One of the great things about having a big family is that somebody is always mad at you. When I say “great,” I mean that somebody is always mad at you anyway, no matter what you do, so you might as well enjoy it.
It’s hard to explain. I never would have anticipated it, but there is a special kind of exquisite glee that comes with knowing that you’ve revolted your children down to their very souls. I suppose it’s a small act of defiance, like a conquered people crouching in their cell blocks, grinning at their oppressors as they sing forbidden songs and eat forbidden . . . mouse sandwiches . . . I forget what we were talking about.
Anyway, the point is, I was nearly forty years old before I finally said certain things to my mother about the mistakes she had made in raising me, and it felt very psychologically important to me at the time, and I guess I’m glad I said it; but when I think of her being nearly seventy years old and having to still hear about things she did wrong thirty years ago, I’m kind of amazed she didn’t just smack me. My mother was a good woman, and didn’t do a lot of the smacking she was entitled to.
But this isn’t a heavy essay. I don’t want to talk about all the horrible mistakes one can make with one’s children, the wrong responses, the coldness when there should have been warmth, the weariness when there should have been attention, the sarcasm when there should have been sympathy, the times we forgot to pick them up, the times we got them the wrong present, the times we called them the wrong name, the times we did the wrong thing, and weren’t even sorry, and instead wrote stupid essays about it for clout on the internet.
Instead, I want to tell you about the worst thing my husband and I ever did to our children. They were all unanimously, instantly disgusted with us at the time, and as the years have passed, their revulsion has only deepened.
It has to do with a couch.
Someday, it may come to pass that the Fishers will buy a brand new couch. We’re not there yet, but in the last few years, we have started buying our couches at respectable used furniture stores, and this is quite a step up. We started out our family life acquiring couches by skulking into better neighborhoods at night and seeing what they had dragged out to the curb, that might fit in our minivan, and that seemed fine.
But on this particular day a few years ago, we were still halfway through our evolution from garbage pickers to respectable used furniture buyers, and we had made arrangements to buy a couch from someone online, someone who turned out to be . . . less than respectable.
I seem to have blotted the details out of my memory, but this couch we were going to buy must have been pretty horrible, because we came home without it. But we knew the kids were all waiting in an empty living room, champing at the bit to see the splendid new couch we had found for them. And if there’s one thing I hate, it’s disappointing kids. So, I did what any normal mother would do in these circumstances: I said to my husband, “Let’s pretend we got an invisible couch.”
Now, one of my husband’s main jobs in life is to listen to my ideas and say, “No, that’s dumb.” But for some reason, he didn’t do his job on this day. Instead, the two of us parked the rented truck in the driveway, opened the back, and went into an elaborate pantomime of carefully, laboriously unloading first the cushions and then the body of a heavy, unwieldy, slightly wobbly, completely invisible couch.
We shooed the kids out of the way, had some imaginary trouble figuring out how to wedge it through the door and had to back out a few times, scuffed our way through the dining room, slid some furniture out of the way, and set the nothing down, panting, and then asked the kids what they thought.
Well, they thought we were a couple of idiots. And they still do.
I, on the other hand, fall off my actual real couch laughing every time I think about this story. It may be the stupidest thing I’ve ever done for no reason at all. Those kids were so profoundly disgusted with us, and for once, we totally deserved it. Somehow, that feels like a some kind of score was evened up.
Let me sing you the song of my people! We’re morons, my husband and I, and there’s nothing our kids can do about it.