The other day I took my gorgeous niece for a haircut as a treat for her 14th birthday. She wanted a new style, something edgier than she could get at her regular hairdresser and cooler than what she had at 13. So, I took her to a fabulous salon on Newbury Street – a Mecca of upscale salons in Boston. 60 bucks later she was beaming – obviously really happy with her cut. I’d pay 60 grand to see that smile. Her hair is a little spiky, a lot layered, just enough covering one eye, just long enough in the back. She loves it. On the way home I asked her what else she had planned for her birthday. Was she going to have a party with friends to celebrate? She looked at me as if I had asked if she was going to Chuck-e-Cheese. No. None of that. But she was going to see her favorite band at some club (accompanied by an adult, of course). She planned to get there early for autograph signings and to meet the band. My how times have changed.
Now, when I was young…My parents – more specifically my mother – had complete control over everything I did. I mean EVERYTHING. Haircuts? Well, my mother took me once a year to the same place where she got hers done. And let me tell you, my mom didn’t go to Dellaria. Every year, about a week or so after the last day of school my mother would take me with her to see Angie. She was a nice Italian lady who cut hair at a hotel salon the next town over. After she was done coloring my mother’s hair light ash brown, she’d go to town on me. I’d sit there in a chair flanked by old, old, old ladies in tight curlers who pummeled me with questions and clucked out a running commentary. How old are you, dear? What are you going to do on your summer vacation? My granddaughter is your age and she looks just like you! (Ya, sure she does.) And Angie would chop all my hair off. My hair is super curly so I’d walk out of there looking like Gary Coleman just praying that by September it’d be long enough to wear barrettes again. I wanted long hair so badly. I wanted mine to look like Lorna Archdeacon’s – straight and shiny and always in perfect braids. But as a kid, I didn’t get to choose. My mother didn’t want to deal and she wanted it short. So there you have it.
I didn’t get to do lots of things other kids did then and certainly none of the things kids get to do now. Take sleepovers. All across America kids have them. Sleepovers with their friends where they eat snacks, paint their nails, watch movies. Well, I wasn’t allowed. I slept at home, in my own bed, every night. Sometimes I’d ask if I could sleep at my friend’s – right up the street. No way. “What are you a gypsy,” my mother would ask. Same went for dinner. Every meal was at home. And every meal was home cooked. Looking back I should have been thrilled with the meals my mother put on the table – always some Neapolitan dish with firsts, seconds and sides. But back then I would have given my left arm to have tuna casserole or mac and cheese like everyone else in my class had. I remember one time I asked my mother to make me mac and cheese and much to my surprise she agreed! But wait, where was the blue and yellow box? Where were the little elbow macaroni? The powdery cheese? No, no, no. This was not Kraft. This was Carmela. So my mac and cheese was rigatoni smothered in provolone, mozzarella and parmeggiano reggiano. It was delicious but not what I had in mind. I just wanted fake, orangey-yellow mac and cheese like everyone else. Oh well. Dig in.
My cousin’s daughter, who’s 16, got her first job this Fall. Her parents are proud, but limit the hours she can work to make sure she still has time for after school activities and homework. She does cheering, plays an instrument, takes dance – and she’s encouraged to do so. My parents didn’t believe in after school stuff like that. I went to school, I went to work, I came home and did my homework. Anything outside of that would surely subject me to the evil American influence that would result in me growing up to be a slut. I was 12 when I started working at a farm stand. I’d ride my bike there – it was pretty far – and I’d ride my bike home. My mom was pretty excited because she got my 10% employee discount. So, boo-hoo, I never learned to express my creativity through dance or piano and never learned the importance of teamwork through sports. But I’ll tell you what I did learn. I learned personal responsibility and I learned how to earn a buck. For that I’m grateful.
If you walk into my niece’s bedroom, you’ll see it’s all her. The walls are purple – or at least what you can see of them behind posters of her favorite guitarist. Last night she said she’s considering painting it red. She has a funky comforter, dressers topped with all her “things,” a tv, a dvd player and a closet full of clothes that she chose – all black. It was different for me. First of all I didn’t even have a room. I’m at the point where I’ve come to terms with the fact that I was not planned (I will not say mistake). So when I came along, my parents didn’t have a room for me. There were no carved letters strung by pink ribbon spelling out my name above my crib in a perfect 10×10 room. I slept in my parents’ room until I was too big for a crib. Then I moved to the dining room where I slept on a fold up cot that would go back in the closet every morning. Seriously. You know what a pain in the ass that was? “Ma, I’m so tired. I’m going to bed.” Then I’d wheel out the cot, unsnap the blue plastic straps that held it upright and push it into the corner. Get the sheets, make the cot, then get in. And I did it myself. Now to get a kid to go to sleep they get the 30 minute, 15 minute and 5 minute warnings. Then it’s a project to put on their PJs, then you have to call the Queen and the President because look – they’re in their big girl bed!
Anyway, as I got older I tried to add some personal touches to my dining room/bedroom. The year I was twelve, I was in love with Michael Jackson and I won a Thriller mirror at the Carnival down the street from my house. I was psyched!! This would be the perfect accessory for my room and since I wasn’t allowed to affix anything to the walls, I leaned it up on the ledge of the china cabinet. Well, my mother flipped! How dare I bring a piece of trash into the house and even worse put it up for everyone to see!!?? She blurted out some racial slurs, smashed it and that was the end of that.
My niece has a cell phone. So does my nephew who’s 12 and my other nephew who’s 10. They use them constantly for talking, texting, sending pics and videos. Rewind to the 80s when I was a kid. I wasn’t allowed to talk on the phone. I’m not kidding. Who did I have to talk to? What could I possibly have to say to someone that couldn’t wait until I saw them in school the next day? When I got to high school and my cot and I had set up shop in my sister’s old room, I’d stretch the cord from the phone in the hallway into my room so I could have a few minutes of meaningless conversation with my best friend, Amanda. I’d get about 10 minutes before my mother would pick up the phone in the kitchen and tell me it was time to hang up. Can – you – friggen – imagine???? By the time I got to college (yes, of course I lived at home) I was allowed to have my own phone with my own number (because I paid for it). I could make calls and get calls from whoever I wanted. I even had an answering machine with my own funny greeting. I was like Mel Gibson in Braveheart. FREEEEEDOM!!!!
I could go on and on about how different things are now and how tough I had it growing up. No boy/girl parties, no Chinese food (to be explained in a later post), an 11 o’clock curfew up until the week before I moved out, blah, blah, blah. But you get the drift. And while I don’t begrudge my niece, nephews or kids these days the liberties they’re afforded I do sometimes think things may be getting out of hand. I’m not sure how I’ll be with my own children someday. Early conversations point to Enzo and I differing on our approaches. He leans toward giving children everything we never had whereas I’m more for moderation. Ultimately I think what we’ll settle on is something in the middle.