At Thanksgiving, three main things happened: I skated a Pump Track like a hamster with a new wheel, I accidentally used bone broth in my vegan entrée and my whole family got mad at me when something I thought would win their sympathies came out hurtful instead.
I had told Maddie I wanted my girls to know her better. Not an unreasonable or ill-intentioned claim in of itself, the problem is that she does set aside as much time as she can for them; they do know her. Other people have jobs, the kind you can’t carry around in a carseat with you. I was being dramatic and unrealistic, but what this family fight will probably be remembered most for was the moment I was cowering in a corner of the living room telling everyone who approached to ‘leave me alone!’
Hiding in my childhood home out of shame isn’t totally new to me. Doesn’t everyone have some corner of their first primary residence that is stained with their humiliation and tears? As I curled in the fetal position in the dining room last week I was suddenly 11 again.
When you are eleven and your family is upset with you, you might wish that you were offered to fly off with Peter Pan, spontaneously join the USA Gymnastics Team or be adopted by your mother’s best friend, your aunt, or that lady with the wrist tattoo from the ice cream shop. Mostly, you just want to be gone long enough so that whatever you did to upset those you love will seem inconsequential and they will be sorry instead.
It never quite works out that way, which is why my dad once found me hiding in the dog bed in the downstairs bathroom. I probably got him mad enough to say something he had to apologize for too, which gave me my window to apologize, and then we both likely went to sleep relatively calm and relieved.
Fights are never actually for winning anyways. Fights are feelings, moving between people, ultimately trying to escape.
There’s a passage from Molly Caro May’s book, Body Full of Stars, that I was thinking about after this argument.
“When I feel disgust toward my mother it is my disgust toward myself.
I am violent.
I am tender.
These coexist in me.
I cannot be this angry woman with my mother.
I cannot be this angry woman with my daughter.
Please help me find the other part of me; where is the good part?”
How can I still be this eleven year old after all this time? More urgently, how do I teach my daughters to be something I’m not?
As I sat in my corner, paralyzed with guilt, mostly in utter shock that I was back there again, I came to the same vexing realization that I’ve come to before: there’s no escaping yourself.
It wasn’t until Danielle reminded me that we are practicing at life, just like people practice at yoga or table tennis, that I came back into my body without shame.
Isn’t it something how one sentence can free you?
The next morning I asked Andy, Maddie’s new husband who, to my horror, had witnessed the whole thing, to divulge something embarrassing he’d done to even the playing field a little. Thankfully I’d already seen a YouTube music video he made in high school about chocolate milk, so at least I had that. Instead of highlighting that funny little anecdote he said, “I admire how you guys fight for each other. It’s worse to let important things stay quiet until you slowly grow apart.”
A few days later I was out in the water riding a friend’s board. The waves were smashing into the cliff and reverberating back to sea like tiny soldiers sent off to a peaceful war. Scott ended up pushing me into a really good wave I might not have caught on my own. I was pretty happy with myself for hitting as many sections as I did on a borrowed board. I also felt pretty good knowing that Scott was willing to sacrifice the wave for me.
As I paddled back out I saw two mismatched adults negotiating the rocks on the beach. The lady was much older than the man and seemed to be fumbling around with her board. Maybe they were a mother and a son. The woman seemed frustrated, perhaps even scared by the waves crashing so consistently into the shore, leaving little room for walking. I thought they might get into a fight or need some help, so naturally I stopped what I was doing and turned my attention towards them. Just when it seemed they were going to get into it, the son took the mother’s board and carried it along with his own up the beach, almost dropping both at the apex of the seawall. I saw them later on catching waves on the wider part of the shore where there was more sand. The son was even showing the mom how to ride the backwash out to sea.
Fights aren’t actually for winning. They’re just feelings moving between people, ultimately trying to escape.