A Hill to Live On

Max and Me

Max once called me in my bedroom on my cell phone from his bedroom on his cell phone. “Mom, can you come in here please?” I went down the 10-foot hallway to his bedroom and opened the door. He was lying in bed, cell phone on his face, blankets piled all around him, lights on. I said, “What’s up, honey? Is everything okay?” Max said, “Can you turn out my lights? I’m super cozy and I don’t want to get up.” (And parents –  this is why cell phones were invented.)

Last weekend was Memorial Day weekend. I spent the weekend with my friend in Pismo Beach and drove home Monday. I stopped to pick up a couple things at the grocery store. The store was crowded. As I stood in the line for the self-service register, a woman in front of me yelled “Ouch,” then turned and grabbed the grocery cart behind her and rammed it at the man who was pushing it. “I told you before, stop ramming the cart into me!” He said, “I’m sorry, I’m sorry,” but she was so angry and upset, I don’t think it mattered. It wouldn’t have mattered if Ryan Gosling was apologizing with a dozen red roses. And I get it. I have been there.

Lord I have so been there. When the anger and the pain and loneliness was just below the surface and I knew the slightest unintended nudge could release the mother-pain-rage-Kraken.  I think I held it all in for a while after my divorce with a combination of years of A’s on report cards, decades of diets, 1980’s aerobics, law school Socratic method, and my lizard brain’s expectations of perfection as a basis for survival. But no one can keep that all in, not for long. We all have ways of busting out. Maybe it’s eating Oreos. Maybe it’s drinking a lot of wine. Maybe it’s exercising until your body is crying out for rest. I’m listing all of these because I’ve done them, by the way.  Maybe you get so angry that rage overtakes you and you get angry at the people you love the most. And in my case, when I busted out, I was newly divorced and scared out of my mind to be alone after 20 years of technically not being alone.

My dear friend C., my O.G., would say to me then – and still does, when I spin out over what to do next, or what decision to make, “Is this the hill you want to die on today?”  When I’m figuring out which legal argument is worth keeping or abandoning. When I want to send an incendiary email or text. When I consider commenting on a friend’s political post that I don’t agree with. When someone says to me, “But I want to talk to the real lawyer. Where is he?”

“Is this the hill I want to die on today?” Usually, the answer is no. I don’t. I don’t even want to be on this fucking hill.

The phrase is used in the military when deciding whether it is worth holding a position despite all hazards. Usually the answer is, as mine is, “no.” However, it’s also assumed that when you decide it’s worth it to defend the spot no matter what, the response is, “No better place to die.” I’m pretty sure defending to the death is not an intended consequence for my lines of work – mom and lawyer. (Well, maybe for the mom job, but that’s implied. Semantics.)

I once had a very frustrating day dealing with an internet service provider. After a few unsuccessful calls, and no resolution, I let loose with some less than kind language at the dinner table about what had happened. Max said, “Mom, you have great rancor towards telephone help lines.” I said, “Max, rancor is a very strong word.” He said, “Of course it is. It’s right after ‘rancid’ in the dictionary.”

I definitely have less rancor lately. I realize there’s still a lot of hills, and I often consider my O.G.’s question. But I also think I have figured out, as my Max did a while ago, that what’s really important is to get super cozy with your life and know you can ask someone you love to be there for you when you need them. I will gladly live on that hill. Goodnight, loves. I’ll turn out the light.


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