Beasts of the Suburban Mild: Part two - by Christy Stillwell

August 07, 2012

Posted By: Shaunescy

Summer pickups and drop-offs have a slightly different flavor to them. In a town like ours, diversity, where it exists at all, is economic. The “diverse,” are pretty much priced right out of summer camp, so it’s us beasts who dominate the pickup zones and parking lots.

Often we don’t know each other outside of this one week,  a short run of art camp, theater camp, dinosaur camp, astronaut camp, sports camp, swim camp, gym camp. Rarely is camaraderie achieved, or even attempted. The one time my kid insisted on getting someone’s phone number, I did it grudgingly. The other mom and me exchanged info with this weird smirk, an awareness that we were going through the motions. I wrote her numbers down—wondering petulantly why no one ever asks us—even though I knew I’d never call.  I thought her kid was a little asshole, the type that would throw sand in my kid’s face and laugh. (My worst fear is that I’ve got that kid. He bee-lines for the trouble makers because they are more fun.) Plus, our kids didn’t go to the same school. We lived across town from each other; we didn’t know each others’ husbands or family set up, let alone religion or politics.  Neither of us was up to finding out.

Shame on me. I hate the way we all seem so embarrassed. But it is uncomfortable. So planned, so tame, so controlled. Is it the privilege that nobody wants to own up to? The fact that those of us who can afford this stuff are pretty much interchangeable? Is that true? Gross.

It must have something to do with how different this is from the way I grew up: bored, unattended and dirty. The few times I’ve met moms and not felt this stifling shame, this suburban misery, the meeting was unplanned.  The fun was spontaneous. We were at the park or messing around in the creek, walking the dog off-leash, illegally,  and happened upon another mom and her tag alongs. We began to talk. Nothing was prearranged, no phone calls exchanged. No money shelled out. It was just a random meeting . With these, everybody tends to like one another. Nobody has anywhere to be. Often, information is not exchanged. There is just this blind faith that we will meet again.  Or, we won’t. Much has been written about the over-planned life of children, the need to get them back to the woods, the dirt, the unorganized realm of the imagination. To that I would add: How about the parents? How do we get back to the woods, the dirt and the unorganized time?

It’s this looser view of family, the not so overly controlled,joyless, and locked down picture that I long for. Even as I say that, I know I can’t sustain it. I want to work. I  get crabby when my kids hang around the house all day, bored, begging to watch television. And television, people, is the end of it. Not only does it breed mindless snacking, ruining all subsequent meals, it’s also impossible to turn off. Fights break out, usually physical. It makes everybody mean. I leave it off and the kids are dying for their friends, but  everybody else is, you guessed it: at camp.

We wanted it this way. We didn’t want them bored like we were. This is part of making their lives better, the same way our college educations were supposed to lift us above our mothers. We all have some fear of becoming out mothers. They cultivated that, really, when they sent us to college. This is what they wanted. But what if the most marked difference in the moms of today and our moms is this very beastliness I’m talking about? The sunglasses driving the tanks, the unfriendliness of it all? The hostility?

Maybe it’s based in the embarrassment of finding ourselves here, right where we never wanted to be, where we weren’t supposed to be and yet through some colossal wrong turn, here we have landed.

I recall loving summer, those glory days of inhaling the scent of freshly cut grass and instantly being at peace with the world. Slow, easy, and carefree. This continued right on into my twenties, right up to the point I had children and learned this most dreadful lesson: summer was summer because my mom made it so. This is summer from the other side of the driver’s seat. Long, hot and difficult.

If you were a difficult child or an angry adolescent, maybe a jerk in your twenties, this new appreciation  for what your mom did might be a bitter pill. Payback, what a concept. Maybe your  mother even rubs it in a little,  a faint knowing smile every time you bitch about what your life has become. She’ll buy you a cappuccino, listen for a while, then sprint for the door,  waving from her Mini Cooper.

Even if you’re lucky and your mom invites you to her house and makes you espresso, cleans up after you, and does your laundry, her sympathy reveals the truth: motherhood really is this hard.

You can look at your friends without kids and see it. They have nice clothes. They sleep in on Saturdays. They work out. In short, they have the luxury of time.

As to the unfriendliness of it all, the mean vehicles, the sunglasses, the dearth of smiles—are we all that miserable, us affluent white ladies? Shall we give our money away in order to stop feeling so trapped by it? Divorce the husbands we no longer like and thereby force ourselves to get jobs? What if we still like our husbands? Is it really their fault? All that bounty, education,  cars, camps—is this why people go postal in Colorado?

How pathetic.

I want to learn how to live in this world, live this life, blessed and privileged as it is. I don’t want to be mean. I think the antidote is found in the vulnerable moments, those we avoid at the playground, coffee shops, pool and camp parking lots. Those brief instances in which we feel something real. Beyond disgust and boredom and competition, beyond wanting to win or be the best, beyond our death grip on the  iphone is that fluttering in the ribcage when we see our kids from afar. We notice the time they’re having, unrelated to the time we are having.  I’m not talking about pride so much as awareness: We enabled that. Me and my spouse, and all of the other mothers and spouses or single parents or partners. Paychecks and time. There is a connection,  a purr that connects me and my kid, and you and your kid, and the kids we all used to be. We carry those kids inside of us, all the time. I like that. The innocent me, the one who didn’t know enough to feel shame or self loathing,  that one is still in there. The one that sucked candy and swung on the rope swing over the river,  kicked a can, rode a bike to the ballpark, turned cartwheels on the soccer field, made a horn out of a paper towel roll. May that kid live on. Even if it means driving a smaller car, smiling at someone I don’t know, giving up camp, rolling down the windows, carrying a smaller bag. Whatever it takes to remember, it’s no jungle out there.

It really isn’t.

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