I grew up with a mother who was a psychopath. Her psychological disorders were far too numerous to mention them all but one of them was obsessive/compulsive disorder (OCD). It made life in our home rather unpleasant.
One of her most obsessive/compulsive behaviors involved cleanliness and a pathological fear of germs. She was obsessed with maintaining a germ-free home with no messes. Everything had to be in perfect order, dust-free, germ-free and free of any fingerprints. She would freak out if anything had been touched and was slightly askew from the exact position it was supposed to be in. She could walk into a room and immediately spot any dirt that might be in that room and then if she spotted any she would throw a hissy fit.
The irony of her obsessive cleanliness is that our Mother hated cleaning with a passion. She expected everything to be perfectly clean at all times but she cringed if she ever had to clean anything. Having to clean anything brought her great distress.
Of course there are no humans who are messier than children. Being messy is a natural state of childhood. That’s what children do. And our poor mother was cursed with four of us.
For the largest portion of my childhood the family lived in a cookie cutter tri-level suburban home. Most Americans have seen one of those. On the main floor was a living room, dining room, kitchen and hallway. (There was also a garage that was actually the laundry room. Our father was forbidden from parking the car in the garage because it might drip oil on the floor.)
The upstairs level consisted of our parent’s bedroom, my two sister’s bedroom and a bathroom. The downstairs level had one bedroom where my brother and I lived, a ‘den’ and another bathroom.
(My brother and I were forbidden from going upstairs and our sisters were forbidden from going downstairs. Another of our mother’s weird idiosyncrasies is that she believed genders should always be separated — except married couples.)
But it is the living room that I want to talk about. Although it looked like a normal living room (but a spotless one) there was no ‘living’ that went on in that room. All four of us children as well as our father were forbidden from entering that room.
Like I said, our mother vehemently hated cleaning. She figured that if she cleaned the living room once then never allowed any humans (especially children) into the room then she would never have to clean the room again (other than occasional dusting). Then, on the extremely rare occasion when someone would come to our house to visit she could show them into the living room and they would be amazed by how immaculate it was — with her not having to lift nary a finger. Strangers and distant relatives were allowed into the living room but no one in the immediate family was. The sole purpose of the living room was for entertaining guests. The room was only used once or twice a year and any guest we ever had never visited more than once.
Okay, I know what everyone is asking: If no one went into the ‘living room’ then where did you watch TV?
Our television set was in the dining room and there were plenty of rules. The TV could never remain on after 9pm and it could never be on during the day. It could never be turned on before Walter Cronkite came on. In our family we never said, “Hey the news is about to be on.” We said, “Hey, Walter Cronkite is about to be on.” We were also not allowed to watch TV while eating a meal.
Our mother not only vehemently hated cleaning but she wasn’t all that fond of cooking either. It was just another burden placed upon her by her little army of children.
We always ate dinner very, very early. Our mother planned dinner so that the family had finished eating, all the dishes were washed and put away and the kitchen was spotless by the time Walter Cronkite came on. Once she sat down to watch TV she didn’t want to have to doing any cooking or cleaning or any other work for the rest of the evening.
So we ate dinner at the dining table with the TV off. We sat there in silence as we ate as fast as we could, occasionally looking at the clock to see how many minutes were left before Walter Cronkite came on. No one was allowed to leave the table or clear the table until everyone was finished. Sadly, our youngest baby sister ate very slowly.
Our mother would yell at her, “Hurry up and eat! The rest of us want to watch TV and you’re keeping everyone else from doing that. What’s wrong with you?!”
When the sister finally took her last bite the family would cheer then jump up from their chairs to clear the table then wash and dry the dishes so that we could come back to the dining table to watch TV. We would watch Walter Cronkite then a few sitcoms and then maybe an episode of Gunsmoke or Bonanza or Lost in Space. At 9pm when the TV was turned off all of us kids went to our rooms.
I don’t have to tell anyone that watching TV while sitting straight and tall in our chairs at a dining room table totally sucks. Of course I didn’t truly realize that until I was an adult and watched TV for the very first time while sitting on a couch.
So no, we never watched TV in the ‘living room.’ If we ate dinner in the dining room then went into the living room to watch TV then that would involve two rooms that would need to be cleaned. To our mother one room was already too much.
Occasionally, when my mother was either out in the back yard tending her garden or shopping at the grocery store (the only times she ever left the house), I would sneak into the living room for the sole sake of defying my mother and breaking the rules. I was a rebel. Of course I wouldn’t touch anything. She would immediately know someone had been in there.
Once I got caught being in that room and I was punished by not being allowed to watch TV for a week. That didn’t stop me from occasionally sneaking in there, though. It felt so good and empowering to be a rebel.
Although my mother was a bit of a weirdo it’s a good thing that I turned out okay.
Copyright by White Feather. All Rights Reserved.
Stories by White Feather
Speaking of parents…