[Caroline’s mom now has a Masters in Art History; I don’t know what I was thinking w/the Sociology thing other than using it as a placeholder.]
I liked doing my homework in the living room. We still had our big TV, and basic cable, and I liked to put it on NatGeo or Discovery (when they were showing nature or science and not stupid reality shows) for background noise. I still wasn’t used to living in an apartment – sharing walls and ceilings with other people was something you didn’t think about until you heard other people’s stereos or…other stuff. I’d finally figured out where to set the volume on the home theater where we didn’t get complaints but I couldn’t hear anything from around us.
Also, Mom and Ellen came home around 5, and Ellen wanted to go to our room and talk on the phone and listen to crappy American Idol-type music and do everything else as close as possible to the way her life was two years ago. To give her credit, we’d gotten pretty good about the boundaries thing, with me in the living room and her in the bedroom for a couple hours every day. The only thing that sucked about it these days was Mom’s chronic inability to leave me alone about college applications.
“Oh, I meant to tell you,” she said, “Lisa loaned me the materials from that seminar!” I sighed to myself and turned my attention to her. Mom was one of those trim pineapple-blond women who were born with a silver Mercedes XL key in their mouths, and she still passed for one even though we were broke now (“we’re not poor, dear, we’re broke,” she would insist when my dad made a “poor” joke). She’d had a job in an art gallery, and I have to hand it to her, she was good at it. Her commissions weren’t a lot compared to what dad was making, but it was enough to buy me the laptop I had now, which was still pretty powerful comparatively speaking, and send Ellen to cheerleading camp, and all the other “nice things” money could buy when you had more than you need. That job went away with the crash – rich people were still rich, and still buying art, but there weren’t enough of them buying it around here to keep her on the payroll.
“That’s nice,” I said neutrally, going back to the Federalist Papers onscreen. Mom had a couple wars going at all times; right now besides the regular one against being “broke,” was the one where she ragged me about my college applications. I didn’t see the point – I was a good student but not great at everything, and these days you had to be perfect to get into a “good school.” And you had to have all kinds of “interesting” things on your resume, like how you gave piccolo concerts at the homeless shelter or donated a kidney to a Guatemalan orphan, and belonged to like a zillion clubs and societies and had honors and prizes out the wazoo. I knew I was pretty much a lock to get into State U since Harrison Academy was basically part of it, so it wasn’t like I was going nowhere. But while I wasn’t cynical enough to take up whatever musical instrument statistical regression analysis said was the Yale admissions department’s favorite, I had humored mom and let her help me write my “now we’re poor but I welcome the challenge of this challenging challenge” essay, just in case.
And I had a bee in my bonnet about the volunteering thing. It wasn’t that I didn’t care about the world. But once you’ve actually had to go to a soup kitchen, which we did for a week when Dad was absolutely positively refusing to take any money from Mom’s family, and you’ve seen kids your age ladling out the grub with big phony smiles in case a Princeton admissions officer is secretly masquerading as one of the poors, and you can see them checking off “I care” on their mental resume, you just can’t do it. Especially when you know that unlike them you can’t just shake all that suffering off your shiny collie mane as you step into the SUVosaur that whisks you back to your McMansion.