I am unashamedly, proudly a child of the ’80s. Life was good then. Almost blissful, in its simpler times.
No cell phones, no Internet, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram. Thank God, all my stupidity was not shared on a cyber wall, with me tagged for all the world to see.
The movies were better then, too.
That was the decade that gave us “Sixteen Candles,” “The Breakfast Club” and anything else John Hughes managed to churn out. It represented our generation and we gobbled it up like those poofy bright orange cheese balls and Jell-O Pudding Pops.
I was looking through old photo albums when I came across a photo of me wearing a dreadful blue with black striped sweater; there were ginormous teddy bears woven into the design. I had on matching blue eye shadow and my hair was teased and sprayed within an inch of its life. I am pretty sure that my bangs defied several natural laws of physics and gravity and may have been sturdy enough to hold the Funk & Wagnalls encyclopedia I used as my source for any papers I had during that time. It was glorious.
“What in the world were you thinking? Were you going to a costume party or something?” was Cole’s question when he saw the photo.
“No!” I said.
Other than the teddy bears on the sweater, that was really a rockin’ outfit. I told him as much. He looked at me as if I was speaking a foreign language.
“Did you have a head injury or something? In what universe did that look good? What was wrong with your hair?”
“My hair, I will have you know, was fabulous. It would withstand gale force winds and once I got it sprayed with Freeze It!, not a hair moved!”
My precocious child, the one born into the digital age of iPods, Nintendo and cartoons that come on all the time and not just on Saturday was not so convinced his mother had any inkling of what was fashionable in her youth.
“Your hair looked like you had a wild dingo on your head and it was scared.”
I narrowed my eyes at my offspring, who decided it was safer to go watch, of all things, some crime-fighting turtles who liked pizza. I had tried explaining to him before that my knowledge of the turtles came from decades ago.
But there’s another big generation gap. The version of things I grew up with was so much better. The originals usually are.
“That’s not the true ‘Star Wars’ stuff,” I had told my child one day as we watched some blasphemous cartoon version.
“It is, too,” he said.
“It’s not the one I grew up with – I am just not even sure I can deal with this stuff. It’s one thing to take ‘Star Trek – The Next Generation’ as its own show, but this, this is borderline going against the ‘Star Wars’ legends.”
Sorry, I just have certain things from the ’80s I held as sacred. “Star Wars” is one of them.
But my child finds it cruel that I was given a block with different colored sides and actually messed it up only to try to figure it out again. He doesn’t get my generation or the fact that my generation, with all of its preservative-filled, the best big hair and shoulder pads and Valley girl talk was the best generation, the best decade ever. Like, totally.
Those years were idyllic and wonderful – even if I did wear peplum skirts with bolero jackets. So did everyone else. I am just not so sure about those dresses with the dropped waist that made me look like I was wearing a flour sack.
As I put up laundry one night, Cole saw the long green sweatshirt I have had since eighth grade. I used to wear it with leggings and high-top Reeboks, with an arm full of black plastic bracelets because Madonna wore them on the cover of her “Like a Virgin” album – an album Mama still questions whether or not I should be listening to it. I wear it now in the dead of winter because it is super warm. And it gives me happy memories.
“Good grief, did you shrink?” he asked, noting how long it was.
“No, Cole. Back then, you wore stuff long.” Did that mean the ’80s were a more modest decade?
“Why do you still have this?”
“It may come back in style,” was my reply.
My child ran from the room, screaming, undoubtedly going to text a friend to warn them.
Well, I could hope couldn’t I?
And if the long sweatshirts come back, maybe shoulder pads, big poofy hair and really great movies won’t be far behind.
There’s a few words that are fairly hard to say. “I love you” is usually the hard one for many; I know the ex didn’t utter those words until we had been dating about a year. Don’t ask why I married that fool. The only explanation I can give is that I love a challenge.
I’ve never had a problem expressing any kind of emotion. If anything, I have probably uttered words too soon, too quickly and wished I could take them back.
Which may be why I have such a hard time saying “I’m sorry.”
I have said it a few times and each one has pained me to no end.
I can’t remember what those occasions were; I probably blocked them from memory, as if they were a traumatic event. But I am fairly certain those admissions of apology were made under duress. Or I had really, truly, blatantly messed up.
“You always have had a hard time saying you’re sorry,” Mama told me one day. I had undoubtedly done something she thought was wrong and was not taking the proper responsibility for it, at least according to her.
“Yeah, well, Gibbs’ rule No. 6: Never say you’re sorry – it’s a sign of weakness,” I reminded her of her favorite show, “NCIS.”
“It may be a sign of weakness, but it also can be a sign of great courage to admit one is wrong,” was her reply.
It’s not that I think I am always right; I don’t.
If anything, I know I am wrong a considerable amount of the time. I have just found that usually, when I do something that would warrant an apology, I have been provoked by someone else’s actions to do something just downright mean. It’s the norm for me to try to make nice because I have a Mama still telling me how to act and behave at 41 years of age. I just don’t think I should have to say I am sorry when someone has been a jerk first.
“You know who else didn’t like to apologize?” Mama asked.
“Granny,” she said. “No wonder y’all are just alike.”
I rolled my eyes.
Mama’s way of trying to coerce me into acting right was to tell me I was acting like my dearly departed grandmother. Only problem was, it didn’t work the way Mama wanted it to. I knew darn good and well how Granny had been and really, I didn’t have any more of a problem with it than when the old gal had been alive and kickin’.
“No, come to think of it, I don’t think I ever heard Granny tell anyone ever she was sorry,” I said.
Nope, I was pretty sure those words never came out of her mouth. I heard some other colorful expressions, but didn’t recall hearing her tell anyone anything close to an apology.
Even over the last few years, the old gal and I had been at odds over things, various things and both being stubborn as bulls, neither one of us yielded an inch on our stance.
Those disputes and tiny battles had festered into full wars, where neither of us mentioned them in our bitter avoidance. Maybe we were doing the civilized thing, by not fighting them out – the last time she and I had tied up, it was my uncle who intervened and when Bobby had to step in, I knew our verbal battles had gotten out of hand. So we said nothing about those issues, those wars. And by saying nothing, neither one of us said we were sorry either.
“I never told Granny I was sorry,” I told Mama after I had time to think about all of this.
Mama’s a good listener, though, and knew all that short sentence implied.
“Well, Kitten, it wouldn’t have mattered if you had,” she said softly.
“I know; Granny wouldn’t have said she was sorry too, but that shouldn’t matter. I should have been the one to say I was sorry. It bothers me that I didn’t and now, I don’t have that chance.”
“Well, you are right that Granny wouldn’t have said she was sorry, too, because you know Granny was never wrong about anything. But, it wouldn’t have mattered because No. 1, you two are just exactly alike. She loved that. It made her proud. No. 2 … she also knew, just like you knew about her, that was not how y’all really felt. Saying you were sorry may have made you feel better, but was not necessary.”
Maybe so. Maybe Mama was right. It would have made me feel better, especially now, when that chance was not there. And maybe, the people we love, that we hurt the most, know exactly how we feel without us having to say it.
The best advice I ever received was from my lifelong friend, Jane.
“Whatever you do, do it out of love,” was what she told me.
She gave me these words when Cole was newly born and by newly, I mean my epidural hadn’t even worn off, but Jane had found the hospital we were in and called me. She asked me how I was doing and I told her I was scared. Babies came with soft spots, umbilical nubs and stuff. They seemed like extremely fragile merchandise.
“Whatever you do, do it out of love,” she said, her warm familiar voice soothing my heart. “And you will do fine, my friend.”
I know I am far from perfect when it comes to being a parent but I have used those words as my compass the last nine years. If anything, I think I probably fail daily, saying things I shouldn’t, I am snappish at times when I am tired or stressed, but my child knows that I love him. I am still my worst critic in every area of my life, but this is one area in particular I really want to get right. Even when I mess up, I am still trying to do everything from a place of love.
Mama had too when I was younger. Even when she tried to sabotage her own child, she was doing it from a place of love. It was 10th grade, and two of my friends on the cheerleading team wanted me to try out – why, you may ask would they want a chubby, clumsy girl to try out? Was it a cruel joke? No, they knew I am extremely loud and could add some volume to the cheers. They worked with me tirelessly for weeks before the try-outs. I had no idea Mama had gone to the school behind my back and told them not to let me make the team – she was worried I would get hurt and she didn’t want me going to away games.
When I didn’t make it, her lack of surprise startled me.
“You knew I was so clumsy I wouldn’t make it, didn’t you?” I asked. If anyone is supposed to believe in you, even when you know you tank, it’s your mother.
Mama slowly weighed her words. “No, Kitten. I knew you wouldn’t … because I had kind of told the school not to let you on the squad.”
“Did you not think I could take care of that on my own? You know I can’t do my arms and legs in different directions at the same time without poking myself in the eye!”
That was the truth, and I did it a couple of times during the try outs. I also froze when I was supposed to do my cartwheel. I did, however, smile like a briar eating possum throughout the whole ordeal. Despite my humiliating attempt, I was more mortified that my mother would go to the school and tell the administrators her Kitten was too precious and fragile to be on a Gwinnett bound bus in a cheerleader uniform.
“Why would you do such a thing?” I asked.
“I did it out of love …” Was her weak reply.
I look at my own child now, all full of boy-energy, wanting to do the things all little boys want to do and understand her fears. He wants a skate board. I told him absolutely not, under no circumstances, over my dead body, no.
“Why don’t you ever let me have any fun?” he wailed, running to his father.
That safe-keeping, that worry, that protective mama cat … it’s all coming from a place of love.
May 13th, 1921 fell on a Friday. Not just any Friday the 13th, mind you. It was the day my Granny was born. I asked her once if she was not superstitious, being born on a Friday the 13th. Granny snorted and said she may have been the origins of that fable, as the earth was blanketed with snow in the middle of May in Georgia. “Did hell freeze over?” I asked. She narrowed her eyes and sized me up, realizing I meant no disrespect and said “Maybe so. Maybe so, old gal.”
It was strange not getting the old woman something for her birthday, which usually fell around or on Mother’s Day. Once, she told me not to get her something for Mother’s Day; she was my grandmother, not my mother. “It was for your birthday, old woman, but I will take it back,” I said, moving to take the gift away. She snatched it back with a swiftness. “Then you leave it be. I just thought you would wait until the day of to give me my gift. Birthday presents I never turn down.”
She never turned down a gift, but she was the hardest person in the world to shop for. When I was in college, she informed me she wanted a new Bible for her birthday. “One with Jesus’ words in red, and large print so I can actually see what I am reading,” were her dictates. My friend Erin and I went to every book store in three different malls before I found one that fit her orders. It even had a lovely soft rose colored leather cover, perfect for the president of her Sunday School class I thought. I had it wrapped and we rushed to take it to her. The old gal tore the paper off, picked the good book up out of the box and opened it up, inspecting it with a close, critical eye. I stood, waiting for praise. I think Erin deserved some props too; she had chauffeured me all over five counties in search of the perfect Bible for Granny. “This ‘un will do, I reckon,” she finally said, a tinge of disappointment in her voice.
“Will do!” I exclaimed. “What do you mean? ‘Will do?’”
She gave me that desolate stare she had perfected. “Well, it ain’t got the tabs on the side so I can find the books of the Bible. I wanted one with the tabs.”
“Old woman, you didn’t say the first thing about tabs – you said, and I quote, “I want Jesus’ words in red and large print.” That Bible is large print with Jesus’ words in red, like you wanted. You did not say anything about tabs!”
This did not deter my grandmother. No, if anything, it made her more righteous in her argument. She was stubborn like that. “Well, why anyone would get a Bible without the tabs just don’t make no sense to me. You shoulda known it was best to have a Bible with tabs so I could find where to turn.”
“Old woman, Genesis is at the front, Revelations is at the end and in the middle is the Psalms. Why you need tabs, I do not know – did you ask Moses to put tabs on the Ten Commandments when he shared those with you? You were around then, you know.”
She gave me that stare again, her jaw clenching. My own jaw was clenching too. We both were jaw clenchers when we were hunkering down for a scrap. In her passive aggressive way, she held the Bible up to me, “Here.”
“I am not taking that back – we went all over this state to find you that!”
“I ain’t a –saying to return it, I’m a-saying you evidently need to read this book far more than I do! Hateful, evil, mean child!”
With an exasperated frustrated sigh, I stomped out of the living room, wondering why I tried to make that old gal happy. Nothing I did was ever right.
Mama asked me Sunday if there was anything of Granny’s I wanted. She offered me a silver box of costume jewelry, which I accepted, knowing the baubles were not real but Granny, much like myself, had loved her faux jewels. I told her there was something I had wanted, but couldn’t remember what and now, I know.
That 20 year old pink Bible, with the words of Jesus in red, large print, minus the tabs. Just may do this old gal’s soul some good.
Having an only child means that, yes, I can be a tad bit indulgent.
Without being obnoxious about him, I think I have a pretty good, neat child, one that I enjoy seeing express joy and excitement over getting things. And usually, my child is extremely cognizant of what he receives and is grateful for everything.
Except one day. One day, he made a comment that flew all over me in the worst way imaginable.
“You have not spent enough money on me,” was the comment that was sounded from the backseat.
“Excuse me?” I said.
I didn’t say it because I had misheard. I said it to give him the opportunity to back up his comment. However, like his father usually did when he erroneously opened his mouth, Cole missed his golden beep-beep-beep back it up moment.
“I said, you have not spent enough money on me. I wanted to get that Minecraft toy.”
That Minecraft toy had the future potential of being a chew toy and looked about like one as well, except it carried a $10 price tag. I had nixed that immediately.
I think smoke came out of my ears. The child was on precariously thin ice and I was about to crack it.
“Cole, even if I had $60 million in the bank, I wouldn’t pay 10 bucks for that chintzy, made in China thing – it was not worth $10.”
“I wanted it. You could have bought it for me.”
I kept my mouth shut until we got home. He went into the bedroom to watch TV until dinner was ready. I was still furious.
“He’s spoiled, you know. You spoil him,” Lamar said.
How he gets so brave when standing in a kitchen full of sharp objects makes me question his logic sometimes.
I knew I spoiled my child. He was my only one. There were times I had had to tell him no and instead of being upset about it, that sweet child would grab my face in his hands and say, “Oh, sweet girl, it’s OK. I have everything I need.”
So yes, there were times I may have overcompensated and indulged him to make up for the times I wasn’t able to get him the things I wanted to.
So I could not fathom how or why this sudden, uncharacteristic outburst of informing me I had not spent enough on him had come from.
I charged into the bedroom, still feeling a little bit of smoldering from the comment.
“Cole, I want to tell you something,” I began, “I do not appreciate you saying I had not spent enough on you. That really upsets me, because you have never been that way before. Usually, you appreciate everything you have been given; so for you to make that comment makes me wonder if the extra things should just stop.”
He stood there so sheepishly, his eyes wide. I think I had scared him a little; I forget that even though I am only about five inches taller than him, I am way louder and that can be scary to a 9-year-old.
“I know that, Mama,” he said. “I am sorry. I just wanted that Minecraft toy. All my other friends have them and some other stuff I don’t have. I wanted them too.”
Here’s where it gets slippery. You don’t want to say that it’s wrong for another child to have those things. It’s not my place to say that. Commenting in just about any other way is putting a judgy-judgy opinion on the other parents and I am sure there would be some folks that would have a mouthful to say about me.
“Cole, I understand wanting what your friends have. I do. But that doesn’t mean you have to have them too. And you saying that to me, was hurtful and upsetting. That is a reflection of you – not your friends.”
“I understand,” he said quietly.
Not wanting to scar him any more than I had, I went out to finish dinner, feeling like I was failing horribly as a parent.
Yes, I understood wanting things. We all want things. But that want when you are a child was far stronger than when you are an adult and can weigh want versus need.
To children, those wants are very much a need. The need to fit in, the need to be able to play on the same level with their peers, the need to belong and feel accepted. It’s hard to be a child and want the things those toys symbolized.
Despite that fact, I still wasn’t going to spend 10 whole American dollars on a piece of terry cloth filled with polyester stuffing.
A few days later, the Minecraft thingamajig was mentioned again. Cole wanted to spend his money that he had saved up from finding extra chores to do around the house. I think he even offered to brush the dogs’ teeth to raise the money.
“Cole, let me just tell you this first, OK? You worked hard for that money. Do you think in a year, you are still going to enjoy that toy? How about in five years? Is it something that will add to Piglandia? Or joy to your life? Or is it just about the sake of saying you have it?”
He frowned and said nothing.
We walked into an antique store, just to browse and enjoy the day when Cole came across a shelf with comic books. Not any comic books either but The Uncanny X-men. He grabbed them up, checking out the titles and flipping through the pages. He put them back on the shelf, eyeing them cautiously before picking three up and announcing he would like his wallet please as he headed to the front to pay.
“Daddy! Look, I got these old comic books! How old are they?” he said all in a rush as he ran to his father outside.
Lamar looked at the date and told him one was already 20 years old, but looked to be in good condition. Cole was pleased. He was starting his comic book collection and these would surely give him some street cred.
I smiled, realizing the lesson he had learned as well. It wasn’t about the money. It was about the value and about truly enjoying what you did with it.