Last week, my seventeen year-old son broke his toe playing frisbee. Suddenly he was home, on the couch, instead of at school or at work or out with friends; and he wanted our connection and support. I treasured the time, but I also resented it; and I’m not sure why.
…Maybe it’s because he takes so much for granted that to be asked anything else is outlandish.
…Maybe it’s because the last time we needed him–when my husband and I were simultaneously struck down by the flu–he abandoned us; after we spent days and nights tenderly caring for him and his brother.
Both of these points are valid, and that’s where I want to focus, even though I can tell that this isn’t the whole story. The body doesn’t lie. And mine has been screaming. Up the right side of my rib cage.
So I show up. Here. On this blog. And listen:
…I feel angry.
…and more than my own anger, I sense my father’s rage, with me, when I was my son’s age.
…What we fought about were bedtimes and laundry and who was the boss, but what we were really engaged in was the excruciating shedding of roles.
I must be shedding now too. My skin has been itchy for weeks. Maybe ever since my son decided upon a college.
But I don’t focus on that. I narrow in on his increasing lack of respect, contribution, consideration and caring.
“If you weren’t my son, I’d break up with you,” I say.
“Why?” he asks, sounding concerned.
“Because I would never let another man treat me this way.”
“How do I treat you?” he says, sounding hurt.
And then I realize,
…we aren’t living in the same world,
…or speaking the same language,
…or seeing the same things anymore.
This isn’t fair!
Fairness is where I get stuck. How is it fair that he sleeps here (all day), and eats here (some of the time) and relies on us and our provision in so many ways, but so easily dismisses what we need: like respect for our resources and time and patience by not using 6 towels in one week and leaving them scattered on his floor, wet, among candy wrappers and clothing and god knows what else, and then calls me to go look for something he left behind.
“Just don’t look in the bottom drawer, Mom.” (I did.)
Ironically, he has chosen a college room-mate based on his tidiness: “I just can’t live with someone who is going to trash our place.” (This makes me want to cackle and curse him with the sloppiest room-mate on Earth.)
Oh, and last month, when he took OUR car to Canada with his buddies, he cleaned it from top to bottom–BEFORE they left; and returned it …you know how.
And work? He gives them 150%.
And even with a broken toe, he can’t miss his game this afternoon to pick up his brother so that I can go to the doctors for this excruciating pain on my right side, the pain that won’t let me bend forward or backward or even turn side to side; despite the fact that we dropped everything to help him with his… toe.
I get it. I do. I know he’s transferring all of his good nature, his passion, his consideration–to the world outside of his family; but does he have to be so cliché? I’ve parented out of the box these past years; can’t he grow up out of it too?
He just called. He forgot his sneakers. Could I drop them off on my way to the doctor’s appointment (the one that I had to arrange alternative coverage for) so that he doesn’t have to wear his hikers to “watch” his game?
It does no good to point out the absurdity of his request. I am in a one-sided relationship. Only he isn’t a bundle of joy gazing lovingly into my eyes like the sun rises and sets on me. Instead, I am the dark cloud who obstructs his obliviously sunny sky. Unless he needs something. Then he pours it on. And I feel like a door mat.
(I leave the sneakers behind.)
But if I really listen to the pain in my ribcage that made it hard to breath, there’s something more…
…That evening, when he was home, in the living room, like he used to be, and he asked me to come over to the couch so that he could show me something on his computer; and I sighed, put down my work, and shimmied in beside him, where he sat with his foot propped up with ice… something happened…
…As he hit play, my attention narrowed, not on the screen, but to…
From shoulder to foot, I felt the heat of his body and mine; and in a flash, I remembered everything… the longing I felt for him to come into my life, the preciousness of his growth inside my belly, the tenderness with which I anticipated his newborn needs, the day-to-day companionship of ours years at home together.
There was a stabbing pain in my third eye as I returned my attention to the computer in front of me where my 17 year-old was sharing a cover of one of our favorite songs, sung by a group of Norwegians with bad haircuts:
While listening, I noticed that we raised our eyebrows at just the same time, and then grinned in the same moments, and then turned toward each other and nodded, just as the voice of the last vocalist swept us away.
I always thought of this song as epic, as biblical, as archetypal–between a man and love. But today, I hear a mother’s story. And I feel the excruciating finality of what has been a soul-consuming journey…
Maybe there’s a god above
And all I ever learned from love
Was how to shoot at someone who outdrew you
And it’s not a cry you can hear at night,
It’s not somebody who’s seen the light
It’s cold and it’s a broken Hallelujah
Motherhood is such holy work, and I fail, again and again, to keep the sacred front and center. I was good at holding on when he needed that, but I’m not sure how to let go; or at least how to do both at the same time.
But baby I’ve been here before
I’ve seen this room and I’ve walked this floor
You know, I used to live alone before I knew ya
And I’ve seen your flag on the marble arch
And love is not a victory march
It’s a cold and it’s a broken Hallelujah
What do I do when that little boy, who held my hand and talked to me about life: “Where do faces go when we die? Does the sun know everything?” “Can I marry you when I grow up?” reappears beside me, with thick hairy legs, and a voice deeper than his father’s?
Well your faith was strong but you needed proof
You saw her bathing on the roof
Her beauty and the moonlight overthrew ya
She tied you to her kitchen chair
And she broke your throne and she cut your hair
And from your lips she drew the Hallelujah
This is labor, I think. This is the ripping apart of two souls. Just as it was at birth.
There was a time
You let me know
What’s real and going on below
But now you never show it to me, do you?
And remember when I moved in you?
The holy dark was moving to
And every breath we drew was Hallelujah
I remember the first time he moved in me, and how we became one, until he grew so large inside that he began to press under that same rib, until it hurt so badly that I could hardly breath, and I wanted him gone, and when he was, I ached that he was no longer there.
Well I’ve heard there was a secret chord
That David played and it pleased the Lord
But you don’t really care for music, do you?
Well it goes like this:
The fourth, the fifth, the minor fall and the major lift
The baffled king composing Hallelujah
I love you, Lloyd. I’m so sad you’re gone. I can’t believe you’re still here. I don’t know how to live without you. I don’t know how to live with you. I don’t know how to let you go and love you at the same time.
But I’ll keep trying.
Kelly Salasin, Mothers Day 2013
ps. Dad, sorry for playing the piano that night beneath your bedroom.