I decided to tell my Step-mother, Margaret, about my blog.
It’s not as if she’ll read it. She’s never logged onto anything. She eschews technology as a mind-sucking intrusion into civilized society and the Internet as a 21st-century attempt to trample on mid-20th century values. No, it does not matter that we’re in the 21st century, nor that the 1950s were not exactly the moral high ground of our culture.
I enjoy talking with Margaret. She’s the first person I told about my desire to be a writer, when I was 17. I just blurted it out once, while the two of us were driving home from a trip into town. I didn’t want to follow in the footsteps of my brothers or my father. Her response was the first time someone told me, “you shouldn’t try to be like anyone else.” She also said, “writing takes a lot of discipline,” and that was like hearing “you have to be good at math” to be an architect, which squashed those aspirations when I was 12. It took me eight years to convince myself that I had at least a grain or two of discipline.
So, I explained what blogs are, and that I know somebody reads this, so it makes me accountable for providing content, for being disciplined.
“What do you write about?” she asked.
“I write about being a father, and about our family,” I said, and I braced myself for her answer.
“Is there anything else you could write about?”
Let me describe another scene from our visit before I explain away her reaction as generational warp.
Ella refused to go to sleep on the four-hour road trip to my parents’ … until the last 20 minutes. I could have driven around for another half hour, but I decided to go straight to the house because I was within a minute of being on time, and being on time, regardless of whether or not time is of consequence, even if it’s an arbitrary deadline I’ve plucked out of the air, often obsessively motivates me, like finishing a race. And, of course, because I didn’t want to catch good-hearted hell for being 30 minutes late.
So we parked in the driveway and Trish decided to stay in the car, because she didn’t want Ella to freak out and she postpones encounters with my parents as long as possible. (Remember in “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” when Ferris describes Cameron’s house as a museum, and nothing is to be touched? That’s a little like my parents’ place — lots of breakables. Trish calls it the “no” house.) Ella had had a fever on and off for the past few days and hadn’t slept well the night before. When she doesn’t sleep, our little cherub becomes Chucky. It was in our best interest to let her finish her nap.
I went inside the house and commenced the requisite greetings. Margaret couldn’t stand it that Trish was still in the car. It was a breech of protocol, to arrive at someone’s house and not come inside. But it wasn’t Trish’s reluctance that moved Margaret to try to fetch her. It was the reason for not coming in — we were, from her perspective, going out of our way to appease a child. A child! How silly! Foolish!
“What would happen if she woke up” and we weren’t within sight? she asked.
“She would probably freak out, because she wouldn’t know where she is.”
“So. She can’t get out, can she?”
Ah, why didn’t I think of that?! Use the car as a little cage for my child, a box — with windows — in which we can deposit the girl when we need to do adult things. What’s the worst that could happen? She could wake up, not recognize her surroundings, realize neither of her parents are within sight and a.) sit there quietly amusing herself with her fingers and toes until an adult decided she’d been there long enough, b.) climb out of her car seat — because she can — open the car door — again, she can — walk up to the house, move a chair in front of the door, climb up, use the knocker and wait patiently until an adult decided to let her into the house, or c.) completely freak out, cry and scream because she’s only 2 and she’s completely irrational — because, we now know, thanks to science, that the toddler brain is a mix-master of hormones and freakishly tangled nerve connections, many of which go absolutely nowhere — until an adult heard her and decided it might be good to retrieve the little brat.
So Margaret went out to the car and practically assaulted Trish (according to Trish’s later account of the incident) to convince her to come inside, like civil folk, to be with the other adults.
Granted, being left in the car would not phase some children. We know one or two of these — they sleep at the drop of a hat and slumber peacefully for hours, and when they awake their worlds are full of rainbows and unicorns.
Ella is of another variety.
So it would make sense, according to Margaret, for me to write about something more substantial than parenting, something more serious than being a father.
I assured her, to respond to her pragmatic side, that there are many parents in the world, and that many of them read. There are even fathers who are interested in actually being a father. There is even a large commercial market for providing these oddities with reading material. And then I said, addressing her intellectual facet, what I really write are personal essays, which are practically the same as literature these days.
Margaret and my father are depression-era people. They work and save and seldom play, because any day the bottom might fall out of the market and they’d be forced to boil their shoes for soup. Children have a place, either in small groups engaged in semi-productive activities, or by themselves, sitting quietly, speaking when spoken to and not upsetting the adults. Childhoods are to be suffered through and children should be constantly trained for their transition into real human beings.
Margaret is great with Ella. She smiles and talks with her. She hasn’t offered her lap, exactly, but she extends herself as much as she’s comfortable with. And that’s OK. Trish doesn’t understand it. My parents’ house — orderly, quiet, operating under a code of civility — is in stark contrast to hers — chaotic, loud, circus-like. My father makes silly faces, and jokes with Ella in ways that the Little Rascals joked with each other, with a bit of an edge. Her mother and sisters and niece go to extravagant extremes and in dramatic productions to convince Ella that delirious is good.
Ultimately, Margaret expresses herself as best she can. It’s important for Ella to learn to respect someone’s reservations as much as it is to respect others’ comedies.
I’ve now wasted an hour and a half on this futile endeavor, so my next few posts will examine microfluidics as the confluence of biochemistry and applied materials science, the impact that timber growing and processing practices in South American countries have on the US housing and paper industries and the queen’s pending visit to America.