Tuesday, December 22, 2009


Ever since my son was old enough to talk, I have had a strange relationship with him. He and I are alike in many ways, in our intensity, verbal propensity, desire to hash things out with others. But instead of this likeness making us extremely loving toward each other, most of the time the relationship has taken the form of argument. From a very early age, he made demands, and I resisted them. For some reason, I have never been able to laugh off these demands, even when he was 5. They chafed me. And I know that mine have often struck him the same way.
When he was 5 1/2, he told me that I had been making the rules for all his life, and now he wanted to make them. Then I was able to play the wise adult and tell him that it would be a few years till that happened. Now he is an adult himself, just barely, but an adult in age anyhow. And it is time for him to make that demand for real, and he does.
But it is not just his freedom that he wants, but to mold and change me. Some of these changes are positive, I know. He wants me to shake my anxiety, to drop my negative pall of thought and try to see things from the bright side for a change. He wants me to clean up my act and live in an orderly space. These are good things, but you cannot bully someone into doing them, and that is more or less what he does, every opportunity he gets.
When I am doing something, which I nearly always am, every second I am awake, he stops me in the middle and demands to have an intense discussion. So yesterday and the day before and the day before that, as I sat at the table grading interminable essays, he stopped me and demanded I look him in the eye and share my feelings with him.
It is rare enough for men to want to talk about their feelings, but Jeremy's way of doing this is aggressive and unrelenting. He is obsessive about this as about everything else. My response to this is to shut down. It is too much like my father, who could, before medication, turn on a dime from a cheerful and friendly demeanor to a dark and threatening one. And though Jeremy is not my father, even if has inherited some of the same neurological baggage, I cannot help to respond by cautiously avoiding his eyes, not saying anything that might set him off.
I love my son. I would like to mend our relationship, and so invited him to come to the therapist with me. In that safe environment, with a mediator, it might be the place to explore our relationship the way he wants to do, instead of pinning me to the spot every afternoon, so that I often avoid coming home.
When Richard intervened, after about an hour of listening to this go on, Jeremy became very angry for a moment, and then took hold of himself and left for work. But I know that today, the discussion will resume.
I shouldn't make myself sound like a victim. The spurts of anger and resentment I feel when Jeremy nails me that way make me say things out of aggravation. Yesterday I looked up from a student paper, a very good one, about chocolate slavery, and read a quotation from a former chocolate slave who had been kept since age nine, starved and beaten, carrying 60 lb sacks of cocoa. The boy said that every time we in the west ate a chocolate bar, we were eating his flesh.
Jeremy became infuriated, and said it was a lie, and even if it weren't, it wasn't his problem. I don't think he means that. Like the rest of us, when we hear this, he didn't know what to do with the feelings of guilt for a terrible situation he didn't realize he was responsible for. His response was to reject the feeling of guilt rather than to embrace it and promise only to consume fair trade chocolate from here on in. I don't eat chocolate, for medical reasons, so it is easier for me. But given Jeremy's mood, I should not have said that.


Lou said...

Yours is a complicated relationship, indeed. Perhaps the key is at the start of your post, that you and Jeremy are alike in many ways. If he can probe you to discover the WHY of your anxieties and habits, perhaps he can understand himself. What would he do if you said to him, "Jeremy, you are not me"?

Robbi said...

The thing is, he does not think we are alike at all. He claims we don't understand each other and see things in a completely different way, and he just wants to understand me so he can improve our relationship. While I think we are essentially quite similar in our anxiety-ridden thoughts, and one track obsessiveness, we are different in our concerns, very different, because of gender and age.