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Transitioning From Sheltered Baby to University Student

Edited by Tasmiyah Randeree

I’ve had an incredible childhood. Not because of particularly incredible experiences or incredible friends, but because of incredible parents. And by “incredible”, I mean unbelievable. Unbelievable, for when you add my mother’s incredible detail-orientation to my father’s incredibly overactive imagination, you get a lot of protectiveness and very little freedom. Do you feel like you can relate? Keep reading and we’ll see whose parents can make off with the ultimate helicopter award.

  • Before the age of ten, I was not allowed to attend birthday parties. In the eight years after that when I was allowed to go out, they always tried to persuade me to ask my friends to change the birthday dinner to a birthday lunch, afraid of what the night would bring. As for my own birthday, I was prohibited from going to the Escape Mansion with my friends because they saw a picture of handcuffs on the venue’s website. 
  • I was never allowed to participate in sleepovers — “Why would you sleep in someone else’s bed when you can stay safe in your own?”
  • Actually, I have never been allowed to go to someone’s house to just “hang out” — “You can stay home and do something more meaningful.”
  • In grade eight, they learned that I had a crush on a classmate and consequently did not allow me to participate in the band trip… don’t ask me to clarify on their line of thought.
  • Whenever I needed to meet up with classmates outside of school for group projects, I had to show my parents the project group chat to prove that I was in fact going out for educational purposes — “There is no trust, there are only possibilities” is what my father said to me after he dropped me off at a guy friend’s house to work on an English assignment with other people, and then suddenly returned to pick me up half an hour later. 

Everything escalated in the months before I moved from Ottawa to UofT. Each day, during mealtimes, my parents would take turns bringing up the latest news concerning blood and carnage in Toronto. While I ate, they would regale me with tales of shootings, stabbings, and kidnappings. And each night, while I tried to sleep, they would send me articles about university students being defrauded of thousands of dollars, about the different drugs guys would put in girls’ drinks, and about students who took an Uber and were never seen again. When I finally moved to Toronto, it was firmly established that I was to frequent only my lecture halls and my dorm, and that the world off-campus was to be a world non-existent to me. 

In the first three days, I adhered to their expectations. I stubbornly stayed out of off-campus frosh activities and avoided all casual outings. Then the Toronto International Film Festival came to town and before I knew it, I had bought tickets and was on a subway heading towards the TIFF Lightbox. There was a moment of regret I had as I walked through Downtown Toronto, where I became acutely aware of the fragility of my body and how helpless I would be if a car driving by suddenly veered into me, or if someone was pointing a revolver at me from behind one of the skyscrapers’ windows, or if someone leaped out of the shadows and grabbed me.

But when I actually saw Julianne Moore in person at the premiere of her movie and returned to campus in one piece, I threw aside my parents’ cautions and lived in a way I’ve never thought possible. In the past two weeks, there has not been a single day when I did not go out. The sudden, unrestrained freedom to go wherever I want, whenever I want, and with whoever I want was intoxicating. I’ve come to know Eaton Centre better than its own directory and the top restaurants and cafes better than Google Maps. The one thing I do not know is the number of times I wobbled back to my dorm in the wee hours, my readings undone and my assignments unfinished. 

I told myself that after years of being chained to my house, I deserved to have a good time. I told myself that after I’ve had my bit of fun, I’ll settle down and straighten out my priorities. I told myself that my parents were wrong and that the outside world was an amazing place, and that I could take care of myself. Then I went overboard, and put myself in a dangerous situations, and got hurt. It didn’t help that I was also slipping into the status of the student who was constantly unprepared and unengaged with the learning material. Fear set in, and I was no longer certain of who I was or what I was trying to accomplish. 

Now, I could sit here and talk about how I’ve managed to overcome this loss of self esteem and self understanding, and how I have found the perfect way to self regulate my freedom while balancing my responsibilities, except I haven’t. I’m still struggling, struggling to process what it means to be truly responsible for my own behavior, actions and safety. Everyone around me seems to be steadfastly navigating their new liberties with maturity, but in case there are lost souls like myself out there, here are some of the lessons I’ve learned:

  1. Rely on your less-sheltered friends. They are more accustomed than you are with the power of deciding for themselves what they want to do, where they want to go, and how they want to spend their time. Not only will they be an example and a benchmark for you, but they will also warn and reprimand you when you have gone too far.
  2. Rely on your gut. We might be naive, inexperienced, and even lacking in what seems to be common sense situations, but we still have our gut instinct and our conscience. When a place or activity makes you feel strangely uncomfortable, leave. When you can’t stop thinking about that assignment due,  just go get it done. 
  3. Finally, rely on your parents. You might feel resentful that they’ve made your life more difficult having sheltered you for most of it, or you might feel frightened because they would severely disapprove of what you’ve been doing away from home. However, no matter how much trouble you get into with them, it would still be nothing compared to the amount of trouble you’d be in if situations spiraled out of control and you felt like you couldn’t go to the people who’ve been guiding you your entire life.

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Zelia Fang

U Toronto '22

Zelia is a first-year humanities student at UofT. She lived in P.E.I. for a bit and is now obsessed with the Green Gables series. Just as Montgomery has taught her, she is constantly on the lookout for the poetry in life and her next kindred spirit.
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