They are criticizing me.
His words come with little bangs, bumps. His finger pokes my chest with one admonition, then he affectionately rubs my head too hard and pretends he isn’t disappointed in me while clearly letting me know he is. Disappointed.
Her words come with irritating, feather-light touches that tickle and itch at the same time. She speaks too softly, gently; then, suddenly, she whips around into an indignant shrew who can’t believe that I’m so stupid that I haven’t figured this out yet.
Now, in the same room, they are talking over each other with rising volume, each word directed at me.
I don’t know what to think anymore, but I feel tired and harangued. I begin to wish very strongly that a third adult would come – the one who can bring it all together. I notice myself scanning, frantically, looking at a door and hoping it will open, and that righteous third adult will enter and put a stop to all this noise.
And in an instant, I realize with dread that it’s me. I’m the third. It’s me.
I’m the grown up who will stand up for me. Under their voices, an internal dialogue begins that can only end in tears. No, un uh, I’m too little, I’m not ready. Yes, I can feel it, I’m ready. But maybe not willing?
And my voice blasts them backwards, “I’m doing the best that I can!” There is a beat of silence. Followed by a series of faster silent beats as they build the intensity to respond. They turn away from me. They look each other up and down.
And suddenly, they are debating, vehemently in favour of their particular approach to my development as a human.
Since they’re finally yelling at each other instead of at me, I can watch and listen.
She says, we expect too much of her. He says, she’s lazy. She says, the task is difficult. her nature is intense and high strung. He says, it’s her own fault for not paying enough attention along the way.
She says, she’s doing the work and she’s coming along faster than expected. He says, she’s capable of more, she should be doing more. She says, some of that capability has to go into maintenance, into research and development, it can’t just go into production. He says, with a sneer, don’t start metaphoring with me. If she were better, she could do more.
She says, how is she going to get better if she doesn’t take time out to work on herself? He says, she had 34 years to do that before she decided to bring two new people into the picture. She says, overall, she is an exceptionally good mother. He says, yes, “overall,” but each slip costs those children. Every one. They chip at them.
She pauses. She smiles gently. She says, maybe they need that. Maybe that’s part of the job. He stares at her as though he can’t believe what she’s said.
She presses on. Maybe, this process she’s going through now is as necessary to them, as an example, as it is to her, as a person. He scrutinizes her. He thinks about his arguments. His face softens. Finally, he concedes, yes, okay, that’s plausible.
But, he says, even at her best she still slips up too much. Too frustrated, too impatient. Too inclined to give herself a break.
And, she says, that’s where we agree and disagree. She still slips up too much, but she is, in my opinion, not inclined enough to give herself a break.
He harrumphs. They will come no closer, and turn their backs on each other.
They both have good points. I need to work harder. I need to work at as fast a pace as possible while still loving life, caring for my body, and learning more and more about how to be open to possibilities without wanting to control their outcomes.
And suddenly I realize, they argue so loudly because they aren’t in charge. They aren’t in charge. They don’t get to decide. I get to decide.
I have good judgment. Better judgment than them. I can trust myself to decide what is enough, when the line needs some slack, what the priorities should be. No need to let them keep me in second-guessing mode, pushing myself unnecessarily in spurts, then taking more recovery than I need as recompense.
I don’t have to let anyone yell at me. I don’t have to let anyone yell at me. I don’t have to let anyone yell at me. I don’t have to let anyone yell at me.
I can decide.