Saturday, October 20, 2012

Adventures in Real Parenting: What comes around

When I was a teenager, I was full of ideas about what my life would be like. My mother would glance up from her novel and listen as I laid out my plans for a beautiful life unmarred by children or husbands or society's silly, oppressive rules.

A perfect apartment in a city wonderland. All white furniture, white carpet. No clutter. No avocado appliances. And for the love of god, no Early American decor.

As I got a older my plans shifted to include a husband with a great job. Travel. Fabulous careers. Eventually plans for children - two, perfect in every way - sneaked in. By the time my first college boyfriend and I had secretly moved in together, we'd already picked out names for our future children - a boy and a girl.

Naturally, I became a pre-child, child-rearing expert and I took a sick pleasure in listing how I would be a different kind of parent. I'd never spank, yell at or nag my children. Furthermore, my life would be so much better, so much more organized and enviable.  My house would always be clean, my emotions in check and my attention unwavering.

Most of the time, my mother's response to my prattling on remained unchanged. She gave a little smirk, a chuckle perhaps, a slight shake of her head. She wasn't taking the bait.

But every once in while, she couldn't help herself. Uh huh, she'd say. We'll see how that turns out. Later, I imagine, when she was alone with my father, she said something like "That Lisa is a piece of of work....."

Now the smirk is on the other face.

Sophie has suddenly started talking about her fabulous future. Her family is going to have traditional holidays. They're going to dress in matching outfits and take photos for holiday cards. Big dinners. Vacations. Game night. Okay, I made that last one up, but it's only a matter of time before she says that.

Like I was a mildly OCD sufferer bucking against my mother's laissez-faire attitude toward housekeeping, Sophie plans to rebel against the way we've moved away from family and let go of so many of our traditions. You practically have to hold a gun to one of the cats heads to get me to decorate for Hannukah/Christmas. The decorating and the extra activities - they become just another thing I have to do. Funnily enough, my invitation to the other family members to go crazy with the tinsel never spurs them to elvish activities.

So I don't blame Sophie for feeling the way she does.I understand it. So as she lays out her Five Point Plan for a beautiful life, I make an effort to be attentive and supportive. If I feel my eyes about to roll, I look away. A sigh about to escape my lips is swallowed.

I look around my rented, uncluttered split-level with the falling apart dark, faux leather sofa, the stained carpet and the colorful, framed travel posters (I haven't been to any of those places) on the edge of a tiny, rural Georgia village, that I share with my husband of twenty-four years, three kids and four cats and try not to laugh.


  1. smiles...we def change our dreams over time...and settle into a comfortable living...dang it i still want to travel...maybe one day....and its funny how our children 'rebel' and sometimes in ways that surprise us...we have come full circle as a fam on this, being back near fam again...

  2. I had pretty similar plans when I was a teenager except that I had two mutually exclusive versions depending on whatever momentary passion I was nursing. One was, like yours, the all white wonderful apartment in some fashionable but affordable Parisian arrondisement (did you ever see Irma laDouce?) where I could paint and eat fresh brioches each day with my half gallon cup of coffee. The other was a plan to build my own little round house with lots of windows (centered around a huge fireplace) on a piece of woodland I loved about a mile from my parents house. I did get to live in Paris for a while (as did you) and I also spent a summer living in a little round house overlooking the Pacific in BC. It's good to have dreams of a better life when you're young and better still to keep on having them as you get older. Some of them come true and sometimes wonders you never could have imagined as a child just blow you away.

  3. Big laughs from over here. I swore to my poor mother that I would never reproduce and would go and live in chic Paris like my heroine Simone de Beauvoir. I have four kids two dogs four cats and live in a tumbledown farmhouse in Italy!!

    And now that my daughter plans her immaculate pet-free house I also smirk. But wonder...

  4. Oh Lisa! This is really funny.

    My mom always rolled her eyes at me whenever I used to say, "When I become a mom, I will not be like you!" But after I became and mom, and after the first time I used the phrase, "BECAUSE I SAID SO!" I realized exactly why my mom rolled her eyes at me!

    And my life is VERY different from how I "planned" it to be!

  5. When I was young I was never going to get married or have children. I would have my own place and a career that I loved. I would have friends and I would spend my time writing books because I was going to be a wildly successful author as well. Plus I would teach and travel and have a beautiful wonderful life, a full life! :) :)

    So no surprise then that I got married and had kids and never wrote a single thing and haven't traveled.

    But I do NOW have my own place, I do NOW have a career that I love so who knows, dreams can come true.

  6. I used to grumble that we had our first kid when we were 18 and 19 respectively, but now I'm (only) partially glad because we were early beneficiaries of the realization that having dreams is for adolescent yahoos, insomniacs, the unemployable, angry loners.

  7. So many things I felt strongly about have disappeared. When I was young I swore I would never go to the grocery store without makeup. HAHAHAHAHAHAHA.

  8. Matching outfits? Nooooooooooooooooooooooooo.

  9. I have the yin & yang of children. One is in the auto industry, the other hates cars & only owns a bike. One blew off college, the other just graduated. One bought a too big house (w a too big pmt), added kid, dog etc, the other lives in a student co op. These two are a little crazy making- polar opposites.
    When I was a kid, I thought having 6 children sounded like a great idea (my best friend came from a family of 12 kids!).... but after we had 2 kids we decided if we had more, they could mutiny.
    Our cup runneth over with 2 kids. Good thing too, because it was all that I could handle, & in the rough teen
    oppositional/defiant phase, it was waaay more than I could handle.
    I'm still trying to figure out what I will be when I grow up!

  10. I wanted to speak fluent French, Italian, and German by 30. Didn't quite make it. Ok, I had some knowledge of Italian--I can order with confidence in an Italian restaurant. I can sorta order with less confidence in a French restaurant. And I am happy the menu is in English at the German place. Maybe you should put Sophia in charge of holiday decorations and give her a budget, etc. It seems fun at first, until no one helps but everyone feels free to criticize. Just a thought.

  11. That smirk! YES! :-D

    My first such "Holy shit! S/He's in me!!" realization was with my maternal grandmother, whom I adored. She had this way of rubbing her fingers around and around in maddening, mesmerizing circles over the fabric of an armchair or couch ... or somebody's leg if they were sitting beside her :-D

    I caught myself at 36, sitting on my own couch, talking on the phone with a friend in the early a.m. like Nana did ... *and my fingers--!!* ~ It was around this time that I also had the epiphanies that I sounded just like my mother when I sneezed, and like my father when I blew my nose.

    Hmm ... Maybe this marks the advent of midlife: when our bodies start to imitate our elders' ... !

    Your last paragraph ... says everything xoxo


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