I grew up in a cold-weather state, so I can take the cold of winter. Unless it gets down around zero for a couple of weeks, and then it’s, “You know what’s nice, Carol? Ecuador.”
“Let me finish. ‘Equator’ is right in the name, practically. And you can get bananas for pennies on the dollar.”
“That would be great if we were monkeys.”
“They speak Spanish there. The language of romance.”
“French is the language of romance. Spanish is a Romance language. Big difference.”
“Put on a sweater. We’re not moving to Ecuador.”
What I hate about winter is too much time to think. Not if you’re outdoors enjoying winter sports, but let’s face it, you do not acquire the body mass index of a walrus by cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, or snowboarding a black diamond run, whatever that is.
The only thing I know about winter sports is that you end up being too hot and too cold at the same time.
So I stay indoors where it is nice and warm (except in my actual house, because whoever built the place apparently never heard of weather stripping. I’m not saying it’s drafty, but my office has a wind sock). And while I am indoors, I think, or rather, brood.
I can’t help it. I was raised by a world-class worrier. My mother saw danger everywhere her children went. Everything in the world was filthy, poisonous or designed by an Old Testament God to poke your eye out. Most things were all three. As we got older, she added our inevitable bad decisions to her list of fears. She began every single conversation the same way: “Mike, I’m worried about …” followed by the name of whoever had most recently had an independent thought:
“Mike, I’m worried about your brother. He just signed up to play in the Marine Corps band.”
“Great. So they’ll pay for his college, right?”
“The Marines, Michael. Your father was in the Marines. And then we got divorced.”
“Yeah, but 40 years later. I don’t think the Marines were –“
“You don’t understand.”
“Mike, I’m worried about your sister. She’s still in the hospital.”
“She works in a hospital, Mom. She’s a nurse.”
“And that’s supposed to make it right?”
As a lawyer who quit a secure job with an insurance company to move to Sodom – I mean New York – and become a stand-up comic, I can only imagine the conversations my siblings had with her about me.
Before I had children, my mother’s fears seemed ridiculous, borderline insane, even. Since their birth, I have come to realize that if anything, she underestimated the dangers of children being allowed to make their own decisions. Especially the dangers to the parents. We get to keep all the fear, but have to give up all the control. Who thought that up? Nobody consulted me.
My daughter is about to graduate from high school. She loves musical theater. She has been in 17 shows. Each one was an enormous boost to her development and an educational experience for her cast mates that they may not fully appreciate for years. It has been a great experience for everybody involved. But who gave her permission to continue with it after she gets out of school? Because that is her plan. We tell her it is hard. We tell her she is asking for a lifetime of hard work with no guarantee that you will get what you want. You know what she says?
“I know. I want to do it anyway.”
It’s fine for her. When she doesn’t get what she wants – and people in the theater often don’t – she gets mad, cries a little, and gets over it because that’s the way she is. But what about me? It’s winter, so I am stuck indoors for hours at a time, obsessing over Elizabeth’s happiness. Am I supposed to just “get over it?”
According to my wife I am. Carol says my daughter has a “right” to live her own life, and micromanaging your children’s lives is “crazy.” This is, of course, gibberish. Why was I given life experience if not to cram it down my kids’ throats? However, whenever I confront her with this cold, hard, irrefutable fact, she just shakes her head and walks away, a sure sign that I’m right.
Don’t even get me started on my son, who decided to take a break halfway through college to work in a tutoring program for underprivileged kids.
Where they don’t even speak French.
Mike Langworthy, an attorney, former stand-up comic and longtime television writer, now lives in Scarborough and is fascinated by all things Maine. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter: @mikelangworthy.