I don't have kids. I never wanted kids. I am not, as a general rule, psychic, but I somehow knew that when I grew up I'd barely able to take care of myself, never mind a tiny vulnerable human being. Well, that's not entirely true. I can take care of myself (with some professional help), maintain a relationship, keep up with my friends and family, and hold down a job. But again, throw a tiny vulnerable human being in there and good God, watch the whole thing self-destruct. And that'd be bad for everybody, especially the tiny vulnerable human being. To say nothing of the other half of the relationship, who never wanted kids either.
So I find it odd, though I guess not completely nuts, that I have a repeating dream in which I have a kid. Apparently women who don't have children start having dreams of kids as they approach menopause, like their subconscious is shaking their shoulders and trying to get their attention: "HURRY UP!! YOU'RE RUNNING OUT OF TIME!!" I had one friend who dreamed of a little girl holding her hand, and as her child-manufacturing factory shut down, the dream changed and the little girl let go of her hand and ran away. My dream's a little less creepy. I have a teenaged son. He's playing football on the school team, which doesn't thrill me. I think it's an unreasonably dangerous game and I worry about concussions. But he loves it, so I don't stop him. We're having a tense discussion, maybe an argument. And here's a touch of reality; he's taller than me. I'm having to look up at him to say, "Now, see here, young man..."
A couple of nights ago I had another dream in this series, only it was forward in time about ten years. My kid is still playing football, only now he's a pro. Not a star on the cover of Sports Illustrated or any such; just another guy on the team. And I still think it's an unreasonably dangerous game and I still worry about concussions, but I have a special cable sports package so I can watch all his games (he plays for the 49ers and I live somewhere in the Midwest), and I read his blog and follow his tweets and he accuses me of stalking him. "I'm your mother," I tell him. "I can stalk you if I feel like it." I mean, hell. He's my kid. I'd have followed him around like a paparazzo, if that would get him to talk to me. But I get the impression that he does talk to me.
I've heard it said that there may be parallel universes, where we have infinite numbers of twins living out different lives. If so, that is one, and I have a kid. (In another one, I moved to Albuquerque when I was twelve, and--well, that's another story.) What I don't have, are parents who read my blog and stalk me on Twitter. I mean, they'll read my blog if I paste it into an email and send it to them, but they won't come looking for it. Too much to do on the computer already. And they're not on Twitter. Or Facebook, for that matter. I mean, they don't have to be. They're kind of up there in years. And I'm not a big fan of Facebook myself, for lots of reasons. But, ya know, when I figured out most of my friends were communicating in a certain medium, I learned how to work with that medium. I didn't keep sending telegrams after the invention of cell phones.
Yes, I call them. Yes, they call me. Yes, I realize that the lack of blog/Facebook/Twitter is not a sign that parental interest is completely lacking. But still.
(I can say this because they won't read it. Unless I stick it in an email and send it someplace, it might as well have never been said.)
I had an epiphany of sorts recently. It was something to the effect of there was no need to keep banging on that door, because nobody was gonna answer. It's hard to explain what "that door" actually is, but to try and keep it simple, it's the door behind which is whatever it is I want from a mom. My friend Marcia has an Italian mama who's all over her stuff. Wants to know where she's going, who she's seeing, what she's writing, what she's thinking, even. Drives Marcia nuts. And to me it sounds perfect. I asked her once if she wanted to trade moms. She said no. I was kind of surprised. I mean, I have completely uninvolved mom, she has overly involved mom, why not switch and see what happens? But, as a wise person once told me, no matter how weird normal is, it's still normal, and you'll fight to defend it even if you don't like it very much.
Normal, in my household growing up, was How Things Looked. Things had to be Fine at all times. That's a Scandinavian thing and a children-of-alcoholics thing. Everybody had to be bringing home the good grades or working the good job or, you know, Keeping Up Appearances. Especially in this Gentile household in this Mormon state. For as far back as I can remember, How Things Looked was much more important than How People Felt. To ridiculous extremes, even.
Most of you have kids, or know kids, or are fond of a kid or two, here or there. For a second I want you to imagine sending your kids into a combat zone every day. They come back alive, but with new bumps and bruises, where they've obviously been hurt. You ask them what happened and they tell you that Dody G____ slammed their heads into a locker or Sara B____shoved them into the sink in the girls' room and they've been peeing blood since. Or they come back without bruises, but with that glassy-eyed stare, and you ask them what happened and they tell you that two of the guys in their gym class grabbed them and yanked their shorts down - underwear too - in front of the girls. For a laugh. And maybe you get a call at work to come pick your kid up because there was a "mishap involving clothing" and she has to go home and change. Your kid gets into the car in her gym clothes and you ask what happened and she tells you matter-of-factly that someone in the locker room poured a bottle of hair spray down her back and set her on fire.
And you just nod, and say "Uh-huh," and the next day you pack them off to the same combat zone to do it all over again. Sounds like perfectly normal parenting behavior, doesn't it?
Now, to be fair, this is the perspective of a twelve-year-old kid. This was the late 1970s and no one had yet figured out that children had rights. Things that went on in schools, for which adults would be arrested, were dismissed as "kids being kids." (If nothing else good can be said about it, Columbine changed all that.) At the time, I had no way of knowing my parents were having meetings with school administrators and getting basically nowhere; that people, even the school counselor, were minimizing some of these events and flat-out lying about others; that at the time, I was the Gentile kid in the 90%-Mormon school and for some people, that simply made me subhuman and not worthy of the fuss that was being made. Let's face it; once you're Not One Of Us, you're never going to be One Of Us and if you're lucky, we'll just ignore you. If you're not lucky, we'll grab you by the throat, shove you into a corner and tell you that we're going to rape you, gouge your eyes out and then throw you in the garbage because you're such a fat ugly slob. (Broken up when some teacher popped out and said, "Hey, what are you boys doing?" But I believed them. I believed them absolutely.)
Years later, when this all came up again, my father said, "There was no way we could protect you 24 hours a day." My mother said, "It's not like we could just put you in another school. There weren't any alternatives." And I said, "Didn't your best friend Norma send her kids to a private Lutheran school?" Silence. And I said, "And didn't it occur to you that you could have kept me home rather than sending me into such a dangerous environment?" More silence. I didn't even bring up the wacky notion of hiring someone to follow me around all day, and yes, that was an option. (Remember, parents are millionaires.) It was pretty obvious by then that either they A.flat-out never thought of these things, which is just sad, or B. How It Looked was more important than How People Felt. And B is the way it always was. What Would The Neighbors Say, if we sent one of our daughters to a Special School? If we kept her home? The gossip! The scandal! Whisper whisper whisper. So I got sold out for the sake of a Norman Rockwell painting.
(I'm irritated at myself for not figuring out until a few years after the fact that I, too, had options. I could have simply refused to go to school; that would have been the most logical thing to do. I weighed quite a bit, even then; it would have been hard to drag me. I could have gone somewhere else other than school, or looped back home. It would have taken them a while to figure it out. I could have called the police and reported the assaults. They might not have done anything but they would have had to show up and investigate, and that would have blown the veneer of Fine At All Times to smithereens. But: I was twelve. I was twelve, and this had been going on since I was nine, and since I was fat, I must deserve it. Especially since my parents were doing nothing.)
Well, anyway. That was thirty-odd years ago and to this day, How It Looks is still more important around the parental household than How People Feel. Which is maybe why I go out of the way to find out How People Feel and want to fix it, if it's not good. And I don't have kids. Which is probably for the best. Because if I did have kids, and anything remotely like what happened to me at Bonneville Junior High School in Salt Lake City, Utah happened to one of my kids, the body count would be--well, higher than you can imagine.
(All together now: "I dunno. I can imagine quite a bit...")