What was I thinking? I agreed to become a regular contributing humour editor for ParentsCanada magazine. I just turned 60. I don’t remember my kids names, never mind the way I parented them, 23 and 25 years ago. Except that I was anxious ALL THE TIME. Worried that I was not doing it right, whatever doing it right is supposed to mean.
When my sons were three and five, we moved from Toronto to Los Angeles. I enrolled them in a small private school where Meryl Streep and Dustin Hoffman sent their kids. This only added to my anxiety. I would study Ms.Streep as she waved goodbye to her kids when she dropped them off in the morning, and feel that my goodbyes paled in comparison. Her goodbyes were the goodbyes of a real mother, so heartfelt, so honest, so committed. My goodbyes were empty. No color in my voice, no variety in my intonation. There wasn’t a dry eye in the playground as Ms.Streep handed over the lunches to her kids, and with the brave determination of her Oscar winning performance as Sophie, made the choice to get in her Volvo station wagon, and drive away.
To overcompensate for my parenting insecurities, I volunteered my services at every school function from the time my kids were in preschool until they graduated from high school. And I’m not kidding EVERY school function. Every lousy school event that no one else signed up for, there was my name at the top. When your kids are growing up, you still believe the extra volunteer work you put in at their schools will somehow guarantee their future success and happiness. I really believed that a guidance counselor, principal or influential teacher would remember that I cleaned out the rabbit cages and would give my kid a great recommendation, one day, for Harvard.
So with this erroneous belief, I emceed the comedy fund raisers, raced in the bike-a-thons, jogged in the jog-a-thons, boarded turtles and snakes at my home during school breaks, picked debris off the Santa Monica beaches, directed the school plays, made cookies, lasagna, Armenian bread (all of them bad I hate cooking) and raffled them along with my Edith Prickley hats. I drove the football, baseball, lacrosse and tennis teams for out of town games, and spent thousands of dollars at silent auctions on bad crafts made by other well meaning parents. I even participated, along with Ms.Streep and Mr.Hoffman, in the weekly storytelling hours. I studied and listened to dialect tapes and recited Wind In The Willows with a French accent and The Velveteen Rabbit, with a Polish accent. Eat your heart out Ms.Streep I’m walking here.
Of course, none of the above volunteering did anything to secure my kids place in the world. In fact, all it invariably did, was make me more insecure as a parent. All that volunteer work puts you in close proximity with other desperate parents. You start making small talk and start digging for information. Then the conversation moves to how many extracurricular activities your kids are involved in and what grades they got on a paper. You soon find out that your kids are achieving far, far less than the other kids. So besides spending endless hours making paper hats for the Fall Fair, you realize you really ARE a bad parent and you’ll be lucky if your kids even graduate from preschool.
As I write this, I’m sitting in my room at the Park Hyatt Hotel, in Los Angeles. I have since moved to New York, but am here to shoot a pilot for Showtime. My 25 year old son, Jack, sits in his office in the Fox Plaza, which looks directly down at the pool at the Park Hyatt Hotel. He can see me in my black bathing suit as I sit on a lounge chair and study my lines. H e is a financial analyst. He doesn’t need me in the same way he needed me when he was a child. But I cant help thinking that if I volunteered to perform at his company’s Christmas party, or deliver sandwiches at lunch time, or answer their phones, then maybe they would consider giving him a larger office, with a better view, and a big bonus at the end of the year. Ill even throw in an Edith Prickly hat. PC