Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Parental Guilt

When my youngest child was in kindergarten she used to squint when watching TV. For some reason this annoyed me.

“Stop squinting,” I would tell her and she would oblige, stationing herself about ten inches from the screen.

Now if she’d been my first child, I would have immediately, obsessively worried myself sick. But as she was my third, I went on folding clothes, or making dinner, or doing any of the thousand other chores that having three children under the age of twelve entails.

When she was in second grade I received a rather stern note from the school nurse telling me she had failed her eye exam. I was offended. What was she implying, that I was an unfit mother? Determined to prove her wrong I took my daughter to an expensive ophthalmologist.

“Legally blind,” was his expert opinion. “With astigmatism in the left eye.”

I was shocked. No one in my family wore glasses and only one sister in my husband’s so the thought that my children would have anything less than perfect eyesight had never occurred to me.

When we walked out of the doctor’s office, she in her new coke-bottle glasses, my daughter looked up into the trees and exclaimed, “Look, mommy, I can see the leaves!”

(Insert knife here and begin slowly to remove my heart.) To this day, if I’m ever asked to cry on command, I have only to relive this anguished and guilt-ridden moment to comply.

I was telling this story to some friends over cocktails (only when I’ve been drinking do I tell this one), when my friend, Donna, said, “Oh, I can beat that.”

I was dubious. Donna is beautiful, tall and slender, always stylishly dressed and made up. She’s married to a stockbroker and has raised three handsome sons, feeding them organic meals long before it became the norm. I have always considered Donna to be, well, perfect, and I would hate her except that she is nice and very funny. So I can’t.

Anyway, she was out to dinner a few months ago with one of her strapping six foot four inch sons when she noticed him holding a glass with one of his pinkies stuck out like an English lord sipping tea.

“Why are you doing that?” Donna said. “That looks silly.”

“Oh well,” he said. “Funny you should mention it. Do you remember that time in grade school when I closed my finger in my desk and I came home and told you, and you said, Oh, just put a band aid on it. It’ll be fine. Well,” he held the stiff pinky up for her appraisal. “Now, I can’t bend it.”

“Are you telling me it doesn’t bend at all?” Donna said, horrified.

She rushed him immediately to the only doctor who could see them on short notice which happened to be, ironically, her son’s ex-pediatrician. He examined the frozen pinky and then remarked, sadly, that if she’d brought the boy to him when he first injured it he might have been able to minimize the tendon damage, but now it was too late.

Now whenever Donna sees her son drinking beer with her husband or sitting down to family dinners and holding a glass, she notices that little erect pinky and feels as if he is giving her a middle-finger salute.

I guess the lesson here is that despite our best intentions, we sometimes fall short in the parenting department. And with enough love, time, and psychotherapy our children will overcome their physical and emotional handicaps and forgive us.



gypsy0398 said...

As always, a great story. You have the talent to capture everyday life in such an amusing way! Keep up your work!

a wife, a momma but I'm God's girl (= said...

Hi Aunt Cathy, it's Ruth. I am new to blogging, but I love yours, so funny. You're a great writer....=)I can't wait to read your books. which should I begin with first?

Kaye said...

Hi Cathy, I just finished your book, Summer in the South, and have to tell you I was blown away at your ability to draw me into a story. It's been many months since I read a book I would rate as 5* but this is one of them. I sure hope there is a sequel in the works because I am not ready to let these characters go. Loved it!
If you ever want to do a guest post on my blog, you can find me at Pudgy Penguin Perusals

Cathy Holton said...

Hi guys! Thanks so much for your kind comments. Gypsy, humor is a defense mechanism for me - I have to laugh to keep myself sane sometimes. Ruth, you might want to start with "Revenge of the Kudzu Debutantes." And Kaye, I'd love to do a guest blog!