Since I grew up the youngest of twelve kids, there was no such thing as privacy when I was growing up. None of us had our own rooms, and we were never alone. There were no locks on any of the doors either, so there was always the possibility that someone was going to barge into any room with no warning. Everything we did behind closed doors was subject to public scrutiny.
Believing they were alone, my older sister when she was six, performed for all of her best friends in the room she shared with two other siblings
“These are my friends,” she sang as she swept her arms in front of her one arm at a time, from left to right. “These are my friends. These are my friends.”
My older brother saw this recital and told every other member of the family that our sister was singing a song to her stuffed animals, calling them her friends. When I heard this legend when I was ten, I empathized with my sister since the same thing had happened to me when I was caught kissing a poster of Macaulay Culkin that I had ripped out of Tiger Beat Magazine.
One might think we were afforded privacy in the form of a diary with a solid lock on it, but this wasn’t so. All words written down were considered fair game for every member of the house to read. My dad, while drinking his evening tea, would randomly summon us one at a time to bring our diaries to him after supper. He’d sip his tea as he casually flipped through the pages while we stood by anxiously, hoping we didn’t let something offensive slip in there.
We rarely got in trouble for what we wrote in our diaries. Since reading them was a part of my dad’s parenting technique, we would stick to the following, parent-approved topics: what we ate, how boring school is, and how much we hated the other siblings. We’d never write anything substantial like how we had stolen quarters off our dad’s dresser and used the money to buy candy at the little store. (He always knew when we did this, anyway, because this was a trap he had laid for us every day. He knew how many coins were on the dresser and would count them when he got home. If the same amount weren’t there, we’d be in trouble). Topics such as drugs, sex, and how we wanted to punch our dad weren’t smart things to write in our diaries.
Through self-editing, our diary entries read something like this:
Dear Diary, Today was boring. We went to school and learned about reading. I drank a coke. Jenny stole my pencil. I told the teacher. Well, gotta go to bed.
My dad was hopeful that we’d let our guards down if he did these diary checks irregularly enough; we’d eventually include the information he wanted to read. He would let months pass without asking for our journals. We knew better than to fall for that and continued to write the most boring shit you could imagine.
The only domain of privacy was in our dreams, but even this wasn’t 100% as my dad would frequently take pictures of us with a large flash bulb as we slept. We’d be jerked out of a deep sleep only to see our dad walk out of the room.
What this lack of privacy did was make us extremely sneaky. We’d go to great lengths to break the rules of the house and the country in secret. Unfortunately, I was caught for everything I ever did because I never cover my tracks well.
I’ve inherited the snooping gene from my dad. I’d like to think I’m an unlicensed detective, but I’m just a quidnunc; a boring old gossip who wants to know everything abought everyone always. Every time I have pried by either eavesdropping or reading something not intended for me, I found exactly what I was looking for. Unfortunately, the thing I was looking for was always the thing that made me feel or look the worst since I was never looking for gifts or fun surprises. Luckily for my kids, I stopped snooping years ago for the sake of my sanity.
I understand, however, where my dad was coming from when he read our diaries, though. Darla started writing in her journal recently, and it’s torture not to read it. Her spelling skills are rudimentary at best, and she only has enough stamina to write one sentence a day, but I’d really like to read those single sentences all the same. Maybe I could gain a little more insight into what her day is like since she’s infamously tightlipped about everything once she gets home. I one time gave into my baser impulses, and it was a disappointing experience. The sentence read like hieroglyphics, and I couldn’t understand what it said. I felt guilty for breaking her trust but received none of the rewards for my indiscretion. I have made it a firm rule never to look, again.
We’re, also, working on knocking before we enter rooms so everyone can have a little more privacy. This one is harder to deprogram in me. I have 35 years of barging to undo, so I’m going to need a little more time to acclimate to this new concept of privacy. I'm averaging a knock once every four times right now. By 2018, I should be up to a knock 50% of the time.
It’s my hope that, if I give Darla and Jude some personal space, they’ll be less likely to be sneaky and break the rules when they’re teenagers. Maybe they'll be more likely to come to me when they have a problem. Or, maybe I’m just kidding myself, and I'll have to start summoning them to the kitchen table with their journals once they hit high school.