My mother didn’t want me to grow up to be like Marge.
This was something I knew by the time I was 6 years old. I knew it as well – or perhaps even better – than I knew my mom’s positive hopes for adult Julia. I had a general idea that she wanted me to be a “professional,” someone who earned a living using my brain and talents. She wanted me to be a “good girl,” someone who had integrity in her words and actions. She also wanted me to be hard-working, thoughtful and well-read. But, above all, it seemed, my mother did not want me to be like Marge.
To me, Marge was pretty awesome. She lived next door to us in an apartment that seemed like the love nest of Willy Wonka and Tarzan. Macrame hanging planters dripped with vines so overgrown they almost grazed the floor. Pots of violets filled metal stands and beckoned with their bright purple buds and fuzzy leaves. Polly the macaw cracked sunflower seeds with her toes and squawked “hello” over and over and over again.
And amidst this jungle paradise were bowls, boxes and tins of all sorts of candy – M&Ms, chewy toffee, sour balls, circus peanuts and more. She was generous and welcoming to us kids. We’d knock on her door, sometimes many days in a row, asking to see Polly, and she’d always let us in with a big smile. We never left without a piece of candy tucked in our cheeks and our pockets. “For later,” she’d say.
But here’s the thing about Marge – she was scared. Of a lot of things. My memory is hazy after all of these years, but these are the things I still remember that Marge was frightened of: elevators, mice, cats, bugs, balconies, second floors in general, water, flying, rapists, burglars, alligators, lightening, thunder, staying alone at night. I’m sure I’m missing things. I know I am. But even this abbreviated list makes the point: Marge’s fears were so plentiful and the feeling was so acute that even as a kid I was aware of the fact that terror and dread loomed large in Marge’s life.
My mother didn’t want that for me. And, frankly, she had little patience for it. So, if I was scared when my night light burned out, my mother would scold me, “You don’t want to be like Marge.” The summer I was afraid of going into the ocean after the movie Jaws came out, my mother shamed me, “That’s something Marge would do, and you don’t want to be like Marge, do you?”
The truth is, I didn’t. Even 6-year-old me felt the restrictions of a life filled with so many fears. One that hanging plants and hard candy couldn’t make up for.
No parent wants their kids to be scared and they certainly don’t want them to grow up that way. In Metro Parent’s October 2018 cover story about kids phobias, we delve into how you can help your kids if they already seem to have some deep-seated fears.
I wish I knew why Marge had all the fears that she did. What made cats so terrifying but birds so benign? Why was a grown woman unable to sleep by herself at night? Why did she need to self-medicate during thunderstorms? So many questions. If only her mother had a “Marge” to shame her with or some expert advice from her trusty parenting magazine.