Thursday, 17 September 2009

Driving Me Crazy

When I was a kid, my family used to go to Thrifty's Drug Store for pancakes. They had a long counter with glass cases displaying things like glazed donuts and lemon meringue pie, and their breakfast menu had, in addition to the plain pancakes we always ordered, many fancy varieties: strawberry shortcake pancakes, drizzled with strawberry syrup; chocolate chip pancakes festooned with loops of snow-white whipped cream. For years, I went along with the flow and let my frugal mother order for me; we always got the plain ones, served with butter and syrup. But in my heart of hearts, I wanted the fancy pancakes. I wanted to be one of those lucky people who had set in front of them a steaming plateful of pancakes studded with strawberries and lavishly sprayed with whipped cream. One Sunday when I was ten, after years of whining and begging, I finally managed to wear my mother down: she let me order chocolate chip pancakes. "You'll never finish them," she insisted. "They'll make you sick. Your eyes are bigger than your stomach." I was determined to prove her wrong, but halfway through my towering stack of pancakes smothered with cream and liberally peppered with chocolate chips, I gave up. I felt sick of cream and butter and chocolate chips and I didn't mind if I never saw another pancake as long as I lived. And -- shock of shocks! -- I left pancakes, uneaten, on my plate. We did lots of weird things in my family, but leaving food on our plates was not one of them. So a trifling thing like this which might have been quickly forgotten in any other family went down in our family annals as a Big Deal.

My family never forgot my greedy, wasteful lust for chocolate chip pancakes and they never let me forget it either. After the chocolate chip pancake incident, whenever I wanted to order anything in a restaurant that was a little exotic, a little off the culinary beaten track, they reminded me of the chocolate chip pancakes I hadn't been able to finish. And I kid you not: twenty years later, they still remembered it and brought it up from time to time, whenever we went out to eat -- my sisters, my father -- even my mother. Needless to say, this got old fast.

I tell you this story because my family's reaction to this silly incident had a profound effect on my own parenting. I vowed that I would never do the same to my kids: I would never remember some trifling thing they had done at some point in their young lives and rub their noses in it again and again, even when they were adults. I told myself I would forget their foolish deeds, that I would keep an open mind about their irritating foibles and habits and wait for them to mature and change. I just knew that by keeping an open mind -- and to the extent possible, a closed mouth -- I would gain my kids' respect and trust. And whatever they may tell you, I've been pretty good about this. They may maintain that I recall all too clearly the embarrassing events of their youth, but I've never come close to being as obnoxious as my parents were over the chocolate chip pancakes.

So the other day, when Eldest Daughter and Acquired Daughter said goodbye to me as I set off for Manchester International Airport with my husband and Youngest Daughter, I bristled when they teased me about ending up in Wales on my way back to Scotland. Just because this happened to me last year -- just because I struggle to find my way, being directionally challenged -- does not mean that I will necessarily make the same mistake twice. Even without my husband in the car to navigate, there was every chance that I would make it home just fine. Especially since this time I had consulted Google maps.

"You have filled the car this time," said Eldest. "Right?"

I ignored her.

"Call me when you get to Wales and I'll try to sort you out!" snickered Acquired Daughter.

This really got my back up. After only a year of shared residence, I've got the goods on Acquired Daughter and she knows how discreet I've been. So why is it that the restraint, the Herculean strength of will, has to be on the mother's side only? Why do I have to keep it all in, but they get to goad and tease and remind me of past embarrassments?

After seeing my husband onto the plane bound for Istanbul, Youngest Daughter and I got back into the car and, after a minor glitch or two, I got on the right road. I drove past the turn-off for Wales; I made it past Warsall and Lancaster and Preston, and although the possibilities for messing up were endless, I never wavered. As I drove, my heart filled with joy and pride: I had made it! I could go home now and wipe the smiles off my daughters' silly faces. Youngest sent them a triumphant text message: Five minutes from home! Mom is amazing! It was like she knew the way!!

The next thing I knew, though, she was tugging on my sleeve. "Mom, that was the turn-off. You missed it."

"What?" I frowned. "That wasn't the turn-off -- it's coming up, isn't it?"

Youngest stared straight ahead, then leaned forward onto her folded arms. "I can't believe it! I just said we would be there and you missed the turn off!"

I peered out the window. "Are you sure we've missed it?"

But even as I said it, I knew she was right. Youngest squeezed her eyes shut and banged her forehead gently against the dashboard. For five minutes, she wouldn't talk to me: she couldn't trust herself.

If her irritation seems extreme, I should add that we were hungry and thirsty and the car was virtually out of gas. And the next exit would not be for over 30 miles.

Two hours, a tank of gas, and a whole load of mother-daughter angst later, we made it home, in the pouring rain. Driving to Wales and missing the turn-off: they'll never let me forget it, will they?

I think I need a plate of chocolate chip pancakes.


Miss Footloose said...

Fun story, Mary! If this is the worst thing you ever did, your kids are lucky. And if they give you trouble, remind them of something they did, even if your promised yourself you never would!

Hope the pancakes tasted good!

Robin said...

Oh, Mary! What a major bummer! You were so close!!!!

When the boys were babies, we had our best friends over for dinner, and I served "peel and eat shrimp" as an appetizer. Unfortunately, I didn't realize they were raw. I've become a pretty good cook over the years, but my friends will never let me forget this. If we invite them over, they ask, "Is Robin cooking? Tell her not to make peel and eat shrimp!" It drives me nuts. It makes me want to feed them peel and eat cyanide.

Charles Gramlich said...

So you're getting it from both ends, parents and kids? Maybe you need to start remembering some of your kid's foibles and bringing them up. ;)

I know what you mean, though. My brothers all decided I was lazy as a kid and they kept at it and at it and at it until I nearly went crazy being mad at them.

edj said...

Ok freaking out just a teensy bit here. Because your choc chip pancake story? Happened to me in Smitty's in Banff Alberta when I was 10 or 11. The pancakes made me so sick that I couldn't even eat chocolate for a few months. And my family didn't forget it for YEARS and YEARS and YEARS.

Are you sure we weren't separated at birth?

Kit said...

Now why on earth didn't she get you a plateful of choc chip pancakes to share with the others?!

I know what you mean about getting stuck with a certain role in family history. I was the one who directed us three times round the same circle of roads, so convinced was I that we had to go right rather than left at a certain junction. Even though I am now a good map reader, my family will still bring that up if ever I stray from perfect way finding.

I feel for you missing the exit like that. It has happened to me once on the way to the airport in Rome, when I would have been stuck going the wrong way round the ring road for miles. I'm sorry to say that I reversed back to the peril of life and limb, but nobody ever told on me that time.. they were probably too terrified and blanked it out!!

MG Higgins said...

Delightful story, Mary. It's amazing what our families cling to and choose to rag us about.

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Mary Witzl said...

Miss Footloose -- It isn't really the worst thing I've ever done, and I didn't go into detail here -- I didn't dare to. My kids know that their secrets are safe with me. Enough said.

I'm on a diet now, but the minute I go off it, I'm having chocolate chip pancakes, you can bet on it!

Robin -- Honestly, I could have screamed when I realized what I'd done -- blowing such a near victory. My problem was that I'd only taken the motorway from the south to our town two times (and that was one of them).

I love your raw shrimp story. We have a dear friend in Wales who once served us mushy Brussels sprouts she'd done in a pressure cooker. My husband and I remind her of this every single time we see her. Good thing she's a great sport about it...

Charles -- If they ever read my journals, they'll get a real earful, the little rats. But until then, their secrets are all safe, even the banana peel on the motorway and the chapati that set fire to the toaster. Oops: I've said too much!

I really WAS lazy as a kid and my sisters will never let me forget that. This wouldn't irritate me so much if I weren't so obviously NOT lazy now.

EDJ -- You've really cheered me up! I thought I was the only one with a family weird enough to remember something so dopey and go on and on about it. The restaurant world must put chocolate chip pancakes on the menu just to teach greedy kids a lesson.

Kit -- My sisters, virtuous little madams that they were, maintained that they did not want chocolate chip pancakes. They also declined to eat any of my leavings, though I begged them to.

If I'd had the time, I'd have written more about the end of our trip from Manchester. Believe me, it was no fun at all and VERY hair-raising. I learned one important thing from that: driving hungry and thirsty is as unsafe as driving drunk -- I'll never do it again. Glad I'm not the only one doing those last-minute reverses!

MGH -- It really was a stupid thing for them to get so worked up over, wasn't it? That bothered me as much as wasting the pancakes did.

STD -- Great initials you've got there.

I've got a beginners' reading comprehension class you're welcome to join any time you like. It's never too late to learn to read!

Charlie said...

Ah, the spammers are out trolling again. Or the trolls are out spamming. Whatever. STD—that's a good one.

Over the years, my family has done so many weird things that no one brings anything up; everyone knows they'll get slammed in return, so we all keep our big traps shut.

That doesn't mean that I don't walk up to someone and start laughing for no apparent reason because I do.

laura said...

The parallel of this story to my life is scary. Every holiday get together finds my mother rehashing, yet once again, every 'bad' thing I did as a kid. Carving my initials into her newly refinished dresser, writing on the wall, spilling nail polish on the couch, I could go on and on (but I don't have to because she already does!). I know I've compared our sense of (or lack of) direction and it's my kids who give me a hard time about that. All I can say is they just better hope I don't decide to spill my guts about them someday. The earth would shake.

adrienne said...

Gee, that all sounds pretty familiar. But you do know how to put the 'fun' back in dysfunctional!
Now I think I need some chocolate chip pancakes...

angryparsnip said...

Charlie I love your last sentence.

I have only learned right from left when driving as in .. turn right I have to think about it first but say turn North or South and I will turn the correct way. Many family stories have been told about this.. but I laugh too. How weird.
Daughter finely told me hold your left hand up and it makes a L for left. Well that makes sense !

Mary Witzl said...

Charlie -- Your last line made me laugh too. There are times I look at my kids and just smiiiile. Sometimes this is because they look so adorable, so sweet. But quite often it is just because I'm remembering something so off-the-wall daft they did that I just can't help myself. Like the time my youngest bit the wall and drew blood. Oops, I've said too much yet again!

Laura -- Initials into your mother's newly finished dresser? Come on -- give the woman a break, that's a good one! My own mother was very upfront about the things she did as a kid. Her own mother never got over the time she punched eight holes into the beautiful glossy veneer of a brand new sewing machine just because an awl was lying nearby and the wood just looked so nice and shiny. Even my kids know that story.

But I definitely know what you mean: at some point, parents ought to recognize that their kids have grown up and forget these silly stories. Still, if you ever want to dish out the goods on your kids, I'm betting you could write your own book.

Adrienne -- Jinx! That was the title I was thinking of giving this post! The fun is almost always in dysfunctional, isn't it? It's just knowing where to look for it. I always aim for 100% functional, but I tell myself it would probably be a colossal bore.

AP -- Wow: I told my Youngest about the L for Left trick and she claims this is how she knows which hand to write with. I think she may have inherited some of our problem...

On my first driving lesson, when the instructor told me to turn right at the next roundabout, he had to employ the dual steering control in a hurry: a truck was bearing down on us. I still cringe to remember it. If he wanted to write a book, I'm afraid I would feature hugely.

Robert the Skeptic said...

I think it is remarkable that you can drive in the UK at all!! Don't they drive on the "wrong" side of the road there??

Mary Witzl said...

Robert -- The awful truth is, for people like me there IS no wrong side of the road.

Kim Ayres said...

Mary, the STD poster is a spam one - it's nothing to do with you or your post, only creating a link to his/her own and you'd be as well to delete it.

I'm pleased you made it back to Scotland this time. That turn off for Moffat is a bugger both ways. If you miss it, it's such a long way before the next exit.

angryparsnip said...

Oh Mary. . .

Your comment about the driving lesson made me laugh. . . hopefully no book is in the works. Maybe he doesn't want to relive disastrous times ?

Vijaya said...

Mary, you are a saint. I have a litany of things I said I wouldn't do like my mother, but I've turned into HER.

I think in families you are supposed to examine those embarrassing moments in excruciating detail, especially if it's not you on the dissecting table.

And I do remember your previous trip in Wales ... hee hee

Mary Witzl said...

Kim -- I can't help myself: I get a kick out of teasing my spammers. I suspect they know I'm not taking them seriously.

AP -- He probably drank so much to get over the horror of my lessons that he actually forgot what happened. (Fingers crossed.)

Vijaya -- I'm absolutely no saint, but in so many ways, I AM my mother -- like you, once I had children, I transformed myself. And the weird thing is, it's strangely comforting -- as though I'm recycling her considerable goodness. I like to tell myself I have none of her irritating, less constructive ways and habits, but fortunately my kids set me straight.

Anne Spollen said...

Great, after reading this, I opened the bag of Nestle chocolate chips (I got them for baking cookies for my daughter's classs) and I'm popping them like a true addict.

Is it getting to the point when I even visualize chocolate, I have to get some?


Nice story.

Kappa no He said...

I so commiserate. Sometimes you just want to get out and have the little ones drive. I'm like okay, Mr. Smarty Pants....

Mary Witzl said...

AnneS -- I don't know, but months later, I find this comment of yours and now I've got to have a 70% cocoa solids with almonds. Scary, isn't it?

Kappa -- What I REALLY want the &*"£=-ing little ones to do is park for me!