Old patterns tend to stick around.
Yesterday that’s what I thought when I snagged my son’s help for just one more job before he left.
The job involved inserting an air conditioning unit into my double hung window. I install it every summer after storing it during the winter in the garage.
It’s bulky and awkward and weighs about forty pounds. Using my strong son’s help instead of his dad’s would cut the installation time in half.
Dylan drove from his nearby apartment, anxious to get going for his eight-hour drive that day. I’d warned him that his quick goodbye stop with his parents will include helping me.
“Let’s do this,” he says. He practically sprints to the garage. No hand truck for him. He—a guy in his twenty-eight-year-old glory—will carry the AC unit.
He hobbles back to the house, hugging it to his chest. His dad trails behind.
Uh-oh. I know how the installation will go. We’ve been through it umpteen times before.
His dad, Rich, (who warned 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 of a lot of advice from an older man.
“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 down.”
Terry’s subtext: I’d rather not install it with you, Rich, because we’d have to repeat our agonizing routine of handing out needless advice to each other.
“Okay, I’m here for moral support.” Rich’s assurance draws an eye roll from me.
I dash inside to make everything ready at the window. Meanwhile outside, Rich flops onto a patio chair and twirls around as Dylan paces, waiting for supervision.
Actually, he’s reluctant to do anything because he knows Mom needs everything done just so.
I return outside, 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 stop everything and drill 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 lift it into the open window, apparently because my strapping young son can’t handle it on his own.
They lift the unit too high.
This balancing act requires finesse. Using four hands is not finesse.
“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 tilts 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 is 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, expands 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 the situation turns fraught, 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 make sure the air conditioner is stable.
I run out the door.
My boy is leaving. I won’t see him for six months. It’s a holiday weekend, and he’s driving for two days from New Mexico to Kansas, where he’s eager to continue 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 but he’s leaving.
I need him here for one more minute—please, just one more.
Waving my cellphone, I dash to his car.
“Oh, gawd, what now?” Dylan smiles at me. I poke my camera through the open passenger window and snap photos. He hates getting his photo taken. But he cooperates 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 still cooperates—actually smiles—and appeases his perfectionist mom who has 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.