A girl tries to cope with her two Type A parents (2/2008)
Once again, I’m sitting in our den, in my great grandmother’s wicker rocking chair. Once again, I’m staring at the stupid wood clock on the mantle that my younger brother made at summer camp a few years ago. Once again, we’re having a “family meeting”, which means my mom and dad are railing on me yet again. Somehow, the term “family meeting” means my parents and me. My special ed brother, Tommy, is never a part of the meetings.
Mom’s all up in my face because I got a ‘B’ on an AP Calculus test. My first friggin’ B in over two years.
After a five-minute tirade, she says, “I know you can do better.”
I’m lost in my own world, focusing on Tommy’s stupid clock. I can see globs of varnish along the bottom edge, and the whole thing is tilted. It only appears level on the mantle because my dad propped up the left side with a matchbook one day when Tommy wasn’t looking.
“Taylor! Taylor! Listen to me when I’m talking to you!”
I’m usually pretty good at disappearing just enough to squelch my screams, but not so much that they notice. I must be off my game. “I’m sorry,” I say. “I know,” I add, hoping I’ve guessed the right response.
“You know what?” My mom says. She must know my tricks.
“That I can do better,” I say. I try so hard to keep the question mark off the end when I say it. I didn’t actually hear what she said, but I’ve heard the “you can do better” speech so many times, I’m pretty sure I’ve made the right guess.
“That’s right. You can.” Whew. She doesn’t know them all.
“What’s the matter, honey,” my dad pipes in. “Is there anything the matter?”
You! Both of you! I want to scream. I count in my head, one thousand one, one thousand two, one thousand three. “Nothing’s the matter, dad. I just had trouble with the last test, that’s all.”
“The other kids trying to get into Harvard don’t have trouble with tests, Taylor,” my mom roars, the disdain not just dripping but pouring from her words. God she can be such a bitch sometimes.
Now I’m stuck. I can’t say, I did my best, mom. She’d never accept that anything less than an ‘A’ was my best. After all, she graduated summa cum laude, Phi Beta Kappa, yabba dabba dooba. How many times have I heard the “If I could do it, you can too” speech?
“Two of the questions were trick questions,” I try.
“You have to be ready for any kind of question, Taylor. How many times do I have to tell you that?” My mom is relentless.
Please, tell me 500 more times. I’m not sure I got it the first 3,000 times. I repeat: God, my mom can be such a bitch sometimes.
“I’ll do better on the next test, I promise. Plus, I’ll ask Mrs. Barnes if I can do something for extra credit.”
“That’s the spirit,” my mom says, as if all I’ve been lacking is effort. Does she not know that I’m up until 1:00AM every morning studying? Between AP Calc, AP Bio and AP French, I’m barely keeping up. Not to mention that I’m the captain of the swim team, a member of the forensics team, and do ten hours of community service each week at the local food bank.
My dad must think the latest episode of Grade-Gate has been resolved, because he starts up on the next great Taylor Failure. “And you know, honey, I talked to Coach Rivers,” he says. “He said that you’re still not a strong enough breaststroker.”
God, I hate being double-teamed. I feel like I have just a tiny insight into what the really good basketball players feel like when the other team swarms defenders at them. How is it possible that my obviously intelligent, supposedly loving parents don’t have just a tiny insight about what they’re doing to me? I swear I’m going to die of an ulcer by the time I’m 18.
“Dad,” I say as calmly as I can. “My best two strokes are backstroke and butterfly. The only event I swim that involves the breaststroke is the 200 individual medley. And I only swim that occasionally.”
“I know, honey,” my dad says. “That’s what I’m talking about. You need to get stronger at the 200 IM if you want to get an athletic scholarship.”
“She’s going to get an academic scholarship,” my mom snaps at my dad.
“I’m talking about in the unlikely event that she doesn’t,” my dad tries lamely. Then he continues quickly so that my mom can’t turn her gun sights on him. “Against Ferndale last week, you were way ahead of that girl and then faded during the breaststroke leg. That’s what Coach and I are talking about”
I go out fast because the first two strokes are butterfly and backstroke, my two best strokes. I fade during the breaststroke leg because that’s my weakest stroke. What’s so hard to understand?
“I know, but I caught back up and touched her out at the end because my freestyle leg was stronger than hers.”
Uh oh. I’ve armed the nuclear warhead: My dad’s face turns red and splotchy, and I can see he’s about to blow. I try to turn my inner self toward Tommy’s clock. God, it is so lame.
Through my defense shield, I hear him: “When will you get it through your head that just touching out your competition is not enough? You have to beat them by more than just a little bit. You have to destroy them.”
That’s my mild-mannered dad. He turns in to your typical psycho sports dad when it comes to anything athletic. Tiger Woods’ dad probably wasn’t as bad.
“I’ll talk to Coach about doing more breaststroke laps in practice,” I say. “I can probably just work on breaststroke when everyone else is doing fly or backstroke.”
“Just don’t falter on your, uh, strong strokes,” my mom says. She has no idea what she’s talking about, but she got a sniff of something that might put my results at risk and feels compelled to step in and prevent any kind of slide.
One thousand one, one thousand two, one thousand three. I am so trying to keep myself calm. I don’t know what the laws are in this state but I don’t really want to risk time in a maximum security prison for double homicide.
“I have some French to study,” I say. What I mean is, are we done yet?
My mom and dad look at each other. They must feel like I’ve learned my lesson, whatever it was supposed to be. “Go ahead,” my mom says. As I’m walking out of the den and into the kitchen, she calls out, “You know we only have these talks because we love you.” That’s what she says. What she means is, we’re going to continue to drive you, whether you like it or not.
I take a deep breath, careful not to let them see it. They may clue in at just the wrong moment and read it for what it is: exasperation, frustration, exhaustion.
“I know. I love you too.” I hold back my gag reflex after I say it.
I turn, walk on shaking legs into the kitchen, and grab an apple from the bowl of fruit on the table. I take a bite of the apple and shake out my arms and legs, trying to rid myself of the horrible vibe that’s just been mainlined into my veins.
Then I notice Tommy’s stupid dog-and-doghouse napkin holder on the table, next to the fruit bowl. It’s even worse than his clock. It barely stands up, the dog house looks more like a lean-to in a Brazilian slum, and the dog looks more like a clump of melted marshmallow.
I don’t know why, but I can’t help but smile.
In February 2008, Kansas student and forensics competitor Taylor Montgomery performed this piece, placed 2nd out of 40 competitors, and qualified for State Champs. Congratulations Taylor!