This morning, during imaginative play, I was cast as the evil king from my daughter’s favorite children’s book, Zog and the Flying Doctors, a medieval story about a princess who prefers medicine, but thanks to her misogynistic uncle (The King) is locked away in a tower until he falls ill, she cures him, and the King realizes women are capable of more than flower arrangements. I had a few words with the casting director, but ultimately, she felt I was a perfect fit for the 12th Century Noble succumb to woke culture.
About 30 seconds into the role, while my wife bounced around on one cup of coffee pretending to be Zog (the dragon who flies the Princess/Doctor to her many appointments across the kingdom), I knew I was playing the part that was meant for me. Since the King was ill with Orange Fever, most of my lines were delivered lying down, a cup of tea in one hand and the dog, (who was playing the part of "Unicorn with Two Horns") cozily in my lap. Finally, I thought, she gets me.
On Tuesday I met up with April’s upcoming Bomb Mom, Morgan Lemaitre, to chat through the details of her reign and meet her one-month-old baby girl. Half-way through our conversation, and our drinks, we each commented on the clarity that accompany's motherhood and the layers of compassion for our parents that peel away as we age, as she so perfectly put it, "like an eye test."
Are the letters clearer with 1 or 2? 2 or 3? Do you see your parents clearer in your 20’s than in your teens? How about in your 30’s compared to your 20’s? What if I add a baby? Two babies? A failed career. A failed marriage. An illness. At what point do we look back on the people who raised us and say, "I get it. I see you."
According to my dad, my parents never wanted kids. This is something he reminds me of as if to say, I knew I’d fuck that up, but God must have seen my starring role in Lifetime’s “Giant Mexican Goofball” and thought, well, at least you’ll be entertained. Which I was, and still am, and in June of 1986 my parents were given a receipt for their performances in the mid-May production of Happily Married Spouses 1 and 2, with a COD in 9 months.
Mark Twain said, "When I was a boy of fourteen, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be twenty-one, I was astonished at how much he had learned in seven years."--Mark Twain."
The big fear in memoir is writing about people in print in a way that has the potential to damage those relationships in real life, which is why so many people print the dark side of their childhoods well after their parents have passed. Apparently writers have no problem damaging the reputations of people who can't defend themselves, but if I have to ask the same relative who spanked me to pass the potatoes while the whole world reads on, no thanks, I'll just stab you in the back once you're dead.
I guess depending on the content, that's a personal decision for each memoirist to make. I wish I were that delicate, in print or in person. Fortunately, or unfortunately, there's little I could say that isn't well known or hasn't been beaten to death.
Mark Twains Quote hit me around the age of 20, a time when, unlike Twain, I was still convinced my parents were idiots, but it gave me hope, that one day, they would grow into the smart, capable, normal, post-card-parents I wanted them to be. It took about fifteen more years, and a kid, until I understood, as Kristen Bell put it, the "carnage" of humanity. We're awful, all of us, and parents are just humans with an irresponsible amount of liability. Truthfully, none of us should be allowed in public, and the fact that we're expected to raise each other is indicative of God's humor.
I felt ill-equipped to parent from the moment I gave my daughter her first bottle. I remember holding her in the hospital, a tiny pink bow taped to her forehead, nervous smiling as I looked down at her like I thought a mother should. My wife stood up from the chair next to me and snapped our first photo together, and in the same moment the shutter clicked, I remember downloading the same generations-old insecurities I’d witnessed from my parents. The same societal obligations, the same expectations of what family and parenting should be, the same fears that I wasn't ready, that somehow I knew, deep down, I’m going to fuck this up, followed two years later by, how the hell am I supposed to keep her entertained?
There’s a running joke between my mom and I about the woman she was when I was a teenager, and the grandmother she is today. My daughter will never know her Nana as the exhausted single-mom who worked 60 hours a week and came home to a 15-year-old in front of the TV too “busy” to defrost the chicken. The woman who cleaned house, made lunch, folded laundry, ran me to practice, and yelled “Dammit!” every-time she spilt coffee on the floor.
But she will know her spawn.
And one day, years from now, I’m sure I’ll read an op-ed piece on Crazy Mother’s and the thousands of times I yelled “Fuck!” after spilling my tea, dropping my phone, and smacking my shin on the stroller. I'll smile, because she had the balls to write it while I was still alive. But sadly, unlike my mother, I won't have single-parenthood or grueling work hours to blame. So I better start looking for a patsy.
When my daughter cast me as the Villain in her game, I immediately felt like that's how she saw me, as the Villain in her life, and I wondered why that was a role I was so afraid to play. In her world, the worst thing I can tell her is she has to put on pants and chips are not a food group. But it's not today's script that worries me. It's the rewrites when she's a teenager and the sequels in her 20's. My biggest fear is being typecast as the Villain of her life. Am I nicer at 3 or when she's 8? 10 or 15? Is life clearer with humor or pain? Laughter or tears? Forgiveness or resentment? Am I better as a mother or a daughter?
One of the pains of parenting is knowing our children see us blurry, that the lenses only change with time, and that for a single morning, or years, we may play a part we don't enjoy. But unlike youth, our age offers us range. And who knows, by the time they're 5 or 21, we may have learned a thing or two.