunate I was to have a happy, secure home. That is why, oddities aside, I’m thankful for my upbringing. While they were certainly conservative, my parents also managed to give me the freedom to make my own choices. I didn’t realize how strange my life was until I was older, and it didn’t really matter, because I was happy. I gained the confidence to push myself mentally and physically as I embarked on long adventures in the woods around our home, armed with nothing more than my imagination and our German shepherd.
By age 7, I was canoeing alone in the lake behind our house, climbing trees, and rocketing through the woods on my bike. My parents didn’t helicopter; they let me breathe. They stood back with a watchful eye and let me explore, screw up, and reap the consequences of my actions. Sheltered from outside influences, I was free to build an inner strength that I carried with me into adulthood, honing and refining it with age and experience. My opinions were not rooted in or shaped by popular opinion, because I had no idea what popular opinion was.
When I started dating, my experience was not normal by any stretch of the imagination, but even when I was considering marrying a boy they did not approve of, my parents let me make my own choices. I ended up not marrying that boy, but I appreciated that they kept their mouths shut about it and let me figure it out on my own. They recognized that good parenting does not equal trying to control your child; I think we can all agree that attempts to control anyone almost always backfire. In my case, their discipline and thoughtful guidance gave me the tools I needed to make good decisions.
A typical late bloomer, I didn’t know how to properly apply makeup until I was well into adulthood, but the important thing is that I did learn. I hope I can preserve my own children’s innocence and protect their childhood. There is no need to rush. Except for eyebrow plucking, that should have been rushed.
I may not share my parents’ views on everything now that I am an adult with children of my own, but I do have the ability to shut out what the rest of the world says and do what I know in my heart is right. I have a gut instinct that can only develop from years of listening to that still, small voice.
And if nothing else, my upbringing taught me that being weird is not the worst thing that can happen to a person.