Hanging Together

Posted May 27th, 2011

Ma always said, “If I didn’t have a washer and dryer, I’d never see my children.”

In most things she was prone to exaggeration; about this, not so much. Her kitchen, however excellent her cooking and well-stocked the refrigerator, could not compete with the laundry room and containers of detergent.

If ever I needed evidence that the soundtrack to the bond between mother and child was the rhythm of the agitator and click of buttons and buckles tumbling against metal, I have it in the arrival of my Tattooed Boy every week or fortnight with countless black tee-shirts, stinky black socks, black pants, and the occasional colorful note of red sheet or green towel. Of course, the visit is generally timed to coincide with dinner and the computer is generally co-opted for Facebook time and the tuning up of the iPod.

I also get kisses hello and hugs goodbye, cheery conversation, and sincere thank-you’s. As my Tattooed Boy would say, “it’s all good.”

A recent Reuters poll determined that more than half of boomer moms still provide financial support to their grown children, despite the fact that they themselves were out of the house and parental pocket by the age of 25. That was certainly true of me. The source of this generosity, apparently, is guilt. We boomer moms are guilty because we built careers in addition to raising families, that we committed time and resources to meeting our own needs, and that we did not replicate the Leave-It-To-Beaver household we saw on television and came to think we saw in our own homes.

Of course, things were different for us back in 1970 or 1975: jobs were relatively plentiful and rents were comparatively affordable. It wasn’t that it was easy to establish a lucrative career; it’s more that it was easy to get out and make it on your own. In 1971, at the end of my freshman year in college, I moved into a ramshackle apartment on the corner of Columbia and Broadway in Cambridge, a little group of wood-frame duplexes called Linwood Place. I waitressed at The Unicorn and the Stone Phoenix, folk clubs in Boston; later I had jobs at a department store in Central Square and the photocopy department of the Countway Library at the Harvard University School of Medicine. I dropped back into school at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst a couple of years after quitting Boston University and found employment first at the university’s department of financial aid and then in the circulation department of the library. After graduation I worked at Corkscrew, Churchkey and Sons, a short-lived shop in Northampton specializing in wine and cheese, and as a special education tutor at Fort River Elementary School. Finally I found a job that could reasonably be described as an entry-level career position. I was hired as an assistant in the Education Department at the Museum of Fine Arts in Springfield, Massachusetts. (As of this writing I have discovered that the museum is now the Michele & Donald D’Amour Museum of Fine Arts. An article dated 2009 identifies the change as “Recent.” The D’Amour family fortune comes from the Big Y grocery chain.)

Whoops, getting’ a bit far afield there.

My point is, I think, that family dynamics are in part a sign of the times. Our children’s hopes and dreams—and their anxieties and rebellions—are shaped by us, their parents, but also by the pragmatic realities of the economy, social pressures, and the g-forces exerted by the rollercoaster ride of adolescence and early adulthood. It’s a little about us, it’s a lot about them, and more than a few pieces of the puzzle are put in place by the random nature of life.

As long as the kids come home, though—even if only to do their wash and scrounge a meal—the family endures.

Yet I continue to wonder: is there any way to keep my hangers, color-coded by the owner of the clothes they carry, in my home rather than his?


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