I Believe in Boring
All my life, I have thought of my parents’ Midwest farmers’ families as boring, and until an epiphany some years ago, I harbored a secret sense of disappointment, or even embarrassment, regarding this fact. By circumstance, we spent more time with my mother’s family than with my father’s, so it is hers I write of here. However, I have no reason to suspect that his family was much different from, or less boring than hers.
Everything about my mother’s family seemed boring. The food was unimaginative – the vegetables were overcooked and the flavors couldn’t begin to compare with those at the tables of Italian acquaintances. The jokes were boring, never risqué, and nobody ever got drunk or wild. There were no great scandals and, until my generation, no divorces. People got married, babies were born, kids graduated from high school and sometimes college, and life was completely boring.
Then, twenty years ago, as a social worker, I became acquainted with the world of troubled families. In this world, families live in poverty and chaos and constant turmoil. But it’s worse than that. In this world, children live in nightmares and grow up watching parents battle and hurt each other; sometimes dads even kill moms. In this world, children may be left to fend for themselves while their parents succumb to the irresistible addictions of alcohol and various substances; children may be ignored, discarded, beaten, bruised or injured, and may become the sexual objects of adults.
Knowing about this world contributed to my epiphany, which occurred at a picnic celebrating the 50th wedding anniversary of an aunt and uncle. As I looked around the gathering at the faces of my extended family, I realized I had, in my middle age, begun to resemble the women of my mother’s generation. As I pondered the inescapable truths of genetic heritage, I began to think about the other things this family had bequeathed me, and I was suddenly struck by the fact that all of us who had once been children in this boring family had been protected from the worst that life might present. Although they weren’t perfect, these people had done their best with what they had, in order to help their children reach adulthood with a minimum of psychic scars, had done their best to be decent and caring and upstanding, had never felt the need to numb themselves with alcohol or illegal substances and had never believed in the rod or the strap as a means to instill discipline. These were couples who had kept their differences quietly between themselves, out of the reach of small ears, and had never laid a hand on each other. Whatever it was that enabled them to avoid the pitfalls of the troubled families I knew, I was thankful for it, and if the price to pay was boredom, I became a convert on the spot, so that I can say, without hesitation, I believe in boring.
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