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Wednesday, September 18, 2013

The Parent Club

     I interrupt this session of writing to get some anger off my chest. See, it’s been festering since August 12, which is the day I went to Cedar Point with my family. We joined a few other families there. It was actually a Girl Scouting activity. The troop covered the day-trip with the proceeds from their cookie money. We walked around, stood in line, rode rides and eventually drifted away from the others in our group. That was okay; the Scouts plugged this as an individual family event. It was a good time….until my three kids, my husband and I decided to go—not on the Dragster or the Raptor or the Gatekeeper—but….to THE PARKING LOT…Dunh-Dunh-Dunh…togetourjackets. (I’m trying to make this more dramatic as a build-up to the cause of my anger.)

     On our way out (and let me emphasize that we were walking neither slower nor faster than any of the other people around. There was nothing to distinguish us from any of the families who accompanied us on our mission to have fun. We were, in all fairness, spread out, five of us across the Cedar Point promenade, which is about fifty people wide. Ten times our number, mind you.), I heard my son yelp. He’s a quiet dude, so I knew something substantial must’ve happened to wrench a sound from him. I looked past my two daughters in time to see the back of the stroller that had just plowed into his Achilles tendon and onward. It was one of those jogging things with the gargantuan front wheel, propelled by a thirty-something male household head and his tittering blonde wife, or significant other. As we ate their dust (because they must’ve been running the Cedar Point Marathon for cancer, which I was unaware was going on. Oh wait! It wasn’t!), I could see that they had two kids in the stroller, a boy and a girl who looked roughly nine and eleven respectively. They seemed old enough to walk and had no discernible physical disabilities barring them from doing so. Not that it was any of my business, until they MOWED DOWN MY SON. He is seven, by the way, and has the misfortune of being the youngest in our brood. We were kind of sick of lugging strollers around by the time he showed up, so he’s had to foot it since about the age of five. Which is a shame, because A STROLLER HAS MYTHICAL PROPERTIES. NO HARM CAN BEFALL ONE IN A STROLLER. 
     Until it takes you out. I nudged my husband and exclaimed, “They just hit Cameron with their stroller!” I spoke loud enough for the wife to look back. She gave us—not an apology or an expression of concern—but a smug, I’m-gonna-beat-you-to-the-main-gate smile. (Granted, below is more of a grimace. But this mom's got the smile down pat.)
     I went over to my son and asked if he was okay, as the repugnant family put yards between us on their all-consuming quest to leave Cedar Point. My son told me he was fine, but that they’d been bumping him consistently with the wheel of the stroller. Alleged grown-ups. Sadists, more like. Can you believe it? Now, I’ve seen childish behavior from the older set many a time. But with parents, one can usually count on some sense of decency, resulting from the fact that we are all guardians of the future. (We are, don’t laugh.) “Why didn’t you tell me?” I demanded. He shrugged. “Why didn’t you move?” sneered my ten-year-old (No doubt a future bowler-over-of children in the making). I set her straight. He didn’t have to move! That family could’ve easily gone around us if the parents thought we were too slow. It would’ve still been obnoxious, because I imagine they’d have done it with that same smug smile, the one that says: we’re so much better than you. See? We walk faster. We are expert walkers. (As a rule, I walk pretty fast too, but I was on vacation) Such a measure would’ve been preferable to running our son down. It launched me on a tirade that gave the term amusement park a whole new meaning. Cedar Point’s parking lot became another source of amusement for my family as they listened to the ways I would retaliate if I ever saw that couple again. How dare they run into my lovely son while shoving their disgusting, slovenly children in a stroller? What was the big, goddamned hurry? I mean, how can you be in a rush AT A FREAKING AMUSEMENT PARK???? And if by some chance they were hurtling to the nearest hospital to meet a parent who they’d just heard had gone ill, why didn’t they say, “I’m sorry I bumped you, sweetie. We’re in a hurry because my mom or dad or aunt or grandma or (insert beloved relative here) is sick.” No, they were like:
      See ya! Wouldn't want to be ya! That is not okay! So maybe Cameron was falling a little behind. This isn’t the Serengeti, people. Weak, old, young, slow stragglers shouldn’t have to worry about being pegged off by the jogging-stroller-owner at the top of the food chain. (And since when does jogging stroller possession belie someone at the top of the food chain? Such fitness-minded humans should be counting calories, in my view, and the one they granted me of their asses confirms this.) I hereby officially kick those two dorks out of the Parent Club. Because parents (sometimes even shitty ones) protect children, theirs and those that belong to other parents. They don’t run them down and glory in the thrill of conquest. PLUS, just so you know, jogging-stroller-family, after the downpour (it came while we were in our car getting the jackets—we couldn’t have timed it better, really), they re-opened all the rides and we got on them about ten more times. You think you’re so smart for getting out before everyone else…but we got far more for our money. Let that be a lesson to those of us who are always engaged in some strange, never-ending race to God knows where (I mean, why would people hurry to their deaths?) ATTN: Thirty-something Couple I’ve Excommunicated from Parenthood: You’re too old to be acting that way. I feel sorry for the people who are forced to interact with you every day, since I could barely handle our fleeting association. Feel free to re-apply to the Parent Club when you grow up. I leave you with my son, who is fully recuperated and back to taking his own sweet time at fairs, amusement parks and such.

     

Thursday, September 12, 2013

National Cry-in-Public Day

     Hey, I’m in a blogging mood today. So back to blogging I go. This’ll be a dark one, unfortunately, despite the dwarf video. I’m such a dreary ghoul these days. I might swear a little. Here’s why: Yesterday was 9/11 and I had to take my mom for simple out-patient surgery, during which I realized just how vulnerable I am. Seeing her vulnerable does that to me. I know, it’s selfish of me to be so self-absorbed. I should be thinking of her, or the nation, or the people suffering through yesterday. I mean, it’s not like I was innocently working away at my hard-won job when a plane smashed through my office walls. I’m lucky. I’ve never had to jump from a gazillion-floor building to avoid being crushed to death by debris, choosing one bad death over another. I didn’t have to imagine that happening to a loved one, or hear about it on TV, or think about it in the depths of the night. I didn’t lose anyone that day. Nor have I received the dreaded call from my kids’ schools. We’ve had Lock Down Drills, but not the real deal, even though our neighborhood could be a twin to Sandy Hook. No wonder it clawed away at my insides to see that community go through what it went through. Likewise it makes me sick to hear my husband relate his coworker’s rants. Sandy Hook was just something the government came up with so Obama could take away their right to bear arms. (Yes, there are crazies all around. Great, now I sound paranoid.)
     Still, I need my mom so much, and there were times I feared something might’ve gone wrong during this simple no-brainer surgery that takes three minutes tops. So what if thirty other people were having the exact same thing done? It took two hours when you factor in all the prep and stuff, and the whole time I thought about people who send their kids off to school unaware that this will be the day the teen with untended mental illness comes in to wreak his twisted sense of judgment. In a world where chaos reigns, how can I be sure my mom won’t be the one in a million? The one time this surgery goes bad?      
     In the waiting room, I read a book about Columbine while the coverage of 9/11 memorials played in the background on mute (for me. For others, there might've been sound). Flags flapped, people alternately bowed their heads and saluted. Victims cried. The book was Wally Lamb’s The Hour I First Believed. Take it in small doses, people, but take it—just not during a loved-one’s surgery or on September 11th. I think I might’ve been torturing myself for not having lost anyone to these horrible things.
     Of course, everything went fine with my mother. (Once again, I lucked out big-time. I should play the freaking lottery every day! I never play it.) That evening my kids told me what they did in school to preserve the memory of the tragedy that occurred twelve years ago, which was watch this: Patriot Day video. My husband and I told them (again) exactly where we were and what we did that day. I’m sure all the teachers did the same. He’d taken the day off work to be present for the delivery of our swing-set. I was running up to get some diapers for my one-year-old daughter, and I listened with wide-eyed disbelief (or—I’m ashamed to say—more like narrow-eyed skepticism) to what I thought was the War of the Worlds prank all over again. In fact, I kind of blamed OrsonWelles for what I was hearing. Goddamnit, I remember thinking, if freaking Welles hadn’t tried to be some macho radio pioneer, this wouldn’t be happening now. What can I say, the frightened mind is rarely rational.
     After our recollections, my kids reminded me they hadn’t yet been born on September 11, 2001, and the one who had been born (my diaperless daughter) didn’t remember it. (How could she? She was only one.) Columbine popped into my head. NONE of them were around for that.
     This hobbled me emotionally because I looked at my three kids and a voice in my mind said: there will be something else. Something that will rock their world and change it. From that day forward they will always remember where they were when it happened. They’ll remember every little detail. As that knowledge trickled down into my gut, I had the chilling realization that whatever it was lurking in their future, waiting to strike—it would be bad. No generation is exempt. Thus far, the pattern of chaos has been totally predictable in this regard. It will happen.
     So today I keep bursting into tears. It doesn’t help matters that I’m still reading Wally Lamb’s book as well as writing two of my own about abused children, one abducted as a child, one as a teen. Writing about child abuse is like taking a vegetable shredder to one’s soul. I have to work in numerous breaks, during which I do laundry while gulping back my grief. Don’t know why I bother. Laundry provides a wonderful crying opportunity. The sound of swishing water camouflages the hysterics. The room itself is snug as a den, insulated by the smells and textures of my family. Even the Tide container grants me permission to wail, with its boast of Spring and Renewal. With Tide as my incense and the washer my baptismal font, I am reborn. When I emerge, it’s as if from a cocoon. (I was gonna settle for a picture of a swishing washer up there, but this is a gem of a video. Leads me to believe that people did something besides laundry and crying in their laundry rooms in 1963.)
     I never cry in public. Frightens the children and turns off the people working the deli counter. Inappropriate. Besides, what the fuck do I have to cry about? Did my husband perish at the Twin Towers? Did my seven-year-old miss his birthday because of some family’s lost and damaged son? Not crying in public is a tendency I share with Wally Lamb’s main characters. It’s a weakness in wolves' clothing, disguised as strength. They think it’s because they’re men. I beg to differ. Because, last I checked (and I check daily), I’m a woman, yet as reluctant as the next guy to turn on the waterworks. I’m like a cowboy (not the ones in Brokeback Mountain).  
      I want to change. I want my crying jags to see the sunlight, no longer exiled to the laundry room. I propose we institute National Cry-in-Public Day. (I’m writing my congressperson now. Wait! Who’s my congressperson again?)
     See, at church on Sundays? I’ve been noticing these people. They cry silently through prayers or during the petitions or even during announcements. Either church is their laundry room or they’re far braver than I. Let’s say for argument, though, that they’ve lost someone recently and they have an excuse for their grief. I’m still envious of them, and a little fascinated. By putting their grief on display so publicly, they defy us to address it. I wish I had the bravery to go up and stand next to them. To say: I see your sadness. To sit with them for a minute, bonded by mutual fear. Except I’m the ice-blooded pussy who hides in her laundry room to cry. (Can a woman be a pussy? No? Ironic.)

     National Cry-in-Public Day would put an end to all this agonizing. (More irony.) We'd be obligated to cry, reason or no. Crying would be revealed for what it is: a sign of strength, not weakness. An acknowledgement that in the face of bad things, we are not going to retreat to our laundry rooms. We are going to flaunt our sadness and with it, the wisdom gained from a lifetime of intermittent tragedies. This might not be the end of the violence, but we won’t pretend to be strong anymore. We are vulnerable and we know it. See, you’ve got nothing over us anymore, chaos! Fuck you, and the monsters you breed. You might be too random (finger quotes here) to realize it, but crying cleanses, dude. So just keep hiding behind your trench coats, your demented fb pages, your little booby traps, your bombs and guns. Meanwhile, we’re gonna cry ourselves as naked as the day we were born.
SIDE NOTE:
Okay, here I was gonna place a video of "It's Alright to Cry" from the psyche-forming Free to Be You and Me. But that message didn't really sink in with me, whereas this one did. Besides, it's funny.