It was a simple enough question. It finally came on the 4th day of our trip as we walked amongst the tall evergreens of Washington.
We were on vacation, our annual sojourn up north. She expected an answer, as well she should. She was, after all, my mom. A rare moment had opened up with just the two of us, where nobody else vied for our attention. No children or spouses…just her dog Molly at the end of a long leash.
Historically I break down in tears the moment she places her hand on my shoulder. I weep and sob about how hard life is and bare my soul, pouring out all the pain and regret and fear and concern which I have been secreting away all these many days, saving them up for just this moment. I wanted to tell her everything; that I was discouraged about not finding work, that I felt stuck in a rut, like Bill Murray in Groundhog Day, waking up every morning with new energy and hope, only to have it all dwindle to nothing by the end of the day, over and over and over and over again. I felt that I had lost all motivation and ability to focus. The house was always a mess, toys everywhere, piles of dirty laundry and dishes. I was losing control. Somewhere along the line, parenting had become a chore.
I wanted to cry out, “Please, mom, HELP ME OUT OF THIS MALAISE!”
I wanted to tell her all of this, but I didn’t. Instead I just mumbled something like, “Oh, fine. Yep…mmmm, hmmm. Doing OK.”
And just like that, the moment was gone, swept away by the northern wind.
I think part of me wanted to spare her from all my drama, such as it is. Compared to my sister, who lives just down the road from her, my life is about as exciting as an old leather shoe (character…it’s all about character…). How could I burden my own mother with tales of woe when she is so overwhelmed with my younger sibling’s needs and concerns, which are, legitimately, many.
Another part of me rationalized it as just another way to suffer in silence. That is what we do, isn’t it? As parents, we sacrifice and give and sweat, putting ourselves last before all others. I have begun to build up an immunity to all the emotional ups and downs of the day. This conserves my energy so that I have something left for myself. At the same time, however, it hardens me. Maybe this is a parental survival instinct. I’m still trying to figure it out.
It’s the last day of our stay and we say our goodbyes. Everyone agrees it was a wonderful visit. I know Maddie will remember these trips to the lake with fondness. At 43, I feel so lucky that my parents are still alive, and I am grateful.
As I hug my mom, somehow all of this is communicated in our silent embrace. And in that moment I am the child again. It feels good.