Monday, July 17, 2017

Simmering

The words won't come. What escapes me instead is anger. Because most of the time my anger seems to show up without a direct precedent, I put it down to hormones. I hope that's what it is. The alternative is hard for me to contemplate. I grew up with a person who was angry all the time. She was angry because she was sad. I don't want to be her, or become her.

But I won't lie: The smaller, fiercer part of my anger is perfectly explainable. I am struggling with being at home with teenaged boys this summer. They are affable, mostly kind, always clever — but they are not thoughtful. Rather, they are thoughtless. I think there's a difference between the two: the first is more active. My teenagers' thoughtlessness is most definitely passive. (Although when it is coupled with the sarcasm that is the province of the teenager, it does seem a lot to bear.)

Oh, you know the drill. It's the same complaints parents always trot out. Why do they put the milk back in the fridge when it's empty? (Because they do not want to take the extra step of recycling the container.) Why do they not hang up their wet towels? Why do they not change the toilet paper roll when a new roll is sitting just under the dispenser? Why do they do nothing beyond what they are forced to do?

I am tired of teens disappearing before the clean-up from dinner. I am tired of picking up mildewed towels. I am tired of nagging, nagging, nagging (pick up your room, wear your retainer, don't leave dirty dishes in your room, get off the computer and go to bed). I am tired.

++++++++++++++

Last week the dishwasher broke. It's since been fixed. But when it broke, it was ready to be run (read: stuffed with dirty dishes). I was forced to wash them all by hand. I asked my children to help towel-dry the dishes as I washed them. I requested ten minutes of their time. I did not mean exactly ten minutes, but that's what my kids took me to mean, each (on consecutive nights) tossing the towel on the counter (hang it up?) and ambling off after ten minutes, despite the job being unfinished. I complained to someone: "Let's say I was driving my child to the movie theater, and I said to him, 'Well, that's ten minutes of driving! I know we're not there yet, but you can get out and walk the rest of the way to the theater.'"

++++++++++++++

In four months I turn fifty. In six months I will have been a parent for twenty years. I am balking at the practical elements of that role: the cleaning, the feeding, the cleaning, the feeding. I rebel, but only in my head. (Only in my head, because I love my children, and in general I love being their mother.) 

I imagine myself leaving for a few weeks, not forever, never forever. On my return would I find people forced by my absence to become more self-reliant, forced by my absence to become — dare I say it — thoughtful?

In my darker moments I wonder whether it was I who failed to teach my children to be thoughtful. I believed that modeling thoughtfulness, which think I do, mostly, was enough. And maybe it is, or will be shown to be, once my kids are out of the teen years.

I am writing this because I feel alone in it. I am half-hoping that you, whoever you are, will tell me that you feel the same way, at least sometimes. But for your sake, I am also half-hoping that you don't understand a word of what I've written here.

Thursday, July 6, 2017

The Language Spoken Here

As I move the kettle to the back burner, I cup my hands around it to enjoy its warmth, and with it my husband's presence, solid and sure. This is how I know he loves me: the small but meaningful act of making me coffee every morning, although he is long gone when I make my way downstairs to find it waiting, undisturbed by teenagers and cats.

Somewhere once I heard a line about a woman knowing her marriage was over when her husband stopped making her coffee in the morning. A small act, or inaction, with large ramifications.

I hold my husband's small act close in a houseful of men. On vacation last week I realized that the three males with whom I live interact mostly on the strength of sarcasm and insult. It grew wearying, and once or twice even bordered on hurtful. The younger members of my family are still figuring out the line where acceptable social discourse meets rudeness, which line may well differ between men and women in any event.

"This is the way men talk to each other," my husband explained. Maybe that's true for him, or maybe it is more broadly. I cannot know. I do know that more than once on our recent trip I found myself clenching my jaw and wishing that I might have had a daughter with whom at least some of the time I could camp.

And yet, and yet. My sons and husband know me well enough to anticipate my needs. They advocate for me. They love me, simple as that. It is a love that can feel foreign, which affords it a gratifying element of surprise.

++++++++++++++

They know me well enough, I wrote (did you notice?), which leaves room. I hold a core part of myself at a distance from others. I always have. It's a protective stance left over from an emotionally difficult childhood. But it is my fault, not theirs, that they cannot bridge the gap. How can you bridge what you do not even know is available to access?

As I nurse my morning coffee, I realize that I need to place more faith in gestures, in rituals of comfort and care. In that direction love lies, at least in my house.

I see you, grown and growing men. I hear your words, and today I recognize them as posturing. What matters most is the hand (strikingly large; I don't know when that happened) you placed on my shoulder as we hiked down a mountain a few days ago. You were steadying yourself but also steadying me. That hand spoke love as clearly as the coffee pot, each and every morning.






Tuesday, July 4, 2017

All the Colors, All the Stripes

We were in an Uber. A hard, persistent rain had forced us to abandon our plan of wandering around Kensington Market for the afternoon. We'd arrived in Toronto a day earlier in the midst of a gay pride parade, the end (or beginning?) of which was only a block or so away from our hotel. There were rainbows everywhere: painted on people's faces, waving at us from flags carried by people young and old. So many people. So much happiness.

The Uber driver began a conversation. Aimless chatter about the differences between Canada and the United States narrowed as we compared the costs of attending college in the two countries, which discussion evolved inevitably into talk about politics.

Feeling sure of the driver's political persuasion given his religion (Muslim) and nationality (Canadian), I ventured into Trump territory. In retrospect, a mistake, although my comment was relatively mild and nonspecific.

"Oh, I support Trump!" exclaimed the driver. My husband and I eyed one another. Was this sarcasm?

No. "He tells it like it is," he continued. "I love that about him." He continued on praising Trump for some time, oblivious to the uncomfortable silence of his passengers.

Now, as we closed in on our hotel, our driver gestured dismissively. "This is known as the gayborhood," he offered, his emphasis on the first syllable leaving no room for doubt as to his feelings about the neighborhood and its occupants.

I emerged from the car into misty rain, sunlight straining to break through. "Look!" pointed my fifteen-year-old. "There's a rainbow going straight down into the park where the gay pride parade was!"

And so there was. I nodded, preoccupied, thinking about the Uber driver who had so discouraged and confused me. Who, then, voted for Trump? Who supports him? If even someone Canadian, if even someone Muslim...

Against my dark thoughts the rainbow strengthened and clarified.

"If only this rainbow had appeared during the parade," my son mused. "What a statement that would have been. It would have made the news for sure."