I hope my daughters will remember the sweet times – the family trip to celebrate my parents’ 50th wedding anniversary, the time I let them stay up until midnight in the middle of the week to play in the snow, the evenings spent carving pumpkins and decorating the Christmas trees. Breakfasts and dinners and car rides full of music and silly talk. I am acutely aware that our days of sleeping and rising under the same roof are numbered, and I want them to have those tender days to call on when they’re far away and lonely or scared or wondering who they are.
Yesterday was not one of those days. It was not—shall we say—one of my finer hours in parenting. I was up at 4:30 a.m., rushing, rushing. Making breakfast, packing lunches. Reminding: tap shoes, physics assignment, overdue library book. Reminding again when I found the tap shoes on the kitchen counter. Dog walking and feeding. Then driving. One daughter to school, then home, then the other. Driving. To work, 15 minutes late. Apologizing for being late. Apologizing in the next meeting because the first one ran 15 minutes late. Then emailing, talking on the phone, meeting. Looking up, leaving work 15 minutes late to pick up the small daughter. Apologizing for being late. Driving. Cooking dinner. Reminding: homework, piano practice, permission slips.
Then, about the time the dishes were all in the dishwasher, I asked one of my daughters a question about her plans for the next day. She didn’t answer because she was playing a game on her device. The other one was watching YouTube on my device. I asked again. She didn’t answer again. That is when the wheels came off.
I went on a rampage that started with “you are disrespectful of me” and ended with “the future of the Republic is in jeopardy.” I covered all the bases—mind-rot, phones compromising relationships, precious and finite hours being spent on stultifying entertainment, corporate control over the imagination, and the downfall of a nation rendered too stupid to govern itself.
Mama, my older daughter said, It’s just a game. That gave me an opportunity to rev up all over again, but by that point I was losing steam, so I just walked into the other room and burst into tears.
Eventually I apologized for going berserk. And so did they for not listening. But I can’t stop thinking about it. Not really the disagreement between me and them. I think we’re ok. They know that once in a while I go bat-crazy and that it’s not really an indictment of their character or a predictor of their future success. But it did open my eyes to what I think about our lives, and by that I mean all of our lives, not just my family’s.
It’s all just too much – too much work, too much school, too many activities, too many forms to fill out. Too much friggin driving. All of it. It’s out of human scale, it defies the realities of time. And yet we keep doing it, and we keep expecting our kids to do it. And then, we’re surprised when they want to spend their evenings plugged into some kind of pre-tested, numbed-out entertainment. They don’t know what to do with themselves when they’re not rushing around, and they’re bone-tired to boot. No wonder they want to listen to moronic teenagers shout at each other on YouTube. No wonder they don’t answer when we ask them about their Spanish tests. No wonder.
I do regret yelling at my daughters and demonstrating a particular fierce brand of crazy. But I somehow I don’t want them to forget it. Somehow, I want us to keeping thinking about it, to keep fighting back. When they are alone at night in their own apartments—someday all too soon—I want them to ask themselves how they want to live. I want them to ask themselves whether the country is going to hell in a handbasket and whether YouTubers are leading the way.