The older you get, the easier it is to reflect back on what was really going on behind your mother and fathers’ parenting strategies. My parents definitely loved me so much that it turned me into the entitled, egomaniacal little bitch that you see before you today, so believe me I am not complaining… but it’s funny when you realize they were selfishly doing whatever the heck kept you quiet and unharmed. Sometimes they were actually teaching you a lesson, sometimes they were just in a good mood, sometimes they were just in a terrible mood and making you pay for it dearly, and every single time they took you to get ice cream, they were really taking themselves. I know for a fact that when I have kids I’m getting them all jazzed up for ice cream every night of the summertime, knowing full and well it’s just an easy way to shut them up and sneak in my trans fats. Everybody wins.
Many a great life lesson has come from my mother’s lips. When we were little, she thought of a very effective way to keep us from playing in the street. She took her foot, squashed the ever-living shit out of a caterpillar and said “when you go into the street when nobody’s watching, you will get squashed like a bug. Like that.” Well alrighty then. Point taken. I have not played in the street since. And I will be using this very same strategy on my own kids.
My father was definitely the disciplinarian. And a lot of times he was in a terrible mood. I made the fatal mistake of heating up a can of Campbell’s Corn Chowder one afternoon. It tasted like rotten corn mixed with eggs and cream and hatred. I put it aside on the counter in disgust and my father, who wipes down the kitchen counter with Lysol ten times a day (a nifty little trait he has passed on to me), saw it and put it back in front of me….for the next seven hours. It sat in front of me while everyone else ate a lovely casserole. It sat in front of me during the TGIF TV lineup. It sat in front of me after everyone else went up to bed. And I cried. And cried. And ate one spoonful per hour until my mother eventually rescued me and told him to get over himself. As she tended to do. It’s fine, I’ve managed to pay my father back tenfold since then. I think I broke the world record for the number of times a retainer can be lost in a restaurant garbage bin. My immediate family are the foremost experts at rifling through fast food trashcans to hunt down misplaced orthodontia. Even in Disney World. Sorry, guys! I swear my teeth and I appreciate it! I loved that rainbow retainer.
I have to give it to my mother; she was actually very resourceful about making fruits and vegetables enticing and exciting things. It was such a big freaking deal when we got pomegranates or coconuts. We would fly out to the back patio with our tools and crack them open like we were stranded on a desert island. Smart, Mom. Very smart indeed. Getting us out of the house, eating fruit, not spilling it on any furniture, and really excited about it. I see you. She also made a huge ordeal of her “homemade popsicles.” You know what those were? Orange juice frozen into Tupperware molds. Pure genius. I thought they were magical. I used to brag to my friends about those popsicles. They must’ve been as stupid as I was because they got pretty damn excited too.
My mom was a fourth grade teacher so the best days ever were when I got to tag along to school with her. When I was younger than her class, I was babied and adored by all of the other kids and I spent most of the day being read to and fawned over. Naturally, I ate that up with a ladle. As I got older, I got to help her and her other teacher friends set up their classrooms, grade papers, make bulletin boards, etc. I liked to storm around with my nose turned up at being overworked and underpaid, just so I could prove to her students that I had control over her and they didn’t. I could mouth off to her but they couldn’t. I was special and they weren’t. Bitches better recognize.
Not much has changed in the sense that you can always get me to comply if there’s food present. Every Sunday we went grocery shopping, and every Sunday my mother was cunning enough to hit up the deli first. At the deli she asked to “sample” various cold cuts and cheeses. A bag of cold cuts and cheeses was code for “LeeMarie’s Compliance Pack.” It usually worked unless I was on a real bender and then I commanded fruit snacks and pudding and Cookie Crisps and a thousand other things that were bad for me. My mother said no to about 40% so if I demanded enough, I usually walked with what I wanted. If not, my grandmother had no concept of the word “no.” Most Supermarket Sundays ended in us loading up the trunk with my mother’s groceries, the back seat with my grandmother’s groceries, and two superfluous bags of snacks that I had pitied my grandmother into buying me at my feet. Win!
As I got older, a little bit more daring, caring a little bit more about boys and a little bit less about food (as if), my mother had to adapt with entirely new strategies. The first was her famous speech. It has been told to every single girlfriend or potential bad influence that has ever walked through my parents’ front door. Always remember to be the apple at the top of the tree that everybody wants but nobody can get. NEVER be the apple on the ground that everybody can get but nobody wants.” You’ve gotta give it to her, Mary is class class class. I may be a wild child but I’ll never be a grapple (ground apple). And you can bet your ass if I have daughters they’ll be hearing that speech. Hell, so should the sons.
There comes a point, of course, when the most influential people in a kid’s life become his or her friends. I was lucky in that I had awesome friends who stuck with me from elementary school right up until this very day – but we did enjoy recruiting cute hooligans who sagged their pants and smoked stolen Marlboro Reds in front of the local movie theater. I was strictly banned from cars with boys until like… last year. To avoid this stupid rule altogether I would have my mother drop me off places and then hop in a car once I knew she was gone. Except for one thing – Mary never left. No she did not. I’m beginning to wonder if she ever left anywhere she dropped me off. She probably had snacks and a book in her car, stalking me out from a safe distance until I shipped off to college.
One particularly embarrassing night she dropped me off at the movie theater to “see a movie.” I met a bunch of my friends and some random boys we were crushing on out front, walked in, puttered around for a few, and then headed back outside to hit up the McDonald’s nextdoor and wander around the neighborhood smoking cigarettes and sharing a flask of cheap whiskey. It was all a splendid plan except that the second I emerged from McDonald’s with my Happy Meal, who was waiting out front in her car, staring me down like she could see into my soul? Good ol’ Mary. And what did I do? I threw a tantrum of course. “YOU are the MOST embarrassing person EVER! We weren’t even doing anything! We went to McDonald’s! Who said we HAD to go to a movie anyway?!”
“I did. Get in the car. I’m calling everyone’s parents when we get home.”
From that day on, much to my mortification, all of my friends called my mother “Mission Impossible.” She loved that. Loves it to this day. Her signature move was to sing Sting’s “Every Breath You Take” while I stonewalled her from the back seat. “Every move you make. Every step you take. I’ll be watching you.”