Friday, July 28, 2017

Not the Table

Posted by: Cindy Spencer Pape
A while ago, I was asked to write a piece about motherhood for a local event. The first person I thought of, of course, was my own mother. She was a bit of an odd duck, a tomboy living in a Leave-it-to-Beaver world. But of course, that’s not what I was supposed to talk about tonight. Then I thought about my favorite fictional moms—everyone from Sharon Gless on Burn Notice, to Brak’s mom from the Adult Swim cartoons. My husband and I are both—well, intellectual would be the nice word, but what comes out is “nerds.”  Our nearly 30+ years together have often left both of us wondering if there’s actually a sadistic sit-com writer sitting behind the scenes of our day-to-day life. But no, not TV moms. This is supposed to be about me, and my own experience as a mother. That took a while to sink in. After all, I’ve only been a mother for 25 years. What kind of expertise do I have? It’s not like I’m a real grown up or anything.

Oh. Wait. Not only am I a grown up, but so are my sons, at 24 & 25. I even have an adorable (of course) granddaughter. I guess that counts. So here we go.

Going back to the TV references, I don’t live a shiny Brady Bunch life. I really don’t think anyone does, and if they did, I’d probably be scared of them. Real life is a lot messier, sillier, harder, and more joyful than that—sometimes all at once. Parenthood, especially, has been a series of moments and emotions that are often so outrageous, my publishers would probably make me cut some of my own memories because they were “unrealistic.” Like my younger son looking up at my mother and saying, “Tristan no eat bugs.” Because he’d clearly just hidden the one he was about to pop in his mouth.

Starting at the beginning, when you first find out you’re going to be a parent, you’re bombarded with frantic emotions. Whether you’re pregnant or adopting, I’m told, the roller coaster is there, just the same. There’s hope, joy, awe, excitement, anticipation, love—because, yes, you already love that child even before you see him or her—and also there’s a hefty dose of unremitting terror.

What if something goes wrong? What if I screw up? It’s that terror that stalks you and robs you of sleep. And it doesn’t go away. Ever. Along with the love, joy and pride our kids bring us, the terror is still there, even as they move on to families of their own. Because that’s what parenthood is all about. Being a mom means you will love that child and worry about that child every single day for the rest of your life. Oh—and trust me. You will screw up. It’s part of human nature. In my house full of men, there aren’t a lot of language filters. Basically, our motto is “Suck it up and cope.” Crass, but it honestly has gotten us through a lot of rough times.

So do nerd parents raise nerd children? Sometimes. Neither of my children are readers on anywhere near the scale of myself or my husband, but they’re both avid video gamers and Live-action-role-players. That means they dress up in armor and smash at other young adults with pool noodle and duct-tape swords.  Honestly, it sounds like fun, but I’m pretty sure I’d break something if I tried it, so I leave it to them. Would I have been happier if either of them had developed a more academic bent? Sure. But they’re both taking community college courses at their own pace, both working, and one is learning to be a single parent—while fighting tooth and nail for his daughter’s well-being. So while they’re not living MY dreams for them—I still have to say I’m proud.

How did I get such great kids? I’m honestly not sure. One thing I do know is that whenever we could, we sat down to dinner as a family.  Our table is a big, old oak monstrosity that my husband and I bought in a yard sale in our grad-school days. The finish was so bad, we never cared if it was damaged further, so it’s been home to crafts, games, homework, and dinners for decades.

We had kids when our friends didn’t, so the gaming was usually at our house. Our kids grew up being passed from lap to lap while we played everything from Trivial Pursuit to Dungeons and Dragons. They also grew up at a table where everyone was welcome. There was always room for a friend to drop in, and somehow the food always stretched, even when we were broke.

Around our table, there were no taboos. Any subject could be discussed. And usually was. With lots of laughter. Sarcasm sort of runs in the family. If the boys didn’t know a word that came up, we’d chorus “look it up.” First one to find it in the dictionary didn’t have to do dishes.

As the kids grew up, that often included their friends. It shocked me to realize that many of them had never experienced this kind of, “It’s dinnertime, let’s all sit down and eat,” scenario. Don’t families do that anymore? I’d hear comments from the friends, like, “Your parents are weird.” Well, yeah, we know that. But I’d also see kids laughing so hard they could barely eat. And kids who were shocked that their comments were taken just as seriously (or not) as anyone else’s. I also heard someone say to my son, “So that’s how you know so much, even though you sleep through school.” And my son agreed. Politics, science, pop culture, history, everything was fair game around the dinner table. Over the years, I’ve been thanked by a number of those friends for giving them that experience. Just something as simple as sitting down to dinner.

Now our kids are grown, and the table is literally on its last legs. The glue joints are shot and the top needs at least another coat of marine varnish to keep it going. We had the offer from a relative to give us a nearly identical table, but one that’s in pristine condition. “Perfect!” I said.

“No,” said my sons.

“No,” said their friends. Really? My kids’ friends care about our table? Ooookay.

“No,” said a number of our friends. That really raised eyebrows.

“Not the table,” explained my husband’s best friend from childhood, who met his wife over a game board at our house. “You can’t get rid of that.” Apparently, it’s a symbol—of something.

I honestly don’t know if we can salvage the table. It’s really wobbly. But I suppose we have to try. If not, its memory will live on as the main set of the sitcom that has been our family. It’s where we paid bills, worried about major and minor decisions, discussed baby names, sorted through paperwork after my mother’s death and spent time with our friends. It’s where I wrote most of my stories and novels. But more than any other single location, it’s where we raised our kids. If it does go, I have to admit, a little bit of my heart will go with it.

Cindy Spencer Pape firmly believes in happily-ever-after. Multiple award-winning author of the best-selling Gaslight Chronicles, she has released almost sixty novels and stories, which blend fantasy, adventure, science fiction, suspense, history and romance. Cindy lives in southeast Michigan with her husband and a bunch of spoiled dogs. When not hard at work writing she can be found restoring her 1870 house, dressing up for steampunk parties and Renaissance fairs, or with her nose buried in a book.
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