Today’s guest post comes from Sarita Rich. Sarita is from Kotzebue, Alaska and moved to Utah in 2003, convinced that she would save lives as a graduate from BYU’s College of Nursing. But instead Chem 101 intervened and she changed her major to English Teaching. When she is not fighting the urge to correct grammatical errors prominently displayed in public places, she can be found reading young adult novels and setting off the smoke alarm by making crafts that involve burnt fabric. Until a few days ago she taught middle school English in South Jordan, UT, but her husband is relocating her to Rhode Island where she will teach college English.
Someday it’s bound to happen to everyone. Maybe it takes years to figure out, or maybe you realize it instantly in a sudden epiphany. But the realization always comes: at some point in your life, you know that there is something wrong with your parents.
I’m nine when it happens. I come home from school one day in 1993, secretly thrilled to have an invitation to Byron’s birthday party. The invitation is covered in football decals; it’s his favorite sport. At recess he’s the only boy in the whole third grade who can throw a football all the way across the playground. And he’s cute.
I want to buy a shiny helmet with his favorite colors—blue and silver—or get him a new football. I want my gift to be cool, but utilitarian. Something he’ll bring to school to show off at recess.
But Mom pulls something else out of the closet. She wipes off the dust of a box like the others in a stash kept for occasions such as these: Steve Urkel Fashion Plates. The box is plastered with flaming orange 75% off stickers partially covering the big letters that say, “Ages 4 and up.”
“Mom!” I wail. “I can’t give him that!”
“Why not? What’s wrong with it? It’s a toy. There’s a boy on the cover,” she says, looking closer at the box. Pointing at Urkel she says, “That’s a boy, right?”
What’s wrong with it? Besides the pink and purple box? I think. What’s wrong with it?!
I know what’s wrong with it because I watch T.V. Old reruns of Family Matters on cable television at my friends’ houses. Steve Urkel is everything that is un-Byron. Steve Urkel has nicknames like “Urk Man” and “Jerkel” and “Urkie” and he’s clumsy and has relatives called Myrtle May and Oona and Cleotus and he does science experiments in his “transformation chamber” and builds his own cloning machine and speaks fluent Japanese in a voice like the frantic squealing of baby mice. He even wears suspenders.
How could someone think he would sell fashion plates?
I have my own set of TOMY’s Fashion Plates, a collection of raised texture plastic plates of heads, torsos, and legs dressed in different outfits. When aligned on the plastic frame and covered with paper, rubbing crayons over the paper creates outlines of women in girly poses wearing pantsuits and clingy shirts and miniskirts. Although TOMY’s tries to market to boys with New Kids on the Block and superhero (and Steve Urkel) fashion plates, the toy is for GIRLS.
If I try really hard I might convince Mom that giving Byron Urk Man fashion plates will doom me to a premature death of social suicide. I could say several things: a) Byron probably never used crayons after kindergarten; b) sweater vests—a staple of “Urk Man’s” wardrobe—are fashionable for grandpas in 1973; c) regardless of new age marketing strategies, fashion plates are NOT unisex toys.
Mom is deaf to my pleas, and Dad can’t be bothered with such trivial matters. She wraps up the box in last year’s Christmas wrapping paper—another faux pas of American gift-exchange. It’s still September.
Do I understand where Mom is coming from? No. Do I remember, in this moment, that the gifts any of us (my brother and sisters) give to friends at parties are gently used? No. I forget that our secondhand board games always look new, except for the plastic coverings torn off the boxes. Byron makes me forget that Mom grew up poor in the Philippines, immigrated to the U.S., and without her own disposable income promised to instill in her children a sense of fiduciary modesty. When I think of Byron and football I don’t remember the way Mom solves the problem of the missing plastic. I forget that once, I watched her carefully place pieces of Saran wrap over a game called Sorry! and seal the edges with the flame of a lighter to make the game look like it had just come off the shelf of the toy aisle. Who would have guessed we paid .50 for it at DI?
When I wake up on the Saturday morning of Byron’s party, I find that overnight I’ve mysteriously developed Crohn’s Disease, “a contagious affliction we just learned about at school,” I tell Mom.
I’m stuck in bed all day. My parents still—even after my best impression of bowled-over-with-stomach-pain groaning—insist on hand delivering Byron’s Steve Urkel Fashion Plates. My suspicions are confirmed: they can’t be my real parents.
Byron doesn’t bring the toy to school. And if I just imagine, every day I see him on the playground, that I’ve still got a raging case of inflammatory bowel syndrome I won’t have to talk to him for the rest of the year.
Is there anything your parents did when you were young that you understand better now as an adult? Do you do anything that embarrasses your children?