by Meredith O'Brien
My 9-year-old son came home from his elementary school book fair clutching two collections of Bill Watterson’s Calvin and Hobbes comics  asking me if I’d ever heard of them ‘cause he thought they were, and I’m quoting here, “Awesome.”
When I sat down to peruse the books about the precocious, spiky-haired 6-year-old with a vivid imagination and impossibly broad vocabulary who nicknamed himself “the Generalissimo of the Mud and Mayhem Society,” I was immediately sucked into the books and devoured the two collections in short order. Though published in the 1990s, the tales they tell resonated really strongly with me.
What I particularly loved was his relationship with his ever-patient, ever-clever parents whom Calvin describes as dull looking “outer space alien freaks” who he believes are “here to enslave me and spoil my youth.” Calvin tests his parents constantly and they yet still maintain their cool, even when they’re literally chucking him outside with his trusty stuffed pal Hobbes and telling him to go play. (I can related because I’ve personally been called “cruel and mean” when I’ve made my active 9-year-old go outside to play because, like Calvin, his energy was just too big for the indoors.)
In one comic strip, Calvin mused aloud at the dinner table that if God was a chicken they’d all suffer dire consequences for eating a chicken dinner. His parents barely flinched at his declarations and just told him to eat, unlike with my kids, he complies. As a parent of two picky eaters – at least I’m blessed with one child who is a well balanced eater – I seriously relish the humor and occasional snark with which Calvin’s parents respond to Calvin’s ridiculous kitchen table pronouncements as I oftentimes feel worn down by my kids’ culinary complaints.
I also enjoyed reading multiple comic strips about the subject of bathing as, like my kids, Calvin hates bathing and does anything he can to avoid it, though he has no problems with stripping naked in his yard in the rain. Go figure. It was a relief to see his normally well tempered mother grit her teeth have to carry the little bugger, who was kicking and screaming, into the bathroom. While I don’t have to resort to carrying my kids, I do have to grit my teeth and issue threats an awful lot.
As my children, particularly my 9-year-old, have struggled recently in the wake of daylight savings time and haven’t gotten up early enough to catch the school bus – they got rides to school the first week after the time change because they couldn’t get up on time and neither could I – I deeply appreciated the many comic strips about Calvin’s mother’s attempts to rouse her cranky son on school days, while noting, ironically, that he gets up at the crack of dawn without difficulty during the summer. One comic featured a typical morning rush where Calvin realizes once he gets to the bus stop that he’s left his lunch on the counter, at the same moment, his mother spies the lunch sack in the kitchen. They miss one another as his mother races to the bus stop and Calvin runs home, only to meet up at the bus stop just as the bus has pulled away. The angry looks on their faces as Calvin’s mother drives him to school are priceless. Then you get to the last frame: The mom gets home to find that Calvin has left his school books on the kitchen counter in the spot where his lunch had been left. The mother screams.
Currently, all three of my kids are engaged in “big” school projects. My 12-year-old twins are working on science projects where my daughter is trying to see in which liquid a Tylenol capsule will dissolve fastest and her twin brother is trying to see whether the temperature of the water in a water balloon (one of Calvin’s favorite things) affects whether the balloon will break. The youngest kid has to “invent” something, and he’s got his mind set on creating a dog feeder and wants to train our dog how to use it. However as their deadlines approach and I keep inquiring about how things are going, there’s a growing fear inside my belly that they’ll leave it to the last minute and massive family melodrama will ensue, raising my blood pressure and necessitating the downing of multiple antacids.
Again, reading the Calvin and Hobbes books reassured me that I’m not the only parent whose kids cultivate school project drama in their homes. There was a long series of strips involving Calvin’s leaf collection assignment where he is supposed to collect 50 different kinds of leaves. He knows he should’ve been working on it as he’s playing and goofing around. He’s been given ample time to complete it, but Calvin being Calvin (essentially, being a regular kid who’d rather play outside than do boring work), he puts it off until the night before. His mother is in the middle of cooking dinner when he asks her if she would bring him to the local arboretum to collect leaves. She tells him that’s a great idea and they could do it that coming weekend. No, Calvin said, we’ve got to go now because the arboretum closes in 20 minutes and my assignment is due tomorrow. Unlike me – who absorbs my kid’s panic and somehow makes his procrastination my problem – Calvin’s mom tells him he’s out of luck. (Bravo Mom!) Calvin winds up collecting maple leaves and cutting them into weird shapes, claiming that they were “alien” leaves from another planet. As you could’ve guessed, his teacher, Mrs. Wormwood, doesn’t buy it.
While Calvin and Hobbes is new to my son, it seems new to me too as I haven’t read these strips since I became a mother. And as I did, it was very satisfying to realize that I’m not alone in coping with the insanities that accompany this parenting gig, at least when it comes to dragging my kids out of bed on school days, arguing about why a kid should eat chicken and having to act all mad with power when I tell them that they have to bathe regularly. But in those moments, I could sure use some comic relief.