The Imperfectly Perfect Childhood

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Drowning in anger, she stomps her foot into the ground, “But Mom!” You can almost hear the shrieking tone she holds the “O” out with, can’t you? “It’s not fair!” The red color of her face deepens as she screams. Her enraged escalation up the stairs to her room shakes the house, and an exaggerated groan echoes as she falls onto her bed.

You’ve seen this scene before. Or if you’re lucky enough to have somehow dodged all the inevitable teenage girl meltdowns around you, then you’ve most definitely seen it in a movie. This is about the time when she calls up her friend, tells her that her mom is absolutely insane and when she’s a parent, she will never be like that. She’s going to let her kid do whatever they want, whenever they want. Naturally, this will make her kid absolutely love her too; it will be perfect.

I get it. As a seventeen year old girl with parents who ask her every half hour when she is out what she’s doing and who she’s doing it with, I know it best: parents are annoying. They make unnecessary rules, yell at you for unnecessary things, and unnecessarily do things that are often far from fair. It might make you roll your eyes, cry, or scream; you might wish you lived alone, or that your parents wouldn’t ask where you were all the time–and understandably so.

In the moment, it may appear as if such annoyances and screaming matches might disrupt a hypothetically perfect childhood right at its seams. The easiest solution seems to be the parenting method which the aforementioned girl claimed she would adopt: let your child do what they want, get what they want, say what they want. Avoid the fight, the eye roll, the groan.

Nonetheless, I would argue that a childhood in which every moment is perfect is not perfect at all. The fight, the eye roll, the groan–that is what makes a perfect childhood. Admittedly, the peaceful, happy moments should outweigh those filled with shrieks and glares, but a perfect childhood is most definitely one in which each individual moment is far, far away from perfection.

When I hear the word “childhood”, I think of my family. I think of anxiously awaiting eight o’clock on a Friday night with my sister, beyond ready for the newest episode of Hannah Montana. I think of the excitement that came with the sound of my dad finally getting home from work. I think of meeting my neighbors in the pine trees between our houses to plan this afternoon’s vicious game of kickball. I think of setting out desks on the floor of my flawless mess of a room, making my brother and sister fill out sketchy worksheets I printed out, pretending to be their teacher. And I think of my dad trying so extremely hard to coach my softball team, which was probably one of the most unathletic group of girls that has ever stepped on a field. We had proudly named ourselves the Bubblegum Flying Pigs in a pitiable reference to our pink uniforms.

I also think of getting in a fight with my sister over the TV remote, that ends with biting my own arm and telling my mom that she did it. I think of screaming matches with my mom, and claiming that I needed to go to a therapist to complain about her. I think of my parents dragging me to soccer practices I wanted no part of because “I made a commitment and I was going to have to go through with it whether I liked it or not.” I think of chasing my dad around the house shrieking that he never listens to me after getting in a fight while he tried to coach me in basketball. One time I even shattered a water bottle on my bedroom floor out of anger. And I think of my parents not letting me get an email for a year and a half–I wasn’t allowed to until I learned to say hello to my friends’ parents. This was a terribly daunting task for a ten year old as awkwardly timid as I was.

I’m going to college next year. I won’t be able to burst into my sister’s room to complain or laugh about the questionable things my friends said today. I won’t be able to go over all the family drama with my mom everyday. I won’t live two minutes away from the friends I’ve had for years anymore; I am going to miss it more than even I know right now. But I’m going to miss all of it. The screaming, the fights, the curfew; even the email for a hello tradeoff. I might even miss my brother’s much too long, ratty hair covering his face–and of course, my parents’ often stringent rules.

And if you ask me, that is the key to a perfect childhood: the good and the bad, the pleasant and the annoying, the smiles and the hysterical screaming. There’s no precise formula for parenting. However, there is love, family, and of course, junk food. There’s telling your kids you love them and you’re proud of them, and that you will be on their side–even when you know they’re wrong. There’s also tough love, making them do things they don’t want to do, and sometimes stopping them from doing things they do want to do. And they might roll their eyes, glare at you, or if they’re anything like my sister, begin screeching as if the whole world is coming to end, but they will remember it–and do so with a smile on their face. Every annoying quirk, obscure tradition, and nugatory memory that you want to retreat back to when everything else seems to be falling apart–that is what makes a childhood perfect.

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