...so when do we start embarrassing our kids?
So, I can't tell you I have it all together. That would be a lie.
My life is hardly that sitcom scene I imagined it would be when I was a small child. I am not married. I don't live in a modest house on a quiet street in suburbia with a well manicured lawn and flowers in clay pots on the porch. I am not home baking cookies, making casseroles, or watering my garden. No scrap booking is going on inside. There is no golden retriever waiting patiently by the door for his master to come home so he can trot on over for a head scratch and a romp in the yar, as a white fluffy cat suns itself on crisp microfiber furniture. There is no shiny new Acura in the driveway waiting to take me to the supermarket for a cart full of organic produce and healthy snacks. Fragrant high priced body washes, and the most expensive paper towels. Only the best!
I am divorced. I live in an apartment over an auto shop, next to the local no-tell motel. There is a pit bull inside who sometimes gets so excited, she spins in circles and occasionally walks into the wall. There is a cat who insists the world is her toy box and refuses to get off the dining room table. The plants I had on the porch are now dead. There are Legos on the floor, silly putty stuck in the carpet, holes that the cat chewed in the mini-blinds, dishes in the sink, and my son's bedroom looks like a bomb went off inside. There is a dented VW in the driveway with no hubcaps (because I lost one and as far as I am concerned, none looks better than three...). My landlord mows the grass, and then fills the yard with used truck tires. I go to the supermarket armed with coupons and a discount card. I usually wind up with the cart with the bum wheel...
Picket fence? Not hardly.
Don't get me wrong...I like my apartment. It's in one of the older buildings in town and still maintains it's original doors, molding, and floors. For a local history nerd like me, that's good stuff right there. It's across the street from the most popular speed trap spot in town so I pretty much always have a cop outside keeping local nutjobs away. It is in fact suburbia, and there is no real crime outside of domestics, some drug offenses, and DWI's. I can't remember ever being worried about not locking my door. There is a real sense of community in my town, with activities planned for kids all summer long complete with free hot dogs and ice cream in the park. My landlord is usually around working on his trucks, and watches out for my son and I. He has often quizzed and questioned friends of mine who came by before I was home to make sure they should be there. And he never, ever forgets to give my son a birthday card.
Plus, the place I came from was a real hole. I actually sued my landlord. That is another blog in itself. I like where I live now. No, it's not perfect. Yes, I am sometimes woken up on a Saturday morning by an air gun from the shop below me. Yes, there are some strange people in the motel next door (but lets be honest...some nights, it's better than ANYTHING on tv...) No, I don't plan to live out the rest of my life there. But it's our home, and we have made it so for now. It's what I can afford. I don't have the money to buy a house, and thanks to a divorce and mounted medical debt, I don't have the credit either. In time we will get there, but for now, my son and I have made memories, decorated to our liking, and feel very safe, comfortable and at home in our apartment.
But when I take my son to school, or birthday parties, or any other even where he is with the other local kids his age, I start to wonder...will he ever look at our life and feel embarrassed? Now, let's remember that we all felt some degree of this as a child. Be it our mom kissing us goodbye as she dropped us off in front of our friends, or the joke our dad made in front of our new boyfriend... there was always something. We were "cool"...and our parents were not. It's normal! It's a rite of passage. My father once threatened to go outside and punch my first real boyfriend in the face if he didn't stop picking me up by honking the horn in front of the house. I was embarrassed, but it was because I was 16 and didn't know about chivalry or that he SHOULD have been coming up to the damn door! He should have been shaking my father's hand!
But this is more than that. I wonder if he will feel that way, and be perfectly justified. While the other kids invite him over to their houses to play, I don't feel like I can do it in return. When I explain to this child's mom or dad where I live, I have to explain that I live in that building next to the motel. That I live over the auto repair shop. "...oh, yeah...I didn't know there was an apartment there either until we moved into it! Tee Hee!"... I have already had these conversations. I feel a little silly. especially when the parent I am talking to has one of those nice bi-levels over by the schools. They drove up in their nice new Nissan SUV with TV's in the backs of the seats. The only things on the backs of my seats are mud prints from size 12 Vans.
I didn't grow up wealthy. Four of us lived in a small three bedroom converted summer cottage. It was tiny. When I visit my parents now, I don't know how we did it. When I was in 8th grade, I remember a classmate (who I was not friends with for reasons that will be obvious) telling me how he had seen where I lived when someone he was with drove my brother home from a baseball game. He made a comment about our house being along the lines of "a shack". Now, yes...my house was small. But it was not a shack. It was our home, and that comment burned me. I remember walking home from the bus stop, up to my house and wondering if that was how I looked to other kids. The poor kid in class.
As an adult, I know better. Both my parents worked, and they worked hard. My dad worked two jobs, sometimes 7 days a week and would still be doing so if not for health problems. My mom is still working as well. They struggled and sacrificed a lot for us, and I know that now. I am sure my son will someday know it about his father and I as well. But being a kid is hard. So many emotions, pressures, forces put on you by other kids and a need to fit in, even just a little bit. I do worry sometimes about making that harder for him because we are the struggling family that we are. I try to hide it as much as I can from him. But he knows. And other kids will know too. I can't hide where we live forever. He has friends, and he wants to hang out with them now.
I think of that kid who made that comment to me when my son asks me to have friends over to play. Those kids who teased me are parents themselves now. There is some juvenile thought in my head that they will see where I live and think poorly of us. For me though in reality...it's not a concern. I don't care what people think of me. What I think about is my son. I don't want him to feel the way I did when someone picked on me. I felt like Andie in Pretty in Pink, being afraid of Blane seeing where she lived. I always related so well to her. We got picked on for the same things, we tended to crush on the guy that was way out of our league, and we compensated with creativity. I found my way around the insecurity. I don't worry about what people think of me.
I worry about my son going through it...and it being my fault for not making more money, having a house, etc. I don't want him to feel embarrassed about where he lives. Where he comes from. His life at home.
The greatest thing about kids is that they don't see the world like we do yet. They have not been jaded like we have yet. My son likes our home. It's actually very big. It's clean. It's decorated with antiques and fun things we have picked up or inherited. He is happy to be here.
How do I keep him that way? When will he start to worry? When will he start to tell me to turn down the Bob Dylan because his friends might hear and that stuff is soooooo laaaaaaame, Mooooooom...
I guess we all go through it.
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