Sunday, October 18, 2009

The Center Holds; the Edges are Tinged

(written Saturday; posted Sunday)
Michael and I are reveling in our visit with Shea. She seems so happy and fulfilled in her new place in life. We couldn’t be happier.

We’ve strolled around, visited the college, gotten to know the area a bit, found some wonderful places to visit and eat and then, as well, faced down some navigational challenges. Friday night was bizarre, as our MapQuest directions from Shea’s dorm to the hotel were confusing and led us to circle aimlessly. At least we were all together during that segment of the trip and we had hilarious conversation in the car trying to figure it all out. Our iPhones came to the rescue, as we eventually decided to follow them rather than the written directions and that got us to our hotel. By the time we settled on that approach, though, we’d spent more time between the airport and hotel than we had in getting to the city by car and air. Frustrating. All of that vexation was ephemeral seeing Shea in situ. She is in such a good place for her right now. It’s hard to describe how deeply satisfying that is, the more so given how unsettling it was for me not being able to participate in the visits or selection process due to my own preoccupations last year.

Those preoccupations continue, of course, though we all collude to minimize and overlook them. I noticed today that Shea automatically positions herself to stabilize me in motion. Once I noticed this, it dawned on me that Michael has adapted in the same ways. In familiar places, this is not usually much of an issue, but in new places, and ones with lots of visual stimulation, I become unsteady on my feet. There was enough going on today that most of the day was rocky, so the pas de deux they perform (as does Kearney, when she’s around) was particularly obvious. This adaptation doesn’t seem like something these wonderful human beings should have to know how to do, much less do so automatically and with such caring and grace: stabilizing me doesn’t seem like a skill that fits their respective stages in life. While I know I didn’t chose it, I still feel responsible for all I’ve inserted into their lives, and little of it good. While a sense of gratitude and good fortune (luck) are my primary emotion most of the time, today’s observations tinged its satisfactions with sadness. Also, of course, some crankiness, as I’d always rather be the helper than the helped, but that isn’t new, and that I just live with, since I don’t get to choose that, either.

On a lighter note, our visit reminded me of the commentary the girls exchange with each other when we’re all together. For some reason (maybe acute observation), they characterize the interchanges Michael and I have about everyday life as squabbling. He and I don’t think about it that way, and in fact consider our daily existences to be placid and even a little saccharine, since we spend so much time appreciating how wonderful our lives together are.

While we’ve spent considerably more than thirty years together, and while our values are and always have been in synch, our thinking processes couldn’t be at greater variance. We often get to the same answers by totally different routes: we’ve never had disagreements about money or childrearing or, really, any truly important matters. We do approach everything else, from loading the dishwasher to parking, from opposite directions. We notice different things around us, respond to them in divergent ways and have opposing instincts. While our routines are pretty set, it’s still a challenge at times to reach a common ground without either of us feeling criticized. Standing back, this seems especially strange when you think about it, since we’re each other’s biggest fans. Still, Michael mulls and I act, and those impulses clash much of the time. The working-out process often involves a good deal of verbal interchange, a process we both understand and accept as simply negotiating our way through things. Still, in fairness, it’s not that hard to see how it might look like squabbling to those outside our connection, even those who have lived with it for years. At one level, when I think about it, we’d have precious little to talk about without these little negotiations, since we’re in such deep accord on the bigger things. Of course, the reality is that we’re both sufficiently socialized in such old-school ways that exposing the gush that characterizes our private existence seems unseemly.

Odd that we’re happy to bicker but not rhapsodize. Our upbringings live on--except that we seem to have managed, at least so far, to give these two special ones a foundation that doesn’t require them to live with these particular demons. Years ago, I read something by one of the Ephrons (Nora?) in which she said that her goal in parenting was to give each of her children a curable neurosis. It seemed then, and now, to be a reasonable goal. We haven’t detected any full-blown neuroses in the girls yet, but whatever quirks they have, we know they’re not ours, which is a step forward.

Tomorrow, we brunch with Shea and then travel home to papers to grade and to see how our charming dogs did in the their new care arrangement. We enjoy what they contribute to our lives and hope we’ve found a good solution for the times we want to go out and about. Happy weekend to all.

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