My 10-year-old brought her best friend home after school the other day to play. That was fine with me. I like the kid.
At 6:30, anxious to get on with dinner, I told the friend that I'd be happy to drive her home. She said that her mother was going to pick her up "any minute" on her way home from work.
At 7:30 I called the friend's house. In the lilting rhythms of the Islands, a new housekeeper (who was about to leave for the day) told me that she didn't know where the mother was. I called the chic little shop owned by the family: no answer.
At 7:45 we all sat down to dinner. At 8:30 I got the kids settled in front of the television set. The friend was clearly getting very nervous. "Maybe my mother forgot about me," she said.
I was not nervous or worried. I had seen this kind of thing happen before, with this child and with other children. Maybe 'i am now getting cynical, but I wasn't imagining traffic accidents or tragic fires. I was pretty sure that this would turn out to be another chapter in what I think of as "Ozzie and Harriet Meet Easy Rider," or what it has become fashionable to call a "clash of life styles."
As it tunred out, I was right. At 10:30 the mother arrived with the following story, which sounds a little bizarre to anyone (like myself) whose head is still in the '50s, but which would probably seem perfectly reasonable to anyone under 35:
While they were still at the store, the mother arranged with her husband (hereinafter known as "the stepfather") to pick up her daughter at our house. She then left for a meeting of the reasonably obscure Eastern religion with whose beliefs she is currently "in synch." He was about to come by and pick the child when he got a call from his Previous Family, which lives an hour from here and, because of an emergency, he had to drive there immediately. . .
All this is by way of saying that I don't fit in, somehow, here in the '80s. I would have managed better back in the days when the "other mother" would have been home,too, until it was time to pick up her daughter. I like dealing with the other mother, or father. I find it extremely difficult to deal with ancillary personnel unless they are truly able to act "in loco parentis" while the actual parent is off running a board meeting or doing brain surgery.
It has not been my experience that the babysitter or housekeeper is authorized to decide on her own whether or not Joannie may have dinner at our house. In some cases, because I speak only English, I found it almost impossible to communicate with the housekeeper at all. She may make gazpacho that leaves dinner guests swooning, but believe it nor not, there is life after soup.
I cheerfully admit that I am slow to adjust to change, but the more I feel like a relic from another age, carefully doing my minuet in what is rapidly becoming a swinging disco.
I don't know what the answers are. I am still puzzling over the questions.
I understand that in most homes today both parents have to work, or want to work. Surely after a hard day in an office, an adult has the right to unwind in a grown-up setting, over a peaceful diner. Some folks like to go to the theater, or the ballet, or the opera. And anyway, you have to plan some time together, just the two of you, to keep the relationship going.
Naturally, we each need some time alone, to read, or write or to reflect.
Some people go to meetings of their Eastern religion, to keep their heads together. Some people have to spend some time with their Previous Families. t
Some people have to work late, for career advancement, or just to keep their jobs. Some people have to take courses at night for the same reasons. These are very busy people.
I think I understand this. Individual cases always are easy to understand, anyway, particularly when you know the parents are fond of them.
But I also see what happens to the children. And when I add the things I've seen to the stories I've heard from other people, there must be a lot of children here in the land of the free who are wondering if their parents forgot about them.