As children, our parents are our superheroes. They’re invincible. Untouchable. Superhuman. But as we get older, we start to see the human sides of them. Most of the time, this doesn’t happen until we’re young adults ourselves. At ten years old, Vinny had to face harsh realities that most young children don’t have to face.
“When I was a little younger – probably in 4th grade – we moved here to get closer to my dad’s job. And my dad ultimately got fired like a month after. So my mom was kind of out of a job and my dad was out of a job and my mom didn’t know anything about this place… She would find this job, and that job didn’t work. So she would find this next one. And my dad was still actively trying to find one and he was finding jobs. But they only needed him for a little bit of time.”
When he was just in elementary school, Vinny’s family moved an hour away from where he grew up. Despite his age, he picked up on the enormous amount of stress consuming his parents as they struggled to find stable careers.
“Pretty much what happened was, after a couple months, my mom was still breaking her back. She was working like seven days a week from eleven at night to eight in the morning nursing and it just got to a point where she finally just snapped and she had a mental breakdown.”
This undoubtedly was a defining moment for Vinny: a day that changed the trajectory of his life permanently. The decline in his mother’s mental health made a significant impact on him.
“It ultimately made her kind of just a shell of herself and the effects it had on all of us were pretty detrimental. It’s definitely a reason I act the way I do now. I act real shitty sometimes. It’s just – it took a toll on all of us. It was a really tough thing to witness.”
This massive change, occurring over the course of a single day, was understandably shocking. He recalls how much he resented his mom’s strict parenting style as a young child. He didn’t realize how badly he needed the structure until she could no longer provide it.
“My mom was one of those ‘I’ll-beat-you-if-you-act-out’ type of parents. I remember if I did anything wrong she would just be that pushing force for me for everything. She would be the one that taught me right from wrong and everything. After that — I mean, I was only ten when she kind of just dipped — so I had to teach myself most of it, you know? I had to push myself in school ‘cause no one was doing that for me. No one was telling me to go get haircuts or anything. It was just me, really.”
Since this change in his family dynamic, Vinny has tried to be more mindful of who he is and who he wants to be. Without the right guidance, this can be difficult. He pays closer attention to and thinks more deeply about this than the average teenager.
“I have to really take into consideration everything I do because I need to figure out who I am as a person and how I can better myself because there’s always room for improvement.”
Other members of his family supported him during this difficult time. Along with the shifts he saw in his own mindset, he watched a shift occur in his family’s dynamic.
“[My dad] really stood up and my brother really shined because he was always making sure I was good. Same with my sister.”
Though her health has not declined since, Vinny has come to terms with the fact that his mom will never be the person she was before. He’s made the decision to accept her new life and do anything he can to make it easier. He helps out everyday by doing small things like driving his mom to doctors appointments.
“She’s not a broken human being but she’s never recovered. She’s still absolutely clinically depressed. She can’t go back to work. She gets stressed over the littlest things. Things with her and her current state haven’t gotten much better but they haven’t gotten worse by any means.”
Everyday life is different for Vinny’s family, but their love for each other is the same. If anything, it’s grown stronger. He’s inspired by his dad, who’s stood by his mom’s side through it all.
“My dad wouldn’t be with her if he didn’t love her. And I have all the more respect for him because I think he loves her more now than ever.”
He feels as though he’s missed out on little things in life like his parents coming to prom pictures or being friends with other parents. He also knows that he’s missed out on some important parental guidance. But he’s chosen not to feel sorry for himself; he’s continued to fight on even when it’s hard, frustrating, or lonely.
“She did a good job of keeping us all in line. And I mean I don’t think I’m doing a bad job myself. I’m learning slower than a normal person does when figuring out life. But I’m getting there and I know I’m getting there.”
Though a very important person in his life was not as present as he would have wanted, others helped him along the way. He’s thankful for his friends “for never really changing even when [he] changed.” “There have definitely been times when I’ve been terrible,” he says, “and they stayed.”
His brother was also a big role model for him, giving him some very simple advice that resonated deeply.
“One time, when I was like eleven, my brother told me that shit happens. That’s all he said. And, I mean, that’s not the best advice but when something really bad happens and it’s like a string of bad things, that’s all you can really say. Things happen. Things happen for a reason.”
Vinny dreams of a world where everyone can freely be themselves. He believes that people have too many opinions about the way others live their lives.
“Not everything needs a comment.”
On a smaller scale, he wants to live a comfortable, stable, happy life alongside his family.
He fears not being good enough or failing to meet the expectations people have for him. One of the things that has always stood out to me is Vinny’s confident, funny, unapologetic personality. But I was surprised to learn that he’s not as carefree as he seems.
“I see myself probably worse than anyone else does; I’m keeping that real. I know I established myself as being very confident and not caring but there are a lot of times that I care a lot. And there are things I do and say that literally seconds after I’m like ‘that was stupid, why did I say that?’”
He adheres firmly to the persona he’s created for himself in fear of disappointing those who only know him as this person.
“I kind of dug myself into that hole by establishing myself as such a big personality in school.”
However, as he gets older, he’s tried to worry less about what people think.
“I’ve prevented myself from doing so many fun things and cool things because I cared too much about other people, or seeing other people, or having to even have a conversation with them.”
Something that means a lot to him is getting called a role model by his teachers and friends.
“I don’t mind being looked at as that at all because I would never try to influence someone in a poor way. I definitely become more aware once someone has told me that. I try to watch what I say a little better.”
Interviewing Vinny taught me to work harder at getting to know the people around me. After interacting with him multiple times every day, I would’ve described him the same way everyone else would: a funny, carefree teenager. He’s one of the last people I would’ve expected to have insecurities and I never would have guessed what he was going through at home. Talking to Vinny has proven once again that conversation is key. Get to know those around you. Ask the real questions. Dig a little deeper. What you find just from scratching the surface will almost always surprise you.
For anyone who is in a similar situation, Vinny has a simple message:
“Never stop holding out hope. You’re not alone.”