I’m on the phone with my mother when I turn philosophical about parenting, “You know I think every generation of parents believes their children are pampered.” I tell my mother this because my daughter has no idea what screaming — eyes bugging of one’s head, spittle flying, glass-shattering volume, feeling like you’re a goner — is like. My daughter thinks a stern voice, a to-the-point curtness is yelling. This child of mine has no idea how lucky she is, which is what I tell my mother.
My mother knows full-blown well she used to chase me around with a wooden spoon, and that I would on occasion preemptively hide it. There’s nothing quite like the satisfaction of seeing your enraged mother threaten you, walk with the reverb of a T-Rex to the kitchen drawer, pull out the drawer like she’s cocking a gun and…nothing. There was nothing. I hid that fucker.
I do distinctly remember Tabasco sauce connecting with my tongue as punishment, and me in the bathroom wishing for death with scorched taste buds. My kid considers death to be me threatening to change the Wi-Fi password, which I told her tonight, “You better change that attitude or you can kiss the internet goodbye.”
The attitude was immediately adjusted.
Judging by the kind of punishments my parents endured by their parents — my grandparents — I was raised by a couple of pacifists. But if you ask me, I was raised by one dictator and an emotionally unstable diet-a-holic who may have been terrible at wooden spoon follow-through but was absolutely homicidal with tongue lashings.
My father was one of seven children raised in an Irish Catholic house where his parents, in an attempt to teach their boisterous eldest son a lesson, chained him to a tree. I don’t know for how long or what kind of chain or even how tight the chain, but can you imagine? I mean the other day I saw someone complaining about another mother leaving her child unattended at a playground. There used to be children chained to trees, I thought, and I call him Dad. Calm down Facebook friend from high school I need to unfollow for killing my chill vibes.
My mother was forced to lift weights every day after school. Her father, believing she was getting too thick, made her work out endlessly, and she was known to pass out from the rigor. As a kid, I remember an entire summer watching General Hospital while simultaneously eating dry cereal (from the box) in my bed. It was Rice Krispies Treats cereal, and it was delicious. My daughter watches, on average, a billion hours worth of I-Have-No-Idea on a tablet, on a Chromebook, on a phone, and sometimes she tag-teams her devices with an actual, honest-to-god TV show. I’m holding out hope all of this will one day make me look like a genius when she becomes a director or documentarian or sketch comedian rather than a couch surfer with zero direction, and only me to blame.
It’s not that I want to chase my kid around with a wooden spoon, it’s just that this parenthood gig full of “stopping the cycle” is completely unglamorous and filled with children who don’t know any better and think you’re a monster anyway. No one puts “expect zero validation” in What to Expect When You’re Expecting, it would be too real.
The best kind of parent is the one without any children. No one gets into parenting for altruism, they get into it thinking they have all the answers their parents didn’t. Or, they just get knocked up and go with the flow. Regardless, I don’t know what comes crashing down first as a new parent: the hormones or the smugness.
Maybe your parents loved you to the moon and back and you just can’t relate to any of this. Bless you, for you know not what you’ve missed. Also, are you human or alien?
While my mother and I laugh until we can barely breathe on the phone, there is a deep realization between the two of us that maybe I did have it better. Maybe I was, dare I write it, pampered. After all, I wasn’t chained to a tree and I didn’t endure forced exercise until I passed out. My parents are two characters rich in faults and eccentricity where if they’d said, “I’m disappointed in you,” I would have seen it as a reward, like earning a Weight Watchers keychain for losing 10% of my body weight. But that’s not the kind of relationship I have with my own child. Now, after how many generations did it take us to get here, “I’m disappointed in you” carries the blow of a thousand wooden spoons. She, just like me, has no idea just how good she has it. Which, now I see, is the point.