When my family moved in the middle of my fourth grade year, we moved from a split level ranch in New York to a nearly identical split level ranch in New Jersey. The main difference was we upgraded to a finished walk-out basement, and the ostensible fourth bedroom down there (which eventually became my actual-factual bedroom a few years later when my Very little Bro was born) took on toy room duties, leaving three bedrooms upstairs. So for the first time in our lives, my Little Bro and I had separate rooms and not long after we moved in we got identical desks, since we each had plenty of room to spread out beyond bureau and bed.
I wouldn’t say that my parents were excessively parsimonious, but they weren’t excessively extravagant, either. I knew we were comfortably middle class and I felt that way the vast majority of the time, as all of my needs and the majority of my idle wants were usually satisfied. But I do think my parents adopted a certain attitude of “good enough” where certain things were concerned. Children’s furniture, for example. The desks my brother and I got were a little on the cheap side, albeit perfectly functional and up to the task of holding up notebooks while being leaned on by elbows and whatnot. The chairs, on the other hand, were exceptionally cheap.
To be fair, I have always been rough on chairs (and sofas, couches &c.) because I am supremely physically lazy. I don’t so much lower myself onto furniture as drop onto it, letting all my weight fall as gravity dictates. I flump. And that can take a toll on any piece of furniture, especially the seat of a chair which is really nothing more than a sheet of medium-density fiberboard wrapped in canvas and slotted into the leg frames. As I learned to my own consternation one night when I sat down in the chair and tucked my hands under the sides of the seat and scooted my legs in under the desk with a bit of bouncing up and down - bouncing which was sufficient to dislodge the put-upon seat from the frame on one side, thereby crushing my fingers between chairparts with the force of all my personal acceleration.
I didn’t break anything but it hurt like a … well, like any expletive you can think of, which would probably be contained in the larger set of swear words which exploded from my mouth as I stood up and shook my wounded hand furiously and stomped around my room in a lurching pain dance for a while.
So of course a few moments later, my dad called my name in the tone he reserved for urgent disciplinary summons.
I reported to him with my hand still throbbing convinced that I was about to get in a world of trouble. I was a teenager, I should mention, maybe just barely, but there was really no casual swearing in my house and although there had been zero prior soaping of mouths to drive the point home, I knew the words I had been screaming were highly verboten. My dad, to his credit, knew right away that I had hurt myself and asked if I was OK. Then I think he asked if I felt better having cursed so much, and I really wasn’t sure how to answer (it honestly did make me feel better to bellow four-letter words, and still does to this day for that matter, but I wasn’t entirely sure that response would meet my father’s approval) so I just shrugged. And then he asked me if I knew what all those words meant.
After shrugging off the previous question I knew I had to answer the follow-up, because if I said no then I might have to suffer the intensely mortifying experience of my father explaining to me what they meant, which … no. Just no. So I answered with a shaky “yeah” and hoped the awkward subtext of “please please please believe me and leave it at that and let’s never speak of this again” came through. I guess it did, because after a final insistence on my dad’s part that if I ever did hear a word, even a bad word, and I didn’t know what it meant and wanted to ask someone, I could ask him, he let it go. So my filthy tirade was our little secret (we were the only two home at the time, I’m pretty sure) and that was that.
In hindsight, I think that was one of my dad’s half-hearted attempts to possibly begin a parent-child dialogue about S-E-X, which ultimately never quite came together. And I go back and forth between feeling sorry for him because I can’t imagine that whole aspect of being a parent is ever easy for anyone, let alone my father (or the version of himself that he was back then, which coincidentally is about the age I am now), and at the same time feeling a little let down that what rearing I did get in that department was not terribly much. That probably doesn’t make much sense, that I can look back and kind of wish that my father had done more of the type of talking that would have made my skin crawl at the time (and for all I know, would have done about the same for him) but at the very least gives me something to think about as I’m going to need to start navigating those same waters in the next five to seven years. Fuck a duck.