Wednesday, January 25, 2012

The spoiled apple doesn't fall far from the tree

My photo of Mamma Mia! in London
Because I enjoy spending time with friends, partaking in wholesome entertainment and putting off homework until the last possible minute, I decided to buy a ticket as part of the Center for Student Involvement's cheap-o tickets + transportation deal to see Mamma Mia! tomorrow.

When I told my dad I was dishing out $20 to go, his immediate response was "Okay, so how much are the tickets?" And this is when I realized something about myself, my parents and how I've been raised in a weird, pretty awesome (falsely destructive) way.

As a kid I never hesitated to ask to go to an event that I wanted to attend. My relatives called me spoiled, and I guess getting to see your first concert at eight years old may imply this trait. But I think the claim of childhood overindulgence overlooks one very significant thing: the parents.

I was raised with the arts, with entertainment at the core of most everything I have done. At nine, I was so in love with the musical Carousel that I decided to listen to the CD with my finger poised on the pause button and I wrote down the lyrics myself (I'm sure I could have found them some other way, but it was so worth the effort at the time). That year I would attend that musical with my dad at the local community theater. Around the same time, I went to my first Aaron Carter concert during which one of the opening bands was a silly little pop boy band named Dream Street. After the concert, I went on the Radio Disney website and, similarly to my Carousel endeavor, played clips of the "It Happens Everytime" music video (which loaded at a speed of about ten seconds per minute) repeatedly until I had memorized all the lyrics.

So where were my parents through all of this? It sounds strange, but literally right behind me. No matter how weird, obsessive, outlandish or crazy I was, my mom and dad were encouraging me to express myself, even if that meant sitting in front of a boom box scribbling or crooning in front of my Gateway monitor.

But, contrary to popular belief among my friends and family, my parents, however open to doing crazy things, were not treating me this way because I pouted, complained, screamed or any other action that might associate me with the likes of Veruca Salt.

The truth was, I got to do crazy wonderful things because all I had to do was ask. No spoiled pleading necessary.

In the next half of my life, I would attend numerous concerts, tons of plays on and off Broadway, visit London four times per my request and many other things that under-18's subject to their parents' discipline can only dream of. Realizing how fortunate I am, I asked my dad why he had been willing to go to weird, sometimes insane measures to let me do some of these things.

He told me that it was in return for always being a good, reliable, hard-working kid.

I reflected on that, thinking how many people I know who are equally good, reliable and hardworking who have never had the opportunities that I have, the freedom to chase a band around the country or visit another city, state or continent just to see a musical. And something clicked.

My parents always planned to give me a life filled with happiness and fulfillment. From what I remember of my mom, she was a star-struck fangirl herself, fawning over I Love Lucy re-runs, horror films and John Williams music. In many ways, we were the same person (however different our tastes were). This was something she recognized.

When she was a pre-teen, my mom didn't get the chances I had to go to concerts or see plays or travel. Raised in a firmly lower middle class family, she always had to live with the bare minimum. There was always food on the table, but there was not always the chance to be frivolous. To have fun. To be a kid.

My mom only had one real childhood birthday party. It was her ten-year-old celebration and the theme was Cinderella. I remember this mainly because one of my favorite mementos of hers is a Cinderella wristwatch she received on that birthday. It no longer ticks, but I still have it.

As soon as I was conceived, my mom was already thinking of ways to make me into what she never had the chance to be. She originally wanted to name me Wendy, mistaking that as the title for the Association's song, "Windy." She loved the lyrics, "who's tripping down the streets of the city / smiling at everybody she sees" in particular, and said that she wanted me to have a life that warranted the kind of ethereal bliss that Windy had in the song. Though the name didn't work out, the plan ultimately did.

My mom strived to make everything in my life more beautiful. She enabled me to meet my idols like she would have done decades before had she had the opportunity. She took me to see concerts, musicals and movies, awarding me with a fascination with live entertainment that she didn't have the chance to experience until she was in her 20's.

Living a minimalist life made my mom all the more hell bent on maximizing everything in mine.

My dad has always been equally open to the whims of his art-obsessed daughter. While I used to consider this passivity, after a few trips to London I began to realize that even when my dad chooses to let us go beyond our means, he has a motivation himself.

As opposed to my mom, my dad didn't live so much on the periphery of pop culture. Growing up in New York he had his chance at meeting some idols, going to see Broadway plays and performances at Carnegie Hall, all before he was in his teens. And also unlike my mom, his motivation came not from being hindered, but from experience.

My dad was born into a world filled with the arts. He interchangeably listened to big band music and his brother's Beatles records, always with an eye on the strength and ubiquitousness of his fanaticism. Though he still says he doesn't regret not getting to see the Beatles perform (according to him this is because he wouldn't have been able to hear the music over the screaming girls anyway), I have to think that if my dad had grown up in this day and age - with concert sound quality miles better than it was in the '60s - he would have done exactly what he's let me do.

For him, the arts are not just a distraction or a form of side entertainment. They are a way of life. While other parents may cringe at spending $20 even on a professional musical, my dad knows and has ingrained in me this feeling that entertainment is worth the investment, worth the effort.

Like my mom, my dad supported me as I waited in line for hours to see random music acts. He waits at stage doors to meet the casts of the musicals we see together. He planned long, detailed itineraries for our trips to London. And he made all of it seem like a worthwhile investment.

Regardless of how others may perceive me as overindulged, enabled to have so many great life experiences in only 19 years, I can't help but look at this issue from its origins. My life has been filled with the compassion, expectation, pride, kindness and love of two doting people.

And if that parental devotion makes me spoiled, then yes, I'm spoiled.

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