Last week we had my parents over on Valentine’s Day to share a massive pizza and some cake with. It was a nice evening of chit chat and laughter(it usually is with them.) After we ate we were in the living room talking when the conversation went to my childhood. My dad made the comment “You could be peculiar at times. You always got upset when we weren’t acting “normal”. When things were out of place it really bothered you.” At first I laughed, then I realized he was right. What shocked me was that my dad remembered this about me. I’d always known this to be true, that if things were off or my parents weren’t acting like my parents that I’d panic. But I never realized they noticed my (erratic)behavior. I guess parents notice more than you think, kids.
I can remember being 5 or 6 and trying to wake my mom up. She was on the couch and had fallen asleep. It was close to 11pm and I’d woken up from a bad dream. I’d gone out and found her on the couch with TV on in the dark. She was snoring(family trait) and I tried waking her up. My mom was a heavy sleeper and was prone to talking in her sleep. She slowing opened her eyes and seemed to be talking nonsense, which made my already nervous state even worse. I was half crying telling her to wake up when I think she was awake and looking at me like I was insane. I turned around and my dad was up and getting ready for work(he worked third shift at the time.) They both looked at each other like “WTF??”
I suppose this is something you don’t forget as an adult.
There were other instances. Complaining in a restaurant about a pizza not having enough meat on it(valid complaint, but in my 8 year old brain I thought “What if people look at us?”). On a pontoon with my parents and grandparents and we run out of gas in the middle of Lake Manitou. They were all a little on the intoxicated side and my dad started yelling “Help me! Help me!” in between bouts of laughter(we made it to shore unscathed.) I was horrified. And there were the late night games of Monopoly and UNO that would go on till midnight, on a school night. My brother and I had to finish the game regardless. “Finish what you started, guys.”
My parents didn’t seem like my parents in those moments. They just seemed like these people I resembled physically. They weren’t the loving couple that helped me with my homework, took my brother and I to amusement parks in the summer, fed us, clothed us, loved us, and generally made our lives pretty amazing.
They were just these people. People acting like other people than my parents.
I can remember having nightmares when I was really young that my parents were taken over by strange entities. I’m sure a lot of that came from watching Invasion of the Body Snatchers and V as a kid. One dream I remember was being at a construction site and I was inside a house that was just framed out. I was lost and couldn’t find my mom and dad. These people show up and they were outlined like two adults that could’ve been my mom and dad, except that the shapes were filled with television static. Outlines of two bodies walking towards me, but within the outlines was just analog static with occasional sparks of lightning inside. They spoke but it was in these buzzing tones. They were supposed to be my parents, but obviously they weren’t. It was terrifying to my pre-science fiction-loving mind. I’d had another dream around the same time where I’d woken up in the middle of the night and walked out to the kitchen and found my dad making coffee. I immediately ran into my parents bedroom and my dad was also in their bathroom shaving. Two dads, identical, in two different rooms of the house. Which one was the real dad? Who do I ask for a glass of water?
Now, being 43 years old and having read more than my share of psychology books I can see that it was a fear of change and a fear of losing my parents. I think its a pretty normal thing for kids, it just manifests itself differently with different people. And I can also look back and see that in those moments when my parents weren’t acting “normal”, they were just being themselves. At that young of an age I only knew mom and dad. I didn’t know them as individuals. I didn’t want to see them “having fun” or “goofing off”, or as just people(or not paying attention to me, dammit.) That’s confusing! But now that I’m in those shoes I can completely understand. You can’t lose sight of who you are. Sure you’re mom and dad, but sometimes mom and dad need to be individuals. You lose sight of who you are deep down, or who you once were and things get a little complicated. Maybe you’ll start resenting yourself and what you’ve become.
Hell, I don’t know. I’m not a psychologist.
So yes, I was a peculiar child. When things weren’t as they should’ve been I’d kind of freak out. I might be that way a little still, but at least the nightmares stopped(all but those back in high school nightmares.) And strangely enough I’m relieved that my parents saw how peculiar I could be, and yet they still seem to think I’m okay. Same with my family.
I think I’ve made my normal self as the dad that listens to vinyl, drinks micro-brews, reads comics, makes music in the basement, and loves science fiction. My kids would worry if I started reading the paper daily, watching football, drinking light beer, and going to church. Over the last few years I’ve made a concerted effort to “be me” in all aspects. Maybe that’s the difference between me and my parents. Parenting was more of a role 30, 40 years ago, as opposed to who a person was. I was used to the roles and not the individuals. Hopefully my kids know me as dad and that guy spinning records.
Or just the neurotic guy that sits in the living room often typing on a Chromebook.