Despite the distance, there was an occasional call from Anita, who was visiting her family in Brazil, and from Greta, who was with her family in Florida. These calls surprised me almost as much as Frank’s calls. You’re in an exotic locale with your loved ones—why the heck are you calling me?
Their husbands would be in a shop or taking a shower or somewhere where they had just a few moments to vent. They would use practically every second to tell me, very rapidly, about what was going on. Anita called twice from Brazil over that two-week period. The calls were so brief I almost forgot she had called. She was very chatty and spoke very fast. I thought it a bit odd but didn’t think more about it until that next summer. Although I didn’t realize it at the time, looking back, her calls made a lot of sense.
For poor Greta, the family vacation wasn’t a dream come true, it was more of a nightmare. Her eldest child was rebelling because he wanted to be home with his friends before they all left for college next fall. The oldest daughter was going through the angst of puberty and rebellion, because she could only text her friends and not go to their houses. The younger two were upset because they weren’t spending every waking moment at Disney World.
She was used to dealing with the kids and their “petty little problems.” What an odd term for Greta to use. She was a great mother. She loved her children, she loved their growing and maturing process no matter how frustrating. I have never heard her say that word—frustrating—or any other word or term that would indicate displeasure with her children.
And this is probably why I don’t have kids—I can barely tolerate adult behavior let alone kids trying to learn things.
With each of the calls, after their venting, there would be a deep breath and the innocuous question to me, “So, how are you doing?”
What? Uh, is it my turn to talk? Crap. What is going on with me?
This was winter break from school—I had no where to go and half the time wasn’t even getting out of my pajamas. Nothing much goes on between the holidays. It’s winter in Indiana. I’m either shoveling snow or dying of boredom, counting the hours to the next meal.
Who am I kidding? Counting hours? Hahahahah. I crack myself up. Eating anything not nailed down as my mood dictated is more like it.
I couldn’t understand why Anita would call me of all people. Aside from the sheer expense (“Oh, it’z not zhat expensive,” she would say—I guess not if you and your husband were each pulling in a hundred grand a year), she was with family! She was seeing both of her parents each day. Granted, they were divorced, but … why not talk to them?
“Ah, zey don’t know anyting,” she said. “I’d rather talk to you.”
I am flattered, but the parents were each two marriages ahead of me.
I began to realize maybe the calls from Greta and Anita wasn’t so much the need for advice, but just a chance to get their thoughts right in their own heads. Sometimes when you force yourself to verbalize your thoughts, when you really focus on finding the right words, you see the solution and end up solving the problem yourself.
But that wasn’t happening with Greta. Or Frank. Anita was much smarter than me and would come up with some off the wall connection that she saw but I couldn’t, even after she told me how she came to that conclusion.
But they all wanted to know what I thought. What did I see that they weren’t seeing? They weren’t asking this outright, but the conversations were always going in that direction.
What do I do? they’d ask.
I have no idea.
This dawned on me after Greta’s second call a few days later.
Her husband and son stormed out of their rented condo before breakfast this particular day. Her daughter was in the shower and the other two were in their shared bedroom, having a tantrum. Poor Greta was at her wits end. She relayed the events of the morning to me. From what I could deduce—it wasn’t the kids and their “petty little problems”, it was her husband who was the big problem. He traveled quite a bit for his job, so to have all of them together in one location for more than 48 hours was proving a challenge. The kids loved having him there, but they weren’t used to his strictness and he wasn’t used to the “petty little problems.”
This explains where she came up with that term from.
She so wanted a wonderful vacation for her children, to have these memories as they grow and begin their own families. She planned an adventure for the whole family each day to do something each person would love—petting and swimming with dolphins for the one, hanging out on the beach for another, renting a boat and fishing for her husband, a day at Disney World to get pictures of her little princesses with the real princesses.
But nothing for her?
“Oh, I enjoy all of this. There really isn’t anything specific that I need to do,” she explained.
All she wanted was a wonderful time as a family. “Is that too much to ask?” she nearly choked back a sob on the other end of the phone. “What do I do?”
Damned if I know.
Well, that’s not true. I know what I would do. But then again, I’m not living that life, with those circumstances. I tend to focus only on myself. I don’t mean for that to sound selfish, but I am the only one I need to worry about. After my mother’s death, my responsibility for another person ended. So consideration for the feelings of another person was more at the level of friendship maintenance. Greta’s husband would insist on doing something that the other family members were not comfortable with or happy about. So why not just tell him? Yes, direct communication is the best—everyone says so. But … but … when it’s you doing it, that’s a very scary prospect. Especially for the children—do you disrespect your father to be honest? It’s easier to complain to mom—she can smooth things over and deal with dad.
I know when I am in similar circumstances I will lie through my teeth to avoid a direct confrontation. This direct, honest, communication all sounds good in theory. Stand up for yourself—put yourself first! What else do you want to know? I’ve got millions of ideas.
Except when it comes to standing up for myself … that’s as foreign a concept to me as marriage.
Physician, heal thyself.