I don’t ever want to be one of these “KIDS, TODAY!” people, because we were all KIDS, TODAY! once, yes?
But I realized that one thing my kids are really cheated out of are newspapers. We consume our news in all kinds of ways – radio snippets, podcasts, online articles, television. However, I recall sitting down with sections of the Sunday paper from when I was in elementary school. I lived in the DC suburbs, so we got the Washington Post. Possibly also the New York Times because my parents are East Coast liberal elites, despite moving away from it in 1991. I definitely remember reading Parade Magazine, and the Washington Post magazine — Dave Barry’s column! — a gateway for The New Yorker.
And there were the comics. I felt so sorry for people who only got The New York Times. Because no comics.
I feel like the “funny papers” helped me develop my sense of humor. Before Buzzfeed or Cute Emergency were available 24 hours a day, there were daily strips, which parlayed to full-color and fabulous on Sunday. The late 1980s seemed to have really glorious comics for a kid like me, smart and sardonic and constantly feeling like a fish out of water.
It wasn’t just me. My 7th grade English teacher showed up one day with now-famous Far Side “Midvale School for the Gifted” panel, posted it on the board, and laughed about it for the rest of the year. (It was an accelerated English class. Of course it was.)
Nothing could hold a candle, though, to Calvin & Hobbes. Calvin seemed to contain an entire universe within him. So wise, but all id. Hobbes the long-suffering companion, smarter than his best friend but trapped by his own physical restrictions. It was a siren song for all the junior high school lovelorn kids who confessed their secrets to their dog or cat, or covertly continued to sleep with a stuffed animal. (Who, me? Yeah, me.)
Over time, several Calvin & Hobbes collections accumulated in my library. They moved with me to college, to New York, to Israel. My kids came to love them as much as I did.
I hadn’t opened one in years; my reading time is really reserved for novels. But the other night I picked up The Revenge of the Baby-Sat from my floor (one of my kids had been reading it in my bed and dropped it next to the bed, instead of putting it back on the shelf or on my bedside table, which really tells you a lot about both me and them).
And goodness me, guess who I am? I am Calvin’s mom.
Yes, and no. My kids have never had the streak of maliciousness that Calvin does; I haven’t had to worry for their personal safety in the same way. But wow, the rest is quite identifiable. Tempting to eat a new food, begging to do chores, coaxing to look normal for a photo FOR ONCE, OH MY GOD. Calvin’s mom looks pissed in the middle of the night when summoned to answer philosophical questions or wash clothes (!). She looks resigned when paying the babysitter. She looks startled when she realizes it’s been quiet and she’s been sitting down for too long. She looks determined when she’s prodding Calvin into the bath.
All of these things are universal parent experiences, but of course, you may have missed it upon your first read at 9 or 12 or 20.
It is a rare gem of pop culture that can be delivered on more than one level. I have always cited Sesame Street as one example, but now I officially appoint Calvin & Hobbes to this firmament.
And, as I was composing this post in my head too late at night, I realized that, yes, dumbbell, I have been Calvin’s mom…for a long time.