It’s been more than a quarter of a century since my parents dropped me off at college, but I remember it clearly. They were all teary-eyed; I was impatient to get going with my new life. After attending the parent orientation and helping me get settled into my dorm, they were off.
We talked once a week or so, which was a lot more logistically challenging back when you actually had to be in the same room as a landline telephone to receive a call. They asked how classes were going, and I asked for money. They got a little information about my life, I got a little spending cash, and everyone was happy.
Over the next few years, my parents put up with my life decisions with little more than eye-rolling. I dropped out of college, moved to California with my boyfriend and worked a series of low-paying jobs in a futile attempt to build a decent life in a high-cost city. I eventually came back to the Midwest, finished school, stumbled into a career, got married, earned a master’s degree and started a family, all with zero interference.
True story: When I told my parents I was getting married, the response was, “Congratulations! Let us know when and where the wedding is!” That was their total level of involvement, which was fine with all concerned. It’s safe to say that your average reality-show producer would not find much material to work with in my life.
Spare a thought now for Aubrey Ireland, who cannot say the same.
Aubrey is the college student from Leawood who, at age 21, apparently can only dream of having the freedom and autonomy that I was granted without question when I started college two weeks after turning 18. She’s a senior at the elite University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music with a long list of achievements in academics, the performing arts and charitable community work. She beat out hundreds of other applicants for a spot in the musical theater program and has been on the dean’s list every quarter since she enrolled. Her accomplishments are the kind of thing that would prompt most parents to let out a sigh of relief, pat themselves on the back for a child-rearing job well done, and book a vacation to celebrate their freedom as empty-nesters.
But David and Julie Ireland are not most parents. They ended up on the receiving end of a stalking-protection order issued last month by an Ohio judge, who ruled that they must stay at least 500 feet away from their daughter and have no contact with her until next fall.
The allegations would make Maury Povich drool: Parents accuse their daughter of promiscuity and drug use, tell the daughter’s school administrators that she has mental problems, install monitoring software on her laptop and cellphone, routinely drive 600 miles from Kansas to Ohio to show up at her door unannounced, and create such a disruption that the university is forced to hire security guards to keep them out of school performances that feature her.
Oh, and this tidbit, from Aubrey’s interview with ABC News: “There were nights I had to leave my Skype on all night and my mom would watch me basically sleep.”
The case also involves mutual accusations of physical assault, demands for the repayment of $66,000 the Irelands have spent on Aubrey’s college tuition, and the parents’ statements in court documents expressing doubts about their daughter’s mental health. In online discussion boards, armchair psychologists snicker at the irony.
But really, there’s little worth snickering at. Media coverage has cast the Irelands as control freaks who elevated helicopter parenting to a whole new level, but I have no doubt they truly believed they were looking out for their daughter’s best interests. Consider a statement that Julie Ireland made to the judge, as reported by The Cincinnati Enquirer: “She’s an only child who was catered to all her life by loving parents.”
That’s the quote that stands out to me in all this mess, because it sounds so familiar. So upper-middle-class modern America. So … Johnson County.
Admittedly, I know only what I’ve seen in the media. I’m not privy to the dynamics of the Ireland family, so it’s possible that there’s an entire untold story here.
Still, I’m having a hard time feeling sympathy for the parents, because they have the one thing that all parents dream of when they hold their newborns for the first time — a talented, successful child who has grown into an accomplished adult capable of living independently.
Many of us have little hope of that.
I have no idea what my parents thought of me during the years I was drifting from college to California and back again. They kept quiet, which couldn’t have been easy, and let me find my own path. I filed my own taxes, applied for scholarships and grants and loans, worked some awful jobs and took forever to finish college, but I did it. When I desperately needed money, or a roof over my head, they were there. I’m grateful not just for all they did, but for all they didn’t do.
In that sense, I had a young adulthood that Aubrey Ireland would envy. She has gifts that I never did, but no matter how talented you are, the ultimate gift is freedom.
Sarah Smith Nessel, a 913 freelance columnist, writes The Bubble each week.