23 May 2012

stupid, miserable book

I can't remember how this came up, but the other night I was telling my friend D. about this book: Preparing for Adolescence.

When I was nine or ten, just before we left Liberia, my parents were reading this book to me, and I hated it. Hate is too gentle a word, actually. I despised it. I don't even know what I despised so much, except that 1. I was deeply embarrassed to have both of my parents sit down with me and read me books about sex and dating (keep in mind, I was TEN), 2. I never could stand having someone talk down to me, and James Dobson is the king of talking down. I never did like him, for that reason, even when I was far, far less liberal than I am now.

On one hand, I was only ten, and mortified at the idea of sex and dating. On the other, one of the neighbor boys had already asked me to sneak off with him to have sex. I told him he was rude and excluded him from any neighborhood games over which I had any say from them on. And I had say over a great many games considering that our yard had the treehouse, the swingset, the only mom who would give us real food to cook, the bikes, and the soccer ball. My parents were both too early and too late. 

I'm sure someone credible recommended this book to my parents and suggested that reading it with your kid would open up conversations. Or in my case, due to embarrassment: cut off conversations, permanently. I notice that they never tried to read it to my younger brother and sister. The oldest kid is always the experiment.

Given my personality, though, they would have been better off just giving me the book, or leaving it among other books for me to find and read. I would have despised it much less, although I still would have noticed the grating tone of the whole thing.

I despised this book, and the experience of having my parents read me awkward, moralistic stories about adolescents and their supposed problems, so much that even though it somehow came to the US when we evacuated from Liberia, I promptly hid the book deep inside the couch in my grandparents' basement, betting that in the confusion of evacuating from a country and deciding where to live and whether to send us to school in the middle of the school year, the book would be forgotten. 

And it was. I felt very guilty about it (I was not exactly a rebellious child), but I hated that book enough to live with my guilt.

Years later, after my parents had inherited that couch, the book reappeared. By then, though, I was long past the days when my parents might have tried to corner me and read the rest of it. I had escaped. 

I can still feel the disgust and embarrassment I felt back then, though, viscerally, when I think of that stupid, miserable book.

I still shudder at the sound of the word adolescence.

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