I’m not pretty enough to be “bourgie,” not “down” enough to fight. I’m not lucky, and even when I deserve to win, someone more seasoned or better connected gets the prize. I’m stuck in the hard worker zone.
If I think about it, I can admit that my relatives and teachers inundated me with stories and quotations espousing the benefits of hard work. “The Three Little Pigs” and other such tales forced children to believe that eventually, if they worked hard enough, there would be some tangible reward at the end. (Wolf soup, anyone?) I was taught that no one owes me anything, and if I want to get ahead, it will be at the behest of my own personal motivation and dedication. And my dad, one of the hardest working people I have ever met, would be quick to retort when I screwed up and offered some weak rationale that “excuses are the tools of the incompetent.” Needless to say, at a very young age, I learned that being “incompetent” wasn’t a good thing. (Thank goodness for context clues.)
When I look around today, though, I wonder why we aren’t teaching our kids the same things we were taught. Many of us, without ever saying so, are letting our children believe that they are “special” and need not strive for what they want. We give in to every whim and demand, and for all the “grounding” we do, no punishment is ever heaped for all the laptops, IPods, and Playstations in bedrooms. I can’t believe how much our kids get away with considering how little we could do and how well we’ve turned out. I’ve witnessed children yell at their parents at report-card pick-up nights about how their D’s and F’s are ultimately their parents’ faults. I’ve called home about some incredibly disrespectful statement a child has made to me in class and heard parents reply, “Oh, yeah, she does that at home, too.” What’s wrong with us?
I remember the supersonic hearing my mom had when I mumbled a floor away from her, “I hate you,” and how she ran up those stairs, down the hallway, and into my room with red eyes and steaming hair just to say, “No , you don’t, but if you really think you feel that way, you can get the hell out of my house!” (She meant it, too. I know it because that lady’s crazy.) I remember how when I got my first C in the seventh grade in pre-algebra how she went out to buy Math Made Simple because she didn’t know how to do it and my dad was working every night. She expected me to pull up my grade, too, because in her mind, if I could read, that’s all the tutoring I needed. I remember, when I asked my mother to start giving me an allowance, the guttural laughter that burst from her loins as she tried through tears of amusement to convey how much she had “allowed” already without having to give up “one red cent” to my lazy ass. I remember how she had asked me to clean up my room before I went outside with my friends and how I had ignored her, and when I came back inside, all I had was a bed, dresser with clothes, and desk for my homework left in my room. She had thrown everything else away. I remember how she was bouncing up and down like a prizefighter about to take on his biggest nemesis chanting, “I dare you to question me, I dare yo’ ass to question me” as I fixed my mouth to ask her where was all my stuff. In short, I remember how my mother taught me to value everything I had and to work for everything I wanted. There were no excuses about my age, recalling of her own troubled background as a reason for giving me whatever I wanted, or deviation from what she knew was right. She was a parent. An ugly, gutter, get-in-your-face, I’ll-slap-the-black-off-you, I-wish-you-would, wait-‘til-yo’-daddy-get-home, you-better-not-even-think-about-it, I-didn’t-ask-you-what-you-wanted, real-talking, ass-kickin’ parent. And I know I’m the person I am because of it.
For all the “hardships” we faced growing up, most of us should admit that all of those trying moments ultimately worked out for our good. And, no, we weren’t happy or appreciative at 10, 14, or 18 years old, but as adults, we can see how those things shaped us into the self-sufficient, hard working people we are today. Let’s remember that as we embark on this parenting thing ourselves, we are raising a group of young people slated to be the first generation in American history to make less than their parents do. (I read this somewhere.) Here’s my philosophy, if you’re okay with Little Ray-Ray or Meeka sitting at home at 25 still asking you “what’s for dinner?” and “did you wash my jeans?” keep doing what you’re doing. Otherwise, in the words of my mother, “I dare yo’ ass to question me.”