“Do you know what a GPA is and how it works?” I asked my tween daughter a couple of years ago.
“I think so,” she said. Instead of taking her word for it I launched into a lengthy explanation that included what GPA stands for, how it averages out, and how just one grade can affect it. “OK, I get it,” she told me, her right hand held up like a stop sign.
I grew up in the 1980s and ’90s and entered adulthood dangerously naive. My parents either thought that I’d learn the ways of the world at school or through my peers, I guess. More likely, they assumed if they raised me in a sheltered, safely parochial environment that I would be spared the harsh realities of life when I became an adult.
The exact opposite turned out to be true.
As a freshman in Southern California, I took a quiz with some girls on my dormitory hall about safe college behavior. I failed every question. A girl who lived across the hall from me asked, “Why don’t you know this stuff?” I blamed it on growing up in a small Oregon town. In the absence of any tangible comprehension of how the world worked, I blindly stumbled into adulthood with the assumption that everything would somehow work itself out. We all know what they say about assumptions, and for me this proved to be true over and over again.
A couple of years later, I experienced a panic attack when I was told my driver’s license was going to be revoked for a year because I’d neglected to pay a speeding ticket. It may sound ridiculous, but I’d gotten to that desperate place because of the movie “Liar, Liar.” There’s a scene in the film where Fletcher Reed, played by Jim Carrey, is pulled over by a police officer. Reed, who is unable to lie, proceeds to tell the officer he has a big stash of unpaid parking tickets in his glove compartment. I don’t recall anyone receiving a speeding ticket in my tiny 2,000-person hometown, so after watching the movie I genuinely assumed that people didn’t pay tickets, and that issuing them was more of a stern warning than a requirement to follow through and actually address them. I was able to cobble together the money and pay the fine, but I spent the next several weeks berating myself and wondering how I could be so stupid.
Throughout my early adulthood, I can point to dozens of experiences like this. From the acknowledgment and understanding of different cultures, religions and ethnic backgrounds to how a credit score works and why it’s important, I wish my parents had introduced any number of real-life subjects and scenarios to me during my upbringing. Ultimately, I began to seek out knowledge I felt I lacked. The problem? I often didn’t know what I didn’t know. Too many times I’ve been confronted with a situation I didn’t realize I didn’t understand until I was in the middle of it, which forced me to learn things the hard way.
When I became a mother, I vowed to make sure my child was armed with the knowledge I never had so she could head into adulthood on even footing with, or even ahead of, everyone else. This has become an obsession for me, and I regularly overexplain to my daughter. I keep telling myself I’d rather be on the receiving end of a teenage eye roll than send her out into the world without the awareness she needs to make her way.
In talking with other members of Generation X about my loquacious tendency, I found I’m not alone. We are extreme communicators morphing into walking, talking dictionaries and encyclopedias spewing information our kids don’t know they need. And it’s no wonder: Gen Xers are characterized as self-sufficient and resourceful while also bleak and cynical, not to mention rebellious. My rebellion consists of taking my mom and dad’s method of parenting and doing the opposite.
Often, I find opportunities present themselves to infuse my kid with knowledge, and I never let them pass without broaching the subject. I’ve been known to pause TV shows and movies we’re watching to talk to her about something happening on screen. She’s learned not to complain as I hold the remote hostage until I’ve said my piece.
“I keep telling myself I’d rather be on the receiving end of a teenage eye roll than send her out into the world without the awareness she needs to make her way.”
My daughter is beginning high school this year and it unleashed a new chapter for me as both an overexplainer and an oversharer about my own experiences from that time in my life. There are volumes of information she’ll need at her disposal to successfully navigate the world as a woman.
I’ve been fighting off flashbacks to my own freshman year of high school where, all of 100 pounds with size DDD breasts, I received unwanted stares and catcalls daily from older male students. When I finally confessed to my mother that my band teacher made jokes about my chest to a room full of my hormonal peers, she was angry but did nothing. In 1989 where I lived, it wasn’t something you complained about, let alone went to the administration to formally object to. My stomach twists imagining my daughter being on the receiving end of unwanted attention like that. In the age of Me Too, when sexual harassment is more often acknowledged, I vow to raise holy hell on my daughter’s behalf if that ever happens to her.
For now, I let her know that any unwanted gaze, touch or comment is not to be ignored. I remind her she can tell me anything, even if she’s afraid what she has to say will upset me. I assure her that as her parent, it’s my job to arm her with the information she’ll need as she makes her way through high school and beyond. I promise her that I’ll try to listen when she says I don’t need to bring up a particular subject again, but I explain where my passion for educating her is coming from and make her agree she won’t hesitate to ask questions when she has them. I swear to her that every question is important and her willingness to ask is valuable.
She nods her head when I’m done. I suspect she may be agreeing just to shut me up, but even if half of what I’ve conveyed to her sinks in, that’s so much more than I had to go on at her age. My pattern of overexplaining has become something of a joke in our household, and I’m OK with that. I’ll happily take the ribbing from her and my husband if I can rest in the knowledge that I’m doing everything I can to keep my kid from the negative experiences I endured.
Over the past few months, my kid has garnered a new habit: walking into a room or opening a dialogue with the sentence, “I have a question.” Just hearing her say those words activates a flood of relief inside me knowing she’s comfortable enough to seek information about something she doesn’t know. They say knowledge is power, and I know that to be true because I’ve lived the flip side of that coin. I’m aiming to make my kid a powerful adult, one overexplaining tidbit at a time.
Jeanne Epstein lives, writes and overshares in the Berkshire mountains of western Massachusetts. Her work has been published in Skirt! and Kveller.