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THINGS. Part 1.

Things My Parents Were Right About.

One day, I'd understand classical music.

It's a pretty interesting turn of events, to me at least. Both my parents were classical music enthusiasts, my father more emphatic about us figuring it out in a hurry. He would blast us out of bed on Saturday mornings with unnecessarily loud symphonies, sonatas and concertos. I still don't claim to know the difference.

Despite having my head buried deeply under either couch or bed pillows, I clearly remember his skinny arms conducting his air orchestra through the deafening crescendos, or his eyes closed, tiptoeing them through the meadows of musical delight.

While it's difficult for my fragile ego to admit, it has become a treat to escape to this musical sanctuary where the noise of the desperate 'need to be heard' of our culture quiets down. It is actually the best place for me to come up with new strategies and ideas to get myself heard.

I have come to a point in life where some days, the gossip, the daily news, the "'gram", everything at work, rock n' roll, reading, even my own mind just seems suffused with too many... words.

Although I know he was really displeased about the number of holes I had in my ears at that time, I think this development in my adult life would truly gratify my father. From time to time we all need a noise management middle place. One that's not so peaceful that we're forced to face all our own thoughts, but that holds a melody just loud enough to keep too many new ones from coming in.

The holes in my ears would never close.

They say, 'never say never', but Dad might have been right about piercings through cartilage. As a medical professional, I understand he had probably seen a lot of things go wrong on other people's bodies. He worked very hard and it was clear, he didn't have time to follow his kids around making sure they didn't do silly things like dye their hair black or get six piercings in each ear. He off loaded that responsibility (or lack thereof) to my more liberal-minded mother. I believe the term to describe his countenance at each turn of his children's expressions of individuality would be "fuming".

He'd often notice my minor body modifications, long after I thought the danger of detection had passed, my wisely planned retorts already evaporated. "What is that in your ear now? Come here." He'd peer through his thick glasses at the characterless studs through the most sticky-out-y part of my ear. The tone of the rant that followed was a confusing mix of true concern and utter disgrace. "I just don't know what's WRONG with you kids. Why would you DO this to yourself? Don't you know that's BONE? It will never heal! There's not enough blood flow, it could get infected, you'll lose your EAR! Dawna, what goes on in this house when I'm not here? What is wrong with you PEOPLE?"

These holes are still in my ears in various states of pierced-ness. If I had a fraction of the bravery, or stupidity I had in those years, I'm certain I could see my way to getting an earring in all of the holes today. But as it happens, I don't use those particular holes to express myself anymore. They just collect dirt and dead skin and remind me of my dad - a guy with high expectations and not very good communication skills. Some holes never heal quite rightly.

Saying Thank-you

Just so you know, my mom was as quirky as my dad. Still is. She was a real stickler for being sure we always said thank-you. My father worried whether we'd eat with cutlery in the correct hands, when served our inevitable dinner with the queen. Mom on the other hand, would stop us at the door as we arrived home from a neighbour's pool party, sunburned and hungry. "DID YOU SAY THANK YOU?" she descended before the screen door fully closed behind us. Any natural hesitation was viewed as a negative response. "March yourselves back over there and say thank-you."

This serves as demonstration of my mother's lifelong detachment from the reality the rest of us live. After an afternoon of entertaining rambunctious nine year olds, my friend's parents were mortified to see us return. They were, of course, downing as many gin and tonics as possible in the four minutes that had transpired since we left. "Oh hey hi, you're back." -false enthusiasm. "Thank-you for having us." my brother and I chimed in unison, traumatized, socially-awkward little robots that we were.

But apparently, traumatization works. So God protect you if you don't thank me today for whatever minor favour I may do for you. From treating for coffee to cleaning up your dog's diarrhea while you're vacationing in Spain, our friendship hangs in the balance of your expression of gratitude. You can thank my mom for that.

Eating Habits are Important

There used to be a candy store, about fifteen minutes walk from my house. I don't remember it well. It seems to me it was quite dark, but most of my memories are.

At that time in the eighties, candy got some real marketing teeth. Not all fluff anymore, we now had Big League Chew, Sour Patch Kids, Garbage Pail Kids, Runts and Nerds. I spent all my money on Nerds. I loved how they felt in my mouth and that sour coating that quickly melted away, leaving sharp little bits on your tongue to crunch down into nothing. I loved the little box they came in, which had a divider down the middle. You'd get a different flavour on each side. The top of each compartment had a punch out hole. This was likely the beginning of my current very rapid 'sip rate' of canned beverages. I'd put the box to my mouth and toss my head back, chugging those little nuggets like only a little kid can.

"What are you eating?" -Dad getting out of his car one afternoon arriving home from work.

"Nerds." Blithe.

Somehow the precious box was in his hands and he was reading the ingredients. Looking back, I have to question the rationale of a parent who reads the ingredient list on a box of candy. Clearly just looking for something to get upset about, he flew into one of his barely contained, slightly comical rages and started sputtering. "Th-this stuff is poison! Wh-where did you get these? For heaven's sake... there's WAX in these!" He stomps off to find my mother and berate her for her lackadaisical supervision of our eating habits. She, in all likelihood was eating a Wunderbar with a glass of diet Fresca while this happens.

Only slightly scarred, I learned to secret away any further boxes of Nerds I ever managed to procure. Caught between their conflicting attitudes around sugar, and food in general, I feel lucky I landed somewhere in the middle. Somehow.

My mom still refuses to drink good old-fashioned glass of water. And dear old Dad was spared the indignity of the energy drink craze. And stuffed crust pizza, Double Stuf Oreos, Pepsi Blue, Pepsi Clear, All Dressed Chips and Olestra. A little wax seems so innocuous these days.

I'd appreciate my education.

I never wanted to here there opinions, but I no now they we're right. I spend countless hours on Facebook grumbling over bad grammar. It's one of my main hobbies, and I'm grateful to have something in my life that brings me such joy.

It's too bad that fancy education glossed over my failing math. One sad reality of my retail career is when I'm making change for someone and they pull that manoeuver of giving me some coins while I'm mid-counting their change. My brain goes into recovery mode and I hold-back-cry in humiliation as they try to teach me grade-school math skills with a fiver. It's ok. I also learned, you can't be good at everything.

What they do to little girls like me.

"Do you know what they do to little girls like you?" This was a phrase I heard often as I suggested outlandish things like grabbing the subway downtown on my own, or walking to Beckers on a Friday night to go hang out with the neighbourhood kids. I'll be the first to admit my parents were overprotective. It was a strange variety of protection. I was more like an "inside cat" than a child. I sat like a Royal Doulton figurine at my bedroom window, biding my time, waiting to be released into the world with the subnormal social skills of that cat, but one with a real heart for the hooch to let out her wild side.

But now that I'm an adult and have experienced having to pull over my car, to decide whether or not I'd vomit, having heard on the news, once again, the lurid details of what's happened to another little girl, (or woman) like me, I understand their intentions better.

Some might say their parenting strategy backfired as I proceeded to do plenty of damaging things to myself in the name of making up for lost time. But having given it some thought, that is far better a fate than many have fared.

Don't huff Pam.

My father worked in the hospital as an anesthetist. For the most part his stories about work were funny or bits of gossip about the other doctors and nurses that went over my head. He was a good storyteller though, and related politics, foul-ups and the odd comedy of errors at the dinner table.

Any work in a hospital must occasionally touch on death, especially surgery I'd guess, but we were protected from this part of his work. I only have a vague notion of days where he came home and was to be left alone, or seemed deeply out of sorts, in a different way than we were used to.

I suppose he thought sharing your feelings about someone dying at work wasn't the type of thing you'd talk to your kids about. Pushing that assumption I'd further he felt that way about discussing using drugs; pot, acid, cocaine, and alcohol, sex, or dying yourself, of cancer.

But this one time, despite being just a kid I could see pain on his face and knew something had happened. He sat me down. I think maybe he called my little brother over too. My dad held a can of Pam Cooking Spray and looked right at me, "Do you know? Do you know what kids are doing with this?" I knew by his voice they weren't making cookies.

He went on to explain in great scientific detail, the effects of Pam Cooking Spray on the alveoli in your lungs. His technical description clearly invoked the imagined sensation of the surfaces of my lungs being stuck together, unable to draw a breath. It was a bit terrifying.

This was one of the more communicative conversations I remember with my father. Inhalants weren't really the drug of choice in the quiet, affluent suburb of Thornhill, as far as I know, though I may have sampled the odd Sharpie or had a whiff of Liquid Paper in well ventilated classrooms. His deep concern over using inhalants didn't carry over to noticing me weaving home Sunday afternoons still high on acid, staring at the ceiling for hours, coming down to Leonard Cohen. Or drunk on his voddy, Saturday nights, stuck at home desperate for a social life.

I've always remembered that conversation and how disturbed he was. What he must have witnessed really shook him. And I can tell you, I've held my breath every time I've had occasion to use Pam for my entire life. Not everything that happens during your childhood makes sense, but some things just stick with you.

 

rough copy

©2018 by Amber Stoby