By Lorraine Duffy Merkl
About Lorraine Duffy Merkl:
Author of the novel, Fat Chick and a freelance journalist, whose work has appeared in The New York Times, Lorraine Duffy Merkl lives and breathes her role as attentive mom and daughter perched inside The Sandwich Generation.
They’ve made the movie of my life and cast Marisa Tomei to play me.
It’s “old school vs. new school”, reads the ad for the new movie “Parental Guidance”. It stars Billy Crystal and Bette Midler as grandparents, Artie and Dina Decker, with Tomei as their daughter Alice. But it sounds like the story of my life.
After my son, Luke, was born almost 18 years ago, my mother moved closer to me to help take care of him, and then eventually my daughter, Meg, as well.
Our initial time together was one of cooperation and bonding. As Luke and Meg got older though, and we began interacting with other mothers and children in classes and on sports teams, getting into the groove of “how things are done,” my mother and I began to have conversations similar to those of the characters in this new movie.
“Who won?” my mother would ask in confusion after we watched Luke play peewee baseball. Her reaction rivaled Artie’s after I explained the “no scorekeeping/ everyone gets a trophy for showing up” dynamic that I had accepted as the kinder, gentler way to play sports.
Unlike Alice and her parents, my mother and I never had the “You bought a Super Soaker? We don’t play with guns,” discussion; we did however butt heads when she bought the wrong brand of Pokémon cards. We also battled over the never-ending stream of Beanie Babies that came out of her purse similarly to that magic trick where endless handkerchiefs are pulled from the illusionist’s pocket.
My mother, like Artie, was also no stranger to money-as-bribe in order to get them to do her bidding. I found this out when Luke announced I needed to take him to Toys R Us to buy the latest Transformer robot. When I told him that he had quite a lot to play with and might have to wait until Christmas or his birthday, he responded, “No, I’m getting it now with my own money.” As I knew my five-year-old had not gotten a job, a light interrogation revealed grandma had been greasing his palm.
Another relatable line from the movie’s poster says, “Here come the grandparents. There go the rules.” Indeed.
When I watched the scene where Artie gives cake and ice cream to Alice’s three non-sugar-eating kids, I was reminded of the time I gave my mother a list of foods to which I had already introduced 18-month-old Luke, and said he wasn’t allowed to eat anything other those items. Imagine my surprise when I came home to find Luke savoring a not-on-the-list peach, the juice dripping down his face. He was wiping his chin with his fingers, and then licking them to get every drop of this new delicacy. “I knew he’d like it and he did. Nothing bad happened,” my mother shrugged. “So now you can put it on the list,” she mocked.
This from a woman who was so neurotic about my health when I was a child, that she’d call the pediatrician if I got a hangnail.
Because I’m Mommy in the Middle, I’m now on borrowed time as the “new school” member. In the next couple of decades, I will become the old guard. By the time Luke and Meg are parents, I will have had my fill of being the “helicopter/this is how everyone does it these days” mom.
I will be ready to live out what Diane professes as gospel: “Grandchildren are a second chance.” I plan to go to town with mine.