An Eavesdropper’s Guide to Compassion

Acquire more compassion. That is one of my top personal goals: to appreciate what another person is going through without the weight of pity or guilt. Or discomfort. Or disdain. I’d like to think I’m making progress but mostly I’m just aware of all the other reactions that sully the compassion. I want compassion unencumbered by other emotions. But perhaps single, pure reactions are not the way humans respond.

The other morning outside Starbuck’s, a youngish man was talking to himself. There is something distinctive about self-talk, you hear it and you know he’s not talking to a person or into a device. He walked rapidly without purpose, ricocheting from spot to spot. He had shoes cradled in his arms, but only socks on his feet. When he entered Starbucks, most everybody acted like he wasn’t there, but stiffened and you knew they knew. Fresh back from a week in Manhattan, I was skilled at ignoring him. He stood behind me in line for a while, muttering and rapping. He came up with some spectacular rhymes, and sounded surprised when his words fell into place. He was impossibly high, on what I dunno. I couldn’t tell whether he was having a good trip.

After he left, a woman in line had a mom moment and expressed concern about his heading toward traffic. I looked out at him and for the first time saw somebody’s son. Suddenly I felt like a crumb for not reaching out to him, maybe getting him to sit down for a spell. Without provocation, he sprinted up the street and away. The woman kept talking about him to all the workers and now it seemed like there was gossip in her caring, which disappointed me. The workers told her that cops had earlier been out to chat with him. I had happened into one short piece of a recurring cycle.

The other night on the subway I sat next to a pair who must have been friends, maybe mid-20s in age. The guy said to the gal, “Have you seen Brian lately? I really don’t like him anymore, he has turned into such a loser. All he wants to do is sit around at home.” (GIrl murmurs unconvinced noises.) “Shelly saw him in New York. He flew out there for an interview with a director about a big part.” (Tone of voice conveys jealousy and frustration – apparently Brian blew the opportunity.) “Shelly thought the same thing. He’s acting like a loser. You know his dad tried to kill himself last year.” (Not clear whether this is offered as an attempt to understand, or further proof of what a loser Brian is.)

By now I hate this guy and wish Brian had better friends. Later I bring myself around to thinking about the life experiences that shaped this guy and prevent him from perceiving that Brian’s behavior could reflect emotional devastation. I remember my 20s as a time of cavalier disregard for so many others. Maybe he’ll grow out of it. I’m pretty sure that I finally have, although disdain still comes way too easily to me.

Creepy-Sweet

A few millennia ago, by internet time – that is, earlier this year – there was social media hoopla about a great Reddit poll which collected the creepiest sayings of kids. I suppose every parent has contributions to that list. I know I do!

When my son was oh, I dunno, maybe 4, he went through a phase of making ridiculous demands early Saturday morning.  Sure enough, early one weekend morning as I tried to catch up on maybe 4 years of sleep, he wanted something. I don’t remember what, exactly. Perhaps that was the week he wanted to climb out his window and sit on the second story roof. Anyway, I said no, as I did each time, and he threw a tantrum, as he did each time. He went back to his room to fuss.

Laying there, pretending I would fall asleep again, I realized the house had grown quiet. This was so unusual I had to worry. I called softly to my son. Maybe he had fallen asleep?!? Nope.

“What, Mom?” he replied. The mystery deepened. He sounded downright cheerful.

“Everything okay in there?”

“Yeah.”

“Huh. Good. Whatcha’ doin’?”

“Oh, I was just thinking about a bear eating you.”

Discipline is always more difficult when they make you laugh.

**************

When my twins were young, I would occasionally suggest that when they went off to college I would come with them so we could stay together. They thought this was a great idea until they hit about 10. After that, there were a couple years when they reacted guardedly, unsure whether I was kidding. After that, they reacted like teenagers.

Back when they wanted us to stay together, my son developed a long-term plan that he shared with gusto. When he was grown, he would build a house behind his own house, and that would be the house where I lived. Then, after I died, he would bury me in the walls so that I could stay there forever.

He has always been a thoughtful person.

**************

Surprised to say, I can’t recall any creepy sayings from my daughter.  However, I will never forget – and am eternally uplifted – by one thing she said to me. She was 3 or 4 at the time: “If ever you fall low I will raise you up.”

And that has proved true ever since.

As A Spectator Sport, A Bit of a Challenge

(Note: this post has pages, in response to this Weekly Writing Challenge.)

I’ve never been into sports. I’m no good playing them – except Jacks, I play a mean game of Jacks – and was never interested in watching sports until my kids started playing them. Through my kids, I’ve become a soccer fan and I enjoy track meets. Last year, my daughter joined a college crew team. I know zip about crew, as you will quickly detect from this post. For those who know even less: crew teams race in rowboats. There. Now I’ve shared everything I know.

I learned at my daughter’s first crew meet that binoculars are a good idea.

(cont.)

I am the mother of a grown-up. I am the …

… mother of a grown-up. I am the mother of a grown-up.

This is a reminder I will need to keep making to myself over the next several days (and – okay –  years).  My son, 19, has gone on his first long-distance road trip with two friends. They are driving across several states to enjoy snowboarding in Utah.

I had some initial knee-jerk reactions about icy roads and chains but after that I did a pretty good job keeping my mouth shut and my advice to myself as their plans evolved. I confess that at the last minute I did throw a weather map up on a monitor.

My son is smart and quick-witted and has at least an average level of common sense for a 19 yo male. But even if none of that were true, my influence is so very limited nowadays. And that is as it should be. We are in an extended period of his learning to fend for himself and my learning to let him.

Sometimes I am startled by just how wise and insightful he has become. Other times I am taken aback by how deeply green and innocent his perspectives are, for all the superficial street smarts. So far I have had mixed success in keeping my opinions and advice to myself. But I think I am improving.

Interestingly, his twin sister asks me for a lot more advice now than she did a few years ago. The opposite holds true with my son.

For me the most rewarding part of being a parent is getting to know the people they are becoming. I used to live in terror that they would grow up to relegate our relationship to occasional obligation, as I did with my mother; but so far that doesn’t seem to be where we are headed.