TOKYO, September 26, 2011 - When I was a teenager many, many, many years ago, my mother assumed she had every right to open letters addressed to me, to screen my phone calls, to listen in on them without my permission and to go through my drawers whenever she pleased.
And of course, the more she violated my right to privacy, the harder I tried to hide things from her. Instead of sharing epic moments of my teenage life with her, I clammed up and said nothing. When I needed advice on the dreaded subject of boys and dating, I turned to friends, and without the expert guidance of Google, it was pretty much the blind leading the blind.
Now that I know what it is like to parent a teenager, I can see why my mother acted the way she did. She wanted to protect me from everyone, everything, and most probably, from the teenage me. Still, there is no denying that I resented her long after I had outgrown my teenage awkwardness, and when Maia was born, I vowed to respect her privacy at all times.
Knowing that spying and snooping were not going to be in my weapons arsenal during the tumultuous teenage years, I began my very own campaign of winning a heart and a mind as soon as I detected some sign of emotional and intellectual intelligence in the tiny creature I cradled in my arms.
Gut instinct told me that communication was going to be vital, and that I had to firmly establish effective channels of communication between Maia and me before the going got tough and rough.
So, I was talking to Maia even before she could utter her first word. I talked to her as soon as she woke up. It did not matter if she woke because she was hungry, or needed her diaper changed, or was tired of sleeping. I talked to her when I was feeding her, from my breast or from a bottle. I talked to her when I changed her diaper, when I bathed her, when I cooked and cleaned, when we went for walks. I talked to her nonstop, and while I had no doubt I was making myself understood, I often wondered if my neighbors thought I simply liked listening to the sound of my own voice.
Maia and I were inseparable until she was big enough to be left alone playing in the sandbox. Together with the other toddlers, she mixed sand and water while I sat and whiled the time away chatting with their mothers. On the way home from the park, I never failed to ask Maia what she did, and she always had the same answer until she learned more words.
When Maia started going to pre-school, I began a routine that would last until her last day of school as a high school senior.
Maia came home to a meal, or a snack that we often shared, and while we ate, she talked about her day. I listened intently, and I asked questions, and I listened even more intently to her answers. She critiqued the snacks served during her years at the United Nations International School. She expressed frustration at not being passed the basketball during P.E. classes at the American School in Japan. She dreamt aloud of getting a major role in the annual musical of the Vienna International School. And during the years she spent completing the International Baccalaureate Program at the International School Bangkok, she shared with me the lectures of the day.
In establishing a daily routine that included communicating, I was hoping that Maia would always feel she could discuss anything and everything with me, including boys and dating…especially boys and dating.
I was not disappointed. In fifth grade, one of the boys in her class asked if she would like to go out with him. Maia was completely taken by surprise, and although she was surrounded by friends who were all eager to give advice, she came home to ask me for suggestions on how to say no without hurting his feelings.
Many years later, she came home from a movie date to declare that there would be nothing more than friendship between her and her date because when he touched her hand, it did not feel right. All she could think of was yanking her hand back, but not wanting to hurt his feelings, she waited until the credits were rolling. Fortunately, her date reached out to hold her hand towards the end of the movie.
Maia knew that unlike my mother, I would never violate her right to privacy, but she also knew that if I suspected she was in physical danger, or that she was physically endangering others, I would not think twice of acting exactly like my mother. I reserved the right to declare martial law a la mommy.
Maia and I managed to survive her teenage years without me resorting to questionable guerrilla tactics. They were tumultuous years indeed, but I never had to secretly check her laptop, eavesdrop on her conversations, or rifle through her drawers. She never gave me a reason to break my vow.
Like any other mother with a teenage daughter, I disagreed with Maia, and quite often, our arguments progressed to raised voices, and concluded with slamming doors. I did not like all of Maia’s choices, but I let het make them anyway because I valued that she discussed her choices with me.
So, did I really never secretly read any of her letters?
Well, there are those letters to Santa Claus, but they were not written during her teenage years, and I was acting on behalf of Santa Claus.
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