So That One Day, My Kids Can Make Fun Of Me

Fuck should be a regular word, I think. It’s not that bad. You know what I mean? It’s bitch that’s a real bad word. Or son of a bitch. If you called my brother Joe a son of a bitch, he’d beat the shit out of you. He didn’t like people talking about his mother.” 

This was my Uncle Al, with whom I was talking on the phone after a long period of no contact. I wrote about Uncle Al a while back in an essay called A Brother Thing, which was later published as part of the excellent anthology Here in the Middle. In that essay, I remarked that Uncle Al was easily as healthy as me. It’s been a couple of years, since then. Nothing stays the same. 

I’d called Uncle Al because he’d declined to have me come and visit him in person. He didn’t want any visitors, he said. He also wasn’t doing any visiting of his own, and so he and my dad hadn’t seen each other for many months. What a good idea, I thought, to call him from Dad’s room! 

Which really just goes to show you that my hope and optimism truly know no bounds. 

Uncle Al, Mom, Dad, Aunt Jeannie.

The dad in question was lounging in his bed, the back part up so he could take in a television show starring Andy Griffith and one of my favorites, Don Knotts. “Hold on,” I said to Uncle Al. “I’ll give him the phone.” 

See? Optimism again. I learned pretty quickly that my father is no longer familiar with the concept of “phone.” Let’s not even talk about the concept of “Samsung Galaxy S8 Plus.” 

“What is it?” he said to me, glancing at the phone and then handing it back politely. 

“It’s your brother,” I told him. “Albert. He’s on the phone… he wants to talk to you.” 

I held the phone up to his ear. He tried to take it from me. I held it firmly and pushed his hand away. I could hear Uncle Al on the other end of the line. “Ej!” he said. “It’s me, Albert . . . how you doing?” 

Dad said, “Yeah!” and then turned to look at the thing I had pressed to the side of his head. Uncle Al continued talking. Dad responded minimally and mostly in ways that didn’t make sense. At one point he reached out to touch my stomach, as if to see what it was made of. Cookies, I could have told him.  

Instead I backed away, leaning so I could still hold the phone to his ear. He kept trying to take it. Within approximately a minute and a half I knew we had to wrap it up. “It’s me again,” I told Uncle Al. “He’s not … uh … he’s not doing it right.” 

We continued talking for a while, because as we all know, life must go on even when it is too stupid for words. Uncle Al told me how if it gets too bad and none of his kids can bring themselves to do it, then he will pull his own plug. I said, “But if you need a plug to keep you alive, I don’t think you’ll be in any shape to get to it. You know. To pull it. On your own.” 

Wow! So helpful! And comforting, I mean, really. I should be allowed to communicate via writing only. No speaking permitted. But no one ever stops me. 

“I’ll find a way,” Uncle Al said. “I’ll show them.” 

I looked at my dad, who was back to his TV show but glancing my way anytime I laughed, which was fairly frequent. That’s Uncle Albert for you. I knew that if my dad had not got the goddamned Alzheimer’s, he’d be visiting his brother every day whether Albert liked it or not. Maybe they’d talk about the women they used to “chase,” or that time their brother Joe dangled their brother Ben out a third story window. Maybe they’d recollect the guys Joe beat up for calling him a son of a bitch. In any event, they’d laugh.They might be old and getting older, but they’d surely, most certainly, have a laugh. 

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I really, really hope my own kids are the best of friends when they’re in their eighties. At least close acquaintances. Siblings, having shared so much of life, have the ability to reminisce in a way very few other relationships get to enjoy. Many siblings don’t take advantage of this. I say, if you can, you totally should. 

I need Alzheimer’s to be gone within the next half century or so, because I want my kids to be able to do this. I hope they look back on “that time Mom crashed into the guard rail” and “that time Mom crashed into the other guard rail, or wait, maybe that was a telephone pole.” I want them to chuckle over how upset their dad used to get over mere cosmetic damages. I hope they will laugh about every fight they ever had, and wonder how their mother ever managed to remain so goddamned cheerful. Speaking of curse words, I want them to use them correctly when they reminisce, as in, “Daddy was grumpy as shit, wasn’t he?” 

I want them to remember, is I guess what I am trying to say. 

My family is participating in the Pittsburgh Walk to End Alzheimer’s this November. We have fifty years to get it done with. If you’d like to make a contribution – or to join our team – you can do so here. 


My Children: Which One Might Become a Serial Killer?

jail-983153_1280You try not to think it, you really do, but in today’s culture it’s difficult.  I mean the parent-blaming is everywhere.  So when serial killers and even regular murderers show up on the news or on “Criminal Minds” or wherever, you start thinking.  For the love of God and all that is holy, could this one day be my kid?

The trick is in figuring out which one it might be, so that you can make the appropriate adjustments.  Like if it’s child #3 versus #1 or #2, you might want to become stricter with that child.  Or maybe more lenient.  You may need to give that child more individual attention, or perhaps you’ve been giving that child too much attention all along.  You may realize you should switch to a helicopter parenting technique, or no, wait, maybe the kid actually needs more responsibility. Free-range it is.  Maybe you should yell less and show more empathy.  Wait, the newspaper says you should quit being such a pushover.

Oh, Good Lord.  What is a parent to do?

I don’t know, but I’m guessing the first good step is to figure out which one is the serial killer.  With that in mind I have been observing my own kids from day one, looking for the signs.  This post is the very scientific summary of my conclusions to date.

On the surface, Joey, age 8, might be the obvious suspect.  Back in his infancy, the instant he got control of his arms, he used them to push my face away from him in a way that said, “I do not enjoy affectionate human contact.”  That was mildly alarming, but my mother has since told me I was a similar type of baby and I have yet to murder anyone, even my husband, who pretty much asks for it on at least a bi-weekly basis.

And then there is Jimmy, age 7, who was a very smiley and loving baby, but even then you kind of had to wonder.  At least Joey shows his true colors, I thought at the time.  What’s with this smiley lovey crap?  Who exactly is he trying to fool?

Could all that smiling be leading here???
Could all that smiling be leading here???

Interestingly enough, as they’ve grown, Jimmy has continued his smiley lovey persona, while Joey is a bit more on the mean side.  I was catching baseball with them the other day and Joey was taking an inordinate amount of pleasure in any missed catch on the part of his brother.  “You dropped it again!” he’d say.  “That’s six times!  I’ve only missed twice!”  As for Jimmy, his comments back to Joey were along the lines of, “Good catch!”  Or, “Nice throw, Joey!”

Hmmm, I thought.  Are these the signs?  Will Joey’s competitive and not-so-supportive nature one day resolve into a murderous rampage?  Or, will Jimmy’s more outwardly pleasant personality eventually implode?  Oh God, how do I fix this?  What do I do differently?  HOW DO I MAKE THEM PERFECT?

So far, I’ve spoken about my children as if Joey shows zero love and Jimmy shows nothing but.  Obviously it is never that simple.  For example, I once had several facial moles removed and thus came home with several sets of stitches in my face as well as some surprisingly unattractive swelling.  It was Joey who had the preferred reaction.  He took one look at me, broke down in tears and said, “Mommy!  How could they do that to you?”  Jimmy, on the other hand, appraised my disfigurement with a more detached and clinical eye.  His question was more along the lines of, “How long are you going to look like that?”  He has also said things such as, “Mommy, you’re not fat.  You’re just, like, maximum chubby.”  If that doesn’t say future murderer, quite frankly I don’t know what does.

Perhaps I should encourage a nice non-violent life of computer crime.
Perhaps I should encourage a nice non-violent life of cyber crime.

I don’t know.  It’s very stressful even writing about this, because the truth is, I don’t ever want to find myself in the position of saying, “Yep, I knew it.”  And then writing letters to judges explaining about my kids’ favorite snacks and so forth.  I mean, what judge is going to care that Joey eats his Chips Ahoy and milk with a spoon, while Jimmy never, ever dips his cookies?  Well, there’s one, but surely he’ll be impleached by then. Disbarred. Whatever they call it.  Plus, my letter would go viral and then the people who weren’t already blaming me would see clearly how it was ALL MY FAULT.

I guess the bottom line is, ferretting out a serial killer from the crowd of elementary school crooks is more challenging than it may seem.  All I can do is to remain forever vigilant.  And more importantly, keep up with all the internet parenting advice. Because there’s no sense trusting my own instincts when there are so many wiser ones out there.



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