My mother was a freelance writer. She worked from home on an early generation Apple computer she bought from selling her father’s grand piano (I think it had been her father’s). The only memories I have of the piano is that it was mostly used as a surface for stuff. My sister remembers my mother crying as she played the piano one last time when the buyers came to take it away.
Anyway, she had an early model home computer. She also had a printer that made a god-awful noise when it printed. It sounded like metal grinding on metal. Like a key being cut. And it took forever.
When my mother was in her study, it was understood that she was not to be disturbed. When I got home from school, I was to go to my room and read and take a nap. I don’t remember ever pushing back on this. Like all the rules in my house growing up, I don’t remember there being any room for push-back. Dinner was dinner. There was no claiming you didn’t like it and having something else made for you. Ever. The TV lived in my parents’ bedroom, and unless I home sick from school, I was allowed a half an hour a week. There was no, “I’m bored!” and expecting someone to fix it. I remember my sister would be up in my parents’ room watching The Facts of Life, Growing Pains, Cheers, or Family Ties while I was doing homework at the kitchen table. I remember hearing her laugh uproariously. I don’t remember ever whining that I wanted to go watch with her. I don’t remember getting a lot of help with my homework, although I’m sure I must have. My mother would listen to All Things Considered and drink red wine from a tiny glass that she refilled frequently as she cooked, and I would do my homework. I remember once asking her for help with my math homework. Her answer was, “You’re never going to need to know how to do that in real life.”
Once I was home from school because I forgot my bus pass. When my father and I got to the bus stop and I realized I had forgotten it, his form of punishment was to send me to my room for the entire day. It was hardly punishment. I hated school. And in retrospect, I guess I kind of get it. There have been times with Monty where he has lost or forgotten something for the umpteenth time, and I’ve been tempted to cancel the rest of the day. I was a forgetful kid. And I was sloppy and not careful with my stuff. Part way through the day I remembered a nightmare I had had the night before, and I got very scared. I went down and knocked on my mom’s study door. I told her I was scared. She gave me a quick hug and told me to go back to my room. That was it. No stopping what she was doing to help me process. No cuddling on the couch. She was working and that was that.
I’ll tell you one thing FOR SURE she would not have put up with: Captain Underpants. That shit would not have flown in my mother’s house.
I can not begin to imagine what my parents would have done if the world had ground to halt in 1987 the way it has today. Considering the overall health of my family at that time, I don’t know how we would have survived. I don’t see my parents scrambling to find activities for me to do in lieu of camp, for example. There was no internet, and there weren’t activity boxes you could have mailed to your door monthly. But I didn’t even get Highlights magazine. I wonder if my mother would have thrown up her hands, turned on the TV, and locked herself in her study for months. We didn’t have cable, so I would have been watching a shit ton of soap operas, I guess.
As it was, I spent a lot of time alone in my room. Reading, drawing, playing make-believe. I would take apart clocks and telephones to see how they worked and put them back together. I listened to records over and over in my room. I entertained myself.
Monty has no sense of boundaries. When I tell him I need to get some work done, his response is a panicked, “What am I supposed to do?!” When I open the door to his room and point out the plethora of toys he has that he never plays with, he claims they’re all boring. When I tell him I’ll go ahead and donate them all then, he flies into a rage. He wants to play video games or watch crap. If I have the mental, emotional, and physical fortitude to stand my ground and not hand him his tablet (leant from school, by the way. I’m not buying a seven-year-old an expensive personal computing device…), I know he will stomp around for a while, wail and complain, slam his door a few times, say some weird shit like, “Fine! I’ll never have fun for the rest of my life!” or “You don’t want me to ever have fun again!” and I will try and fail to not raise my voice, and if it gets really bad, I’ll end up slamming my door, and calling him selfish and entitled, and threaten to throw away all his toys, and take away screen time for a month, and say some weird shit like, “You are being such an asshole! My mother would have hit me by now if I was like this!” (which is true, but also, like, what?).
Parenting is not my forte.
Eventually we will both apologize to each other (he will usually initiate because he is a god damned gift). I will explain to him that I need to have time to get my work done, and he needs to try to respect that. I will gently point out all the sacrifices I make for him every day. He will seem to get it in that moment… I will tell him I’m sorry I called him an “asshole.”
We will cuddle on the couch for a bit, and then I’ll ask him to help me make dinner, to which he will enthusiastically reply, “Okay!” He will help me for a few minutes, and then he will wander off to put an 80s playlist on Spotify and play drums, and I will silently chastise myself for not making him make dinner with me (so he can develop a useful skill and learn the valuable lesson of being helpful and blah blah blah).
At the end of the day, he will insist that I do bedtime with him, even though we have spent every waking hour together and I called him an asshole. He will ask for a bedtime story (his current favorite one is the one where Sonic the Hedgehog gets his powers by sleeping in a drainpipe of a nuclear waste facility after a logging company cut down his forest. He then has to go join society, which means he has to go to the DMV and get a non-driver’s ID, and then apply for citizenship. There are a lot of forms he has to fill out, usually in triplicate, and sometimes he uses a blue pen instead of a black pen, and he has to make a new appointment, and wait another six weeks.). I will give him squeezes and hugs to last him through the night, and sometimes listen as he yells for me from his room while Kurt is trying to put him to bed.
I will lay there and marvel at the bottomless well of love he has for me. I feel completely undeserving. I am sure that I’m raising him to believe that it’s okay to call someone you love an asshole, as long as you show contrition afterward. I am sure I’m raising a sociopath. I can see him years from now saying, “You always folded and let me play video games, and now I can’t self-motivate to get a job AND THAT’S WHY I HAVE TO LIVE IN YOUR BASEMENT!” Oh god.
If my mother were alive, I wonder if she would have softer ways with Monty than she did with me. Obviously she wouldn’t spank my child. If she did it would be her first and last time, and she would never see us again. But I wonder if she would say things like, “Oh, he’s just a kid. Let him play videogames,” or “He’s only seven, of course he eats like a complete slob. At least he’s cute when he does it!” Or would she be like, “Daisy, you have got to put your foot down and put an end to this shit. He can figure out how to entertain himself. And why does he eat spaghetti like that?!”
Right now, Monty is in his room with the door closed doing god-knows-what on his tablet. Once, when he was really little, hhad figured out how to use voice command on my phone, and he was whispering, “Google, show me videos of big bellies.” I’m not kidding.
Hopefully, he’s playing PBS games. I suppose worst comes to worse, he’s watching those stupid videos where the kid opens toys and plays with them (honestly, what?). And I have had an hour of quiet to write. Should I leave him in there and enjoy some more quiet time?
Maybe he’s watching videos of big bellies. That’s okay, right? Right? Like, he’ll be okay, yeah?
In twenty years, when he’s living in my basement and slurping his spaghetti one noodle at a time, flinging sauce all over the place, I will be reminded of this morning and know that this one hour of peace and quiet was his ultimate undoing.
Today is Juneteenth. Find a local celebration or peace rally and go to it. Wear your mask. Today and every day, educate yourself. Be kind to your neighbors. Don’t call the cops on ANYONE (especially not a BIPOC) unless you literally see them wielding a weapon or their own strength at a person, or plowing their car into pedestrians. If you see someone in need, ask if there’s anything you might be able to do to help them. Ask yourself, is what I’m doing helpful or hurtful.
Thanks for reading!