PARENTING, 80’S STYLE
Back in the 80s, “helicopter parents” were a rare breed. Today, if you don’t hear your child for more than five minutes, then your neighbors might as well call DCF. In the 80s, if you didn’t hear your child for more than five minutes, it was a good day. You may even be able to sneak in a quickie while your kids were walking around the neighborhood, completely unsupervised. My mother, among other things, occasionally left my younger sister and me in the bathtub by ourselves for unspecified amounts of time while she got other things done around the house. Back then, it was called “convenient”.
Once, my mother had been struck with a case of laryngitis, which meant that we had to be distracted for long periods of time to minimize the need for her yelling at us. A bubble bath sounded like a good idea, but, before she could fill up the tub, the phone rang. Impatient, my sister and I decided to pass the time by painting the bathtub/shower stall and ourselves with washable paint. My mother was gone a long time. Turns out, she’d forgotten about us, and now we were naked, cold, and covered in paint. And you know what? That paint smelled like fish. When my mother finally did remember that she had children in an empty tub, she rushed into the bathroom and nearly doubled over in hysterics. We could not figure out why she was laughing so hard. Nevertheless, the sound of laughter from her irritated voice box was enough to get us going, as well. She sounded like a dying animal.
Another time, she left me in a bubble bath for hours. The sun had set, and the bathroom was enshrouded in darkness. This is probably the reason I didn’t notice my skin turning blue. When I was discovered later that evening, I was in awe of this phenomenon. I had no idea that blue was an actual, real-life skin color, and I couldn’t stop staring at myself in the mirror. Obviously, I was okay and grew up to be a perfectly fine adult, but I don’t remember my mother ever leaving either of us in the tub by ourselves after that one.
When we were even younger still, my mother used to leave us in the living room to play while she took an afternoon nap. My parents did not have child care, so my father would work days while my mother would work nights. My father only got a full night’s sleep if we didn’t have an emergency in the middle of the night (which was rare, given all the monsters in the closet, bed-wetting, and nightmares we had), and my mother took long naps when she felt reasonably certain that her lack of sleep was ultimately worse for us than her being awake. This was perfectly reasonable in the 80s.
It was during one of these afternoons that I discovered the bathroom sink’s drain was a black hole. It went down so far, I couldn’t see the bottom. The only conclusion I could have come to was that it must go on forever! I was eating Starburst candies that particular afternoon and decided to share some of them (the flavors I didn’t like, of course) with the people who may be waiting on the other side of the drain. I felt that six or seven candies would be enough.
When I later saw my mother fishing soggy, slime-covered Starbursts from the drain using tweezers, I only assumed that the people on the other end of the drain didn’t like the strawberry ones, either. I was never punished for that one, probably because my mother couldn’t figure out which of us had actually done it.