Thursday, October 28, 2010

The Age of Reason

My earliest recollections include my parents and older siblings telling me some variation of “mine was not to question why, mine was but to do and die”. This is a reference to a portion of the poem "Charge of the Light Brigade" by Alfred, Lord Tennyson. The exact quote is:

Their's not to reason why,
Their's but to do and die:

This is, on close inspection, the equivalent of the “Because I said so theme”  spouted by civilian parents, but with obedience, faith, and complete loyalty  even under pain of death thrown in. For families living the military dream-- (sardonic- [sahr-don-ik] –adjective characterized by bitter or scornful derision; mocking; cynical; sneering: a sardonic grin.)-- in the 60’s and 70’s, to have poems referring to people rushing blindly to slaughter paraphrased to a toddler or elementary school student in an effort to get them to clean their room or eat their peas was the norm. When you ate your chicken pot pies while looking at pictures of mutilated Asian and American bodies stacked head high on the evening news in the country where your father was at that very moment, the thought of dying stoically for a cause seemed not only possible but probable. I did not reason why, I just did. I will call this “The Age of No Reason Whatsoever”

At about age 16 or so, I had a revelation. This sounds really exciting, but most sixteen years olds go through this same revelatory process. While I am sure there are a million more poetic or lurid ways to say it, it boils down to Hey! You’re Not the Boss of Me!! I switched overnight from being a good little soldier to being a hard headed, anti-establishment, rock and roll head banging rebel. Sort of. For me anyway. I didn’t drink or do drugs, get tattoos or run away. What I got was pregnant and married.

Go ahead, feel free to laugh, I have done it myself.  I showed them I would never become an establishment puppet by, uhmmm, becoming an establishment puppet.  I was good at it too, it turns out. The food pyramid? I could have taught a curriculum on it. I battled germs and ironed shirts and spent countless tedious hours in emergency rooms and Kmart. We had disco night on Fridays at six when my husband got home. Popcorn and Coke, an old strobe light and oldies on the turntable. Our house was the happening place for the preteens to be. I taught them to cook, to love a good story, to do their own laundry, to swim, to be silly, to play. I didn’t demand as in the old dark days. I encouraged, explained, urged and requested. I very rarely said Because I Said So. I will call this “The Age of Oh-So-Reason-able”

Several years ago, I had what can only be called an anxiety attack. I was working full time, keeping house, drowning in laundry, bills, grocery shopping, vet visits. Baby sitting grandchildren until 5 AM for parents who worked nights and getting back up at 8 to make sure another child made it to Saturday morning  detention. Always trying to point my charges in the right direction when it came to driving lessons, curfews, bedtimes, clothing, piercings, appropriate friendships and inappropriate romances. Desperately slurping down a cup of coffee like a newborn starving for the teat, it suddenly hit me. Why? Why? I needed a reason, a damn good reason to be doing what I had been doing without thought other than “It seemed like a good idea at the time” for 25 years. I got so angry at myself I couldn’t breathe. I wanted to throw off the shackles so to speak, just drop them and walk away.

In this moment, at the height of my panic, my son came out and started trying to sweet talk me into letting him get tattooed, or buy a gun or spend the night with the neighborhood rapscallion who had a smokin’ hot sister… I don’t remember exactly but all of these things had been argued passionately with me at one time or another so take your pick. It hit me then, the reasonable thing to do, or course was say no. Here was the tricky part …nothing else, no explanations or justifications, just no. Blind obedience still brought the hippie out in me but that hippie was now sharing the stage with another, stronger person, born of countless sleepless nights. My son put his best argument out on the table, spread it in all of it’s self righteous glory, smoothing out any wrinkles he perceived in the process. I thought for a moment and asked him if he had ever heard of Lord Alfred Tennyson.

Ah “The Age Of Reason”