Thursday, March 22, 2012

Fear Factor

This is a call or arms to live and love and sleep together
We could flood the streets with love or light or heat
Lock the parents out, cut a rug, twist and shout
Wave your hands
Make it rain
For stars will rise again
- The Youth, MGMT

Can't you see that you're smothering me,
Holding too tightly, afraid to lose control?
'Cause everything that you thought I would be
Has fallen apart right in front of you.

- Numb, Linkin Park

I have explored this topic before, but it is on my mind a lot lately for a few different reasons, so I'm going to look at it again and see if I can come up with any deep, heartfelt answers for myself.  And the topic is:  letting your adult children live their lives.

Gaining a true sense of independence means having the ability to screw up royally - knocking yourself on your own ass, having to pick yourself back up, dust yourself off and figure out how not to do that again.  I did it.  I bet you, dear reader, did too.  What none of us probably knew was how worrisome that was for our parents, trying hard not to stand in our way, but also trying not to be too far afield in case we needed them.  And, what most of us probably failed to completely appreciate is how much danger we put ourselves, at least on occasion.  I actually would have sent my mother screaming down to Texas to forcibly fetch me if she knew half of the completely idiotic situations I got myself into when I first moved there.  I can honestly make myself shudder sometimes to think back on those early days out of the nest.   Yet, here I stand, all these decades later, when a young man just coming back to work from making a down payment on grad school admission was shot and killed randomly a couple of weeks ago.   One of my favorite Austin eateries, Amy's Ice Cream, has this saying:  "Life is uncertain.  Eat dessert first."  Michael Schaab, 25-year old employee of Western Psych, reportedly had his lunch in his hand when he was shot and killed.  He never even got to the dessert.  What's even more horrible about the death of this attractive, reportedly very affable young man who had just gotten engaged on Valentine's Day, was that his sister had been shot to death a couple years before by her boyfriend.  Now their parents are bereft of their only two children in explosive acts of violence, and my own natural reaction to it is a knee-jerk, emotional one, which is to draw my only remaining child's reins in tighter.

This story intersects for me on several levels.  I know where Western Psych is - even as directionally challenged as I am.  It's in Oakland, the location of many of the area colleges including Pitt, just minutes away from where my daughter goes to school.  The apartment building where the troubled young shooter lived is on my husband's paper route.  He knew I would like the older building with its art deco interior, so he took me there one day and lead my up to the roof, where one can get a simply stunning view of Oakland and the surrounding areas.  I thought it would be a charming place to live if we ever got to the point we could not keep up a house anymore, but they don't allow dogs, so that's not going to happen.  But, above all else, I feel a sense of pain for the two sets of parents who lost sons on a rainy afternoon (for the attacker was the other fatality on that day, a troubled young man whose story is slowly unraveling much like it seems his mental stability did over a period of years).  What no one knows, and may never know, is why the demons who played around in his head caused him to do what he did.  But, whatever compelled him, a tragedy occurred that touched everyone here in some way or other.

So, I've been turning this story of two lost sons over in my head and playing it against the backdrop of trying to allow my own daughter a sense of independence and trying to take what lessons I can from it.  I would imagine I am not the only parent doing the same thing around here.  So, to those parents, myself included, I caution us to remember our own youthful adventures and how we felt we had the right to live our own lives.  If nothing else, if your parents are still living, now you have the opportunity to go beg their forgiveness for any actions you once perceived as nosy and tell them how you now understand.  To the young adults who may feel like you are on an invisible leash and resent it, remember this please:  being an adult is not about doing what you want when you want, it is about being responsible.  And that means to yourself as well as others.  Parents, you cannot tell them who to see or where to be or what not to drink, but I ask all offspring out there to remember to be responsible enough to let us in on where you are, who you are seeing and not to drink too much.  And remember who pays the bills and what you owe that entity: if it is from a job, then you owe them the honor of being there when you are supposed to and doing what you are employed to do.  If it is still your parents, well then, I would ask you to think of it a little bit like having sold them, or at least leased to them, the right to be worried about you.  If you want independence, then be independent.  Parents, sometimes no matter how you worry and how your kids respond to it, bad things can happen.  We have to realize that and accept it.  But, kids, remember that the only motivation we have for fussing at you about where you are and what you are doing is that we love you.  A lot.  Wait a few years until you begin your own family. You'll get it then.

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