pWdumaNjA-6CEEBhRoD5euxNETs When All This Actual Life Played Out: Again

15 May 2013


Healy Hall
Georgetown University
Washington, D.C.
11 May 2013

It was a revelation.

The son asked me to fly out to DC to help him pack up for the summer. He had finals down to the wire, almost up until the moment that he had to vacate the dorm. The timing worked for me in more ways than one, so I made the arrangements go east.

The morning after the concert in Baltimore, I hopped on the train down to DC. The porter fussed at me because of my bag (which didn't violate any train rules, he was just being a jerk) and I quelled him by saying forbiddingly, "Sometimes we have no choice but to travel heavy."

He actually seemed to think about that for a moment and didn't bother me again.

(And I wonder why the spouse, my children and my friends see me as that person.)

The train ride passed quickly, and I caught a cab at Union Station to take me across town. Morning rush hour but I was soon at my destination, and I found the son. We ate breakfast at the only place I've ever encountered that can't even manage oatmeal, and once I'd had sufficient coffee, we headed up to his room to begin the sorting and packing.

I was brusque and businesslike, tired and headachy from a far too fun night and not enough sleep. Also?


I felt tremendous guilt.

Sure, the son had asked me to come and help him. But I worried my presence would be perceived as hovering. I worried I wasn't letting him take care of something that at 19, he should probably be able to deal with. He asked for help, I kept telling myself, which he knows he can do, but only does if he feels he really needs it. He is comfortable in his ability to do his own thing. But still, I felt uneasy. And while I was happy to be of assistance if he wanted it, I can only admit that I grabbed the opportunity because it afforded me an extra concert that I'd not have gone to otherwise.

(That was at the root of the guilt. All these years later, I still feel like I shouldn't take that time for myself, though it is the best medication in the universe.)

As it all turned out, not only did the son rightly ask for my assistance, he probably wouldn't have gotten out of there without it. He'd severely underestimated the sheer volume of possessions that needed to be put into storage until the Fall semester, or brought home or shipped home because there was no room for them elsewhere. After I arrived, he had three more finals and a language proficiency exam, a shift at his job, matériel to return and a very final date for ejection from his room.

I sorted, packed, planned, bought more packing boxes, tore tape, repacked suitcases and boxes until they were within weight limits, planned some more, and negotiated with the crabby UPS guy.

As I wandered to and fro, hotel room to dorm room to UPS outlet and points in between, carrying boxes and pens and tape and stuff, I looked around me.

There were parents. Everywhere.

They were going in and out of residence halls, pushing move-out carts and dollies, helping kids pack stuff into cars and trucks and in one case, a moving van. They swarmed the UPS outlet.

It was then that I realized exactly how demented my own upbringing had been. This, this--what I was doing, what the other parents were doing--was what normal families did: they supported their kids, helped them--taught them!--to negotiate the more difficult moments in life. They offered assistance, showed up when asked.

My whole childhood was sink or swim. And sure, at the end of the day, I'm an enormously capable person because I learned how to take care of myself at a very young age. But the truth is that I'd have given a lot for a some thoughtful advice when I asked for it, some direction, instead of working it all out on my own.

As much as I think I've overcome the early part of my life, I'm often taken aback at how much lingers. It frightens me sometimes how much my parents' neglect has colored my own parenting, to the point that I don't always recognize that it's okay to take care of myself and my family.

Tech stuff: Taken with my iPhone4. I find stuff like this remarkably difficult to write. I'm not much for the confessional lifestyle, and as much as I try to be measured and careful in how I deal with my less than ideal youth, epiphanies like this tend to be astonishingly eye opening. 

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