After a happy workday I am trying not to let myself get too high or too low tonight.
Too high is a risk because, after a lovely weekend that was somehow bigger than its ostensible measurements, I feel—for the first time in ages—as though my wife and I are a couple again. As though we are together, an item, an us, not two people in love but in trouble trying to “make it work” but rather an honest-to-god loving couple. It’s amazing to feel this way again. And if I’m not careful, it makes me feel as though it makes absolutely no sense that we live separately. Why? Whatever for? We’re a couple, for god’s sake, and we share love, kids, and our fortunes for the future in many ways. If I’m not careful, in fact, I’ll get ahead of myself and recklessly jump in with both feet. And that would be bad for us as a couple. We need to take our time and just be happy with each other.
Feeling too low is also a risk because, of course, I miss her. Today, for the first time, without a hint of worry or stress or doubt. Just miss, as you miss anyone that you love who’s away. Yet she’s not away—she’s just a few blocks distant. We could all be together again tonight, and every night. Five minutes. Why go through the missing? Why suffer at all? The result is the same: If I’m not careful, I’ll get ahead of myself and recklessly jump in with both feet. And that would be bad for us as a couple. We need to take our time and just be happy with each other for a while.
We need to take our time and just be happy with each other for a while.
And for the first time in a long time, being happy with each other feels sort of effortless.
We can get around to arranging our lives and tackling the “issues” of life later. For now, it’s time to just be a couple again. It is so needed, and so right.
— § —
Anyone that underestimates the bloody-minded child does so at their own peril. I know, I used to be one. And my daughter may be more bloody-minded than even I was at her age.
I remember being a young kid being taken to church in my Sunday “best” with everyone around me both mortified and applying, by turns, all kinds of pressure—angry pressure, gentle pressure, bribery, reason, and any objects at hand—to try to get me to change the way I was wearing my clothes.
How was I wearing my clothes?
– Little girls’ stickers all over my unlaced shiny leather shoes
– Pant legs on my suit pants rolled up to mid-calf revealing white soccer socks, pulled high
– Sleeves on my sport coat jacket rolled up to mid-forearm
– Necktie tied around one arm, with ends dangling to my waist
– Nike sweatband on my head
– Shirt collar turned up
– Hair all combed over from left to right, then hairsprayed in place sticking out directly sideways
I appeared totally inappropriately, unlike the other boys, all dressed nicely and slickly in their suits and ties like little businesspeople. I looked ridiculous. Like I needed attention in the most embarrassing of ways. Everybody knew it. I knew it. Why did I dress that way?
So that they would bug me about it, after which I could refuse to change anything about it. Precisely so that I could have the satisfaction of making everyone uncomfortable by doing something that was unquestionably my thing in my way, even if it was stupid, in fact because it was stupid, and I was gonna be stupid. Nobody was gonna stop me, and I was going to make sure they understood that. And if adults were gonna be bugged when I did something stupid as a little kid, well, served them right for demonstrating finally that the adult world wasn’t beyond the kid world in importance or seriousness at all, despite all their claims to the contrary.
Or the time that for the first time in two decades, three generations were together from multiple continents all in one place and all anyone wanted was a photo. Would I be in the photo? Of course not. Begging. Pleading. Cajoling. Explanations. Recriminations.
Not a chance. I ruined it. Everyone hated me. In ways, I even hated myself. I ended up in a horrible mood.
So why? Because underneath it all, I felt as though the me-ness of me wasn’t being respected on a day-to-day basis. My feelings. My preferences. My needs. Why should they be, if I was just a kid? Because despite their claims of superior need, their explanations for why things were important and serious, they weren’t actually so elevated and distant in their seriousness that a mere kid couldn’t cause their vaunted emotional stability as adults to utterly crumble. To a kid, this was both liberating and terrifying.
My preferences were clearly just as important as theirs were. Stay with me here. They shouldn’t have been—but they were.
I saw through the contradicting claim—that a kid’s preferences, my preferences, weren’t to be taken seriously—and at the same time that my preferences as a kid were so important to them as to bring their adult lives and emotional selves on any given day to a screeching halt. We were on equal footing, but they didn’t want to admit it. So I clearly had a right to myself just as they did. As a result, whenever I found a moment in which I saw an opening to be me conspicuously, I took it. I reveled in it—and in the terrifying fact that I could make them squirm. Power to the powerless, who had, at the same time, been made far too powerful.
As I said, I see this in my daughter. That streak of irrational, very conspicuous bloody-mindedness, it’s familiar to me. It worries me. About her and about the job we’re doing as parents. But I get it. So I try to acknowledge it when she does it. That she is who she is, and I respect that, even if I think what she is doing is bizarre. And that I am still the parent, when all is said and done—but that I will give her the space, within reason, to be a kid. I will try to avoid either pressuring her to conform or granting her the power, which she really, really, really doesn’t want, to bother me as the adult when she doesn’t.
Because if her silly little whims as a kid have the power, as she suspects, to screw up the adults that are supposed to protect her and the adult world in general, then the weight of the world is actually on her shoulders—and the adults in her life don’t have the power to take care of her in the face of life’s hard facts and realities at all.
That’s how I grew up—knowing that if adults weren’t strong enough to cope with little kid me and my little kid life without losing their shit, then little kid me had better toughen up and get strong enough to take care of myself against the whole adult world.
Kids like me didn’t “seek attention” because we thought what we did was important, or because we wanted it to be important. We sought attention because we had already been told that everything we did was important, far more important than we wanted it to be. That everyone we needed to rely on was actually relying on us for just as much. And we were hoping, every day and with every fiber of our being, that someone would respond by telling us that it just didn’t matter.
We just wanted to hear, “Whatever, you lovable weirdo. It’s not my preference, but you’re just a kid. I get it. It’s all good, I love you anyway. When you’re done being weird, we’ll get lunch and tell some jokes. Until then, do your thing baby. I’ve got your back. I’ll be over here being the adult in the room.”
I don’t know for sure whether my daughter is in the same boat. There’s no way to know. She’s a separate person. Maybe I’m projecting all the time.
But some of the behavior is superficially familiar. So I try to be safe for her, in case that’s what she needs to someday feel safe to conform.
— § —
I’ve started reading a piece of cultural satire called “The Situation is Hopeless but Not Serious” by Paul Watzlawick. Two pages in, it is already full of rather apropos gems. My favorite so far?
“In his attempt to be true to his Own Self, he is enveloped by a spirit of negation, for not to negate would make him untrue to himself. The mere fact that other people may recommend something becomes the very reason for rejecting it—even if, seen objectively, that something would be to his advantage… However the true genius manages to go to the ultimate extreme and with heroic determination rejects even what he himself considers the best decision, that is, the voice of his own reason. Thus the snake not only bites its own tail but actually devours itself, and a state of unhappiness is created that is beyond comparison. Of course, for my less gifted readers this state of misery remains a sublime if unattainable goal…”