Monday, August 25, 2008

One More Post Where the Pictures Are Not Appropriate to the Words

So, a word to the wise: if your nineteen-year-old daughter is about to leave home for a semester in another country, it might not be the best time to see Mamma Mia because when Meryl Streep sings "Slipping Through My Fingers," you will cry like a small child. And feel like a fool, especially when you look around the theater and see that most of the women are crying. Not that such a thing has ever happened to me, you understand. I am so tough and masculine a personage that my lachrymal glands have atrophied from lack of use. A dom top has to be an unfeeling SOB: if a bottom ever complains that I'm fucking him too hard, I typically say, "What? Are you still here? I thought I was fucking my inflatable Ricky Martin." And then I spit on him, which shuts him up and makes him cum so that I can toss him out the door and get back to thinking about more important matters, like football, beer, and why I don't have an inflatable Ricky Martin. Seriously, how is that even possible?

Irony aside (as if!), having children is not for the timid. I was at my company's annual picnic last Friday afternoon, and there were kids all over the place. (My own children weren't present, of course. As it happens, they were in NYC on vacation with their mother and step-father, but even if they'd been home, I'm confident that they'd have found something better to do than to hang out with a bunch of accountants.) Everyone makes a big deal over the kids, and that's as it should be, but the bigness of the deal is inversely proportional to the age of the child, so the biggest deal is invariably made over the infants. There are sound evolutionary reasons why you should pay the most attention to the children who are the most helpless, but I have to tell you that babies, by and large, are high-maintenance drama queens. Fortunately, most parents -- myself included -- don't figure this out until it's too late and are, by then, entirely besotted with the little brats, so we tend to do a decent job of keeping them away from sharp objects and moving vehicles.

Children become much more interesting as they grow up, and if you're especially lucky, they will still want to hang out with you long after they should have figured out that you aren't nearly as interesting as they are. So while there may be no panic to equal what you feel when your four-year-old breaks free from you on vacation and moves into the path of a moving vehicle and you barely snatch her back as the vehicle screeches to a halt, the feeling doesn't compare to sitting next to the same child fifteen years later when she's driving your car and talking about her plans for when she's going to be thousands of miles away from you. The combination of love, joy, pride, and anticipated absence is so strong that it's physically painful. It's wise at such moments to look out the window: if she sees the pain in your eyes, she'll know exactly where it comes from, and she'll laugh at you. But she'll laugh sympathetically, and the sympathy will hurt more than anything else.

I know that a lot of people expect to have, and perhaps do have, their most intense emotional relationships with their partners, but I don't know how that's possible, and I have certainly never felt as much love for an adult as I have for my kids. Adults come to you more or less fully formed, and they love you back more or less equally, or you discard them. Children come to you as blank slates who soon love you unconditionally, but over time, you become a less and less important part of their worlds, so that while they still love you, hopefully a lot, the intensity with which you love them is entirely unrequited. The inequity is enhanced because while a child doesn't see a parent as a reflection of herself, a parent looks at a child as his own creation. Or at least I do. I may not be a very successful member of the capitalist system, but I see what terrific kids I have, and I figure that I must be a pretty good guy. I wouldn't want to have a similar investment in a significant other. You really can't count on a grown man not to disappoint you, but if you do a decent job raising your kids, they'll always be people you can be proud of.

EFU flew out early Sunday morning, and that was a big part of why it was a tough weekend. I spent much of Saturday taking her around to buy last-minute supplies and to hang out with her best friend. I said goodbye to her Saturday night. Her flight was very early, and her mother wanted to take her to the airport, and I had to rehearse something at church, so I wanted to get a reasonable amount of sleep. More importantly, I didn't trust myself not to become a wreck on the way to and at the airport. She was nervous not about leaving but about how well she'd get along with her host family, and while I thought her fears were unfounded (she gets along with just about everybody), she so rarely worries about anything that when she does worry, I worry more. As it was, I got somewhat anxious when b&c and I came out of a movie Sunday evening and I saw that she'd called but hadn't left a message. I checked out her flight information and found that her connecting flight out of Dallas had been delayed four hours, so I went through her information and called her host family. To call my Spanish rudimentary would be very generous, but after I'd said "Habla ingles?" and "mi hija" and "tarde quatro" (which probably means 4pm if it means anything at all) and -- with a sigh -- "no hablo espanol," the woman took pity on me and summoned her daughter, whom I informed of the situation. I was told not to worry. I was not really able to comply, but when I saw that the flight had finally landed and managed to reach EFU on her cellphone and tell her that I'd called her host family, and she'd thanked me, I felt better, even though EFU would certainly have been fine without my assistance.

The other reason why the weekend was difficult was that b&c returned from Haiti for a two-week home stay. It is good to have him around, of course, but it's difficult when he's away so much and then back briefly and then away again. It's hard to change gears from full-on slut to temporarily semi-exclusive partner. I'm not sure which I prefer, to be honest. It'd be nice to find a middle ground, but I don't think there's a middle ground so long as I have to work full time. There's a lot of bouncing back and forth between the two extremes. And they're both pleasant situations, but suddenly having to consider the needs of an adult at the moment when I'm missing a child is disorienting. Still, in the overall scheme of things, it's not really a big problem, and there's neither reason to whinge nor any benefit to be gained by whinging.

B&c's return is a useful reminder that life goes on, even when the kids are away. I still have another six years before YFU leaves the nest, but six years goes by in about the amount of time it takes to stop and tie your shoes. It's probably time for me to consider what the outlines of my life will be like when both of the kids are grown and have left home. I suppose that, for one thing, there will be more time to chase guys. It's not much of a consolation, but I'll have to take what I can get.

I'm sure there will be other opportunities -- longer vacations, for example -- that accompany the empty nest, and perhaps someday (not too soon, please), there will be grandchildren. I used to worry that I wasn't getting enough accomplished or experiencing enough things while I was still relatively young. But there's no accomplishment or experience to rival supporting your kids as they find their ways to adulthood. And one of the areas where there's a significant benefit to having a partner who's substantially older than I am is that I have a living example to show me that when I'm six, or sixteen, years older, I can still have the energy and opportunity to do almost anything (or anyone) I want.


franck said...

Very touching. And this from someone with no desire whatsoever to father any offspring.
Did she go to Spain or South America?

The Neighbors Will Hear said...

She went to Mexico. To Guadalajara (so many a's; so hard to type), to be exact.

Sheepy said...

For what it's worth, I enjoyed reading this very, very much.

But I am thinking about this issue a lot these days.