We grew up in the 70s when music was funky (disco), clothes were gaudy (bell bottoms) and parents were more laid back (my mom smoked a pack of Parliaments every day – smoking was cool!). I grew up poor, so we can add in a dash of white trash to further illustrate the stereotype that was my childhood.
My mom drove a rundown baby blue Volkswagen station wagon with windows that had long ago disappeared into the door somewhere (we had to tape trash bags to the window frames when it rained to stay dry), and we had our Thanksgiving turkeys and Christmas stockings donated by the town health center. My mom used to cash checks at the grocery store mid-week to pay for gas (she had it timed perfectly so the check wouldn’t clear until pay-day) and we ate a lot of spaghetti with Ragu sauce for dinner. It was hard sometimes, but we learned to appreciate the things we had and special events took on a whole new meaning.
Take Christmas. Every Christmas morning we would wake up to a tree full of presents (Mom, how did you pull this off every year?). My brother, sister and I would enthusiastically tear into our stockings, ooh-ing and ahh-ing at the King-Size bag of M&M’s and Rudloph Pez Dispenser. The presents were fun, but the true zenith of our Christmas had nothing to do with Santa. You see, every year my mom would splurge on a bag of Entemann’s Powdered Sugar Donuts and a pound of sliced Land o’ Lakes white American cheese. What do these two calorie-and-fat packers have in common? If you’re normal…nothing. If you were us, however, they formed the most coveted of delicacies when combined…donuts with American cheese. That’s right – we would take a donut, cover it with a piece of cheese, eat and repeat. We greedily stuffed our mouths with this little indulgence every single year that I can remember. Delicious!
It wasn’t until adulthood that I realized something was very wrong. As it turns out, no one else on the planet eats donuts with American cheese. Imagine my surprise when I tried serving it to friends one year at a holiday gathering. Needless to say, the white trash jokes continue to this day.
It got me thinking – we can’t possibly be the only family that engaged in strange behaviors during my childhood. What peculiarities did you grow up with that seemed normal at the time? Those little household family rituals that defined your childhood, but that maybe aren’t all that mainstream?
You know those moms that stick to a ‘normal’ routine? Same bedtime, same nap time, and same predictable daily chore schedule? Even their outfits and haircuts are cliché (I’m a Mom!). They have an advantage over mamas like me (me: disheveled and haphazard) in that their lives are tightly controlled and very organized. They’ve probably never started baking cookies without first checking to see if they have butter. I’ll bet they have two extra containers of laundry detergent stored in the garage at any given time and their gas tanks never see the danger zone below 1/4 tank. Impressive.
Or is it? My thought is…where’s the fun in that? As a kid I always liked when my mom took off her parent costume and let her true – slightly disturbing – self emerge (except when I was in trouble – she had a temper and I swear she turned green and grew eight sizes into The Incredible Psychotic Mom). Whether that was poking fun at a nosy neighbor or wetting her pants in the grocery store (it happened, it did); her occasional outside-the-lines quirks had a far bigger impact on me than the day-to-day mechanics of her parenting.
I think our kids look to us for a lot of intangible things that we just don’t realize. For instance, I think they want permission to occasionally display their inner goofball. They want to know that their mom is game for participating, whether as an observer or co-conspirator. They don’t want a mom-bot all the time because it feels too constricting (and mom-bots beget kid-bots, then before you know it your entire family tree is boring).
I’m not saying you have to pee your pants in a grocery store to be fun, but allowing some of the, shall we say dimensional, aspects of your personality to come out for a visit once in a while is a pretty novel idea.
And before you judge? Just try the donuts and cheese.