“So what exactly did he do?” I asked the director, attempting the elusive phone-resting-on-shoulder that always looks so carefree yet multitasking in movies. She’d called me after hours and greeted me with “I saw a high dad today!” and I, of course, asked the standard logical thing – who, and how did you know, and when, and were there any hijinks? “We made handprint turkeys today, remember?” I remembered – they’re pretty standard fare and although we do pride ourselves on re-imagining the turkey through several different mediums, it’s fun for the children to watch their handprints turn into turkey cards. It’s new to them, after all.
I dropped my phone into the baked potato I was attempting to mash and sighed. It had been one of those proverbial ‘days’, the sort that make you feel vaguely turned over and inside out, as if I’d just stumbled into a parallel universe and not quite got my bearings before being abruptly sent back. But anyway – I wiped the potato off the phone and didn’t worry about the rest of the conversation too much; I could probably guess where it was going. It’s almost Thanksgiving, after all – Christmas is coming, now more than ever, and that always produces a certain effect, even here, in this microcosm of childhood.
Our parents are rich, you remember, and the majority of them are married, and the ones that aren’t have significant others, and they’ve all got parents and grandparents and very obviously, children. They are not alone – but that doesn’t mean they aren’t lonely. I didn’t learn that right away. I know teachers who never really quite learned that, whether it’s from a lack of empathy or a solid base of complete incredulity. People who have spouses and family and stable jobs and beautiful healthy children who reside in large, well-decorated houses should be happy, period and full stop. And I guess they should, I wish they were. I think even they wish they were, too.
I knew where the turkey story was going. I anticipated the dad not recognizing the turkey – and he didn’t. He held it upside down and asked where the turkey was, all he could see was paper. The director pointed it out to him and he said “Well if it was really a turkey then it would have a head because all birds have heads,” and she had to point out that yes, indeed, and also his thumb was on its head. He finally begrudgingly admitted it was possibly a turkey. There might be an analogy lurking there, but I won’t make it.
All I can say with certainty is that this is the time of year we’ll smell a minty-fresh cigarette smell on someone’s breath, and see bloodshot eyes and clammy skin on someone else, and maybe even hear another story about how ‘daddy locked himself out of the house and fell all the way down the driveway!’ (there’s a drunk daddy locking himself out of x each year). I can also state with certainty that it doesn’t do the children any good, that if there’s ever a time to see your parents as mortals with feet of clay and crutches of drugs then the preschool/elementary years are certainly not it, because all they will see is failure. Their teachers won’t take it very well either, and if the other parents can smell the bourbon on your breath from four feet away, neither will they. I can also tell you that all of the spouses and lovers and children in the world won’t make you feel un-lonely if lonely is what you feel. The first child won’t, and neither will the second, and so on.
But as for the feeling itself, the unhappiness per se, I can’t really bring myself to dislike those parents. I don’t know if they have reasons for being deeply unhappy, or if they chose their own fates, or if they refuse to change. I know that the world is a hard place, and everyone feels, deep down in their soul, that he or she really does know best, and given a chance everyone will tell you how to live. I’m a teacher – I can tell you a certain amount of information vis-a-vis how to behave in front of your child, but I can’t tell you how to live, because no one can, and so no one should.
If there’s at all anything I can say with certainty, it’s, well – it’s the holidays, people. Try a little empathy, life is hard already.