Parents sometimes enjoy talking to other adults. There are actually times when they would rather be doing that than spending every last free minute in the incredibly stimulating company of their children.
Little children tend to be unaware of this fact.
I certainly was. I could not imagine why my parents felt compelled to spend hours and hours in conversation with other adults: their siblings, our neighbors, the people they worked with, the cashier at the grocery store, the meter reader. It seemed as through a huge chunk of their lives was eaten up by discussions of the most boring subjects imaginable.
Most of the time this did not bother me and I did not even take any notice, because I had something to amuse myself. I was either at home or in some other context where I had things to entertain me – toys, TV, other kids (friends, schoolmates, cousins, or some other poor kid with the yappy parents who were deep in conversation with my yappy parents), or even some sort of interesting setting that held my interest such as a toy store, garden, or construction site (I liked to play with all the extra wood bits).
But sometimes there was no escaping the dire consequences of this endless penchant for mind-numbing gab. Sometimes it would happen when I had to accompany Mom on errands (utility offices were a notorious bore; see Running Away).
But most often it occurred when Mom was busy elsewhere and I was in Dad’s care for the day. Instead of doing neat dadly things – I would have been happy to hang out in his workshop – he felt the need to go visiting with two of his closest friends, Dan and Dan’s wife Martha.
And Dan and Martha were some of the nicest people ever; they would ask how I was, offer me food and drink, and praise me to the skies. Dan and Martha owned a gas station. If you were a construction/cars/tools kind of guy like my Dad, Dan and Martha’s gas station was Mecca and Heaven all rolled into one. For me it was Hell. Because there is where I so often had to confront The Great Enemy: Boredom. Boredom just sits and waits in dull, grimy settings such as gas stations to pounce on his hapless young victims.
It’s not that I didn’t fight the enemy with every resource I had at my disposal: daydreaming, begging for chocolate sodas from the ancient soda machine, watching the numbers change on the gas pumps, or even, in desperation, people-watching.
But after an hour or two sitting on the cracked brown leather of a backless stool in the gas station office, the fidgeting started. Then the eye-rolling. And finally, kicking the stool rungs and sighing. After a while Dad would finally get the message, but the goodbyes ate up even more time.
I have been paid back for that impatience many times over by my own children. Their special weapon is the expression of desperation and shocked incomprehension at my life-destroying, record-breaking gabfests.
But things change. I knew my older daughter was growing up when one Sunday at church I interrupted my participation in a deep conversation with fellow parishioners to remind my daughters, “Time to go down to Sunday school class,” and Daughter #1 turned to me with that pleading expression they use and said, “Can’t I skip Sunday school today? I want to stay here and listen to you guys.”
Heh, heh. Revenge is sweet. “Not today. Maybe some time when you’re older.”