Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Childless Children

"My mom .  .  ." he said, snorting a little.

"Yeah," I know what you mean, answered a friend. (They were sharing a joke.) "My dad is the same way."

All night long, the conversation went on, about parents. Snacks were eaten, pitchers of beer emptied -- an easy conversation that everyone agreed with: parents . . .  Eyes rolled. This was a post-teen parental evaluation. The anger -- the angst -- was gone. It had been replaced with cool superiority that sounded like the dismissal of any legitimacy; the tone of those who believed they had outstripped their archaic mothers and fathers in every intellectual way . . .

Somewhere else, a father paces the floor, at one in the morning, trying to get his cholicky baby to sleep, smiling gently despite his exhaustion after a full day of work and with another one looming in just a few hours.

Somewhere else, a mother stands next to a crib, watching her child sleep, tears of doubt -- doubt in her own ability to be a good mom -- in her eyes.

Somewhere else, a father is awakened by his little boy ("I threw up . . .") for the third time, the night before the most important meeting of that father's career. Still, he gets up, cleans up, and rubs the boy's back until he is again asleep.

Somewhere else, a mother holds her daughter's hand as the doctor works. The daughter squeezes. The mother's heart cracks a little more and a little more, but she shows no tears . . .

"I know," another one at the table says, pouring another glass out of the pitcher. "That's parents for you -- but they grew up in a different time. My dad never got me." (All at the table nod, smiling, pushing crumbs around with their fingertips.) One of them raises a hand to call the waitress (a widow with three kids) for another round . . .

Somewhere a father checks his sleeping baby, just to be sure she is still breathing. This is the forth time he has awakened, just to check.

Somewhere, a mother in the dark cries harder than she has ever cried because of the way she handled her son's bad behavior that day. She cries until it feels her soul might freeze.

Somewhere, a father, driving his wife and new baby home, realizes that, for the first time in his life, he is afraid to die.

"My dad's an idiot," a young man says as he throws money onto the beer-wet table and they all walk away. "Bottom line."


  1. I like this. A good portrayal of what we've all been through. Anyone who has kids has had those feelings...on both sides. I love my parents, but have had those same "superior" moments. I'd call out anyone who says they haven't. Everybody thinks they'll never be like their parents. Everybody thinks they will do a better job, be better in general. And more often than not, we come down to earth and eventually turn out to be our parents, or at least distilled versions of them. We may not like to admit it, but it happens. Little do the youngsters in this example know just how soon they could be on the other side of the coin. I don't blame them at all. Not yet. Just something we go through to come out better on the other side.

  2. As long as we do come out better on the other side . . . for real, instead of just in our own heads. There's way too much of that mild delusion stuff going on in the world. I don't agree with necessarily coming out like our parents -- hopefully, we do become the new and improved versions: keep the best, throw away the rest.