8 December 2002
We went to a holiday party last night. It is my very favorite party of the year (check
the pictures from last year)--not
that we attend all that many parties. But this one is given by the entertainment editor
for the newspaper for which I work, and it's delightful. Enough geeky-writer-type people
that I feel comfortable. A stack of games to play (sheets of paper with trivia questions,
and tasks that take you all over the house looking for things among his huge
collection of Peanuts memorabilia, etc.). Drinks of both the alcoholic and non-alcoholic
variety. In short it's set up so that everyone, whether gregarious or inhibited, can feel
comfortable and have a good time.
I was in a discussion with several other people, including a guy who used to live near
Charles Shulz, a logical topic of conversation when you are sitting in a house literally
surrounded by Peanuts statues, pictures, stuffed figures, games, cups, napkins, hanging
lights, Christmas tree ornaments, rugs, etc. (someone asked our host if he was in the
Guinness book of world records for having the most Peanuts stuff; he said he doesn't even
come close--hard to believe!)
Anyway, this guy talked about how he was passing by the Shulz house one time and saw
the cartoonist out on the huge expanse of lawn, playing with his kids and his wife, the
picture of family bliss. The following week, Shulz announced his separation from his wife,
and this man was talking about how the Peanuts cartoons during that period had very dark
themes (in fact, he said that those are the cartoons which are being rerun right now).
He expressed disbelief that someone who was so much the picture of family togetherness,
joy, happiness, or whatever could, a week later, announce his impending divorce from his
Ironically, I had been typing psychiatric reports just that week about three of the
children of families we have known here in Davis through the years, families who
epitomized, from all outward appearances, the picture of wonderful parenthood, parents
whose relationship with their children, in the years when we knew them as parents raising
small kids, were people to be emulated for their wonderful parenting skills. Yet here
their kids were, years later, with a lot of baggage that one would never have suspected
from the face they put out in public.
When we were living in Oakland, before we moved here, and when the kids were all quite
small (David was 18 months old when we moved here, so that would have made Jeri about 7,
with all the others falling between 18 months and 7 years), I always said that everyone
always told us what terrific parents we were...and that the only people who never said
that were our next door neighbors who heard the crying, the yelling, and who had, perhaps,
a better insight into our not-so-wonderful parenting skills.
When I felt guilty about being human, I would think of the quote I heard once, which is
"we are always comparing ourselves at our worst with others at their best."
I thought of that again, when thinking of Charles Shulz and the Norman Rockwellian
scene which the party-goer had witnessed. We don't stand on the front stairs of our homes
and berate (or beat) our kids, or fight with our spouses...even that woman recently
arrested for beating her child in the car looked around first to see if she was being
This is not to say that it is commonplace for parents to drag their kids behind closed
doors and beat them, but I think it should make us stop and think about the people whom we
admire, who make us feel guilty because somehow we don't quite measure up.
We never know what goes on behind closed doors. Sometimes the problems spill out into
the newspaper, or are whispered over the back fence as neighbors ask "did you
hear...?" But mostly, our quirks, our ideosyncracies, the things that we aren't quite
ready to go public with, are things that stay behind closed doors, while we put on the
public mask that we show to the world. They may be little things, but things you'd never
dream were going on next door.
(I smile when I type that, thinking of my simple little ol' school marm
friend with the refrigerator full of batteries, the room full of sex toys, and the men and
women with whom she parties.)
The point, I guess, is that we need not to look beyond our own door at the lives of
others, or compare ourselves with what we think is the reality in other homes. Sometimes
all is not what it seems behind those other doors.
Charles Schulz may have had a happy romp with his kids and his wife for all the public
to see, but obviously there was something very different going on behind his closed door.
I would bet that every single person reading this can think of that thing, or those things
which they are not quite ready to reveal to the world.