I grew up in the hang-out house. You know the one – that place where people are always gathering, especially in junior high and high school. In a lot of cases, the hang-out house is the one where the parents are the most lenient, where the kids can get away with the most, from drinking to overturning tables to debating how to TP the neighbors. My house was… uh… not that house. My friends and I were
dorks nerds just not into that kind of thing. Our get-togethers consisted mostly of us just relaxing in my basement, playing music, drinking soda and eating junk food, and talking about God knows what.
Which sounds really lame, now that I write it all out.
In our defense, we did kind of have the most awesome basement of all time. It was really big – the full length of our house – large enough to hold a bowling lane (although we didn’t have one. Duh). But we did have lots of other amazing amusements – real arcade games (pinball was my favorite, although the guys seemed to enjoy the race-car game), a ping-pong table, a pool table, a great seating area with couches that we could totally destroy (although, again, being rather straight-laced, we did not), and a jukebox. That held records. You know, the things that came before CDs. Which are the things that came before MP3… Never mind.
Oh, and access to the fridge in the storage room. That was critical.
So, anyway, that’s where my friends and I spent a great deal of our middle and high school days, be it for actual parties or just, you know, chillin’. (Once, our school’s Valentine’s Day dance was cancelled due to snow, but having already bought our dresses and corsages and whatnot, we didn’t want to skip it… so my friends just came over to my place, semi-formally dressed, and we held our own dance right in the basement, all Footloose-ing it out to the records from the jukebox. That was a particularly… pungent… night.)
Except that at least one of my friends was usually missing… because she (it was usually a she, although it was known to be a he from time to time) was upstairs in the kitchen, chatting with my mom. Invariably, at some point during the gathering, someone would be looking for another friend – not playing pool, not on the couches… – and it would finally dawn on somebody else, “Oh! She must be upstairs talking to Emily’s mom!”
And there they’d be, sitting on the high bar stools at the kitchen island, gabbing away about anything and everything – soda for the friend, iced tea for my mom.
(As an aside: my mother adores iced tea. At home, she prefers the Crystal Light variety and almost always has a pitcher of it in her refrigerator. You know exactly how much water to add because she’s drawn a fill line with a Sharpie around the edge of the pitcher. Anyway, that’s been her go-to drink for almost all occasions – my mom doesn’t drink alcohol – and at least 90% of the time, she’s got a small glass of it waiting for her, which she drinks slowly, and then refills. Lots and lots of iced tea.
Except I found out at my wedding – when I was almost 26 years old – that at least one friend of mine was convinced, all those years, that my mom had been nursing a glass of bourbon. MULTIPLE GLASSES of bourbon, just a little bit at a time, resting happily at the island. I’m not sure that my mom has ever even touched a bottle of bourbon, much less consumed it daily – for more than a decade! – in front of all of my friends. I think I nearly peed my pants when I found out my friends thought she was a quiet lush.)
I’m not sure what they talked about, because I rarely joined them – in part because, hey, it was my house and my party (or nerdy get-together), and I wanted to be with the rest of my friends… and in part because, well, to be honest, their conversations seemed kind of private. Not in a, This is a secret! kind of way (after all, they were sitting in the middle of our open kitchen, with people ostensibly coming and going throughout their chit-chat), but there was a subtle vibe that this was a special conversation, to be had between the two of them. I would often lean in and add a sentence or two, but then I’d gravitate back downstairs, leaving them deep in laughter and thought.
Maybe they discussed school. Perhaps extra-curriculars. My girlfriends might have told my mom something they were nervous about, a crisis, a problem. They might have shared boyfriend woes (or lack-of-boyfriend woes) or told her that something special was on the horizon. I do know that she gave them advice, and I know that they appreciated it. But, mostly, I think that she just listened to them and made them feel heard.
And maybe that’s another reason why I never wanted to butt into their conversations: because I already felt heard by her. It’s no secret that I like to talk (*ahem*), so, as my mother, she didn’t really have much of a choice but to hear me. But to really listen is something different altogether… and, man, did she listen. To my oral school projects and my concerns about friends. To my sobs as I cried over a loss or a boy. To my shaking voice as I expressed something I was afraid of. To my elation. To my switching subjects a dozen times in thirty minutes. To my piano pieces. To my rambling stories.
Whatever it was, she listened.
So, having already felt heard, I didn’t mind sharing her with all of my friends. Many of them referred to her as a second mother; rather than be jealous, I was proud. Yeah, she’s an amazing listener, isn’t she? And she’s got enough listening to go around. How cool is that?!
It’s been years since I spent Mother’s Day with my mom – living away from her, it just hasn’t been possible – but this year, she was coming to Rochester for a few days, and they happened to coincide with Mother’s Day, so I got to spend yesterday with her. And also Friday night, where she (and my stepdad, Steven – Pops, if you’re a granddaughter) attended Ella’s 90-minute swim practice. I talked almost non-stop for the entire hour and a half. She listened. She and Pops came to Annie’s soccer game on Saturday morning, where she and Ella sat on a blanket. Ella talked… and Grandma listened.
All Saturday afternoon and much of Sunday, my girls chattered away – let me tell you this! And then! Guess what! – and Grandma listened. And, even though it was Mother’s Day – a day I might have enjoyed with just my girls, or just my mom – I didn’t mind. In fact, it was just right. My children talking, Grandma listening. Full circle.
It doesn’t even feel like sharing anymore. It just feels like happiness.
I admit: I may not always give my girls my full attention. Sometimes this is by choice (they do not need to have my undivided concentration for everything that they do, no matter what “they” say about making every single moment count!!). Other times, I’m distracted but should – or would like to – be paying them more mind. But, when they talk, I make it a point to listen. To really, truly listen. Sometimes, I even have an iced tea at the ready.
I know how important that can be. After all, I learned from the best.
Unless they’re singing “Let It Go” again. And again. And again, for the love of God.
Then, I think it’s best for all of us if I just tune out.