Some college students are close with their parents. I always put myself in that category–even back when my relationship with them was built on a foundation of lies. Before you get confused, let me start from the beginning.
I have an identical twin. I’d say I have it better than twin-less individuals, but actually, I wouldn’t know life any other way. That being said, I know I’m lucky. I grew up with a built-in best friend, an automatic maid of honor and a default kidney donor. I always had someone to act as Ken when we played “Barbie Goes on Her First Date.” I’m six minutes older and made sure to assert my power as the older sister; I was never Ken.
My sister and I were blessed with two young, intelligent and self-aware parents that encouraged us to follow our dreams even if it meant going to the moon, becoming the first female president of the United States or the clear winner: becoming a princess.
And so, we grew up in the small town of Clermont, Florida, a town that holds annual pig races and seems to contain an enormous amount of pride for such an underwhelming city. My sister and I were the model children. We earned straight A’s throughout middle school and high school, read our Bibles daily and always offered a polite smile and friendly wave to our peers.
We had quite a reputation, we Senzamici girls – a reputation that followed us into our senior year of high school. We were the set of overly religious twins who were way too into their studies. Our parents had raised two upstanding, picture-perfect Christian girls, and they reminded us every day how proud they were of us for turning out exactly how they had hoped. All in all, we were a regular Brady Bunch, following conservative life paths of virtue and godliness, never falling victim to our shortcomings.
There was never a doubt in my mind that I was destined to be a Florida State Seminole. The campus tour captured everything I saw myself doing for the next four years: pursuing a journalism career and embracing an independent and adult life. My parents shipped my sister and me off to college with tearful goodbyes, and there began the lies.
We found friends; we found freedom. We found powerful heartbreak in the college hook-up culture and the powerful exhaustion that is staying out too late with your friends before an 8 a.m. exam, having only a bottle of Advil and a greasy breakfast as your saving grace. I joined an a cappella group; she joined a school spirit organization. I made bad decisions in the college dating world, and learned that I was more than a girl who needed a boyfriend, but a woman with potential, smarts and a promising future. I learned all of this without the aid of my parents, terrified of shattering their idealized image of their perfect little girls.
Visits home were awkward. My parents’ friends would share their parenting troubles, and my parents would come home with satisfied smiles, exclaiming, “We are so glad we have never had any of these problems with you girls!” My sister and I kept quiet. “Yeah, Mom,” I would mumble, nervously laughing off the truth. I learned to conceal my life with just the right amount of white lies, the correct amount of “uh-huh” and “I can’t believe that” to reinforce their idea that I wasn’t stumbling and falling off the straight and narrow.
You see, my parents are wonderful people, and my sister and I couldn’t bear to break their hearts with the reality of our life journeys. So we kept pretending. We pretended for three years under the fear of what they would do if they knew. Maybe they would throw things at us. Maybe they would disown us and never let us come home. We let our imaginations run past the point of logic.
A week before our 21st birthday, the façade of our college lives came crashing down. My parents came up for the weekend, surprising my sister and I with brunch at Canopy Road Café. Conversation was light and playful. I ordered a Greek omelet – extra feta. We ate so much food that my dad suggested a walk around Lake Ella to minimize the damage. The walk was satisfying even though it was a muggy, warm Florida day–one of those days that makes you feel like with each inhale, you’re downing a pint of water. We sat down at a park bench, and my father cleared his throat. As his eyes watered, he said, “We know everything, girls.”
Shocked? Flabbergasted? We were too. Somehow, in the process of fixing my sister’s computer, my dad stumbled across our text messages; text messages that swooped in and removed the rose colored glasses from my parents’ eyes. It’s every budding young adult’s nightmare. Your parents now know everything about everything you have ever done that you probably weren’t proud of doing. Not only do they know, but they know every detail of what you’ve said to your friends about it, with no chance of a child-parent filter to soften the blow. If it happened, they knew of it, even the time I sat on the bathroom floor with my best friend, holding her hair back as she emptied the entire contents of her stomach in a matter of minutes. Disaster was upon us, my friends.
And yet, to our disbelief, our parents didn’t throw anything at us. They didn’t disown us, they didn’t yell or scold us. My mother, with tears in her eyes, grabbed my hand and told me that she loved me unconditionally the way that I was. Brushing my hair back, she said to me, “I just wish I could have been there to help you through what you were going through.” My sister and I had stumbled off their pedestal quite ungracefully, but I knew there was a way we could re-craft our relationship.
These days we are in the “Era of Truth,” as I like to call it. There’s no more sneakiness or hiding behind lies. When I screw up, my parents are the first to know. It’s difficult to make the transition between hiding every aspect of my life and now suddenly having to have the courage to be honest. My sister and I have braved the storm, and our family has come out stronger than before. College culture shook us, but it didn’t break us, and every valuable lesson we’ve learned has shaped us into capable women who now share a genuine and open relationship with our parents. When we fall, they help pick us up.
Today, my twin sister and I are college seniors, and the journey we have in front of us is one of sincerity and (finally) adulthood.