Letter by Letter

“Mom, what was the most useful class you took in high school?”

“Keyboarding,” I say, without missing a beat.

“I didn’t know you played the piano?!”

Oy. If there was a perfect moment for a face palm, this would be it. I clarify by explaining how old people used typewriters back in the day to create formal texts. When I extrapolate by saying that not everyone had a home computer, and that I personally knew students who turned in papers written by hand, they look stupefied.

I explain how you basically word process, but there’s no back button or autocorrect, or little green squiggly line under word that you misspell. You correct your typos as you go, using liquid white out.

Blank stares.

“You know, the little bottle of goo that Mr. Rooney’s secretary, Grace, is sniffing in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off?”

The light bulb goes off, so I continue.

They’re now riveted, like I’m divulging state secrets about Area 51. My kids love these historical stories of triumph over adversity.  I go on about the process of covering up errors, then retyping the correct character or word. If you failed to recognize the error in real-time, you’d either have to pray like crazy that you’d be able to re-insert the paper so that you could line up your sentences, or you’d have to re-type the entire page. Even so, a savvy teacher or boss could hold up your paper to the light, exposing all of your blunders to the world.

Typing was merciless, much like parenting.

Suddenly, I’m six years old, watching my mom hunched over an unforgiving typewriter, stabbing at the keys, creating one of her first college papers after enrolling in a university class in tandem with her unpaid, SAHM gig. Suddenly, she screamed a staccato repetition of a swear word.

It was not  the actual word but the way it rolled out of her mouth and spilled into the atmosphere, erupting like a cross between an accusation and a battle cry. I’d never heard my mom curse and it made a lasting impression, not only because of the profanity but because she was so frustrated. I’d never witnessed my mom come unglued before, and even so, she was remarkably restrained. I couldn’t quite understand why she was so angry, but I get it now. Completely.

She was trying to serve herself a little slice of something more than just meeting others’ needs. She was trying to type her paper, no doubt with dinner boiling over  on the stove and laundry joyously floating around in the dryer, while trying to knock out her assignment, inhibited by technology. She was trying, in real time, to catch and amend her errors as she went.

Caregivers try to do this and it’s often the equivalent of swimming against the tide. It’s the hope that at the end of the day, if your kids hold up your work to the light, your mistakes won’t belie your efforts and nullify your entire body of work. It’s the hope that one day they’ll see you not only as a parent, but as an individual who put her own aspirations and interests on hold for the greater good.

Despite my childlike understanding, a tectonic shift had occurred in terms of how I looked at my mom, and I’m grateful for that moment. I also know it irks her a bit that I blame her for my deep affection for shouting out profanities to myself when things go sideways. It’s not always appropriate, but it sure feels good, and it’s cheaper than therapy.


About Michon Zysman

Michon Zysman is the mother of a teen, tween and rising kindergartner. When not writing, she is knitting, rooting for the underdog and retaining her sense of wonder in this world. She lives in Pikesville.

One comment

  1. Thanks for sharing. I do remember having to type my high school papers using a typewriter (not fun.) I also remember my mother typying her university papers while going to law school.

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