Monday, March 21, 2011

Hometown Memories: Don’t Sweat The Small Stuff

“Don't throw away your friendship with your teenager over behavior that has no great moral significance. There will be plenty of real issues that require you to stand like a rock. Save your big guns for those crucial confrontations”

When I started my first year of high school, my parents laid down some ground rules: 1) I was strictly forbidden from wearing make-up, 2) I was advised to come home immediately after school and 3) I was not allowed to hang out with boys. Since I hadn’t met any boys yet or taken an interest in any, and since I was still too young to care about going anywhere outside of school, I broke only one rule: I wore make-up. Every day. I was not alone; most of my friends painted their faces regardless of whether or not they were restricted from doing so by their parents.

We did all have one thing in common when it came to make-up: inexperience. We didn’t know what we were doing and you could see it on our faces. (Figuratively and literally speaking...) And we faced obstacles, too, the most important being the lack of money to be able to buy some make-up. Since none of us really had enough cash to purchase these products completely on our own, we decided to do two things. 1) We pooled together our limited funds, bought a few pieces and shared them, and 2) We passed around whatever products a few of us (girls whose parents allowed them to wear make-up) were lucky enough to have; The girls I hung out with were quite generous with what they owned, so that worked out very well.

And so began our make-up adventure (deception, for some of us). We would meet early at school, head for the bathroom and transform ourselves. There was no professional to show us how to properly apply any of these products; we simply relied on one girl from our group, any girl, who we dubbed ‘the make-up pro’. This girl gained this title because she had been wearing make-up from day one, so she had what most of us lacked: hands-on experience. Be it good or bad experience, her word was the word of God when it came to working with make-up. She guided us and advised us. We believed her. We followed her advice like the bible. To say that we spent most of our high school years looking like raccoons and clowns and streetwalkers would be an understatement. We wore too much and used colors that were completely inappropriate. But no one cared; the main reason being that all the girls failed miserably in the mastery of make-up application except for those that didn’t wear any, so we all looked equally ridiculous. Unfortunately, like any other bad habit, these shoddy make-up application skills stayed with us for years. It wasn’t until my adult years that I started to understand the right way of working with make-up. Looking back now, I can only laugh at some of the photos I see of me and my friends. We really were a sight for sore eyes.

Since I wasn’t allowed to wear any make-up but did it anyway, I would rush to the bathroom after school and try to remove all traces of it before I headed home. I wasn’t alone. There were a lot of girls standing right beside me in front of the adjacent sinks, vigorously washing away the evidence. But no matter how much I tried, no matter how raw my face became from all the frantic scrubbing, I could not rinse away all the proof. Of course, I did not realize this at the time; I thought I was much too smart for my parents – most teenagers think they are – and I truly believed that I could dupe them. It never dawned on me at the time that my parents knew all along that I was blatantly breaking one of their rules. In the beginning, they weren’t entirely convinced, so they didn't confront me. Perhaps they were giving me the benefit of the doubt, or hoping that they were wrong.

I’d catch them staring at me suspiciously with narrow eyes and creased eyebrows, and then turn away. Could it really be make-up that was making my face a little more red than usual, my cheeks slightly crimson? Was it possible that I had put on eyeliner and that’s why my eyes looked darker, deeper? Had I dared to put lipstick on my lips and that’s why there were hints of colour in the cracks? Looking back now, all I can say is: Of course they knew! How could they not? A little soap and water wasn’t enough to wipe out the raccoon eyes that I sported all day. Yes, they knew. And even when I finally accepted that I knew they knew, when they finally asked me if I was wearing make-up, I looked at them straight in the eyes and said, “Of course not. You told me I’m not allowed, didn’t you?” They smirked. I smirked. All of us pretending I wasn’t lying. All of us knowing that I was. And we left it like that. The no make-up rule stayed. I continued breaking it. We all continued pretending otherwise.

At that age, I did not understand why they didn’t make a big deal out of it; I was just happy that I was able to continue to wear make-up. But I do understand now. They decided at some point that this wasn’t worth fighting over; that they would save the big guns for more important issues. Because now that I’m a parent, I also “don’t sweat the small stuff”. And most of it is small stuff.

What did your parents turn a blind eye to when you were a teen?

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