I thought I was going to be the cool mom. The fun one. The one whose house all the kids wanted to come play at because I let them drink soda and say “butt-head” while we all played Star Wars Monopoly inside a hastily engineered living-room pillow fort.
Like pillow forts, such fantasies prove easily toppled.
Still, it came as quite a shock recently when I overheard my 9-year-old describing me to a school buddy.
They were disappointed because I refused to pay them a fat dollar to buy lemonade they had made from the lemons in my backyard, and were serving in my paper cups, while I cleaned up their mess in the kitchen. It seemed to me a fair lesson in economics and the distribution of labor. But the fourth-graders didn’t see it that way.
“I know,” said my exasperated son to his glum chum. “But she’s not … like … totally evil.”
Perhaps I should be happy, since the statement was clearly made in my defense.
I’m the mom who livened up trips to the post office with a Silly Walk Contest. The one who dragged the boy out into thunderstorms to splash in mud puddles as we squealed from the cold. The one who taught him to belch, for chrissake.
And it grieves me that I don’t know how I went from the Fun Mom to the Shower Enforcer. The Homework Reminder. The Cookie Monitor.
When did I become She Who Will Not Play Along?
I admit that as I age, I’m less and less willing to bend down and pick up Legos, or flop around on the trampoline, or make a lunch of chili cheese fries. But if age were the only factor, I wouldn’t see my parents — people I recall growing more peevish and despotic as my adolescence approached — now serving my kids cupcakes for dinner, letting them stay up past Conan and encouraging the sort of sponge-defying messes that make me grind my teeth.
If I may shirk some of the blame, perhaps a parent’s fun-factor naturally — and necessarily — shrinks as her children grow.
When it occurs to her that these small people are not merely her adorable little pals — and that despite their inability to say the letter R or master effective nose-blowing techniques — they will eventually become independent adults, then the task of ensuring their happiness changes dramatically. It no longer means simply making them smile. It means increasing the odds that they’ll be healthy (i.e. can swallow a steamed vegetable without gagging). And successful (i.e. can multiply eight by six in under three minutes). And loved (i.e. can recall with some certainty the last time they bathed).
Which really sucks the fun out of being a parent, if you ask me. Because my son and his buddies aren’t the only ones who cringe when they hear un-fun phrases coming out of my mouth, ghastly rebukes like, “I’m just disappointed in you, that’s all” and “I don’t care for the tone in your voice, young man.”
I hate it, too.
But I’m optimistic that a time will come when my kid and I can be play pals again. Perhaps it won’t be until he has children, and I can invite them over to drink soda and say “butt-head” inside a precarious pillow fort — and then send them home for their own parents to fret over. Maybe then I’ll be lauded as the cool grandma, or even Nana Banana, the funnest old lady that ever bankrolled a lemonade stand.
Until then, I suppose “not evil” will have to do.