My parents are missing. I think it happened around the time that my daughter was born.
I am embarrassed to say that I was so consumed by being a new mommy that I didn’t notice at first that they had disappeared. My daughter is now three years old. Don’t worry. My daughter has wonderful grandparents. In fact, they are fabulous! But they are just not my parents. I call them the “replacements.”
I had good parents and a happy childhood. My parents were always fair but rather predictable. These people, the replacements, are blowing my mind. My parents were “no eating or drinking” in the living room people and the replacements are “let’s have a popcorn and juice picnic” in the living room people. Instead of the “just wait ’till your daddy gets home” from my childhood, my daughter (and I from the other room) hear whispers of “let me clean this up before your mommy comes back.” The “DO NOT ask me agains” have been replaced by “O.K., one mores” and “all right, one more times.”
When my brother and I found a television show amusing, my father found it to be “insulting to his intelligence.” These replacements will watch a video of singing bears twice in a row if my daughter demands! And of course, why not, there is plenty of time because there is no bed time at the replacements’ house. My father believed that children needed their rest. He used to insist on some relationship sleep had to health and getting a good education. As a child I always suspected that children’s bedtimes were more correlated to the mental health of the parents. (Now that I am a mother, I am convinced that both theories are true and if my father wasn’t missing, I would tell him that he was right.)
“She slept until 8:00,” the replacement will tell me when my daughter spends the night. My child? My up-at-the-crack-of-dawn-more-consistently-than-farmyard-fowl child?
“Well, she didn’t go to bed until almost 11:00,” the replacement will explain. Unlike my disciplining parents, the replacements will let my daughter “play” until she falls asleep. They can’t put her to bed because she might cry. The replacement mom tried once and my daughter sprouted tears and sobbed “Papa! Papa!” until the replacement dad came and rescued her and took her back to his recliner for more television until she fell asleep in his arms.
My mother had sworn off play dough decades ago as a substance that was toxic to carpet and unfit and unworthy of entering into any place where humans had to live and clean. The play dough was the real reality check for me that my mother was truly missing. It should have been enough that this replacement had sat in the kiddie pool last summer but I was still in denial. And she may have been trying to throw off my suspicions because she did make my daughter ask her twice. But if I had calculated, even conservatively, that my brother and I had probably tried to get our mom to get into a pool, for let’s say once a week, for twelve weeks each summer, for let’s say ten years and she had never said yes, I should have known that something was amiss.
If it was the play dough that convinced me that my mom had been replaced, it was “the ball in the boxwood” that convinced me that my dad was missing. You see, every family has things that are sacred and must be protected at all costs. For some it may be heirloom punch bowls or record collections or ten thousand thread count rugs. But in our house, it was shrubs. Children were expected to respect and protect shrubs against any threat from other children or animals that may result in injury that could damage the leaves of a shrub, particularly a boxwood. Then one day recently it happened. My daughter shoved down a big, lady bug personified beach ball, burying it into a boxwood at my replacement parent’s house.
Now this boxwood my daughter assaulted was no less than a boxwood that cornered the sidewalk and the front porch. For me, everything happened in slow motion as my daughter buried this ball down into the breaking limbs of this shrub. I saw the replacement mother’s proud delight as if hide and seek were a genius concept and her granddaughter had discovered it. But every nerve ending in my body prepared for some repercussion from my father. I felt genuine guilt for not having been able to teach my daughter proper shrub etiquette. And for a second, I thought I had found my missing father. The man walking down the sidewalk appeared to freeze for an instant and I was sure that his smile, now frozen, was fake. But then he laughed and waved and resumed his stride and I knew, I was mistaken.
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