It was my son’s birthday on Thursday. He is now a fully fledged teenager. I am not worried about dealing with a teenager because I deal with teenage-like behaviour from my parents and sister on a regular basis. I am expecting that my son will give me much less trouble.
My mother left a garbled, breathless message on the answering machine a week ago. At first I was worried, thinking that she was ill. As it turned out she was merely in a hurry to get everything out.
You’ve probably done it yourself. You know that way you feel when you have to call someone you don’t really want to speak to and you do a mental high five when you realise they’re not in and you’ve got the machine? So you speak really quickly in case they come home as you’re leaving the message and actually pick up the phone.
I had called my mother to ask her if she’d like to come over on her grandson’s birthday. I didn’t think it was that outrageous a request but my request was met with a cursory : You don’t need to ask me because you think you have to.
So I hit the ball firmly back into her court, saying : I asked you because I wanted to. Whether or not you come over is entirely up to you.
She and my Dad came over for Nick’s birthday. I was pleased. I was also perturbed. I don’t want any bad blood between us but it lingers as if my mind was a table and someone had carved the sour memory into it.
For an hour or so it went well. We laughed and joked just like the old days. But it seems that past and present are tied together more tightly than I thought because the old accusations started creeping in.
I was proud of myself. I sidestepped as skilfully as any dancer. Some people just can’t help but play the same old games, but I have dealt myself out. Permanently.
When they saw I wasn’t going to bite they changed their tune. Relaxing into neutral topics like discussing the weather. I offered a silent prayer to the rain gods that they had been as active as they had of late as we talked of muddy roads and methods for getting laundry dry.
I don’t know how I’m going to traverse meetings with my parents in the future. I think I’ll just take it a minute at a time. I’ll keep a list of safe topics in my pocket or images in my head that will keep me safe.
Like the sunset I saw tonight. Fingertips dipped in pink and orange paint then swept in parallel lines across the darkening sky. Or the little girl I saw with a red skirt and tights and bright yellow gumboots. Images so colourful they can’t help but cheer.
I know what I won’t do. I won’t wear the shoes they’ve picked out for me. Those shoes will pinch and pull at my feet. So I’ll keep on believing that if the shoe doesn’t fit, you just shouldn’t wear it.