Lurking somewhere in the back of our adult brains is every mother’s admonition If your friends jumped off a bridge, would you? Don’t blindly follow your friends. Sometimes this warning is made explicit. When I went to university in my 40s, my seventy-five-year-old Dad worried that I would cease to think for myself. And so he gave me a wooden plaque with the following proverb: Better is one’s Own Path though imperfect than the Path of Another well made. Hang that sign where you can see it, he told me. I rolled my eyes, but I did. I’m staring at it over the top of my computer as I type.
Once we become parents, of teens especially, as they stray, unsupervised, farther and farther away, that same mother’s admonition is pulled from the collective pool of parental wisdom and bestowed upon our beloved child like a magic shield, protecting her from the spell of following the crowd. Behind this admonition is every parent’s fear of losing her child, whether by meeting some untimely demise, plunging into a netherworld of pain and suffering, or by forgetting her roots. Her upbringing. Me. Spread your wings, we say. But in that hollow where she once nestled under our wings, we ache. Fly. But don’t fly too far from home.