I was a pretty lucky kid. I grew up in the 60s and 70s, at a time when you could roam your neighborhood on foot to visit your friends, and not worry about being abducted by a serial killer, or ride your bicycle to and from school fairly safely. You didn’t even need a helmet. Nobody had a bicycle helmet then. Helmets were reserved for Hell’s Angels and football players.
I didn’t worry about much back in those days. I had a nice home, plenty of food, my own room, toys, games, books, and lots of friends. My parents weren’t divorced yet, so life felt pretty idyllic to me. One of my favorite things, during my middle school years, was Movie Day. This was a ritual that my mom and I enjoyed frequently. It was always on Fridays. And it didn’t matter if it was summertime or not. If there was a good movie opening, school was pretty much dispensed with.
It would start like this: my mom would poke her head in my room on a Friday morning, open up the curtains to let the day in, and say, in a slightly conspiratorial tone “Today is NOT a good day for school.” This comment was always followed by the phrase “because we need to go see (fill in the blank with a movie title from ’74 or ’75).”
We saw everything. Dramas, comedies, disaster movies, you name it. The Godfather, Part II, Airport ’75, That’s Entertainment!, Earthquake (in Sensurround!), The Towering Inferno, Funny Lady, The Stepford Wives, Barry Lyndon, The Exorcist. Yes, my mom took me to see The Exorcist. In fact, it was only showing in Dallas at the time, so we incorporated a road trip into Movie Day. Other adults questioned her judgment, but she was not worried. And my friends were all incredibly jealous. None of their mothers would take them to see an R-rated movie, particularly not that one.
Mom knew me well enough to know that I would not suffer academically by opting for a movie instead of school. In fact, we just considered it part of my education. And she knew I wouldn’t be emotionally scarred by a movie. I was actually so fascinated by The Exorcist and The Godfather movies that I began to read up on things like special effects, demonic possession, and the history of the Italian mafia and organized crime.
We always had fun. Memories of those afternoons in dark theaters watching stories unfold are some of the best ones I have from my childhood. You could say Mom and I bonded over movies, but we were pretty well bonded before that. We still are. My mom’s pretty awesome, in case you hadn’t figured it out. But not everyone wins the parent lottery.
I know so many people who had different experiences. Some grew up in difficult relationships with one parent or the other. Some of them grew up knowing abuse or neglect, while others had parents who just didn’t have time to spend, wisdom to impart, or comfort to provide. The saddest part of this reality is that many of those folks came away from these deeply flawed relationships not knowing that they had been damaged by them. In their minds, often, abusive or indifferent behavior from a parent was normal.
I’m no expert on child psychology or family dynamics, so I can only speak from what I know. In my mind, at least, one of the things that makes a good mother, or father, is being open to the idea of letting a child experience different things, even if that means deviating from the schedule, or veering off the traditional path. Forty years after the fact, when I look back at those Movie Days, that’s how I see them. And I hope that I provided some experiences and memories for my kids that they will identify the same way.
You’ve probably heard the old adage about giving a child both roots and wings. You give them roots so they always have a place to call home. It doesn’t have to be a physical location, but more of a sense of knowing where they came from, and where they’ll always be welcome. A safe place.
And you give them wings so that they can go out and take on the world and feel confident about it. Not only do you prepare them to leave your nest and soar, but at the same time, you have to prepare yourself for that letting go. And it’s not easy.
In several Dave Grohl interviews I’ve come across, he often talks about the influence his teacher mom, Virginia, had on his love of music. The Beatles were a big part of his childhood, as his mom was a fan. She passed that love down to him, and he’s passed it on to his own daughters.
When he was 17, Dave dropped out of high school to join a punk band called Scream and go on tour with them. After that, he moved on to Nirvana, and the rest, as they say, is history. I can only imagine how tough that must have been for his mom. I’m not sure I could have let one of my kids take off to see the world and play in a band at such a young age. The worry over their physical well-being might have well done me in. Of course, I’m a Jewish mother, and just like my Jewish mother, and hers, I’m a champion worrier.
I would fret over every ache and pain, every childhood illness, every cheerleading try-out or orchestra audition, every episode of heartache or hurt. I encouraged any opportunity to take on a new experience, including putting them on airplanes to far-off places like Europe and Japan. Every wave goodbye for those big adventures filled me with a sense of pride and excitement for them, but anxiety and a laundry list of “what ifs” for myself. I loved that they had such opportunities, but I spent a lot of restless nights, and countless days, waiting for their safe return. Waiting to exhale, indeed.
I like to think they’ve turned out well – they are both accomplished adults, well-educated, intelligent, talented, and compassionate. They’re both funny. They always make me laugh. I hope the roots and wings thing is part of the reason they turned out the way they did. Or maybe I just won the kid lottery, too.
So this Mother’s Day, I want to say thanks to my mom for always being my biggest fan and best encourager. And I’d like to thank Celeste and Jarrod for being such freakin’ awesome kids and reminding me that no matter what else I do in this life, I can always look at them and see that I got something right.
And to Dave’s mom, Virginia, and to the mothers of Nate and Taylor and Pat and Chris, I want to say that the love and encouragement you gave your boys in their pursuit of music has made a huge impact on a lot of people. You have the thanks of a grateful Foo Nation.
Happy Mother’s Day, ladies!