domestic scene: evening. Oscar, pretending to be a busker.

actually, he says he wants to be a bucker. my mind runs through a stream of adolescent obscenities before the waving guitar gives him away. ah. bussss-ker, i intone. not, uh, never mind.

he is shirtless with his tiny guitar in the kitchen, one knee up on a stool, case spread out on the floor. give me money, he says sweetly, and i explain you can’t ask for money, honey, if you want to be a busker. you have to pretend you don’t care about the money. you ask, what would you like to hear?

he catches on quick, this child.

what would you like to hear, Mom? i know, um…Take Me Home Country Roads. would you like to hear THAT?

lovely, i say, trying to swallow a laugh. clearly we need to have a talk about giving people options. and he launches in a cacophony of chordless strumming and mostly-tuneless caterwauling, but i will say, damn, that kid knows ALL the words.

Josephine drops change she’s ferreted from the couch cushions into his guitar case like she hangs out in subway stations, or something. she shimmies around the kitchen with her arms flailing like a chicken. their heads bop. i shake my tailfeathers to the racket. somewhere above the clouds, John Denver smiles on us, his fingers in his ears.

these are the moments i feel like a good parent.

they’re ephemeral, fleeting. i want to tape ’em to the refrigerator, like the kids’ drawings, all colour and joy.

then girl child howls because she cannot wear the shorts she’s picked out, even though it’s November. the umbrage of a thwarted three-year-old needs its own Bible chapter and verse. i sigh, pry plaid from kicking legs.

i ought to have put the summer clothes away by now.

it is my job, i say to her, to make sure you are warm enough. it SNOWED yesterday, child. it’s cold. wear pants.

boy child loses two coats in two days at school, because it gets warm in the afternoons and he sheds it during recess. i tense up and i hear my voice stop just short of shaming but i want him to understand that money doesn’t grow on trees, to value what he’s given, to be appreciative.

it is my job, i say to him, to teach you to be responsible.

(i glare sidelong at his father, who still trails lost items out behind him like Hansel & Gretel. sometimes. Dave blushes appropriately.)

they wake at 5:40ish two days in a row. Daylight Savings Time: a cruel joke perpetrated on parents by society.

Dave got up the first morning. my turn. it is my job, i mutter to myself through the bleary ire of hibernation interrupted, to get out of bed in the middle of the night without eating anyone alive. ahem.

the thing that sucks about parenthood is that you’re the parent.

that voice, the deadly serious one, saying if you don’t finish your brussels sprouts there will be no Hallowe’en candy!? yeh, that’s you. or at least, it’s Dave. and it’s me.

(and unless you’re a complete ass, then you too are stuck eating all your brussels sprouts, to set a good example. which is okay, because you’ve kind of learned to like brussels sprouts. and lost your taste for Hallowe’en candy. but those facts in themselves are A Trip, identity-wise.)

i school us all, keep things in line: myself most particularly. it’s not the disciplining the children i find challenging. it’s the disciplining myself.

i am my own private despot, repressing imagination and creative expression for the good of the system, the schedule. sometimes, it gets us to work on time. sometimes, it just gets us all worn out, staring at each other over hurt feelings and frustrations. Dave and i catch each other’s eye, vaguely bewildered, as if wondering when the real grown ups will come.

the thing that sucks about parenthood is that they ain’t coming. it’s all down to you, baby.

sometimes i hear my voice go UP in the act of shutting down the latest exercise in Dawdling or Not Listening and in the back of my brain i see Ally Sheedy, on break from shaking dandruff onto her doodled page. the black shag hair, black kohl eyes.

When you grow up, your heart dies, she says. and Anthony Michael Hall chirps out, My God. Are we gonna be like our parents?

the thing that sucks about parenthood is that sometimes the answer is Yes. because that’s the job. not just the moments you tape to the fridge, but the ones you’d happily shove under the fridge to mingle with the dust bunnies.

see, it’s true, really. you can’t care about the money much if you’re going to be a busker.

part of what we sign on for is teaching them how to function in the world, however we understand it. and modelling at least some of that for them, ourselves. which is the part that’s hardest. i don’t believe the system. i still think Judd Nelson is the smartest person in The Breakfast Club.

i still think it’s cool my kid wants to be a busker.

but if they don’t learn the rest of it, then it’s not much of a choice. not being able to function within the system is as much a cage the system itself.

i want them to understand enough of both sides to be able to choose, at least sometimes.

i want to foster enough agility of mind that they can think their ways around the binary and hopefully find paths i’ve never thought of.

i want them to be resilient and able to get out of bed and do what needs to be done, no matter which paths they take.

and so i stand there in front of them, those two small open faces, and i try. and mostly i fail to hit the mark, and i wish too many moments lost to the chasm under the fridge.

and that‘s the thing that sucks about parenthood. see, when you get old, your heart doesn’t necessarily die. but sometimes they’ll think it has, and yours will break but buck up and you will say, NO. you really do need to eat vegetable matter or sleep more than seven hours or not run across the street even though you think i’m horrible for saying so. i know. i get it. i own it. and then you smile at them and say, so can you play Take Me Home, Country Roads?

maybe, if you’re wild, you teach ’em to shake dandruff like a snow globe all over their kindergarten art.

or maybe you don’t. but you think about it.
(erm, tell me you think about it? even occasionally?)