Monday, February 23, 2009

The Hippie Years

Wolf's Shakespeare play has gone excellently -- 6 performances in 4 days -- he's exhausted but happy. The play was done in Shakespeare English, but set in the 60's. It was so much fun: the set, costumes and the music sure brought back memories. I was born in 1960, which is a LONG TIME AGO to these young people on stage (they ranged from something like 4th grade to college-- ages 9 to 25). The girls looked great in their short mini skirts and polka-dot dresses, and Wolf wore ripped jeans with a tie-dye shirt and lovebeads. Come to think of it: remove the lovebeads, and the rest is pretty much what he normally wears!

My husband, the Prof, had long hair until only a few years ago -- it came down to his waist and he normally kept it in one long braid down the back. He grew up in the Black Hills of South Dakota, and lived for several years in a tipi. Shortly after I met him, we planned a trip to Germany to meet the German family, and I was a little worried what my parents would think of him. The fact that he was working on his PhD in Physics would help (my father is one too, plus, physicists are allowed to be a bit eccentric). But I was worried about the long hair -- what would they think? But to my great relief, my father just laughed and said something along the line of "What matters is that he's a good person, and besides, Mozart had a braid too!"

My Amadeus kept his hair long for a long time -- even when it was time to head out in the "real" world and find a job as a professor, he found that he was accepted just fine at the Geophysical Institute at UAF in Fairbanks. He fit right in with his long braid, salt-pepper beard and tweed jacket.

But when we moved down here to Anchorage and settled in Eagle River, I did start noticing how the more conservative (esp. military) people here looked askance at him. I remember once we went to pick one of our kids up from a play date after Kindergarten, and the mom at first seemed friendly enough, but after she noticed my husband's long hair, her whole affect changed to pure coldness. It makes me mad when perfectly nice people are discriminated against purely based on their looks -- such as skin color, handicap or simply the length of their hair!

I did not move to the US until 1978, and still don't fully understand why "hippies" can produce such strong negative reactions in some people. It's nearly as if they think that all hippies are drug-addicts. And that certainly is not the case: plenty of long-haired hippies, even if they did smoke some pot (marijuana) at some point, did not end up as strung-out drug addicts. And what was so terrible about the hippie years -- after all, they brought a great deal of positive change too, such as the Civil Rights movement, feminism, environmental awareness.

I wrote my life story recently in a post entitled "How did a Kraut end up on the Taiga?", and mentioned that I went to high school at an International School in the Philippines in the 1970's. This was during the time when many teenagers were experimenting with drugs in the US and Europe. The Philippines during that time were under Martial Law, so I ended up never getting exposed to any it (o.k. I was also a real nerd). I had never even seen or smelled the stuff, and was clueless in college too ("What's that smell?" would evoke laughter and "Where were you in the 70's?").

The pot in those days, from what I understand, was not nearly as potent as what's available today. But then the "War on Drugs" was waged, and pot became highly criminalized along with all the other more serious drugs. Nowadays, our children start in elementary school with DARE (Drug Abuse Resistance Education) -- which, in theory at least, is a good idea. But I wish it was more factual and less indoctrination -- I worry about kids finding out someday that much of DARE was scare tactics: smoking, drinking & drugs are all thrown in together as one terrible thing -- they all lead you down the slippery slope to perdition...yada, yada, yada... The danger is that when they first experiment with a relatively mild drug (and experimenting is in human nature) and find out the consequences are not the dire ones predicted, that they then will disregard the warnings about stronger drugs, and "throw the (proverbial) baby out with the bathwater", to disasterous results.

I understand that messages need to be kept simple for younger children, but still, somewhere along the line they do need to learn that life's choices are complex: it's not all black and white. Not everybody who takes an occasional glass of wine will end up alcoholic, and not everyone that ever has smoked a joint is a loser. Many years after college I had a conversation with my parents about marijuana, which they (like DARE) lumped it right in with heroine & crack, and they were surprised when I told them that I knew many professors and graduate students who occasionally smoked "recreational" pot or used psychodelic mushrooms, without negatively affecting their work and intellectual abilities -- it was not all that different for them than going out for a round of beers on a Saturday night. I don't deny that some people can have some real dependency problems -- my point is that not all drugs are created equal and therefore are not all equally damaging, because people are not all equally susceptible to substance abuse (due to genetics, etc...)

We all have known parents who are control-freaks, and have rather antagonistic relationships with their children -- and oftentimes these kids turn out to be some of the most rebellious. My philosophy is that it's best to build a good foundation for when they're heading out into the big wild world (after all, we're not always going to be there watching their every step)... Therefore, my husband and I try to concentrate on being a close and loving family, where we teach our children to think for themselves, to think critically, and learn from mistakes. This, of course, is easier said than done (wish us luck: one kid's in college, and we got 2more to go...)
BTW, I don't think that's necessarily the parents' fault when kids get in trouble-- these things are way too complicated for blame to be assigned like that! Challenges are part of life, and life is not fair...

So what exactly should you tell your kids about
your hippie days?
That's a question some friends of ours recently asked.

As I mentioned above, I myself have an easy out -- I did not do drugs in my youth. But most parents my age have at some point in their youth experimented with the stuff (and many of them lie about it now) -- do you tell your kids the truth? When? How much?
I certainly don't proclaim to have a clear answer for that -- and I believe it depends a lot on the circumstances. But in general, I believe in being as truthful as one can be without causing damage. And I strongly believe parents need to have established a relationship of trust and honesty LONG before this conversation ever comes up.

So, dear reader, I would love to hear what you think?


PattyP said...

I am all about being honest and open. If my kids ask, I tell. Otherwise, the topic in question seems to become a lot more interesting. :)

Mommy Bee said...

I just found your blog via Becky (on top of the world or at least really far north). I'm another Alaskan mama, incidentally of heavy Germanic heritage (also Scandinavian) although I've never lived there. I've visited briefly, but that's it. :)
Anyway, I came on over here and have been enjoying reading here. I am a Shakespeare junkie and a crunchy mama (ie hippie sans drugs, LOL!)

I have to say, I wholly believe in being honest with kids. I led a fairly tame life all things considered, but I think honesty is always the best policy. Maybe honesty + the retrospective opinion (ie, I wouldn't do it now, or I wouldn't do it the same way, but yes I did it then)


Kitchen Sister said...

From a college student's perspective: lying to your kids is no good. They WILL find out about your wild and reckless youth from one source or another (I got parental dirt from my own dear grandmother). If you lied, not only does it set up hypocrisy as an acceptable standard, it also diminishes your kid's trust and respect in you. Who says that parents are supposed to be models of perfection? Parents burn food, lose their temper, roll through stop signs, peed their pants as kids, and yes, smoked pot. As a parent, you should try to model BEING A GOOD PERSON (honesty about past indescretions included) rather than a model of ALWAYS FOLLOWED RULES (when clearly, most people break a rule or two on a daily basis).

If you're a parent and your kid asks you about your past drug use, be honest. Brushing them off with a "yes" or "no" is nothing compared to actually talking with your kids. Did you ever get in trouble? What got you to try/do it? Honestly, what was the experience like? What made you stop/cut back significantly? Did you become a junkie or how did you manage to avoid it? What was that like? Ask your kids if they know peers experimenting with drugs, and if they've considered it. Chances are, they're making their own decisions already whether you want them to or not, if you ask them point blank, they may feel like they have to lie, and if you give a lecture, there's a good chance you'll get tuned out. At this point, it's more important to be loving, approachable, and wise rather than a scary authority figure.