It’s hard to know what to say — and what not to say.
There are minefields in every relationship — subjects and topics that you try to avoid because they’ll take you down a certain road you’ve been down before to no good end. After a time, there is a warren of little roads you try to avoid going down, and it becomes hard to find a road that is free and clear and navigable.
I often don’t know what to say to my kids. I know what comes into my mind, things like, “Did you finish your homework?” and, from there, “If you didn’t finish your homework, maybe you’re one of those kids who isn’t going to do his homework, and then you’re going to fail out of school, and then … oh no, what are we going to do?”
And that’s not at all helpful. And they can feel those words even if I don’t say them sometimes. Kids are little sponges.
The same goes for questions about their social life. My panicked eyes are a dead giveaway that I am nervous, that I am trying super hard not to say anything about their choices, about how often they reach out to people or don’t, how comfortable they feel making themselves vulnerable in new situations with new people. I prepare their breakfast or snacks after school, I try to make dinner often, in the hopes that my actions will show I care and am there for them, even when I don’t have the right words to help them navigate the world. Often lately, it seems, I have zero words except a consistent refrain of, “I love you.”
I hate to be so silenced. I try to sort through subjects in my mind that might be interesting for my family instead of always letting the worrying prognosticating thoughts be the ones that leave my lips. I wish I liked “The Walking Dead,” or that I thought “Brooklyn Nine-Nine” was as funny as they found it. I wish I hadn’t built up such a bad reputation for falling asleep during movies so that they barely want to watch with me. We need those outside forces to help us find lighter terrain on which to walk together. This I know.
My husband and I were on the phone recently, and I was actually silent for a moment, which anyone who knows me knows is almost unheard of. The silence obviously alarmed him and prompted him to ask the insightful question, “Is there something you don’t want to say?”
I picked my head up then and piped right up. “Oh,” I said, “There’re tons of things I don’t want to say!”
We laughed, and the silence was broken, but it gave me food for thought about why it is that my children walk around with headphones on, why they bury their faces in shows, why we need to get back on track sitting down to dinner with no devices, why I am excited we are headed out West to do some hiking.
Is there something you don’t want to say?
The words ring in my ears.
I have always, since my earliest memories, wished for some sort of device to reach into other people’s minds to find out what’s going on in there. There are some rare people who really will attempt to tell you, but even then, my psychiatrist friends know well, they’re really just guessing. Bridging that gap and making connections may not always be through words.
Sometimes while hiking through the woods, one of my sons and I will brush up next to each other. Maybe he’ll grab me for support as we cross over the rocks of a little river.
More likely these days, I’ll grab on to one of them.
And maybe that will be enough.
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