Yesterday the blonde took Young Ken Mannion up to his soon-to-be (like in less than two way too short weeks) college to help him pay his bill, buy his textbooks, find his classrooms, and introduce himself to his professors if they were around, while I stayed home feeling anxious, antsy, and strangely resentful.
I didn’t like it that the blonde was doing my job.
Because my schedule has always been more flexible than hers, many parental duties of the errand running sort have been my responsibility since Young Ken and Oliver were wee pups. Those include doctor and dentist appointments for checkups, haircuts, soccer practice and other after-school activities, and parent-teacher conferences.
I don’t mean to trivialize those things by calling them errands. They are all important errands, especially the parent-teacher conferences, but they are still mostly a matter of driving somewhere, sitting around waiting for a while, having a short discussion with whatever adult is running the show, and maybe signing something and forking over some dough. This is the way you want them to be. Usually, if the exchange between you and the adult in charge goes beyond some version of “I’ll make sure they brush more often,” you’re no longer running an errand, you’re dealing with a problem if not an emergency. For lucky parents, parent-teacher conferences rarely turn into (or devolve into) much more than errands. We haven’t been so lucky.
Over the years, because of all the problems and issues young Ken has had to deal with, our parent-teacher conferences have rarely been simple errands, and we’ve had far many more of them than most parents have. Far, far, far many more. During one of the hardest periods of Ken’s life, I was at his school two and three times a week. These conferences often included other adults besides the teacher.
Young Ken has had way more than his fair share of doctor’s appointments too, but, fortunately, for the last few years most of them have been errands. Parent-teacher conferences remained more complicated, but during his final two years of high school, there were fewer of them and some of those were, to everybody’s relief, just errands.
But because all these “errands” evolved out of errands, I’ve been the one handling most of them. I haven’t minded. In fact, I’ve liked it. I’ve even become vain about it. It’s been the one area of my life where I’ve felt the most useful. The one area where I’ve felt somewhat in charge. The one area where I’ve felt like I know what I’m doing. The one area where I’ve felt as though I’ve actually done some good.
And part of the good I’ve thought of myself as having done is sparing Ken’s mother a lot of anguish, heartache, worry, and, well, anger. I’ve stood between her and I’ve lost count of how many incompetents who were lucky they didn’t get the chance to make the mistake of demonstrating their incompetence, ignorance, lack of sympathy and understanding, and plain meanness to an angry lioness.
In my vanity, though, I’ve just assumed that the blonde was relieved to be able to rely on me to handle things. And she has been. But she’s been somewhat ambivalent about it too. She is his mother. She wants to get in there and look out for him and protect him and fight for him. She needs to know what’s going on so she can feel she’s helping us make the right decisions.
Two things. First, please don’t get the idea that she’s left everything up to me. It’s just really been the case that it’s been easier and therefore has made more sense for me to run most of these errands. Second, it isn’t as though I haven’t tried to keep her in the loop or that I’ve been in the habit of making decisions without consulting her. We discuss everything and although she’s often had to defer to my judgment because I was the one in the room, she has veto power over everything (just as I do, and, in the last few years, just as Ken himself has). And she has been in the room---and on the phone---many a time herself.
The thing is, sometimes she’s felt left out and many of those times I haven’t noticed or been as sympathetic as I should have been.
Instead, what I’ve been is, well, defensive.
More so lately.
When she’s naturally tried to get directly involved, and even when she’s just asked me to explain in more detail what’s going on with this or that, I’ve thought, “Stop trying to horn in on my job, lady!”
I haven’t said it.
I wouldn’t be writing this if I had.
I’d be dead.
But I’ve felt it and I haven’t been as clever about hiding my feelings as I’ve thought.
Couple weeks back, after I took Ken up to school to register for his classes, she and I were talking about how it went, which, given that the advisor couldn’t get it through his head that Ken was Ken and not Insert Name Here, wasn’t as smoothly as it should have gone. Ken’s mother had a lot of questions about this, of course, and I felt…quizzed.
My answers were short, evasive, monosyllabic, irritable. “Don’t shut me out of this,” the blonde said.
“I’m not shutting you out of this,” I said in the tone of someone who’s realizing as he’s saying it that what he’s saying is a lie.
This is going to be a problem if I don’t get a grip. Ken’s school is close to the blonde’s office. They’re going to commute together. From here on out, if trouble brews and a parent needs to come to his aid, it’s going to be easier and make more sense for her to be the one who rides to the rescue.
It’s going to become less and less my job.
But here’s the other thing.
It was always going to be less and less my job. That’s the object. For the parents of any kid. To make it less and less your job and more and more theirs until at some point they don’t need you anymore.
And I think that’s what’s been going on with me the last couple of years and particularly since June when he graduated. I’ve been feeling less and less needed.
The day is coming when Ken, and his brother Oliver, won’t need us anymore, except for, we hope, some friendly company, a little advice now and then, and our continued love. But there’ll be no more errands. My job will be done.
Yesterday, it just made sense and was easier for the blonde and Ken to start getting used to their new routine.
So I stayed home, feeling anxious, antsy, and useless.
Most of all, though, I felt sad.