THIS HAPPENED TO ME
My Son And I Argued Christmas Day
We didn’t argue politics, or race, or gender, or conspiracy theories. We agree on all that. The argument was about him going with me to see holiday lights. He had promised.
Silly reason to argue? Of course. Did it bring up every reason we’ve ever argued? Every trauma and disappointment? Again, of course.
Adult child/parent relationships can be difficult in the best of times. Throw in a pandemic, and all hell can break loose. My son and I both suffer from depression, mostly managed, but always lurking, which doesn’t help.
In fact, if you read me, you know I try my damnedest to look on the bright side. I’m also a therapist, so it’s imperative that I attend to my mental health, and understand relationships. But one with an adult child, who was a creative, difficult little kid? Yeah, I don’t do that so well.
Here are the arguments highlights, pun intended:
Me, at the end of the argument, “You win. I’m coming over to the Dark Side with you. I’m now as depressed as I’ve ever felt. It’s true, the world and everything in it sucks.” Or something to that effect.
As ridiculous as it sounds now, I was being real. I truly was feeling that terrible sinking despair that those with clinical depression know so well. I hadn’t felt it in years, thanks to cymbalta and mindfulness.
Him, at the beginning of the argument, “I just want space and to be left alone. I’ve been exhausted. You and Kirkland drove me crazy demanding so much of me today.” Or something close.
Mind you, this was because, right before, he had asked me to take him over to that very friend’s house. They were then going to meet other friends. I reminded him he had promised to go with me to see lights. It all went downhill from there.
You see, I hadn’t made ANY demands. Quite the opposite. His friend, Kirkland, who was alone for Christmas, came for dinner. With Kirkland and I wearing masks and constantly hand washing, he helped me prepare dinner. He also installed shower rods for me. In between, he did, indeed, drive my son crazy distracting him from a movie we were watching. Kirkland might be a tad ADD.
Blake is amazingly popular. I wish I had his charisma. But he does have too many people making too many demands on him, in both Austin and L.A. He’s a content creator with an unparalleled work ethic, and others flock to him.
On top of that, his father has been marginal in his life, except for when I persisted in getting them together. A day late and a dollar short, he’s decided to try to ride Blake’s creative coat tails in Los Angeles. He calls or texts several times a day, and asks for Blake’s help to implement his ideas.
He’s always lived far from us, first in New Mexico, then Philadelphia, and Montana. Now Arizona. His father only saw two of Blake’s high school basketball games, and two of his college games in the twelve years he played. He missed every art show, activity, and performance. Blake hadn’t seen him in six years.
Austin has an abundance of light trails, and drive-thru decorations. One at the Nascar track, one at Trail of Lights in Zilker park, several in shopping areas like the Domain, and the tree in front of the Capitol.
We had agreed last year to give each other experiences, not gifts. In fact, the original plan was to go with my sister to Manhattan. Blake hasn’t been to New York. We had the tickets and the hotel. Then the pandemic hit.
We waited until the last minute to cancel the New York trip. Cases picked up in L.A. Where Blake lives, and my sister was exposed in Fort Worth, Texas. Things are a little better here in Austin, so Blake came here for Christmas and New Year’s. He has a plethora of friends here, and maybe even a girl, but I’d be the last to know that.
He arrived on Wednesday, I picked him up, he left for a hair appointment and I worked. We had dinner, he went to bed at 7:00, and slept fourteen hours. To be honest, Christmas Eve was a blur. I did eat dinner alone, I remember. He went to bed soon after he get home that night.
Christmas day started pleasantly. So that my sister and I wouldn’t have to get out and shop, we’d agreed on gift cards. If we’d gone to New York, we weren’t going to do gifts at all. Still, exchanging only gift cards with just the two of us was a little anticlimactic. Still, we had a nice day watching Jim Carrey in “The Grinch Who Stole Christmas,” and then the Borat movie. Not tradition, but we laughed together through both.
The argument is typical of those I help clients unpack all the time. It grew from assumptions and a lack of clear communication. It also happened, because no matter how old we get, most of us regress some when visiting a parent. He’s twenty-seven, and no exception. He wanted a mommy, but one who left him alone until he was ready to interact. Sort of like when he was a teen. I wanted my son, but also my buddy.
Whatever judgments you may have of either of us after reading about this ridiculous argument, please know that we worked it out for the moment.
Only after he had lumped me in with everyone else who wants a piece of him. And only after I dropped him off at his friend’s and he asked me to text him when I got home. I told him I would, but I wasn’t going home yet. He asked where I was going, and I said I didn’t know.
I drove and looked at lights and cried a little. I finally let him know I was heading home after he texted and then called. After I parked and couldn’t get out of the car to go in, much like the start of the depression I entered when he went to college, and I couldn’t get out of my car to go into the empty house. That’s when I uttered the “joining you on the Dark Side” comment. So who was being the child here?
Assumptions get us every time. My assumption was that we would do a safe activity together, as close as we could get to sharing the gift of experience that was the original plan. His assumption was that his being here, and staying with me instead of a friend was his gift to me.
The problem is, we didn’t verbalize these separate assumptions to each other. Something I point out to clients frequently when they report misunderstandings. It’s so much easier to see the assumptions and lack of communication when feelings aren’t involved.
I’m an older mom, but have always avoided acting like one. Pre-pandemic, I was often welcome to join him and his friends. Now, of course, he worries about my health. He’s always had anxiety around loss, but now he has to worry about a pandemic that takes the lives of many people my age. And I don’t want to be around his friends now, no matter how safe he and they are. I do miss them, though.
He and I have each often stated that we like each other enough to enjoy doing stuff together. Being the mom who keeps the home fires burning is not the role I envisioned or embodied for myself as he became an adult.
Like most things in the pandemic, that’s changed, and I’m struggling to make the adjustment. I’m sure he is too.
Thank you to Joe Duncan for the push to be more vulnerable in my writing.