“You Would Never Talk to an Adult the Way You Speak to Me”
Last night as I was making dinner, I heard a loud crash—broken glass—and a familiar wave of anger rushed over me. Something lost, another thing to sweep up and throw away. I stormed into the dining room. My son had tried to juggle three arms worth of things to bring to the table and everything ended up on the floor, including the new colored-glass water bottle I had just bought that morning, now in shards and slivers.
“How the #@*% did that happen?” I demanded when I saw the mess. “I can’t believe you did this!”
“I’m fine, thanks for asking” my son answered calmly. “It was an accident.”
Already on his knees picking through the mess, he glanced up at me. And there it was, hanging there. The mirror. And me before it, looking waspish and ugly and naked, armed only with sharp words that sting but never solve. Blame, that injured bird, flailing all around me looking for a hard place to settle down. Because we need to find the source of all the wrongness in the world. We need to nail the un-namable feeling to an easy target.
Of course, my son was right. There was glass everywhere. He could have been hurt. He had been trying to help by setting the table and now he was kneeling among the shards sweeping them up. Because he’s a great kid. An awkward, shy fourteen year old.
Deep breath, deep into me. “I’m sorry” I offered. “Are you okay?”
“Yeah, I shouldn’t have tried to carry so much. I’m sorry I broke your new bottle.”
I held the pail as he began to gather up the pieces.
My daughter, 11 months his junior, had been watching the scene in silence and was now scrutinizing me carefully from her chair, eyes squinted, head nodding slightly, as though she had me all figured out, and it wasn’t a pretty picture.
“What? I said I was sorry.” Me, the adult, feeling judged. I sat down on the floor with my legs splayed out. Wounds never grow up, especially the oldest. They hold us in victim, which I’ve come to think of as state—physical and emotional—like a yoga pose that we get into easily, we refuse to move beyond.
“I was just thinking,” she said, “that you would never have reacted that way with an adult. You would never talk to an adult the way you speak to us. What if we had Steve and Paula (friends and neighbors) over for dinner and Paula was carrying the wine glasses and one slipped from her hand and crashed to the floor. Let’s say it was an expensive glass, maybe crystal . . .”
“We don’t own any crystal” I reminded her.
“Mom, just stay with me, okay?”
“Right. Go ahead. But we will never own crystal. Exactly for that reason. I’m just saying.”
Two pairs of eyes roll towards the heavens.
“Anyway”, she continues, “just imagine Paula breaks a glass, maybe two or three. There’s glass everywhere. And you shout . . . ‘Paula, how the hell did that happen?”
We giggle. More examples are batted around and tossed out teasingly. Real things that I’ve said to my children. Things they remember. Things I would never, ever say to an adult.
“Yeah, Paola”, my son chimes in, “how can you be such a klutz?”
“Maybe next time you’ll use your brain.” my daughter offers.
In spite of myself, I add the clincher: “Steve, Paula! You get back here right now, the both of you! No one is leaving this house until the dishes are done! Do you HEAR me?”
We all laughed at the absurdity of it. Of course we did. Because the words are unthinkable, grotesque. We laughed so hard, our bellies ached. We laughed so hard, the tears streamed. For me, they transformed, as they often do, into the real thing. So I let them come. Because it helps. Sitting on the floor in the middle of the mess, it helped.
The things that mattered had survived the fall.