26 May 2006
I imagine that parents the world over have been keeping one eye on their children, even while asleep, watching for anything untoward happening either to or because of their offspring. Probably since humanity began there were hunched-over cave dwellers peeking out from the sides of hillsides to see if little Unk would really level Yar with the mini boulder she is threatening him with while gleefully tickle torturing her younger brother.
While there have been times in my own parenting of J. that I wondered when will this part be past us?, I can’t honestly say that any of the stages demarcated within the wise guides gathered in text by (surely?) learned professionals have been much of an issue for us. It was during his second year of living that he was working out how to put his Power Rangers underwear onto his lean little body without my assistance, and with the mini trap door facing front. He meant nothing personal when he’d flail against me, shrieking “do mah-sehhhhhhhf!” it was just something he wanted the opportunity to try on his own, and how can a person possibly be faulted for that? If I was the one who had just figured out that I had some self-possession I most certainly would want to be able to put on my own Power Ranger undies too. It just makes sense.
Maybe the reason J. and I have rarely butted heads is that in raising him up I’ve tried to keep in mind that I don’t want to behave toward him in any way that I myself wouldn’t want to be treated ~ granted, with an invisible ‘give’ space where my decisions as the grownup have to have just a little flexibility and, sometimes, a little more weight, but I try to treat him with the same kindnesses and the same patience as I’d hope to be given. So yeah, I’m not horrible, I’m not terribly demanding and that fact, coupled with his easy-going temperament, makes for a fairly idyllic parenting situation in which one could easily become complacent.
And then there was Sunday.
I walked in the front door. My heavy winter comforter – the one that one of the cats recently peed on which has been sitting in a pile in the hall for weeks because I can’t seem to get it to the cleaners so rather than feeling bad about not getting to the cleaners I simply picked it up and folded it over the railing next to the hall to make it seem as though I had done something but J. didn’t know about that – was laying on the living room couch. Hunh. Well … I guess J. got tired and decided to just sleep on the sofa. Yeah. He probably stayed up way too late and couldn’t bring himself to walk the 18 steps to his bedroom, so he walked 14 steps to the comforter and called it quits in the living room.
I walked downstairs into the kitchen. Sitting around on countertops there lay a number of empty food containers and what looked like take-out remains, including a plastic Chinese soup spoon. J. doesn’t eat anything Chinese but subgum fried rice and does that even count? I considered for a moment that he might be branching out in his culinary tastes. Hmm. Then I found a jug of fruit punch in the refrigerator. We never drink fruit punch from a jug. Maybe he had buddies over for video game playing and they were thirsty so they made a grocery store run? Sure, that would explain it.
The previous night I’d stayed at KD’s place. We had all planned for it and, like any night I spend away from home, KD had checked her calendar, I checked mine and, because I’m also responsible to J’s schedule, I also knew he would not be working and that he’d made no solid plans with his friends. He was home Saturday night. I mean, he was home alone on Saturday night. Right. Alone.
I deliberated whether it would be better to keep my hmmms to myself or to raise them with him but in the end I elected to at least temporarily consider them privately, and after finding J. in the Den of Iniquity (the hang-out room w/computer, TV, video game, stereo) and catching up with him for a few minutes, I took my bag to my bedroom to unpack.
I dropped my bags and studied the extra row of ‘for show, not for sleeping’ pillows on my bed. Well boy howdy, lookie there. My bed is not the way I made it yesterday. It’s probably such a trivial thing, but I know how I make a bed, and this is not the arrangement for pillows that I would use. Someone has been sleeping in my bed.
It was one of those moments when it wouldn’t have surprised me if Goldilocks would have popped out from a closet yelling “Surprise”.
Not that leaping to conclusions isn’t my personally favorite hobby, but in keeping with the (hopefully, constructive) way I’ve tried to parent J. these past 16 years I did think that making conclusions about something for which I hadn’t even asked the first question didn’t seem particularly smart, so I let myself have 30 minutes to obsessively count each and every heinous activity that I was ABSOLUTELY SURE took place while I was not at home. And when time was up I told myself that I had to be done, really done, with pre-judging the situation. Good. Calm mommy good.
Finally feeling more relaxed and still pondering the strange things I had noticed, Sunday night I pulled back the sheets to crawl into bed. Just before stepping up off the floor to be carried away on dreamland travel I noticed a sparkle next to my foot. I crouched down to see which of my necklaces the cats had yanked off the dresser this time.
It was not one of my necklaces. No, it was much smaller – ankle sized.
I don’t wear, nor have I ever worn, ankle bracelets.
I really did my best to rationalize the blanket on the couch. I thought did a fine job explaining the soup spoon and the jug of punch. And though I didn’t find a precise explanation for the bed pillows, I did calm myself for which should at least get me partial points. But a delicate silver ankle bracelet next to my newly-made bed?! That scene snakes itself around a story I am not prepared to answer for, an answer I somehow believed was not one I would find personally applicable for at least a few more years, a story of weaning and nest-flying and saying goodbyes.
Carefully I gathered the ankle bracelet and placed it on the dresser with my unruly collection of jewelry, receipts and single buttons, and eventually I drifted to sleep feeling troubled and slightly dizzy.
I held onto the information until Tuesday, when two of my three sisters and I got together to plant some herbs and annuals at one of their homes. While picnicking under a lovely shade tree in their yard, we were discussing our families’ latest goings-on. Normally I wouldn’t share this kind of information until after the fact, but out the details blurted themselves, bubbling and blabbing all over my mouth. My sister’s visiting mother-in-law was horrified, suggesting that I should immediately be having a Serious Talk with my son. I saw the trouble reflected in my siblings’ faces, a push-me-pull-you of confused What the Hell forehead muscles counter tensed against don’t jump to conclusions mandibular pressure.
I told them I’d decided to talk with J. about it, but I was still undecided about how to do that. We bandied a few amusing ideas back and forth. Not surprisingly, the suggestions that met with the greatest approval were those that revealed that no matter how old we get, we’re still naughty children at heart. Let him dangle. Make him sweat. Tell him that someone called our home asking about, oh I dunno, some jewelry or something? Despite the entertainment value of those kinds of ideas, we did manage to scrap together a few slightly better ones and I narrowed it down to either (a) show J. the ankle bracelet immediately and ask him to explain it or (b) ask him if he had anyone over on Saturday night. I chose B, reasoning that it was the option that would give him the first chance to come clean on his own. He could save a little face and not have to feel as though I’m shoving distrust in his face. Good! That was decided. And now, on to obsessing about how to bring it up, and where, and do I talk to him in the car where he’s trapped or at home where he might be distracted or or or …
That night I picked J. up from his part-time job at a local grocery store. When he works weeknights he doesn’t generally eat well during break time, so after I’d shifted from behind the steering wheel to the passenger seat he drove us to a muy festivo fast food establishment.
We waited next to the drive-thru window for our order. Try as I might to focus on what he was saying which, by what I did hear (a little) was his opinion (high) of his friend’s new (used) VW Scirocco (classic, not too much rust), and find something appropriate to say in response, instead I felt the persistent ping of ask him, ask him, ask him, ask him ricocheting off the lining of my skull.
Did you have friends over on Saturday?
Oh dear god, I just blurted it out, right then, right there at him. This is getting so easy, this blurting thing. I could become a full-fledged blurter without having to finish the classes. I won’t even have to defend my thesis, they’ll just say no, go on y’know since we voted unanimously that you know more about blurting than all of us in our collective 5822 years of blurting academia. I’ll graduate early and with honors, and I’ll be celebrated the world over: The Most Honorable, Her Excellency the Queen of Blurtdom. What can I say, I’m gifted.
Hey, look at that, the ball actually started rolling!
Who was at our house?
Uh, B. and his girlfriend K., and her two friends.
Oh. So um, were you going to eventually let me know that they were over?
(throwing hands to air) What’s to let you know really? I just had some friends over.
(suddenly channeling my parents)
What’s to know is that I’m your parent, I’m the adult in our house, and I’m responsible for what happens there.
Previous history has proved one infallible truth: once I have channeled The Parents while speaking with my own child, things are not going to go as well as I had previously hoped. A younger idealistic chunk of who I am falls away from me in slow motion, replaced by an old fissured spike of granite. Before my own ears I age into a shriveled old woman squawking out the window at kids to stay out of her flower beds. However frightening, however instant this transformation has occurred, I appreciate that it has not always proved to be permanent. When I have caught myself uttering the moldy phrases my parents used that meant absolutely nothing to me as a child and I replace it with something entirely different – a new way of looking at the same issue, but with a twist of ‘so what?’– I can undo the lock that some of my own parent’s senseless rulemaking had, and still can have, over me; I think I can also help J. (and J., me) as he learns to make bigger and more far-reaching decisions for himself while I learn to trust both myself (to let him), and him (to make them).
Was someone in my bedroom?
Oh. pause Who was in my bedroom?
C? (I’ve never heard him mention this girl’s name before)
Yeah. B.’s girlfriend K.? C. is one of her friends.
Uh-hunh. And, uh, she was in my room why?
I guess she was really tired because she’d worked all day and she kept almost falling asleep on the couch where we all were so I just told her she could go upstairs and lay down, so she went up there to sleep.
(Damn! He’s either telling the truth –which does explain everything, really, or he’s a really great liar. He might be such a great liar that he could become a full-fledged liar without having to finish the classes. He might not even have to defend his thesis, they’ll just say no, you go on since we voted unanimously that you know more about lying your head off than all of us in our collective 5822 years of blurting academia. Maybe he’s so great a liar that he’ll graduate early and with honors, and he’ll be celebrated the world over: The Most Bold, His Excellency the King of Liarobia. What can I say, my son may be gifted.)
See, here’s the deal … not that anything DID happen, but if something WERE TO happen and not be a good thing and I’m not there? I mean, like, if I don’t even KNOW about it? Man, that’d really turn out badly. It’d suck a whole lot for you and it would really suck for me too. And aside from that … you know … I’m your mom and it’s kind of my job to know what’s going on. I’m not doing my job if I don’t know what’s going on, right?
Yeah, I know. I’m sorry. I didn’t think it was a big deal but yeah, I get it.
There is a long silent pause during which I retreat into my own thoughts. I imagine he is doing the same thing.
And by the way, C.’s probably missing an ankle bracelet.
I feel some of my tension and worry wash down my arms from my shoulders when he begins to chuckle.
During our conversation, (specifically, between chipping away at my stony past to get to my own history and future in order and J.’s apology) our beverages had been passed through the heptuply-layered bulletproof drawer-slash-window. At my response to J.’s laughter, the orange and brown uniformed guy mistily appeared with the rest of our order on the other side of the window’s scratched glass.
He drove our taco-smelling car home and, once inside, we divvied up my order of nachos and his value meal. He immediately retreated with his food to the dark mystery that remains the Den of Iniquity, leaving me to ponder the questions regarding the moment he hit this stage.
at 2:59 PM
I'm not keeping track of the measurements by inches, but I do keep a rough measurement by my own scales - having to water newly planted seedlings and time spent either entirely indoors for safety's sake or time spent waiting out a meteorological outburst until I can get out to do whatever I'm hoping to do.
I surely haven't had to water plants in many days and I've spent much time watching out the window, waiting for storms to pass.
The thing is, I don't really mind it. Not really. I can't begin to understand the complicated process by which the earth refreshes and replenishes itself, but I'm happy enough to wait my turn.
at 10:34 AM
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