Hope in the Mist
I get home from the business trip after dark. It’s been two solid days of planes, trains and automobiles – doing the security line striptease, breaking nails on suitcase latches, schlepping from one client meeting to the next with bloodshot eyes from fitful hotel sleep and not enough Visine. I’m thrilled to be home but as usual, my return disrupts the fragile balance my stay-at-home husband has established with our son in my absence.
Enter Mommy, exit discipline. I realize as I lurch into the kitchen lugging suitcase and laptop bag that I’ve interrupted dinner. I’ve distracted my son during the all-important first course, by which I mean the plateful of vegetables he must finish before getting mac-and-cheese. He’ll eat veggies but like pulling off a bandaid, it’s best when it happens all at once, without interruption. I’ve shot his concentration and he’s now wrapped himself around me with the freakish strength 6 year olds can muster when it comes to bear hugs and marathon tickle sessions. I breathe him in. I haven’t seen him in two days.
My husband indulges the reunion for a while, then tries to coax our boy back to finish dinner. It’s swim team practice night which means dinner is served later and everyone’s exhausted. Bed time is minutes away and we’re not even through the carrots yet. My son ignores his father’s pleas to finish the meal, having run off to the TV room to find a drawing he needs to show me RIGHT NOW. He’s got two days of catching up to do with me and in his mind, carrots – and bedtime – can wait. On cue, my husband explodes.
The battle of wills between the 42 year old and the first grader is fierce. Testosterone flies fast and furious, both sides hell-bent on making sure the other knows “YOU’RE NOT THE BOSS OF ME.”
Normally I’d intervene. Mediate and bargain. Make the peace. Tonight, something switches on in my brain. I realize, “I can’t fix this.” It occurs to me the men in my family will never figure out how to deal with one another productively as long as I’m in the ring refereeing.
So I leave. I pull my coat back on knowing full well this will trigger a fresh outburst of wailing from my son.
I tell him as calmly as I can that I’m going to take a walk so that he and his dad can make friends again. That they need to work it out themselves, that I love them both and I’ll be back in a little bit.
I walk out into the cool night air, willing myself not to look back at the house. I know I’ll see my son plastered against the living room window, yelling for me to come back. I am tired from my trip, tired of the drama, tired of undermining my husband in his parenting efforts.
It’s humid for December and a light fog has settled on and around the houses on my block. I pause at the end of the street and look at all the houses along our town’s main drag, decked out in friendly competition with a bright array of Christmas lights. I breathe slowly and deliberately, in and out, in and out. This grounds me in the here and now, because I refuse to project myself into a future where my husband and son can’t settle their differences, come to blows, stop loving each other.
I’m touched by the sight of these houses lined up side by side in the night, lit up as far as the eye can see, all the way down to where our town’s main street intersects with the highway. The houses get smaller and a little more ragtag down there, but they have been decorated with care and tonight they are luminous.
Why do we hang lights at Christmas? To evoke the star of Bethlehem and the nativity? Keep up with the Joneses? Celebrate the Solstice and the return of the sun’s light? Me, I love Christmas lights for reasons so complex and emotionally intertwined it’s tough to peel apart. They are beacons that fill my heart with optimism that this Christmas will be different – no holiday dysfunction, no missed connections, no New Year’s resolutions made and abandoned. Hope that this year, things will be better.
I turn and make my way back down the block to our little blue house. I’ve only been gone ten minutes but I’m guessing things have diffused inside. I notice the lights have gone out on the evergreen garland I’ve twisted around the lamp pole in our front yard and though it’s dark, am able to correct the setting on the automatic timer. The strands of fairy lights nestled in the pine blaze brilliantly back to life. I look up to see my husband and son silhouetted in the front window, waiting for me together. I climb the porch stairs and go back inside, out of the mist and into the light.
Note: I was inspired to write this post by the brilliant women of Blog Nosh Magazine who are hosting a blogging carnival to celebrate hope during the holiday season. They’re doing this to help raise awareness of a charity program called Loads of Hope which I am obliged to tell you was created by my agency’s client Tide. I assure you, I would support both Blog Nosh and Tide Loads of Hope regardless of the client relationship because good people and programs deserve to be promoted. My clients don’t know I wrote this but if they read it, I hope they like it. (You, too.)
Please visit Blog Nosh to learn about the carnival and the campaign.