I went to lunch with my son. He is now 21 and after a year of listening to his stories about his big move, his quiet hoping and big dreaming about moving down south — to get away from the cold — he’s finally doing it. I’m reminded of the year he begged me daily to take Driver’s Ed so he could hasten his license. It took me that long to relent as his distractability behind the wheel gave me existential panic. And I’m trying to trust and let go again.
Here we are four years and four cars later sitting in a restaurant that meets our tastes 1/2 way. We drove separately and he arrived a 1/2 hour later, after getting stuck in back to school traffic on move in day. 1/2 way into that gap I call and suggest we talk which we do for most of the interim. It was lovely.
He decided to do a 3-point turn and now has some wind in his windows. I learn of his concern about making new friends – as he tells me a story of Olivier giving him this advice: “you’ve got your whole life falling into place, don’t worry about missing one party.” We agree that Olivier is a great friend. And as he tells me which roads he is on now, I reflect on the rich journey he’s already been on – from near total social isolation to a deeply nourishing and lifelong friendship with most of the same boys he grew up with.
He arrives and his cheeseburger is cold, but no matter. We hug every time we see each other, morning or night (unless he is sleeping and I’m leaving for work to put the dog on his bed), and we pick up where we’d left off. My real desire is to widen his aperture about politics, but I know how fast we both shut down when we don’t feel heard so I ease into it with a common ground subject, health.
I’d asked, “do you want me to substitute your french fries for a salad” during our prior chat and he said, “no, it’s already being made” never wanting to put anyone out. Self-advocacy has been an excruciating thing to try and teach him.
Somehow this old story has a new underbelly today. My son is so present with me. All the years of trying to get him to eat (and be) more diverse and healthier are rearranging their molecules into this moment of focused attention on what I am saying. He has not compromised his capacity to listen to other under the weighty pressure to multitask. Like me.
We moved to this town of “lefty liberals” when he was a baby. I’d gone to college here and needed to raise my children outside of the square box we’d been in. As our conversation gets meatier, he reveals supportive evidence for his frustration with the gym members who complain about Trump every day.
One woman got pissed at him because the punching bag was gone and didn’t he “understand that she was entitled to a new punching bag given how much she pays for this gym membership?!” I see a young man who believes he could – with proper authority – right all the wrongs in the world. And I see a young man who has always internalized other’s anger directed at him.
The next day I get home and find him in his room getting dressed for the Three County Fair. He’s excited to see a school bus demolition and the tractor pull. We sit for another luxurious stretch of time and instead of launching into all the reflections I’ve had in the past 24 hours, I ask him what has crossed his mind.
He thanks me for sharing my fear of him changing; becoming too much of a red neck (which he agrees he is and is proud of it). He shares how much he appreciates the scholarly gym members for expecting him to be articulate and modeling for him good communication skills.
He obviously understood my point about all of us being a product of our environment, and today’s point of the hypocrisy of complaining about others’ complaints flows sweetly into acknowledgement that we can all only hold what we can bear emotionally. Complaining is just an indication that someone is trying too hard to go it alone.