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Three years ago I had been working at a kid’s summer camp as a camp counselor in Parsippany, New Jersey. I was having a bad day.
My boss called me over to his “bench” and asked me what was wrong.
I answered I was sorry for crying but I was having a bad day.
He insisted for me to tell him what was bothering me, in sort of an annoyed tone that indicated he probably didn’t take me seriously.
I didn’t want to tell him for any particular reason except I didn’t like him, and didn’t trust him with my personal problems.
That was confirmed when he said what could possibly be bothering a teenager. He added that I wasn’t a married man with two children and two jobs.
So I told him. My house had gone into foreclosure because my parents were struggling with the mortgage payments. I had to leave work early to take care of my three-year-old sister while my parents went to work. I hadn’t slept well for the past few nights because I work all-day/late-night shifts during the weekends at a catering hall and had to wake up early for this job.
That provoked some surprise, but he didn’t let go of his pride.
He insisted I shouldn’t be worrying about that stuff, because I am too young and those aren’t my problems. That those are issues my parents should be enduring and I shouldn’t be involved or burdened with them.
He went on and on how I should be focused on school work and how I shouldn’t bother myself with issues I would have enough of as I got older.
As a sixteen year old, I was somewhat confused if he was right, and I reflected on my upbringing. ____________
I had a great childhood. My wonderful mother provided me with enriching experiences that nourishes the childhood mind: such as trips to parks as well as other countries. She read me many books and involved me in activities and took us to parties and allowed us to socialize.
But I cannot ignore that the hardships of life were not kept from me as I got older. Not intentionally, but things happen. Some I learned as they directly affected me in my life but others I also witnessed as they affected others.
I was maybe ten when I learned a family member was adopted. She didn’t know and I am not sure if she even knows today. But I was told it was a secret and that her parents wanted to keep that from her.
I later learned the story of my cousin and her grandmother. I learned that she called her “mom” because she raised her. Her father was in another country. My cousin was told that her mother left her when she was a child and her dad could not take her with him because of the paperwork. The reality, however, was that her grandma took her from her mother and did not allow her to see her and her father moved to ignore his responsibilities as a father.
My father cheated on my mother when I was fourteen. My mother found out she was pregnant soon after, with his child of course, but in an effort to make his big mistake less terrible, my father paid for a DNA test to confirm the baby was his. Whether it was for attention or whether he really thought he could prove my mom was unfaithful as well, I don’t know.
When my beautiful sister was born, my mom did not have the luxury to stay at home and care for her. So I did, along with my other sister.
I’ve had my share of adversity, and although it caused me great suffering, I wouldn’t have had it any other way. Because I am a better person because of it. These experiences shaped who I am and who I will become. I am someone attuned to a sometimes painful reality and not ignorant to what life is about. I have grown as a person when dealing with it. I am not scornful, or angry, or resentful, and I should be. But, like I said, I am a better person.
So then my boss says these are adult problems. And I should have nothing to do with them, that I should ignore the struggles of my family, even though they affect my family.
But on the other hand, I can’t help but wonder how easier it would have been to not have to deal with everything. After all, ignorance truly is bliss.
So the big question that rose from all this is how will I raise my children? Will I keep them from witnessing, experiencing, or enduring hardships in exchange for the ignorant happiness of childhood innocence?
Parents nowadays seem to go for the extremes: either an extremely privileged life for their children or one where “adult problems” become their children’s problems as well.
I think I’ll go for the balance. Although hardships teach wisdom, humility, and acceptance, too much adversity results in a pretty tragic lifestyle. And there’s no surprise that a privileged life is one disconnected from reality. You have to keep it real.
This does not mean I will vent to my children of the difficulties I will go through, but it will be no secret. I will not shun them from what life may take away or throw at us because these experiences are for growth and learning. But I will not shun them from what life can offer either. Because above all, life is to be enjoyed.
Because sometimes I read a book, and I want to tell somebody about it.
The essence of the independent mind lies not in what it thinks, but in how it thinks. -- Christopher Hitchens, Letter to a Young Contrarian
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