Old patterns tend to stick around.
I was thinking that yesterday when I snagged my son’s help for just one more job before he left.
The job was inserting an air conditioning unit in my double hung window. I install it every summer and store it during the winter in the garage.
It’s bulky and awkward and weighs about forty pounds. I can install it with assistance, but my son’s help instead of his dad’s would cut the installation time in half.
Dylan drove from his nearby shared apartment, anxious to get going for that day’s eight-hour drive. I’d warned him that his quick goodbye stop with his parents would include helping me.
“Let’s do this,” he said. He practically sprinted to the garage. No hand truck for him; he—a guy in his twenty-eight-year-old glory—would carry the AC unit.
He hobbled back, lugging it in front of his chest. His dad trailed behind.
Uh-oh. I knew how the installation would go. We’d been through it umpteen times before.
His dad, Rich (who told me “Fred” would be a ridiculous pseudonym to use in my blog), is good at doling out advice. So am I. We expect it from each other. This time our son and I would be on the receiving end.
“Oh, so you are going to install it?” Rich’s subtext: Our son is in a hurry; let him get on the road.
“It’ll only take a few minutes—just stick it in the window and screw it in.” Terry’s subtext: I’d rather not install it with you, Rich, because we’ll have to repeat our agonizing routine that includes handing out advice to each other.
“Okay, I’m here for moral support.” Yuk-yuk, hardy-har. Nervous laughs all around.
I dash inside to make everything ready at the window. Meanwhile outside, Rich flops into a patio chair and twirls around as Dylan paces.
Dylan is waiting for supervision.
Actually, he’s reluctant to do anything because he knows Mom needs everything done just so.
I return, and Rich watches Dylan and me remove the protective Styrofoam and plastic from the package. He says, “You’ll have to put that part of the unit on the outside of the window.”
From my position on my knees, I react predictably, stopping everything and drilling a “duh” stare into Rich. He laughs, Dylan laughs.
Dylan picks up the unit and heads for the window. Dad follows. I run inside to guide its placement.
Now four male hands are lifting it into the open window, apparently because my strapping young son can’t handle it on his own.
They’re lifting the unit too high.
It’s a balancing act requiring finesse, I think, but they don’t quite understand.
“It’s not lining up with the screw holes,” I say. “Maybe we need to move it back a little.”
Groan of exasperation from Dylan.
“Move it left, no—a little right, there. Oh darn, it’s not lining up with the screw holes.”
Another groan from Dylan.
Rich is lifting the unit, throwing the angle off.
“What are you doing, Rich? Let Dylan do it.” Rich backs away, tossing his hands in the air.
“We don’t need drama,” I say.
“Oh my gawd…” Dylan’s not in the mood for my predictable comments.
“I’m just making sure it doesn’t fall,” Rich says.
“But the window frame is supporting it,” I say.
“Get in there, Dylan,” Rich orders.
Dylan comes inside. “What’s the problem? You’re making this a lot harder than it is.” He bats the unit a couple times, pulls out the accordion wings. “There. Screw it in. Done.”
“He wants to go,” Rich says. “You need to let him go.”
“Okay, okay, I’ve got it,” I say. Dylan walks outside, eager to get to his car.
“I’m glad you went in there,” Dad says, loudly enough for me to hear.
And that’s the old pattern: Mom ropes son into helping on a simple job, Mom—seeking perfection—stretches a five-minute task into fifteen, Dad gets involved and we get a fraught situation leaving Son disgusted and anxious to exit.
But then another deeper pattern takes over. The one that was there to begin with.
Dylan gives me a quick hug. “Bye.”
“Sorry I delayed you,” I say, but I’m not really sorry.
My son walks with his dad to his car, his voice disappearing while I’m making sure the air conditioner is stable.
I run out the door.
My boy is leaving. I’ll not see him for another six months. He’s driving for two days on a holiday weekend to Kansas to a job where he’s proud to be making good money at a welding job.
The car engine starts. “Text me when you reach La Junta,” his dad says. Seeing me hastily approaching, he adds, “I think your mom wants to say something.”
I don’t want to just say something.
I want Dylan to stay. I want him here and I want his smiling face and his funny observations and his unique light around me. I want my boy with me and he’s leaving.
I need him here for one more minute—please, just one more.
I run up to his car waving my cellphone.
“Oh, gawd, what now?” Dylan’s smiling at me. I poke my camera through the open passenger window and snap photos. He hates getting his photo taken. But he’s cooperating with his mother.
I run in front of his car so he can’t drive away, not yet, and lean inside his driver’s seat window and take a couple selfies. He’s still cooperating—actually smiling—and appeasing his perfectionist mom who delayed his exit by twenty minutes.
And now I have that photo of my son, my baby, just before driving off to his life, and me his mom, inserting herself beside him, not wanting to let him go.
Deep patterns never die.