About four years ago, after a long day, I came home to find Max lying in the middle of the kitchen floor, moaning. “What’s wrong, buddy?” I asked him. “I’m having a mid-life crisis,” he said. “I don’t think you can have a mid-life crisis when you’re eleven,” I said. “Well,” he said, “Whatever it is. Early life crisis. I’m having one.” I went upstairs to change and to give him 15 more minutes of crisis before it was time to put on shoes, run errands, and get ice cream. Things were much happier after that. And I realized that my kid could be on to something. Perhaps a lot of problems can be solved by lying on the floor and wailing for half an hour.
From my vantage point, the wail on the floor is sometimes the best and only way to deal with mid-life crises. We tend to think that our problems are also everyone else’s problems. This is because, too often, we think that everyone else sees the world the way that that we see it. And we get hurt when someone doesn’t get our angst and sorrow. But really, you can only invite one person to your pity party. And that is yourself. And maybe, if you’re fortunate, someone who has promised to listen to you and wait it out with you.
It is a little unrealistic to expect someone else to do you want them to do or think the way we want them to. It would feel damn good if they did. But if that happened, we wouldn’t have an entire section in the bookstore dedicated to communication. Or an entire industry dedicated to helping people communicate with each other – therapists, life coaches, dating coaches.
It seems weird that when you have a kid, you spend so much time teaching him (or her) how to talk. You write down the words he learns as he learns them. Shane’s first word was “dog.” Max’s first word was “cookie.” I know. My kids had different priorities. And as they got older, I learned that teaching them words, and communicating with them, were two completely different things.
About three years ago, Max and I were butting heads frequently. Finally, Max promised me that he would do whatever I asked him to do without arguing me about it. One evening, he was arguing with me. I said, “Max, we have a contract, that means you have to do what you agreed to do.” He said, “It wasn’t in writing.” I said, “It doesn’t have to be in writing, it was a verbal agreement.” Max said, “Well, Mom, I just ripped up our verbal agreement.”
He was right. Verbal agreements don’t mean anything. But there are promises. A promise means more than a verbal agreement or a contract. A promise is when you let someone wail on the floor until he’s done and then you go get ice cream. A promise is when you argue with your partner and after a few days of silence, you make up and start over. A promise is love, and that promise is to keep talking and to keep listening. You may never completely understand the other person. But you won’t give up trying.
Max said to me, not too long ago, “I need to do life better.” I said, “What do you mean?” He said, “I have to figure out how to do more in less time.” I said, “Max, if you can figure that out, please explain and publish it. I’m sure your fan base will appreciate it.”
Like Max, I would love to figure out how to do more in less time. Right now all I can promise is that when I am done wailing on the floor, I will get back up again and I will try to do better. And I promise that when Max figures out how to bypass the time-space continuum to efficiency in all things, I will let you know – after I’m done getting ice cream.