cw: references to sexual assault, kidnapping, and murder
The first time I crossed a street by myself—as in, without one or both of my parents present—I was seventeen.
My parents warned me that the outside world was dangerous, and that, if something were to happen to me, I wouldn't know what to do. According to my parents, kidnappers, murderers, and kidnapper-murderers lurked on every corner of our small, suburban town where, statistically, my chances of becoming the victim of a violent crime were less than my chances of being allowed to cross the street by myself, or, more importantly, being allowed to sleep over at Taylor's house.
“What if something bad happens?” my dad argued when I asked why I couldn't spend the night.
My mom agreed with him. “She lives too far away.”
Defeated, I looked out the window at Taylor's house across the street. I imagined what it’d be like to paint your best friend’s toenails Mystic Purple at midnight while telling her your deepest darkest secret.
This, I'd confess between coats of paint, is my first time over at a friend's house.
I stopped receiving birthday party invitations after around the fourth grade. I blamed it on the fact that I didn’t understand basic social dynamics but more on the fact that I became known as the girl who would bring her dad to your birthday party.
The few parties I did attend, my dad stood next to me at all times, arms crossed, warning me of all the ways you could accidentally die or hurt yourself at a kid's birthday party.
- There was the cake you could choke on.
- There were the patio steps you could fall on and crack your head on.
One year, at my friend David’s birthday party, when everyone ran upstairs to see my friend’s Pokémon Ball, I followed, ecstatic, but something stopped me. I didn't know what it was until I turned around and found my dad pulling me back, as if stopping me from walking off a cliff.
“Stay here,” he warned, and we sat on David's family's ugly floral couch, listening to my friends upstairs opening and closing the plastic Pokémon Ball. I pleaded with my dad to let me join them.
“Do you know what a child molester is?” he asked me.
As I heard David’s faint voice upstairs explaining to everyone the mechanisms of his toy, my dad explained to me that there are sick people in the world. Very sick people who like to put their hands in your pants and then cut up your body parts into tiny little pieces that fit in a garbage can.
There could be one hiding upstairs, he told me. A creepy uncle or something.
I imagined my friends being chopped up into bite-sized pieces that could fit and be hidden inside David's Pokémon Ball. I wondered if we should rescue them, bring them down to the safety of the ugly floral couch. But just as fast as I'd had the thought, everyone came down, all in one piece, completely intact and untouched.
From there, I was permitted to take approximately five stiff and awkward supervised jumps in the jolly jumper outside before my dad said it was time to go.
By the time I reached my preteens, I’d finally negotiated myself the privilege of a play date. I’d never been on a play date before—that is, one that didn’t take place in my own home under my parent’s supervision.
At the time, my parents' stipulations were that:
- I could only go to Taylor's house across the street.
- I had to bring a Walkie-Talkie with me in case I needed help.
- I had to be escorted across the street to her house. No walking there or back alone. I could get run over and die.
- I had to stay inside the house at all times. No playing in the front or the backyard.
- And most importantly, no sleeping over.
The day of my first play date, my mom coached me on how to behave as she took me across the street. Say please. Say thank you. And tell them you’re not allowed to go outside.
Then, just like that, my mom left me at the door, a momentary illusion of freedom. Behind me, she was still standing across the street, monitoring my every move as I reached to ring the doorbell.
Taylor's mom answered. “Hello, Mrs. Jones,” I said to her. “I thank you for having me over at your home. I will not be allowed to go outside. I have to stay inside at all times.”
She let out a wtf laugh. “Um. Okay. Come in.”
I stepped inside. I still remember the feeling of the plush carpet under my shoes.
That day, for what was maybe only one or two hours, Taylor and I played Barbie’s Horse Adventures: Wild Horse Rescue on her PS2. I still remember the feeling of the plastic buttons under my fingers, helping Barbie locate her missing horses--horses who'd gone missing the same way my parents claimed I'd go missing if I ever left their sight. Before this, I’d never been on my own before—aside from when I was at school or running through the sprinklers (supervised through the window) in our fenced-in backyard. Up until that point in my life, playing Barbie's Horse Adventures: Wild Horse Rescue an entire twenty feet away from my home was the most exhilarating experience I'd ever had. We could've stared at her living room wall, and it still would've been just as exhilarating to me.
But eventually I wanted more. Play dates across the street weren't enough. I was almost in high school, and I wanted a sleepover.
I negotiated with my parents, though my first several attempts failed. I made PowerPoints. I used the Ethos-Pathos-Logos thing I learned about in Language Arts. None of it worked.
Then, one day, I got a yes.
I didn't know how or why. All that mattered was I got a yes.
I thought about that sleepover every second of every day in the week leading up to it. I packed my cat pajamas in my pink suitcase a week in advance.
Then, the night of the sleepover, things got even better for me. My dad had good news.
"What's the good news?" I asked, pink suitcase in hand.
"We're going to the movies tonight. We're going to see Chicken Little."
In my house, going to the movies was like dining out--a rarity reserved only for the most special of occasions.
"So," my dad said, "you need to call your friend and tell her maybe another time."
I was upset, but the thought of going to the movies on an otherwise unofficial holiday kept me from screaming.
"Okay," I said. I called Taylor. "Sorry. I'm going to the movies tonight. Another time."
Then I hung up, and as I went to put my suitcase away, my dad had more news. “We’re not actually going to the movies," he told me.
"Then where are we going?" I asked.
I remember staring at a BBQ sauce bottle on the kitchen table that night as my parents listed the reasons I couldn't sleep over at Taylor's.
1. You might play Truth or Dare and your friend will dare you to jump in her pool and, knowing you, you'll do it, drown, and die.
2. Her parents will forget to lock the door. How do we know if her parents are the type of people who lock their doors at night?
3. If the doors are unlocked, someone will come inside at night when you're sleeping and take you. We'll never see you again.
4. If something bad were to happen to you, you wouldn't know how to handle it.
Screaming and crying, refusing to eat my now cold plate of dinner, I demanded more reasons, but my mom stopped my dad from going on. "We already gave her our reasons," she told him. "She should understand by now why it's a bad idea."
Things improved over the years, and eventually I gained more freedom. By the time I was seventeen, I had:
-crossed the street
-been on a play date
-attended a slumber party
-signed up for Neopets (on the condition that I put my gender as male)
-gone to a public place other than school without supervision
Then, at seventeen, I applied to college. I was on the phone with my friend Bridget one night when my dad demanded I hang up and come to the kitchen.
I hung up and came out, sat at the same table we'd sat at when they listed their anti-slumber-party reasons.
"We need to talk about college," said my dad, angry, my mom sitting at the table, upset. "Why are you applying to far-away colleges? What if something bad happens to you? What if you have an accident or an emergency? What are you going to do if we're not there to help you?"
"Maybe you can go to the local community college, and your mom can drive you there," he added. I hadn't been allowed to drive alone yet. I had my license, but I wasn't allowed to use it.
After more negotiations, we settled on a school--not too far away but also not too close to home. I was even allowed to live on campus.
But my first year of college, something strange happened--my parents' paranoid voice chattered in my head most days, reminding me that I didn't know how to do anything on my own.
"Do you know how to use an ATM?" I asked my roommate one day. "Or how to get to a class? I don't know how. I actually don't know how."
You must sign up or log in to submit a comment.
Awesome story! Many ppl can relate to this☹️
Thank you, Alycia! We almost have the same name btw 😊 my real name is Alicia
Well written and very evocative. I know some parents like this, but none go to quite those lengths to scare their kids. They just don't let them make even the simplest decisions. And you're right...they go to college without basic survival skills.
Thank you, Joanne! It's definitely a recipe for a kid who can't fend for themselves in the real world. I had to educate myself on a lot of social and survival skills
This was literally the story of my life, but the twist was after high-school I was dropped off in another country, and they still tried micromanaging my life from there.... It was intense. I loved your story. Well done! I could relate to it in many ways and I'm glad that you won. You're very talented.
Wow thanks, Jakida! I'm glad you and others could relate. Sometimes it feels like it's just us w the unconventional upbringing, doesn't it? UGH - I hope things are better for you now. So terrible that it was after high school too.
Oh wow, I love this story so much!! I'm so sorry you were brought up in a very overprotective home, but you've gone so far and, for that, I'm proud of you! <3
Thank you so much, Yen! <3
i LOVE it
Thank you, Kasity! Really pretty name btw
Congratulations, Liv. I think you managed to navigate the themes in the piece as well as you did because you understand how to balance out the art throughout the story so it doesn't become too overwhelming, which is a skill I wish I had a better handled on. Well done.
Thank you so much, Kevin - I really never expected to win. I swear I remember reading your stories a few months ago in a cabin w my bf and thinking, this is a whole other advanced level of elite writers, I'll never win. So this was pretty unbelievable to me I haven't been too active on Reedsy the last few weeks but I need to catch up on your latest Thank you for reading!
That's so sweet. I think the same thing when I read other writers on here. We're always our own worst critics.
This whole thing is literally my parents, bro. Spot on.
Aw man - you're not alone in this!
It has so much emotion. you must of been really brave writing this but i still love it even though the sad memories it brings
Liv I hope you are basking in the glow of this win. Not only have you told a story like none other I have ever read, but you have overcome the hurdles of your childhood to become an accomplished writer. I must say, that had I been around I probably would have reported your parents to Social Services. No one deserves a childhood like that, living in fear and isolation, for no apparent reason but their own fears. On the plus side, surely it helped you develop your inner creativity like only seclusion can. The other thing that I find so poig...
Hi Wally - I'm definitely still in disbelief over this win! You made a good point on the only reason being their own fears. Overprotective parents put their own emotional needs (the need to quell their anxiety) over their child's developmental and social needs. It might seem loving to some, but it's selfish--done only to put their mind at ease. And thanks, Wally! Are you from France originally?
Oui. Moving back from California. It's been fun, but its time to go home.
Sometimes PowerPoint is the only viable solution, great story.
Thanks, Joe! Gotta add those transitions and sound effects too
May you write more stories about children who wanders anywhere just to find themselves.
This is a very tragic yet beautiful story. The parents want nothing but the best for their children. It's very sad children out of curiousity is going rebellious towards their parents. A child shall have a proper guidance from her/his parents and never let their curiosity build misery in their life.
Thanks, Morena! Overprotection definitely leads to rebellion
Wow! What a story Liv! I read it with incredulity and also laughter assuming that it was a very well imagined story and not possibly based around real facts until I read so many of the comments and your responses below. Well done for portraying the strange and almost alien life and upbringing so very well! As a Mum and grandmother now, I recall being 'protective' and having boundaries for my children when they were small but I am so pleased that I was able to give them some freedom to grow and enjoy every small piece of growing up. You thoro...
Thank you so much, Sally! There's definitely a right balance between the helicopter parents and the free-range parents, and I'm sure you got it perfect. That freedom is so important for building confidence/social skills. Thank you for reading <3
This is a beautiful piece. O can relate.
Thanks, Faith! I'm sorry to hear you had a similar experience
This is a beautiful piece. O can relate.
This kind of smothering helicopter parenting is real, and you've captured it well. It often leads to a kid who's never been allowed any chance to explore and learn on their own breaking out when they finally hit age 18 and sometimes going a little wild. It's a terrible disservice to kids who have to learn how to live in society after being raised that way. Very well done.
Thank you so much, Carla. You're absolutely right. I've found that some of these kids go wild and some of them turn out to be socially awkward and fearful. Others all of the above. I turned out to be more of the socially awkward/fearful adult, but I've been playing catch up, and after living on my own for several years, I've become more confident/less naive. Thank you for reading :)
This was definitely a good read. I thought I was overprotective parent. Congratulations on the win.
Thank you, Jennifer!
I relate to this a lot. Don't parents realize that the sheltering away is only going to lead to the kid not knowing anything in the long run? You've captured all the emotions and frustration of the main character really well. Congrats on the well deserved win, this was a perfect take on the prompt.
Thank you so much, Amany! When I saw paranoia, this was the first story that came to mind. I'm also sorry to hear you were in a similar situation as a kid. Maybe you, me and the others who relate to this prompt can throw a giant party one day and ride our bikes into the woods together to make up for lost time.
And I thought I was sheltered, with my dad insisting my friend walked me home from school once I wanted to take the bus by myself when I was 12 instead of getting a lift, or picking me up proptly at midnight from clubbing like I was some cinderella! This was intense to read - but such a gripping story. I guess your parents didn't mean it, but just shows how you can want the protect someone and kind of leave them less ready for the world as a result. I'm glad you shared this, I think stories like yours are important to tell. Deserving of that...
Thank you very much, Riel! I think any level of sheltering, including what you experienced, can be extremely irritating to a child, especially at 12 and up. I feel, at that point in our lives, we know how to get around the world on our own, and any type of babying poses a huge threat to our self-esteem. I regret not including this part, but I had to sit in a car booster seat until 12 years old. Like a legit baby booster seat with the cushioned straps and special harness and everything. It was absolutely mortifying pulling up to school in tha...
Liv, this was such a well-deserved win - not just because it was so beautifully crafted (for example, the justaposition of the kids at the party looking at the Pokemon ball upstairs while the narrator sits on the couch downstairs with her dad and her internal thought that "I imagined my friends being chopped up into bite-sized pieces that could fit and be hidden inside David's Pokémon Ball. I wondered if we should rescue them, bring them down to the safety of the ugly floral couch. But just as fast as I'd had the thought, everyone came down,...
Jane, thank you! And you're spot on about the connection between helicopter parenting and mental health. There was definitely something going on w that. And oh god...the paranoia: *random person walking dog* "That person is spying on us. Everyone go back inside the house now and lock the door." *me telling the cashier I start eighth grade in August* "Why did you tell the cashier your summer vacation ends in August? Now he knows when to come wait outside your school to kidnap you." Even children can develop mental health issues of their own...