05 June 2010

I'm NOT just like my mother

All my life I sort of wondered why I never really fit. I didn't seem to value the same things that I was told I should value. I always wanted to go places and see things. My parents, and my mother in particular, placed a high value on financial and emotional security and material comfort. Now those are not bad things, per se. In fact, it is quite normal, I think, for parents to want their children to value things that will ensure their health and prosperity. However. I didn't want the husband, the kids, the house, and the white picket fence. Never. Not even for a moment. And all that has served to do is make me feel like a stranger in a strange land.

My mother plans endless furniture purchases, redecorating ideas, and major upgrades to house and yard. She has only become more invested in her home since my father passed away 25 years ago. She has added an enclosed porch, a outdoor "room", a major patio, custom fences, expensive landscaping, and on and on. I know that when the time comes for someone to take care of her, one of us will have to move into her house to do so, because that woman ain't never leaving that house. But here's the kicker: I never much liked the house we lived in growing up. It was new, painted all white (my mother's choice), and my mother lived in fear of nailing a hole in that precious plasterwork. So we had pictures leaning against the walls at foot height. We were forbidden from putting up posters in our rooms (tape on the plaster walls--lawsy no!). It wasn't a warm, inviting home. It had no character. It was a place to sleep at night. For those of you who want to know why every room in my house is painted a bright color....just look at how I grew up. I couldn't take it anymore!

When I was young, I wasn't given things. I wanted designer jeans like all the other girls at school, but my father laughed. We had to show him a hole in our shoes to get a new pair. Hell, I never recall once even asking for a haircut. We were being given a college education. So on the one hand, my parents taught me to place no value on some material things and ultimate value on other material things. My parents didn't believe in spending money on experiences. We went on three real vacations when I was young. We didn't eat out at restaurants. We stayed home and knocked around the neighborhood all summer. Sometimes we went camping on weekends. Sometimes we went fishing. It's what we did.

So I had never been anywhere and I'd never seen anything until I was in college. I had never been to a professional sports game. I had never eaten in a Mexican or Chinese restaurant. I went to Canada once for an afternoon when my dad took us on a business trip with him to Niagara Falls. I was starved for experiences.

When I was a freshman in college, I wanted to go to Mardi Gras. I asked my parents to loan me $50 so I could go with my friends. They not only refused but I got an hour lecture on why Mardi Gras was such a "waste of money". They may have wanted to teach me the value of money, but they taught me something else. They taught me that if I wanted to live my own life the way I saw fit, I was going to have to leave my parents out of it. Starting in college, I began to lie to my parents in earnest. They weren't always outright lies. Mostly they were lies of omission. "What are you doing this weekend?" "Oh, just hanging out with my friends." I learned that if I wanted to live my life without a constant barrage of unsolicited advice and lectures, I had to keep my lifestyle from my parents. So I went to Chicago with my roommate. And I went to Kentucky Derby, but somewhere in the back of my mind, I have always felt like a bit of a shit for splurging on those things.

The first time I went to Chicago, I was hooked. It had everything. My head was on a swivel. That town had so many things to experience, I thought I'd never run out of things to do. I did it all. Seriously. I enjoyed that city. Fireworks on the lakefront. Every museum and summer festival. White Sox games. Chinatown. Greektown. Uptown. Downtown. You name it. I probably did it twice.

Today, I was reading this article discussing whether "things" or "experiences" bring greater happiness. And the conclusion was that we get happiness from both, but (depending on the person), we can get greater satisfaction from one than the other. This was an epiphany for me. My mother is the kind of person who gets her happiness surrounding herself with stuff and I am not. My idea of heaven is throwing dogs and backpacks and sleeping bags in the car and going.

It has always somewhat surprised me when someone asks me if I am afraid to do the things I do (drive across the country, do research in remote areas, and do all of it alone). But then, I have realized that they could no more do that than I could live the quiet, safe little life that they find such satisfaction in. To me, that would be hell.

My greatest disappointment in life, I'd have to say, is that I haven't found anyone who wants to do these things with me. But I'm not waiting on him. I waited 30 years to get started. I don't have any more time to waste.

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