Monday, August 25, 2008

Dragons, and Tuna, and Fleas

By Margy McCarthy

Sparky and I got married quite young- I was twenty-one, a senior in college, and he was twenty-three. Our first apartment was a sectioned off part of a house. It had a delightful floor-plan: when you opened our front (and only) door, you stepped across the threshold and found yourself in the bedroom. The kitchen was hardly big enough for the two of us, and the cabinets were painted a garish bright orange. The bathroom was tiny and dim, but there was enough light to see that a previous occupant had hand-painted a dragon on the toilet seat.

We named him Dudley.

When the Marine Corps took us to North Carolina, we rented a wood-grain paneled, flea-infested single-wide in the middle of a National Forest. We knew we had conquered the fleas when our cat deigned to walk on the floor. The kitchen countertops were so crooked that if you left an apple or potato unsupervised, it would immediately roll off and bounce across the room.

(Those children of the Depression got nothing on me. I can poor-mouth with the best of them.)

I mention these things because as our situation improved, I found a real sense of satisfaction in looking back at those poor but happy times and seeing how far we had come. When you start out with crooked counters and a dragon on the toilet, there’s no place to go but up.

But I didn’t mean to spoil my children. That part was an accident.

I’m not talking about having raised the kind of kids who have a matching sports car for every outfit- I’m talking about the kind of kids who offhandedly say things like- “I would rather eat ramen noodles every day for a month than wipe my butt with cheap toilet paper,” when they really don’t like ramen noodles, and “I could hardly sleep in that bed at the Marriott, the sheets felt like sandpaper,” or “They didn’t use new baby sweet peas in the pasta salad, did they? The texture of these isn’t nearly as good.”

I confess. Food, bedding, and toilet paper are a few of the primary areas in which I have failed to prepare my kids for the harsh realities of the big, bad world.

It happened so innocently that we never saw it coming: The oil-packed tuna we ate in my childhood long ago bowed out in favor of water-packed. Then it was chunk white, and then solid albacore and now there’s yellowfin in the stores. You know how it goes- when they were little you could fix the kids a burger and they were happy as a couple of pigs in mud- but then one day they wanted to try a bite of steak… The next thing you knew, it was Saltimbocca Alla Romana all around.

When I went off to college a generation ago, I packed the sheets from my childhood twin bed and a quilt my grandma made. Over the course of the last few years, my son’s down pillow led to a down throw, which led to a down comforter, to a feather bed, to 300-400-500 thread count sheets- which eventually led to a mom who needed a forklift to get her kid out of bed, and fears he may never get himself out in time to get to work or class on his own. (It’s no wonder I had to rename that boy Snooze.)

And for that matter, mea culpa on the TP too. I still have flashbacks to the couple of years when my dad decided to save money by ordering toilet paper for the house from the janitorial supply company the church used. I swear- it was two cases of 120 jumbo rolls of economy-grade burlap. Yee-ouch.

My maternal regret today is that I seems to have inadvertently stolen the pride of accomplishment I felt in overcoming all the easy, surmountable obstacles (like oil-packed tuna and corn cobs on-a-roll) from my children, and left them only the hard ones. When we go up to visit Snooze in his brand-new enter-through-the-living-room apartment, I will have to do my part to remedy that error when I help stock his personal, privately-keyed pantry.

No yellowfin for you, kid. Earn it yourself.

1 comment:

Laura said...

Sure. But I bet you buy him the Starkist 4-pack box that has handy pouches inside! AND a 12-pack of double-roll Charmin! xo