It is something I think about now and again, and can't quite get out of my head...
About a year ago a friend of ours confirmed what I had long supposed when she told me with no hesitation, "I wouldn't have let my daughter be friends with you, when you were young."
Another time, I was sitting at our dining table, surrounded by our lesbian mom friends and heard one of them describe how she told her daughter that you could tell what someone believed in by the way they dressed, and that people who believed the way they did (liberal, Unitarian, feminist, peaceniks) dressed like them. I looked at my friend who was saying this, in jeans, button shirt and tennis shoes, and then at me, in my black cocktail skirt, low-cut black top and Cruella deVille shoes and thought... Hmmm.
Judging a book by its cover has certainly made a comeback in the granola set.
And I have mixed feelings about this, and about myself, wondering what kind of a bad influence I've been in my life.
Though any bad behavior should surely be negated by my last two decades of monogamy, sobriety and parenthood, no matter what I wear.
But my question is, should it be negated? And was I really someone one's daughters should avoid?
OK, so yes, I started having sex with boys at sixteen, but I also graduated a year early and in the top ten student list. Sure, I took drugs for a year, but only for a year, and nothing habit forming because I knew my father's addiction ran in my veins. Was my "what the heck" promiscuity from coming out at nineteen to twenty-two such a terrible thing? My numbers were miniscule compared to my peers. And the erotic dancing was only to raise money for charity, not to put food on the table, not that there would be anything wrong with it if it did.
I just didn't have the right mental make-up for that career.
I held down jobs and got good grades through suicidal tendencies, heart breaking break-ups and eating disorders, and settled down once I found a good woman.
I tend to have a soft spot for girls and boys who seem like the waif I was, once upon a time. The girls with too much cleavage, the boys with eyeliner and dark trench coats and a haunted expression. The ones you can tell have something to hide, rather than merely an image to promote. I can imagine much good in them, and futures they probably can't imagine themselves, because no one (especially me) would ever have predicted I'd end up a lesbian housewife writing humor, painting portraits of dogs and living in Leave it to Beaver land.
Yet some of the troubled kids' behavior is catching to other, less troubled kids. Cutting is contagious. Promiscuity spreads. Eating disorders can fester and grow in a high school environment, when not cut down early. Drugs can become appealing to an A student wanting to be cool, and alcohol more interesting due to a friend.
Do I want my kids to avoid kids who are more like I was, that they are? Is it ever appropriate to teach kids to judge a book by the cover?
For that matter, are the squeaky clean on the outside kids to be trusted, just because they dress modestly and in pastels? Many a cocaine addict wore preppy gear and attended an Ivy League school.
You don't want to teach kids to trust no one, but they do need to make judgment calls. How those judgments are formed is so influenced by parents, peers, media. I'd hate to have them judge a book by its cover, but then again I don't want them to get burned.
They need to make mistakes, but I pray for none too pricey.