During a year of living defiantly, the Office star discovered evidence of her parents' own flesh-and-blood vulnerability.
I'm very open and emotional with my friends, but I've always been less than expressive when it comes to my parents. I'm a good friend, a devoted wife, generally happy and well adjusted. I'm aware that I have my folks to thank for this, but it's just never been a natural thing for me to be, well, gushy with them.
At no time was this more apparent than when I was a senior in high school. I, like so many of my peers, thought I was smarter than my folks and ready to make grown-up decisions. But like most of their peers, my parents were still imposing curfews and (what I considered) horribly restrictive rules. I hid out in my room a lot, which would usually inspire them to force me to clean it.
One day, as I was sulking and clearing out a dresser I didn't use much, I discovered a keepsake drawer where my mother stored things from my childhood: a program from a school play, ancient report cards, some old dolls. I thought it was nice that she'd kept these mementos, but I thought most parents did, so it didn't strike me as a big deal—until I came across a brown leather datebook from 1974, the year I was born. It was a small, unremarkable thing; each day had just a couple of empty lines to write on. But when I started leafing through it, I saw that it was filled with short messages in my mother's and father's handwriting. "You tried strained peaches today and you loved them! Do you still love peaches?" And "You wouldn't stop crying today, third day in row. Thanks a lot." The book was blank for a week here or there, but then something would compel one of them to add a comment like "Today you tried on your Easter outfit. It has little bunnies on it and you look so cute! I can't wait to take you out with the family." They'd written notes to the future me.
As I read, I realized for the first time ever that my parents were human beings. It had honestly never dawned on me that the people responsible for incarcerating me in my bedroom, who forced me into the manual labor of taking out the garbage, had once been two kids who were overwhelmed and excited about having their first baby. And they adored me. To see that kind of humanness in them at a time when I felt so disconnected from them was deeply affecting. I could have hugged them immediately, told them how much I loved them. But I didn't. In my own subtle, teenage way, I just…appreciated them more.
I have kept the datebook in that drawer ever since, as a reminder of how much my parents did for me, how much they love me, how much I love them. I think about it often, especially now that my husband and I talk about having kids of our own. I didn't tell my mother and father about finding it until years later, and I never let them know the impact it had on me—it's still easier for me to write about it in this magazine. But I think of it whenever they're driving me nuts, because it reminds me of all they've given me, and helps me start from a place of love rather than irritation.
Of course, I still revert to acting like a teenager when I go home for Christmas. It's a diary, not a magic pill.
— As told to Rachel Bertsche
Jenna Fischer stars as Pam on NBC's The Office.
Printed from Oprah.com on Saturday, March 8, 2014
© 2014 Harpo Productions, Inc. All Rights Reserved.