One thing I’ve learned from living in suburban Nashville is that my neighborhood has major horror movie potential. Oh, I know horror-in-the-suburbs has been done already with The Stepford Wives, but I think you’d agree that The Bellevue Parents would be way more terrifying.
The movie would open with the innocent trills of an electric flute and children frolicking on a playground. It would cut to landscaped flowers trembling in a gentle breeze, then a row of mirror-image houses primly keeping watch over a treeless avenue and finally, a neighborhood swimming pool bustling with families clad in Target swimsuits.
At first, everything would seem so normal. Better than normal, really. Bellevue is the kind of place where you expect everyone’s Facebook status to read, “Living the dream.”
But, this being a horror film, that dream would quickly turn nightmarish, as an ultra-liberal, gluten-free heroine moves to the neighborhood. Immediately, she’d start noticing them, volunteering at the local elementary school, every single day! Passing out snacks and drinks at soccer games! Driving minivans with rear windows featuring stick figure representations of each member of the family!
Our heroine would notice their detached smiles, their vacant stares and the way they always smelled vaguely of alcohol, and know in her heart that they were different from ordinary humans. After a day spent in the stacks at the Bellevue Library (on the Book Bully’s day off, of course), she would discover with wide-eyed terror that they were exactly what she’d secretly suspected…
“They really do have no lives!” she would whisper before using her knuckle to bite back a scream.
It’s a little too close to reality for comfort, right? While our own parents fought to have both children and careers, many of my suburban neighbors are bypassing the corporate ladder altogether in favor of hovering mindlessly over little Sally as she does her homework, or shambling along the sidelines of Landon’s pee wee football games. They may not have a ghoulish pallor or ripped, dirty clothing, but they’re still easy to spot. Just announce that you’re looking for volunteers for the school spaghetti supper and see who comes stumbling out of the crowd, arms outstretched and with a dazed expression that bears more than a passing resemblance to the undead.
Scariest of all? This is what’s become of Generation X.
Yes, all that cynicism and Nirvana and flannel shirt wearing was simply layer after layer of protection, designed to cover frail psyches damaged by divorced and career-obsessed parents. Fast forward to today and witness how many Gen X parents are overprotective and obsessed with their children. This helicopter parenting is merely an effort, according to the experts, to fix what was broken when these parents themselves were kids, 20 to 30 years ago.
I’d like to laugh off the theory, but I can’t. I’m living it.
Twenty-nine years ago, I was my daughter’s age, dressed in Lanz pajamas and seated beside my brother night after night at the top of the stairs, as we listened to our parents arguing down below. A year later, I watched my father carry an armful of suits out the front door.
I remained pretty stoic about my parents’ divorce and my mom’s return to the workforce, but while I thought as a kid that it didn’t affect me, I was wrong. I’m a regular June Cleaver today because of it. I cook. I clean. I volunteer. I stay at home. And too often, I bite my tongue to keep the peace. I tell myself it’s best for our family.
But I’m not always sure it’s best for me.
“You’ve got to find your voice as a married woman!” my mother urged me once. “It took me a while to find mine when I was your age, but I did. And I never stopped talking!”
And that’s ultimately the difference between her generation and mine. My mother and her friends were the first to talk back. They made demands. They threw down their aprons. And when they felt the need, they divorced with no apologies.
Now, their children quietly go about the business of undoing all their work. We will give our kids the happy playground, the landscaped flowers, the cookie-cutter house, the neighborhood pool. We will fight harder to stay married, and beat ourselves up more if we fail. We will haunt our children’s schools and recitals and sporting events. We will be there, dammit, when they get home from school.
We will stumble through parenthood together, a generational mob with only one thing on what remains of our minds: giving our kids the childhood we think we should have had. And in true horror tradition, we will do far more damage than mere mortals could.
The Bellevue Parents ends when the happy children from the playground have grown up and their parents have died off. No one’s around to cut their meat anymore. No one will lend them money or wash their clothes or stand over them to make sure they get their work done. They wander about aimlessly in rags, completely unable to do for themselves.
Blame it on the zombies.
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