Pillows, for instance.
Jackson has, like, fourteen pillows on his bed. The other day I said to him, “You know how many pillows I had on my bed when I was your age? ONE.”
He hugged me with pity. “I’m sorry, Mommy. Here.” He let me hold the fluffy pink heart pillow I gave him for Valentine’s Day. It helped. A little.
Of course, I’m the one who bought him all those pillows. He’s an only child, we let him co-sleep for a couple of years, and the only way to keep him in his bed at night now is to throw fourteen pillows, nine stuffed animals, and a dog in there with him. It’s less lonely that way, sort of, if you turn sideways and close one eye.
Occasionally, just for fun, I try to explain to him how when I grew up we were middle-middle class, but as my father worked his way up we became lower-upper-middle class. This got me into a better school, but somehow it never translated into more pillows on my bed.
I think my parents taught us to be embarrassed by luxury. The most decadent thing they ever spent money on was airfare. After my father retired from his career of selling office supplies, they went to Europe a few times. Not first-class, but my father always trusted his own taste, and his taste was for whatever was day-old, two-for-one, or half-price after 5:00 p.m. So our family vacations usually revolved around a sixteen-hour, straight-through, non-air-conditioned drive (with me lying on my sleeping bag in our car’s the back window, waving at truckers) from Denver to grandma’s house and back again ten days later.
One year we were outside of Lincoln, Nebraska, when my mom fell asleep at the wheel. I was nine, I was sitting on my dad’s lap in the front seat letting him read Farmer Boy over my shoulder when all of a sudden we veered from the fast lane into the grassy median that divided us from oncoming traffic, hit a small rise, and were flying through the air. When we landed we burst all four tires. We had to spend two nights in Lincoln while the car got fixed, us kids happily swimming at the hotel pool. That’s also how I ended up seeing Funny Lady, a movie I liked that I never would have been taken to otherwise, as our family’s taste in film ran more toward exploding car chases than musical comedy. Maybe everyone had had enough excitement with flying cars that day.
Anyway, this summer, I’m thinking about introducing Jackson to the exquisite torture of the long-ass car trip to Grandma’s, Santa Barbara to Denver via any number of desolate, 115°F landscapes. A torture mitigated by the Nintendo DS, the portable DVD player, and the iPod. And air conditioning. And the comforting presence of pillows, stuffed animals, a dog, a cooler full of mildly caffeinated beverages, and me, his mom, whose long-distance driving stamina was built on never, ever experiencing another long moment of airborne disbelief.