One of my favorite lines in a movie came when Holly Hunter — who played the scheming, domineering mother in The Positively True Adventures of the Alleged Texas Cheerleader-Murdering Mom — shakes her head and mutters ruefully, “The things you do for your kids.”
At the time, she’s plotting to hire a hit man to kill the mother of her daughter’s main cheerleading rival, which might strike some people as a bit extreme. But hey, motives aside, the underlying sentiment is universal. The things we do for our kids!
All of which I was thinking when my friend Betsy revealed a shocking revelation about her newly grown son, Aaron. Aaron, who in real life is a fledgling engineer, does standup comedy on the weekends. So far, so good, right? Not so fast, kemo sabe. Aaron does his entire comedy routine without ever mentioning his mother.
“What do you mean, he doesn’t mention you?” I asked Betsy, horrified.
“He doesn’t mention me at all,” she said.
“Every comedian on earth complains about his mother,” I said. “I don’t think you can be a comedian without joking about your mother. What did you do wrong that he doesn’t complain about you?”
“I don’t know,” she said.
“Does Aaron realize how much time you and I’ve spent obsessing about child-rearing?” I asked. “We’ve probably taken years off our lives worrying about our children.”
These discussions, admittedly, were pretty self-serving, with Betsy and me repeatedly reassuring each other that — most recent evidence to the contrary — we were great mothers. Even if we’d never been room mothers, cleanliness- or nutrition-obsessives, or minivan drivers, even if we had pretty low expectations by Tiger Mom standards, we’d still shown up most days, hadn’t we?
Well, except for the time I’d told my traitor-son he had to walk a half-mile home from middle school in perfectly good weather since I had an emergency appointment to get my nails done. Instead of walking, he telephoned the neighborhood supermom and asked her to come pick him up. Which she did. When I heard the story, I asked our son what he said I’d been busy doing, since I hadn’t been able to pick him up from school. (I was hoping, obviously, for a casual mention of a pressing medical or professional appointment. Well, ha.) “I told her you were getting a manicure,” my son said, with a certain young male flatness in his voice. A manicure? God, I just wanted to die. After that, every time I ran into the Supermom, I was pretty sure she was examining my nails for any other signs of child neglect.
But, anyway. That’s one of those lovable, cringe-inducing mother-son moments tucked into the past like a frayed old bookmark. Betsy’s dilemma was a more immediate crisis. I wondered what I’d do if my son were cranking up a comedy routine that didn’t contain some flattering references to me as a witty, madcap presence who helped mold his great sense of humor or something. What would I feel? Like I wasn’t an immediate concern to his life right now?
Oh, wait a minute. Hold on. Actually, that’s what any parent — mother or father — feels as their kids grow up. They still love us, hopefully, but we’re not in the thick of their existences as we once were. They’re making their own lives and comedy routines with themselves — and not us — on center stage.
The things you do for your kids. Oh, yeah, right. Here’s one of the last, great things you do for your kids: You try to let them grow up and leave you behind without feeling too guilty about it.
(Copyright 2011 by Ruth Pennebaker)