This was my mom, sounding somewhat panicky. Apparently she’d received a letter from some administration or other, and it had her in a bit of an uproar. “I don’t know what it means!” she said, and I could hear the shaky anxiety in her voice. “I don’t know what I’m supposed to do. I need you to look at it. I need you to figure it out.”
My dad, for his part, would probably tell you he doesn’t need me at all – that is, if he knew who “Melissa Janisin” was, when you asked. Or if he understood the meaning of the word “need.” My dad is 80 and living in a nursing home with Alzheimer’s Disease. He does not understand that he needs to eat; he certainly doesn’t know that the nursing home has me listed as his sole Power of Attorney and therefore point of contact. He doesn’t realize that he needs regular visitors, not only to keep him from feeling totally abandoned but also to let the staff know he should never be left lounging around in wet Depends. Not that I think they would, but, you know. Better safe than sorry.
As I write this, my youngest child asks me to unlock the tricky back door; you have to kind of push on it and pull it at the same time. He’s seven and hasn’t quite mastered the technique. “Mommy!” he says. “I need you!”
This shouldn’t be a big deal. It actually isn’t a big deal. I can unlock a back door in like four seconds flat.
I go to unlock the door and my phone starts ringing. I ignore it rather than backtracking because, I just can’t.
“Mommy, can you come here?” calls the 8-year-old.
Deep breath. Several. Maybe try a little deeper? Inhale. Hold. Face turning blue.
“Thank God it’s you.”
“You’re dad’s eating crayons.”
“We need you.”
“They need you.”
“I need you.”
Let me be clear: everyone has problems, and I know that being needed isn’t among the worst of them. If I’m looking at it from the outside – which I can’t, but I try – I realize it’s actually a good problem to have. I have parents, I have kids; they all need me. Too bad. Really, I should shut up and quit writing right now.
It’s just, a person can only take so many deep breaths.
Sometimes I’ll be in my bedroom folding laundry or in my office writing something and I’ll hear my husband say to our kids: “Where’s Mommy?” And I immediately tense up. Teeth clenched and everything. Quite irrationally and somewhat unfairly I think, Really?? What does he need? What can anyone else possibly need???
The other day he said to me, “This needs cleaned. Bad.” He was referring to our silverware drawer. An innocent enough comment and one that was undoubtedly true.
I very nearly lost my mind.
My husband may or may not have noticed that I didn’t reply to his remark. This took some effort, but I managed to keep my mouth shut. Had I opened it I’d have said, “So clean the fucking thing! Why are you telling me about it? Do I go around making announcements about what needs to be done, or do I just do it? Just do it! Clean it! Clean the fucking drawer and shut the fuck up!”
Most likely not the response he was expecting. Also, probably not the communication style I’d like my kids to one day mimic.
Deep breath. Several deep breaths. My lungs have never had this much air.
I’m lucky. I am, and I know it. My life is good. I love my family. I have many funny friends. My cousin visits my mom once a week to help and yesterday, my aunt clipped my dad’s fingernails because I never do it. People help. The world is good. My life is good.
“Mommy. Mommy. Mommy!”
“What? What? WHAAAAAAAAT?
Stop it. Take another deep breath. Walk away if you have to. It’s cooler outside now and the windows are open and the neighbors can hear you, maniac.
Not that my reactions are always out of proportion to the question. They’re really not. Some days, my patience exceeds even my own expectations. Unfortunately, it seems the top blows off more and more quickly, these days. I tell myself a lot of things: This is just life. Everyone has problems. Calm down, you’re not unique, why are you so selfish?
I tell myself, one day, none of them will need you anymore.
Which, not really surprisingly, is the best and absolute worst news of all.