Friday, August 24, 2007

Love, Jake

The homecoming honeymoon lasted less than 24 hours. By 10:00 last night my son and I had rediscovered all those things that push each other’s buttons and we were embroiled in a shouting match with my peacemaker husband standing on the sidelines and saying repeatedly, “I don’t think tonight is the right time for this discussion.”

All day yesterday as the contents of the 1996 Grand Caravan slowly took up residence in our family room, dining room, and laundry room, there was the same charged feeling in the air that must be there in the dry California forests before the spark touches off the blaze. The tension in the air was so thick you could cut it with a knife.

But we managed to make it through dinner before anyone lost it. I had made boiled shrimp and homemade marinara sauce over pasta, things I know my son likes to eat and may not have had much of lately.

The catalyst to this round of fighting was my husband’s innocent question upon our return from choir practice as to whether the dog had been out. But if it hadn’t been that question, it would have been another.

This morning I will acknowledge there had been major progress on at least getting the mountains of stuff out of sight. The laundry room is still a work in progress, but even it is better than yesterday.

But the wounds have been made and are festering now. I admit it’s not a one-sided fight. We share the blame equally for the mess we have created. We simply must figure out what to do next. Three people cannot continue to live in this close proximity with so much anger.

The one thing we seem to agree on is the need for a family therapist to counsel this currently rather dysfunctional family. We need someone who can give unbiased advice on issues like living on credit, rights of children returning home to live, rights of parents who want a peaceful household.

We will spend some time searching for this person to pull us back together again before we even begin to address issues pertaining to our son’s getting a job or paying rent or finding a more permanent place to live. Those questions will just have to wait.

Meanwhile, I had the thought that Jake might want to write us this letter:

Dear Family,

I was so hopeful that we could be a happy family once again and that there would be someone available 24x7 to throw my Kong for me. But instead you keep yelling at each other and making me nervous that someone else might disappear. You know Dylan left and never came back. I will continue to jump on whoever is screaming in at attempt to let you know how unhappy it makes me. Please get some help with this because you are not working it out on your own.

Meanwhile I promise not to pee or poop in the house even if no one takes me out. I won’t even try to escape. I really am a good dog who just wants peace at home.



Blogger media concepts said...

Doesn't the returning son have an extra obligation to be helpful and courteous for at least 24 hours? I mean, you're not even required to take him in. Or does he have rights to return to his "homeland" like the Israelis and others we were discussing recently?
By the way, I had shrimp with marinara yesterday too. Only mine were barbequed. Very good!

1:52 PM  
Blogger Barbara said...

Matt -- I made all the same arguments you offered, but didn't find agreement. Thanks for reminding me that I have leftover shrimp with marinara sauce for lunch. That should cheer anyone up, right?

2:04 PM  
Blogger Kristin said...

Poor Jake. Poor Barbara and family. It sounds like a very tense day for everyone. I hope you all find peace, with time and help, as needed. At least you're trying, right? And not just trying each others' patience?

2:22 PM  
Blogger Jamy said...

I fight with my mom when I go home to visit even though I never moved home after leaving for college. Maybe imagine how you would treat a boarder staying in your house and discuss those expectations with your son?

My mom rented rooms in her (old) house for a while and I realized that she had similar expectations for rent-payers as she'd had for me when I lived with her. She wanted to know when they were around, to eat together (sometimes), etc. Generally, she was much more intrusive as a landlady/roommate than I thought was appropriate. However, as long as she was upfront with her tenants about what she expected, it was up to them to decide if they could live with her preferences.

While your son doesn't have much choice here, you can set some ground rules and work from there. While the button pushing will undoubtedly continue, at least you can move one issue off the table. Maybe.

2:28 PM  
Blogger Barbara said...

Kristin -- Within the last hour, there were positive signs that this too may be worked out. No one enjoys the tension. I think I'll go throw Jake's Kong for him.

2:29 PM  
Blogger Barbara said...

Jamy -- We have to first establish that the parents have the right to set the rules. I tried to make the point that it is our house and in a sense he is an invited guest. As such he is expected to at least acknowledge our (reasonable) requests with courtesy. I knew there would be an adjustment period and was not looking forward to it. My real hope now is that we can finally address some long-standing issues and perhaps come out with a stronger relationship than we have ever had in the past. Family relationships take a lot of work sometimes.

2:33 PM  
Anonymous Bengal said...

Others have already said much of what I was thinking. So I'll limit my comments to three quickies. First, my father, may he rest in peace, often seemed to be able to find exactly the words to yank my chain, whether I was in his house or he was in mine, even though I was convinced he didn't realize he was doing it. Second, it takes (at least) two to fight. Which leads me to three: you'd be amazed at how disarming and therapeutic it is to listen to someone's passionate rant, then shrug and walk away without a word. Try it. It's much easier (but also effective) the second time.

5:15 PM  
Blogger Reya Mellicker said...

Have I mentioned that I LOVE Ulysses? How's that for a non-sequiter?

OK, the blow-up has happened. Now you all know that there's stuff to be dealt with. Dig in and have at it, dah-ling!!

And LOVE to all of you!!

8:39 PM  
Blogger Barbara said...

Bengal -- I grew up with a father who practiced the silent treatment and he had perfected it. It was my first real boyfriend who taught me how to fight with words. I've never liked either, but words always trump a cold shoulder even if they are heated, at least I think so. I do agree with you about an argument taking two people and I am an equal partner in this.

Reya -- At this point a relative calm has descended and we are all taking a big breath. We've said all the things we have been harboring and in some ways that is a cleansing feeling. I really think we are going to be alright. This is the first feeling of optimism I've had in a while.

10:34 PM  
Blogger riseoutofme said...

Its early days, Barbara.

Plenty of deep breaths and compassion.

I find being able to laugh together at our own individual contrariness always helps to diffuse simmering situations.

6:37 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Oh Barbara,

I feel for you. I really do. I don't have any who have moved back home yet: i'm still trying to get them to that point of leaving !! Albeit not so well.

Divorce is taking its toll on the children and I can imagine a future scenario such as this one. You are brave, courageous and wise to seek outside help. It has always been my preferred method of conflict resolution.

But I do have an amusing yet painful tale to share with you:

We generally enter our house through the laundry room. After my vacation, I washed all my clothing but left it in this 5 x 8 galley space unfolded. Kids scattered it looking for their own clothing. Each time we picked our way through the mess, my oldest son would comment "This place is a mess!! Something should be down about it." in a typically snotty teen voice. I burned. I muttered. I hurt. I am stretched thin. I am doing my best as a single mom, I am thinking to myself.

Finally I committed that sinful parent act: I blew up at the two oldest, calling them ungrateful, spoiled offspring. I immediately felt chagrin.

After I talked with my psychiatrist about this, I felt much better. He advised me to try and detach my emotional responses to the running commentary at hand. Instead, he suggested that I offer a trade off such as: ok, oldest, I will stop driving you to cross country practice each morning, and will utilize that extra time to handle my lower prioritized chores such as folding laundry. He also told me to ask kindly that the oldest refrain from sharing his comments with me as they were hurting me. And finally, if the oldest was not agreeable to the trade off, that he take matters into his own hands and take care of the mess himself if it bothered him so much. My psychiatrist suggested that I share my priority list with my kids.

Once I wrote down all the other actions I was doing for the children, it became clear to all of us that yes, mom is working for the family and 2. doing laundry and cleaning is very very low on the totem pole.

The next day I arrived home to a sparkling clean kitchen and all my laundry folded and neatly stacked in my bedroom . No, I do not expect this benefice to last, but I was grateful for the momentary piece of grace .....

May grace be with you and your family as you work through this roadblock.

Tell Jake that his friend in spirit, Oscar feels much the same way: stressed and left out. Though Oscar tends to pee and poo in the house as a means to communicate his own needs .....

much love to you.

10:51 AM  
Blogger Barbara said...

Rise -- Thanks for your typical Irish wisdom!

Red -- I loved the story of your family learning from each other. It gives me great hope! Your therapist sounds so wise.

10:46 PM  
Blogger steve said...


2:42 PM  
Blogger Mother of Invention said...

Oh, Barbara, I am sorry you have been experiencing such dischord at your house! I vowed never to live at home again once I lft. There's just no going back..we all drive each other crazy even though the love is there. Hope you all can work some things out and most of all, I hope your son gets a job so he can afford his own place.

7:34 PM  

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