I am 15 years old and have just been invited to a sleepover party by a friend from school.
If I was in Beverly Hills 90210, Dawson’s Creek, or any other 90’s television series supposedly documenting the lives of American teenagers, I’d be hurrying home to crimp my hair and pack a bag. Instead, I am in my bedroom drenched in sweat, contemplating the worst of the following two scenarios: being mauled by a bear, or asking my parents for permission to attend a high school sleepover. As you can probably guess, I am leaning bear.
To put it simply, (most) Greek parents hold “sleeping over at a friend from school’s house” in the same regard they do capital murder. Essentially, both are considered crimes punishable by death. My parents were no exception to this. For as long as I could remember, sleepovers had always been on my parents’ list of non-negotiables. The notion of one of their daughters sleeping outside the family home, on the blow-up air mattress of someone whose parents they did not intimately know was, at best, idiotic, and at worst, unfathomable. There were two instances however where sleepovers were permitted: sleeping at your grand parents’ house or sleeping at your cousins’ house. There was also a third instance (if the person was a Greek childhood friend) but the stipulations that came along with it were so complicated that for the sake of staying sane it was best to pretend it didn’t exist altogether.
On this day I have decided that I am going to approach my parents about the sleepover. I tell myself that their anti-sleepover stance is irrational and silly. I convince myself that because I am in a legal studies class and have strong public speaking skills I have enough ammo to successfully counter-argue any of their points. I build multiple arguments in my head, taking different angles each time:
“It’s a girls-only party. Taylor’s parents will be there. There is nothing threatening about me closing my eyes under a blanket, sleeping, and then waking up. This is so stupid and petty. You guys are ruining my life.”
I make a list of all possible reactions to my arguments. My sister and I manage to narrow the list down to three, based on key themes.
“This is too last minute. So, no.”
“First it’s sleepovers, then its drugs.”
“What will their parents think? That we just let you sleep anywhere?”
All seemed like plausible responses. I contemplated my retort to each. I could only come up with one; a lie: “Taylor is a nickname. Her real name is Athena. She’s Greek… on both sides.”
In retrospect, this plan was doomed from the get-go. My parents knew every Greek person in the tri-state area. Based on the last four letters of the person’s last name, my parents could also tell you what area of Greece this person’s family was from, and possibly what neighborhood they currently lived in. My father had a Greek band, and a music store in Astoria for thirty-five years. The chances of him not knowing “Athena’s” family were slim to none. Also, making up a fake Greek name for Taylor had the potential to spark a number of questions I was not prepared for, mainly: which church do Athena’s parents go to, and do they get along with the priest?
Needless to say, my plan failed miserably. If you guessed that this story ends with me crying hysterically and listening to my Pink Can’t Take Me Home c.d. on repeat all night, then you guessed correct. I stood at the top of the stairs for a full ten minutes trying to build the courage to ask them. It wasn’t the fear of their response holding me back. It was the fear of knowing they might look at me differently after I asked; like I was suddenly some disobedient rebel-child that they no longer recognized.
It wasn’t until I grew much older that I realized the significance of this moment. Although we were on different sides of the argument that night, we were all — consciously or subconsciously — experiencing a similar emotion: the fear of what others might think. Me, in terms of what my parents might think of me, and my parents in terms of what the entire community would think of them.
I share many of these stories in jest, but the truth is immigrant parents are tasked with the incredibly difficult job of having to balance child rearing with carrying forth the legacy of an entire culture. As a result of this, they tend to be fiercely overprotective, clinging to both their children, and the ideologies that shaped them, simultaneously. I keep this in mind as I look back at moments like Taylor’s sleepover. We should all be thankful to have parents who care so deeply about the decisions we are making and the people we are surrounding ourselves with.
I personally should be thankful because my parents’ parenting has provided me with a strong sense of morality and exceptional judgment… and amazing material for this blog.