“I was worried about my music,” he says.
“What music?” I ask.
“When I play the piano or the guitar. I’ve been trying to play softly so I don’t bother you.”
My son’s consideration is not a surprise, though I’m appreciative that he makes a point of anticipating my needs. Both he and his brother learned early that in a small living space, boundaries and thoughtfulness are essential.
“I love when you make music,” I say, lingering on his dark eyes that are momentarily as unguarded as when he was a child. I marvel at these minutes when the space between us seems to drop away. These times are rare now, not only because he’s away at school for extended periods, but because adulthood emerges and of necessity, so do walls.
I am also aware that we may both err on the side of too much respect for privacy, for not prying, for keeping our own counsel.
“If you were blaring recordings, that would be different,” I say. “I’ve always liked hearing you around the house, and I like the way we can be quiet together in the same room. You need your time alone, too.”
“Yeah,” he says. “I’m thinking that must not be normal. My roommates can sit around at the same table and talk while they’re doing their work. I get the feeling they think I’m rude when I go to my room, but I really need to be in my own space to think. Not interrupted, you know?”
I’m nodding as I listen to him. I’m recognizing his temperament, reinforced by the long bouts of companionable silence in which he and his brother were raised, given that our household was economically dependent on the sanctuary of my small home office.
I doubt my 21-year old has any recollection of my corporate days, other than a fleeting memory of a babysitter or daycare sparked by an old photo album.
There’s so much I wish I could ask him. So much I’d like to know about. He’s more candid now. More himself. More responsible. Only a few nights ago he turned to me and said: “I really appreciate that you’re letting me come and go with the car.”
“If I don’t need it, you’re welcome to use it,” I had answered.
For years the use of my car has been a sore point between us. For some reason, it no longer is.
Then he changes the subject and mentions a job opportunity, ways to make a few bucks, and the challenges of being a freelancer. This isn’t the first time we’ve touched on the topic and I know it won’t be the last, as he’s trying to come to grips with how he could better manage the small creative projects he picks up occasionally.
He raises a financial matter of concern that he is only recently aware of. He has grown up with ambiguities around money. He articulates his frustration that he isn’t “pulling his weight financially.” Our situation in the decade after divorce was frequently grim, and that he remembers.
As I think out loud trying to figure if I can help, he scolds me and says in no uncertain terms: “You’re not in a position to do that, so don’t even think about it.”
We toss around the alternatives and their implications, narrowing down his choices to something he can work with. Then we move on to other topics, and he returns to one that makes me smile.
“What about the couch?” he asks, sitting where he again spent the night. His pillow is nearby. So is the comforter from his bedroom.
I know what he’s going to ask, but I let him go on all the same.
“Do you two mind that I’m sleeping here, sort of in the middle of everything?”
I smile. It’s not like it isn’t inconvenient at times. I’m tiptoeing around the open kitchen at seven or eight in the morning, while he’s sleeping about 10 feet away. Then the current “room exchange” takes place – I settle into one of two spots to get on with the day’s work, while my significant other, off for the summer, sleeps in or attacks the morning paper online.
The fact is, I’m happy to have my son home. There is a sense of “all’s right with the world” when he, his brother, and most particularly both of them are back under our roof. When he sleeps in the living room, it’s as though four years have disappeared: he’s a junior in high school again and writing papers, perfecting portfolios, holding court online or on the phone as his friends come in and out.
“It’s not a problem,” I say. “I like that you’re planted in the living room. But I could do without the socks on the floor and the glasses on the side table.”
He looks at me with his big eyes, and I remember how they used to widen when he was a toddler and we drove beneath an underpass. His dad and I would laugh. His brother would make comments.
“Yeah. Sorry, Mom. I’ll pick up my socks,” he says, without a hint of surliness or sarcasm.
I’m recalling the same face not so long ago, in that phase of disappearing behind the dark side of the moon – the terrifying period when most teens are unreachable. I felt ill-equipped to even guess at what his life was like or his brother’s, crossing my fingers and hoping they both came out unscathed, all the while I was keeping a watchful eye from what I thought was a respectful distance.
And now this. A young man who asks about me, my life; who permits me a glimpse into his. As I note the natural way our habits dovetail, I know the painstaking lessons, the worries, the fears, the dollars, the arguments, the slammed doors, the midnight grilled cheese sandwich discussions… all of it was worth this, these moments, this interesting young adult, and his tender consideration.
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