I grew up in Lahore, Pakistan; I grew up thinking I had no freedom.
This was because I wasn’t allowed to stay out past 6 p.m. as a teenager, I couldn’t attend after school events with my friends and whenever I wanted to go hang out with a friend at McDonald’s, I had to ask my grandmother to come with me and chaperone.
My parents explained their reasons: staying out after 6 wasn’t safe, my school was a 40 minute drive from my house and staying there after classes wasn’t safe, and being in McDonald’s on my own with a friend was definitely not safe. I could get kidnapped, mugged, raped, abducted, led astray. Some bodily harm (God forbid!) would befall me if I did all these things because we lived in an unsafe country.
I did follow the rules though. I never made a fuss (externally anyway), and continued to comply. I would politely tell my friends that no, I wouldn’t be joining them for school bonfires or the party we had after the school play. I never said it was because my parents were worried I would be murdered or kidnapped; I just shook my head and said, sorry I have a family dinner to get to or maybe next time? I have to finish up some homework. I didn’t want them to think my parents were insane, or you know, heavens forbid, uncool.
And then I would watch my classmates have fun while I sat in the car and was driven home in the afternoon, safely.
I always wondered, didn’t the other parents care if their kids were safe? How were they so okay with exposing them to all the dangers my parents constantly warned me about? Did they not love them as much? I never brought up these points to my own mom and dad because I was a good, non questioning child.
It got worse when I grew up. I remember being in A levels, being 17 and I wasn’t allowed to attend gigs or concerts. Even if I did, I was the first to go home. At the school farewell, I’m pretty sure I was the only one who had to go home at 8 ‘o’ clock sharp because my mom sent the driver, and called me multiple times. Everyone else stayed on till later, and did really fun things, or at least that’s what I thought.
That night, I was fuming. I couldn’t understand it. If this was all for safety and security, how come nobody else had to go through it? How come I was the only one who had to say no to every second invitation my friends threw my way? Obviously, eventually, people stopped asking, and I became the person known for not being allowed out too much. What a dire situation to an 18 year old.
Maybe it had to do with the fact that my dad didn’t live in the same country and so he was extra worried about us. He saw violence and explosions on the news and automatically assumed that somehow we’d get caught up in all of it. You know, if I have to die, I’ll die even if I’m at home right? So what’s the point in restricting my freedom? I couldn’t say all that to him, but it was pretty much what I thought about.
And so then I grew up. I moved away from home, to the Middle East, for university. And suddenly, I had no limits. Turns out, my parents had actually only been worried about safety, and as I was in the safest country in the world, I had no restrictions. I could go out wherever and whenever I wanted, and they didn’t say a thing. In fact, they encouraged my growing independence. I thought this meant that I was becoming an adult and growing up and all that good stuff.
I lived in Chicago for 2 months, and am currently in London. I’ve been here for about 7 weeks now, completely on my own. No one has told me when to come home or go out for the last two years. I’ve been living in ‘safe’ countries for three years now, and I have so much “freedom”, I could wrap it around myself and stay warm in the winter.
And I hate it. I hate that I’ve grown up enough to not be told when to come home. I hate that now, I can navigate cities alone, and no one asks where I am. I hate that my parents don’t ask when I get home, or who I hang out with, or whether we’re at McDonald’s with a chaperone. It’s such a stupid contradiction. I’m having a hard time being by myself.
But you know what I figured out? Now that I’ve moved away, it takes every muscle in my body to stop myself from asking my sister what time she’s coming home. I worry about her constantly. I worry that there will be a blast or a kidnapping or something dangerous wherever she goes, when she goes out. I know it’s unfounded; I lived there and I know that this stuff doesn’t happen regularly, but I’m worried. And I finally understand why my parents did what they did. I get it.
And I really really miss my grandmother taking me to McDonald’s.
Adulting is not working out for me.