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Mom Knows Best
Sherilyn
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Names have been changed.

Growing up with older siblings was kind of tough. I always felt that my two older brothers and one older sister were able to get first dibs on everything, and their opinion counted more than mine. But as I grew up I learned that being younger also has advantages. One big one is that I get to learn from my siblings’ mistakes.

My older sister Carmen and I used to argue about almost everything, from whether to turn on the light in our room, to which side of the closet we claimed. We agreed on some things—for example, we both liked the Backstreet Boys and watching World Wrestling Entertainment on TV. But it was only the small things that we connected on. Our personalities were at opposite poles.

Carmen was always ahead of the game at school and succeeded in almost everything she did. She was the trophy of the family and everyone believed she was destined to succeed. In high school, she talked about becoming an assistant district attorney; her goal was to be the greatest lawyer in Queens County.

Not Mister Right

But then, when she was about 16, Carmen met her first boyfriend at her first summer job. Miguel was about the same age as Carmen and lived near us. She began bringing him to our apartment all the time.

My mother instinctively felt a bad vibe. She warned my sister against the relationship, and was not subtle about the fact that she couldn’t stand Miguel. No matter how much he would try to make jokes or show up bearing gifts, she never welcomed him.

At first I thought that my mother was being overzealous and not giving Miguel the chance to present who he really was. Then Carmen started coming home at all hours of the night, claiming that she had been working overtime or something else when really she’d been with Miguel.

My mother saw through these deceptions, and they made her more hostile to Miguel. By the middle of December, my sister was cutting after-school responsibilities like her internship so that she could see her boyfriend instead. That’s when my mother finally told her that she was not allowed to see him any longer.

By then, I could completely understand where my mother was coming from. Carmen knew the rules: Coming home late and lying about your whereabouts was forbidden. Even if our mom was too strict, that didn’t excuse total disobedience.

I started to realize that my mother was right about the guy, too. Miguel had to be a jerk; otherwise, he wouldn’t have let Carmen throw away opportunities for his sake. I started to see him as the fork in the road that was making my sister wander away from the life path that she was once so certain about.

When my mother told Carmen that she couldn’t see Miguel anymore, there was a huge fight. Afterwards, Carmen became sullen. During dinner she would just sit there, not speaking to anyone.

image by Terrence Taylor

Runaway

One Sunday, not long after the big fight, my two brothers and little sister and I went to church with our mother. Carmen did not attend. When we got back home, my mother called out, “Carmen! Get in here.” Silence. She was gone, and no one had any idea where she was until my brother found a note that she’d left on the table. It stated that if we could not accept her decisions then maybe it was time for her to go.

Of course I had heard of runaway teens, but I never guessed it would happen in our own home. We called around to some of her friends, and none of them would tell us where she was. We assumed that she wasn’t far away, but it was still a tense time. About a week later, my brother spotted Carmen sitting at the back of the McDonald’s where Miguel worked, reading a book. I guess my brother felt awkward about approaching her, so he just ordered his food and left.

After that, we figured that she was staying at her boyfriend’s house and tagging along when he went to work. My mom would say things like, “If that’s how she is going to be, then fine, don’t ever come back home. I don’t care anymore.” But it was obvious from the tension in her voice that she was upset; the more she said she didn’t care, the more I knew she did.

Second Chance

One afternoon after she’d been away for about two weeks, my sister came back. She barely spoke, and neither did my mother at first. But she let her stay. Things seemed to be a little better than they had been. Carmen tried to be polite and to stay out of everybody’s way. No one knew the reason why she’d come back.

This time around, the rules were absolute: Carmen had to stay away from Miguel entirely, and stop with the lies and sneaking around whenever she felt like it. This didn’t mean she couldn’t date at all, just that my mom had to approve of the boy first.

To me, my mother’s ruling seemed fair and just in light of all that had happened. But soon it was apparent that Carmen was still sneaking around. After a few months she got busted for the same old tricks: seeing Miguel; saying she was at one place when she was really in another. She didn’t want to face the consequences of what she’d been doing, and ran away again.

Wasting Her Life

This time I was not shocked at all. Carmen had been picking fights with anyone in the family who was willing to get in the ring with her, and especially talking back more to our mother. It was obvious that she couldn’t have cared less what our mom said.

When she left again, my mother said this time was final; Carmen would not be allowed back. I didn’t blame my mother for being angry. But despite all the differences we’d had in the past, I wasn’t happy to see Carmen crash and burn. It’s a shame to see anyone let go of their dreams for someone else. It seemed like she was wasting a big part of her life by putting him before school.

Months later, Carmen and Miguel fell on hard times. She came back to our apartment and told my mother that they were arguing all the time and the fights, though never physical, were hard to handle.

image by Terrence Taylor

In spite of Carmen’s behavior, my mother listened to her problems and gave Carmen advice. She could have said “I told you so,” but instead she took a kinder tone; she said things like, “You’re young and you should just be having fun instead of making things really serious.”

However, when it came to letting Carmen back in the house, my mother stuck to her word. She told Carmen that she had broken her trust too many times. My sister was out in the cold, and wound up having a friend of hers take her in.

I thought she deserved everything that happened to her. She thought that she knew the world, and nobody could tell her what to do. Despite her book smarts, she acted pretty foolishly.

Seeing My Mom’s Side

Witnessing the situations Carmen allowed herself to get into has made me very careful when I evaluate my own choices, even to this day. It’s my last year of high school and so far I am on track to go to college. I don’t want anything derailing me.

Part of staying on track is trusting my mom’s wisdom. Of course, when she says no to something, my first reaction is usually, “Jeez, I never to get to go anywhere!” But then I try to figure out where she is coming from. Usually there is reasoning behind her position.

I guess communicating well is the key to my better relationship with our mother. We do a lot of things together, like watching old movies, shopping, or going to the beauty parlor. We even watch MTV shows together, like Teen Mom and 16 and Pregnant. We usually talk about what we saw on these shows, and end up having full conversations about it.

I’m happy to see that she does trust me. Though she sometimes finds reasons why I shouldn’t go to the mall or movies with my friends, at other times she is OK with it. If I say I’m staying after school, then she’ll take my word for it, no questions asked. Though we have our small fights, overall things are good. I’d never want to be in the boat my sister was in.

Staying in Line

Seeing Carmen put my mother through a lot also made me feel a responsibility to spare her more suffering, and sometimes that responsibility feels heavy. I feel the pressure of not screwing anything up. But I also see that staying in line has saved me from the burden of regrets or lingering awkwardness in the air when I talk to my mom about boys, future plans, or anything else important in my life.

Today Carmen and her now ex-boyfriend, Miguel, are not even on speaking terms. In fact, they are involved in a court case because she claimed that he was harassing her and she took out an order of protection against him. Stories began to surface that he used to stalk another ex-girlfriend.

I guess I get the benefit of Carmen’s mistakes. I’ve learned that trying to pull the wool over your parents’ eyes is dangerous. It’s better just to ask and have them say no than go behind their backs and cause problems. Having an open and honest relationship with your parents is best for everyone involved.

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(NYC-2012-03-07b)

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