0 comment Friday, July 11, 2014 |
There are good and bad things about being a parent. But there are so many more good things. It's a total kick in the pants. It's such a joy. And you don't have to make the same mistakes your parents made. Some not-so-good things? Remembering your own childhood neuroses and working through them again as you re-live them through your child.
Until I had Mr. M, I thought I'd forgotten most of my childhood. There just weren't a lot of details I remembered with much clarity, and I never had occasion to recall them. But since I've had him, the memories come roaring back. In particular, I remember how the tiniest thing could send me into a complete and total tailspin.
Me: Mom, what are we having for dinner tonight?
Mom: Liver and onions.
Me: Liver and onions? LIVER AND ONIONS? Earth's mantle, open up now, and envelop me into your core. I just can't go on.
Me: Mom, it's been three weekends since I had a sleep-over with Allison. And she invited me for this Saturday. Can I go? Please?
Mom: No. She's not wholesome.
Me: Oh, God, no. No, no, no. My life is over. Let me die now right now.
Probably a lot of these disproportionate reactions had to do with the fact we, as kids, had virtually no control over our lives. There weren't a lot of parenting books out there advocating choice. I'm not saying I'm a short-order cook and Mr. M has the run of the kitchen. But he does get a choice of green beans or spinach. It might be a choice between door of hell #1 and door of hell #2. But he does get to pick his hell.
My worst hell in childhood memory? When my mom made me get a haircut that I hated. And it did look awful. We have a family "portrait" that forever memorializes my horrifyingly short hair and my rage. I am wearing a yellow and brown, long-sleeved wool jumpsuit (she forced me to wear it; I loathed it and my hair. What was she thinking??) In retaliation, I took control. Got my power back. How? I refused to smile in every single picture. Every single blasted picture. (So, no, this is not me. This precious child is smiling.)
I remember the ride home in the backseat of the car and smiling smugly, victorious, as my parents discussed my out-of-character behavior. My dad asked my mom, "What the hell got into her? She refused to smile. Did something happen at school today?" My mom just shrugged helplessly, as if she had no clue. She so totally knew.
Mr. M and I went to see the Pursuit of Happyness when it came out at the movie theater. I thought it would be good for him to watch, thought remembering that father's and son's true-story plight would give us both a little perspective when we needed it. I think, though, Mr. M might have been a little too young. I should rent it now, now that he's a little older.
In any event, I am fond of asking him, when he acts as if he is in the throes of a suicidal ideation: "Do either of us have a terminal illness? Are we sleeping in a subway bathroom? Do we have enough food to eat? (So far, all answers have been in the affirmative, thank God).
He doesn't respond with quite the gratitude I'd hoped the movie and these queries would engender. Although occasionally this line of questioning will bring him back down to earth. Tonight, though, there was no reaching him.
Tonight (and every Thursday night) is Pick-Your-Own-Bed-Night ("PYOB"). It's PYOB that is, if Mr. M gets "greens" all week long. Let me explain the system. At school, every kid starts out the day with a green card. If a kid persists in disobeying the teacher after a warning, he must pull his card and advance to the next level, which is a yellow card. After yellow, the kid progresses to red, in which case he must spend thirty minutes lunching in complete and total silence with the principal who works on her computer (at least, this has been my own, personal red-card experience).
So if Mr. M gets a green every day of the week up through Thursday, he is rewarded (not "punished") with Thursday night "pick-your-own-bed" night. This fun-filled evening means he gets to (1) eat pizza; (2) stay up late; (3) watch something wholesome with Mom in the "big bed" (like Little House or the Waltons) while eating popcorn; and (4) sleep with Mom. Oh, and he gets to buy his lunch in the super-sanitary school cafeteria on Friday (instead of taking his lunch from home, as he does Monday through Thursday).
.So, as you can imagine, when the weekly green streak is broken, Mr. M goes into major meltdown, as he did tonight. While he got greens on Tuesday and Wednesday (there was no school on Monday) of this week, on this date he drew the fatal yellow card. So all bets were off. This would not be a PYOB night after all. And, oh, the lamenting, the weeping that ensued
He's seven now and starting to think more deeply. After the bad news for tonight was confirmed, he went through what I call the several stages of kid-coping. First, denial. "I am TOO still sleeping with you." Second stage: depression. "Life is too hard. It is just too hard." Third stage: lethargy. He does not move from wherever he is sitting for at least 20 minutes. Fourth: a phase of intense negotiations. "But it isn't just that I don't get to sleep with you. I don't get pizza. I don't get to watch t.v. I don't get to stay up late. I don't get to buy my lunch tomorrow. It's just not fair! You should only take one of these things away. It was just one tiny little yellow, just one, out of the entire, whole week. Mom, please! Please!" Fifth: anger at Mom's intrasigence, followed by tears and sometimes, rudeness. Sixth: contrition and resignation. "Mom, sorry I was so rude to you a few minutes ago and said I'd turned my ears off. Will you forgive me? Will you still tuck me in and read to me?"
Unfortunately for Mr. M, I'd already taught him, gently mind you, that "life is not fair." So when he got to the negotiation stage and whined that "it just wasn't fair," I asked him if he thought it was fair that the economy is tanking and hurting my business, that I must wear reading glasses, try to keep wrinkles at bay, and pay the exorbitant light bill. To which he quickly replied, as he echoed my words, "But Mom. Remember! Life is not fair." "Yep," I said. "You're absolutely right. Life is not fair. I wish it were, but it's not."
Oops. He had just stepped in it. You could see the regret, at his having uttered these words, spill instantly across his face.
When he had to go to the hernia specialist for an examination to rule out a hernia, he was less than thrilled. "But Mom, I don't want the doctor to look at my private parts. It's not fair. [and on and on]." "I understand," I said, and explained to him that women, quite reluctantly, have to go to the doctor every single year to get their "privates" checked out. "But Mom!" he said. "Our stuff is on the OUTSIDE. Girls have nothing to look at. So it's a lot harder on us." Putting on my best wise-Indian, mother-unruffled, poker-face, I was able to manage a wistful nod.
Last night I got a kernel of insight from him. And can I say now -- without it seeming like I'm trying to tower over anyone as I climb up on a great big box of Tide -- that I don't think there is any such thing as quality time? That I am so very grateful for the quantity of time that we get to spend together, and that I get to hear his peculiar little musings and heart-felt questions because our time together is not rushed?
I think if I had to compress all of our time into an hour or two a day, at night, with a few hours on the weekend, that I would miss a lot. But maybe I'm just thinking out loud right now because the economy totally sucks and I'm worried I'll have to go back to work full-time if the restaurant and bar revenues continue to remain sharply down and people continue their cease-and-desists on going out and having a glass of wine at dinner. Drink, people. Drink! But I digress.
Last night he asked me, "Mom, does my face look weird? You know, for a kid's face, does it look weird?" This was so deja vu. When I was exactly his age, I was convinced that I was an alien child and that no one wanted to give me the bad news. All of my relatives had conspired to shield me from this horrible truth. Certain that I looked extremely peculiar, I used to look into the mirror and say to myself out loud, "Who are you? Who are you?"
So I could really empathize when he had the same doubts. "No," I told him, "you look completely normal. I thought the same thing about my face when I was a kid. And I promise I would tell you if you looked weird. But you don't. You look completely normal. Handsome, in fact."
Life is hard sometimes. These days, it's hard a lot of the time, for all of us -- even for those of us who are only just kids. I need to remember that more often, when it comes to the fun-loving, non-bill-paying, non-lunch-making mighty Mr. M.