That Time My Mom Sprayed Mace in a Bakery
I never met any happy adults when I was a kid. My parents were miserable, my parents’ friends were miserable, my friends’ parents were miserable, and that was pretty much all the adults I knew. I didn’t know that happy adults were even a thing until I went to college and met people from Oregon.
As a kid, the only real variable I ever noticed among these various miserable adults was the degree of flamboyance they used to express their unhappiness. Some people were low-key about their misery while other people were Don Henley about it. And at the peak of that mountain, existing entirely in a world of stylized absurdity, unacceptable emotions, and screaming meltdowns in Chili’s parking lots, was my mother.
It might seem unfair to tar baby boomers as a whole with the same brush I use to paint my mother. After all, she was genuinely unstable while baby boomers overall are a group of honest, hard-working folk angry at their children for not owning houses or something.
But the various cultural crises that enveloped the boomers hid my mother and her problems in plain sight for a long time. The way boomers swapped out their love beads for business suits suited my mother’s shaky sense of identity. The boomers’ aggressive discomfort with growing older successfully masked my mother’s aggressive discomfort with everything. But the boomer confusion about how families should operate in the divorce-and-working-mom-filled ’80s—that was my mother’s greatest camouflage.
There was a moment at the dawn of the George H.W. Bush years when America got confused about the difference between a whimsical, liberated, modern divorced lady who was finally letting her hair down and a straight-up deranged person. Were you serving your kids ice cream for breakfast and pulling them out of school for an impromptu road trip to Canada because you were a free spirit who wouldn’t be oppressed by a society that expected you to put everyone else’s needs first? Or because you were legitimately unstable? My mother rode that confusion straight into the sunset.