Monday, November 1, 2010
There are memories from my childhood that prove, undeniably, that despite my possibly subconscious, best efforts, my parents are genetically predispositioned to love me unconditionally. Being the last of their six children, I am sure that when I was born my parents both said a silent prayer, asking the universe to bestow upon them an easy child to raise. Sadly their prayers weren’t answered. Although I wasn’t a hellion, and my teenage years were spent keeping tabs on television sitcoms, when I was little I certainly wasn’t perfect. Therefore I have two very vivid memories, or perhaps not even my own memories, but the recollections of my parents, which are perfect examples of said imperfections.
Three of my siblings were going off to school. I was not yet in kindergarten and was watching them wave goodbye from a perch beside the cookie jar on the kitchen counter. I was excited for the older kids to leave for school because not only did I have my mom all to myself then, but after they left I got to turn on the TV and watch the last few minutes of The Care Bears, followed by Mr. Dress-Up while my mom served me hot chocolate and cinnamon toast. It was a perfect way to start the day. Although, today was different as I didn’t typically sit on the kitchen counter in the morning. I mostly sat there in the afternoon; trying to, as stealthily as possible, remove the ceramic bear’s head that was our cookie jar without my mom hearing from the next room. But for reasons unknown to me, my mom told me to sit on the counter for a second while she said goodbye to my brother and sisters. Because I was young and naive I assumed I was going to get a special treat that they didn’t get. I was happy and excited to receive my treat. But what I was getting was not a treat, as when my mom came back into the room she handed me a small pink pill and told me to swallow it. Now, my mom is a nurse, trained professionally to administer medication, and I was a stupid kid, and this story should in no way reflect poorly on my mother, but to highlight her intense and loving nature that conquered over the resolution, that I myself would have preformed, and that is to strangle me.
I looked at the pill she placed in my small hand, a pill I later learned was a treatment for worms, something my mom assumed I had contracted given the number of kittens I licked, and popped it in my mouth, and chewed it.
“No. No.” My mother said, swiping her finger into my mouth and removing the crumbled up pill and throwing it in the garbage. “You can’t chew it honey, you have to just swallow it.”
“Okay,” I said, as she handed me another pill and I popped it, same as the last, into my pie-hole, where I proceeded to chew it.
“Daniel, no, you can’t chew it” My mother said, calmly, “You have to just swallow it. Okay?”
“But what if I choke?” I asked her, concerned as I always was as a child with my inevitable mortality. Something that had spawned in me since I spent my afternoons watching soap operas and was therefore overly exposed to a cavalcade of dead, dying, poisoned, and abducted people. All of which translated into rational fears for a four and a half year old.
“You won’t choke,” my mother reassured me, “Look how small it is. Have a drink of water and swallow the pill with the water.”
I took a drink from my favorite yellow cup, and tried, in vein to let the pink pill slip through my esophagus. But, although it seemed so tiny in my grubby little palm, the moment it went through my lips, it seemed to transform in shape and size and became a massive, chalky, brick that would never be swallowed.
Needless to say I spit the water and pill out onto the floor, giving it the best Susan Lucci cough and gag technique I could. My mom was not impressed.
“Daniel Robert,” She scolded me, “You have to take this pill. Now take a sip of water and swallow this pill, and then you can watch TV.”
My mother had raised five other children, by the time she got to me, and before that she was the go to girl for baby-whispering. She is the oldest of seven, and has been literally raising babies since she was one herself. I am convinced that somewhere there is a picture of her as a six-month old, calming a colicky three-month old. So when it came to understanding the one-dimensionality of my being, she knew offering TV would immediately get me to comply.
“I can’t do it!” I told her. “It’s too big!”
So she picked the pill from the puddle on the floor, cut it in half with a butter knife (reference to previous blog!) and gave me two halves.
“There.” she said, “Now take one piece, and swallow it then, you have to take the other half.”
“Can I take the other half the after I watch TV?” I bargained.
“No, you have to take both pieces now, but you can watch TV till lunch time.”
Agreeing to the conditions set forth I tried, and miraculously was able to, swallow the first piece. I am sure it happened partly with great coincidence and partly through the power of my mother’s will, as she was certainly losing patience. Other kids could perhaps get away with more, but what I had in cuteness hardly made up for the shear amount of brat I deserved to have slapped out of me.
Buoyed by my success I was certain that swallowing the second half of the pill would go swimmingly, but sadly I was wrong. I tried and tried and tried to swallow the pill but I couldn’t. I spit it out time and time again; I am sure increasing the gusto of my spit-takes accordingly. The pill wouldn’t go down my throat. My mother, then in a method she didn’t have to resort to when giving out dog her medicine, proceeded to place the pill in my mouth, hold my lips shut, and massage it down my gullet.
It was a tried and true method in getting other domesticated animals to take their medication, but I was no mere house pet. I had, and still have, an attention seeking nature that dwarfs that of performance dolphins, so naturally my response to this technique was to Linda Blair the situation and vomit all over myself, my mother, and bathroom where she had hauled me after I had created Lake Superior with my back-wash on her kitchen floor.
I don’t actually remember if I actually had to swallow another half a pill. I don’t remember if my mother actually spoke to me for the rest of that day, or if she made me clean up my throw-up, as I should have. But I do know that I survived that day because my mother loved me unconditionally.
In a case not involving gag reflexes, but with a touch more public embarrassment, I also have proof that my father loves me unconditionally. Because I liked to go with him to eat at restaurants, or because my mom wanted me off her hands, I went to lunch with my dad and brother-in-law when I was again, probably, four or five. We were eating lunch at a little diner in my small town, the type of place where everyone knows one another, and especially where everyone knows my father. Despite my genetics, I did not inherit the social butterfly qualities my parents possess. When my dad goes anywhere, people stop and say hi, remember him from forty years prior, and are charmed by his hearty laugh. All qualities that make him a popular guy, but only serve heighten the degree of embarrassment he has suffered by my hand. This particular lunch serves as one example of many where my dad has suffered such embarrassment.
I think I was eating fries and a chocolate milkshake while my dad and brother in law were talking about complicated, adult matters (ie. subjects involving numbers, mechanics, and not the Gummi Bears TV show) when something caught my eye.
Now I am not going to pretend that his version of events is from my own recollection. Unlike the swallowing the pill fiasco, this memory is far less vivid in my mind, and is mostly influenced by the constant retelling by my father. What I do remember is eating a lot a fries and chocolate milkshakes when I was little, as it was what I ate when I was with my dad, and I also remember saying stupid things. But that doesn’t necessarily make this particular occasion stand out. Saying a lot of stupid things is a result of a chronic condition known as verbal diarrhea, from which I have suffered since my earliest childhood well into adulthood. This moment may very well be the beginning of it all, and I must thank my dad for its posterity.
What caught my eye, that legendary day, was apparently a very large, full-girthed gentleman entering the restaurant. And immediately I sought out the attention of my father:
“Dad! Dad!” I whispered to him, urgently.
But my dad saw what was coming. He knew what I was going to say, and being a reasonable parent, he assumed I would drop the subject and focus my attention on something shiny. But I didn’t.
“Dad! Dad!” I continued, as the gentleman made his way through the booths in the restaurant. “Dad! Look!”
But he didn’t break. Instead my dad continued his conversation with my brother in law, calmly ignoring the pleas for attention from his youngest child.
But by this time, my excitement in seeing someone who was, to put it bluntly, of a size I hadn’t seen before, hadn’t diminished. And this gentleman had made it to the booth directly across from us, just as my excitement reached its breaking point.
“Dad! LOOK AT THAT FAT GUY!” I exclaimed, loud enough for the subject and the entire restaurant to hear.
As for the proof that my father loves me: he didn’t murder me. He didn’t orphan me right then and there by dying of embarrassment either. Instead he turned to me and said “Shh..” in calming tones, and then turned to the gentleman, a friend of his of coarse, and chatted for a minute. And as the story goes my brother in law, melted into his seat as a wave of silent laughter took him over, and I went back to my milkshake.
So, as I said, I wasn’t perfect as a child, a disturbing trend that has spilt over into my adolescence and adulthood. But no matter how many times I vomit on them, disappoint them, or embarrass them in public I’ve never felt anything but their unconditional love. Ain’t I lucky?