Sometimes when my children are screaming I pretend I’m not their mother, and feel bad for whatever poor shmuck is.
I slept like crap list night. My gut is bad and I’m up and down all night. The alarm goes off at 6:15 and my first thought is, Jesus Christ. There is so much that has to get accomplished in the next hour. I haul my menopausal bones out of the warm cocoon, crank the coffee and try to have a coherent thought. Were I alone, this would not be necessary. But unfortunately, I have a bright-eyed, morning-type 9-year- old son who peppers me with, “What’s really your favorite roller coaster at 6 Flags?” and “What I don’t like about fourth grade is that we don’t get our math tests immediately back. In third grade we did. In fourth grade we get our spelling tests back the next day but for some reason –“ I spill the creamer because while his brain is working at top speed, I’m still having trouble with basic motor control. “Why are grown-ups so tired in the morning?” Bodhi always wants to know.
Which answer do I give?
That while you go to bed at 8 pm, we stay up til midnight, to try to get a scrap of work done, much less have a glass of wine and conversation with our mates? That my poor old bones have almost four decades on yours? Or perhaps because my guts blew out gestating you?
Needless to say, I don’t say any of these things. I mumble some pre-coffee answer and my son doesn’t even notice.
I came alive in my shower, thankful for the privacy, the warmth, and the steamy isolation chamber. When I opened the shower door, I heard the particular blood-curdling scream of my 13-year-old. “NOOOOOOO!” she screeched. (Honestly, if we lived in an apartment we’d’ve been booted long ago. Thank God she wasn’t born Anne Frank.) “Bodhi!!!!!”
Time has taught me I don’t need to jump in. I put lotion on my legs, a shirt on my body and flossed because last week the dentist shamed me into submission. A little more screaming. One more slug of coffee. Then I descended into the fray.
Charlotte wasn’t in what we in her close circle refer to as “a full tizz” but she was pretty upset. I pretended I hadn’t heard the last 8 minutes from upstairs. “Oh hi, Char!” I entered the living room like a supporting player in a sitcom. You know, the neighbor who breezes through and asks’ ‘what’s up” so that the star can give some exposition?
“Bodhi is mad at me!!” She howled. “And I am so mad at him!”
I stumbled out to the car, ostensibly to put my bag down but also to check in with my son, who sulked in the far back. “She was touching Pablo and all I said was “come on Pabs!” and then she screamed and hit me and tipped over the chair!” He is an extremely accurate eyewitness. He should’ve been in Ferguson.
The next part gets a little dull — he said/she said — but the spy thriller aspect was that the clock was ticking, we had to get into the car in the next three minutes or the bomb would go off! (I mean we’d be late for school.) “Bodhi is sitting in the back!!! He’s not sitting next to me!” (The usual arrangement.) He is mad at meeee!” Charlotte screeched/howled. (Heeched? Scrowled?) “He is mad at me! I don’t like it!”
“Weeell honey, “ I say. Gingerly slipping her sweater on so we can get out the friggin’ door. “When you hit someone they don’t usually want to sit next to you. Would you want to sit next to someone who’d just hit you?”
Charlotte then created a fantastic splurge of exasperation. Passion, frustration, sorrow convulsed her body into a spastic heap. Even through my annoyance and running-late anxiety, I recognized myself.
There was a guy in my twenties. Dwayne (all names have been changed to protect my bad behavior.) Without boring you with details, suffice to say: I loved him, he loved me – and he hadn’t totally, completely, really AT ALL, broken up with his girlfriend. At the beginning of our love affair, this wasn’t a problem because she lived in another state. Then work brought us all to that same infernal state. Poor Dwayne was Warren Beatty-ing it, spending one night with her, another with me, as we tried to lurch toward some sort of conclusion to this hideous story.
I went insane. If I’d see her car (a red Honda Accord, seared into my memory), I’d get tied in knots and when I next saw Dwayne I would rail at him, collapse in his arms, and hook up because it was all so intense. I was so mad at him and I loved him so much. Just like Charlotte and her brother.
My daughter is a passionate, frustrating person at times, but empathy is the bridge between us. The moment I recognize myself in her, I soften imperceptibly and she feels it immediately. She suffers from some OCD and for years our day would get derailed when she couldn’t’ find some beloved something-or-other. And for years I had little patience for it. “C’mon, Char,” I’d say, trying to hustle her out the door to some place or another (you are sensing a common theme – hustling my children into cars), “why is that so important?”
Relatively recently I realized that I suffer from the same thing. Not as severely, but I can fall into the “I can’t do anything until I locate my other glove,” and get more frazzled in the looking and get hijacked by my anxiety. (Of course the glove appears only when I am calmer and no longer give a shit.) The next time Char had an OCD moment, instead of judging her as the Other, I said, “You know what? I totally get it. I do the same thing. Let’s figure out ways that we can help ourselves with this problem.” My beautiful daughter looked up with such gratitude. She was no longer isolated with her feelings. She was no longer alone. Nor was I.
This morning I said, “You know what, babe? You have to let Bodhi have his feelings. Say sorry to him and then let him come around.” (Why didn’t anyone tell me that when I was doing Dwayne drive-bys looking for that Honda Accord?) Char momentarily resisted, then I suggested she listen to “Pippin”, her current favorite musical, on the way to school.
And so we did.
As our Jewish grandmothers teach us, there is nothing that a little empathy and a Broadway musical can’t soothe.
Maybe they are my children after all.