“I really like the energy in your waiting room,” I told my therapist this afternoon.
It’s not that I didn’t have anything relevant to talk about, it just so happened that this comment was relevant.
We were talking about the length of my day (I’d woken up at 3 to get ready for work, again), and I was telling her how my work clothes were starting to feel confining. Like I should have changed into my own clothes, or at least flip-flops, during the hour I’d had at home before my appointment. I was explaining that sometimes, instead of being draining, a long day like this can really feel like two days – provided that there’s some marked end to the first part and kick-start to the second. I compared it to international travel, where whole days can get lost in all the time zones and excitement.
So she’d asked me what, besides showering and changing, might help me to feel like the workday was over, and the real day was beginning. And I’d said being outside might do it – something about the fresh air – and that, when I’d arrived a few minutes early, I’d actually thought about sitting on the bench outside the building while I waited for her.
“But I really like the energy in your waiting room. It’s calm, and well-lit, and there’s always peaceful music on, and I like having those few minutes to just sit and read while I wait for you.”
“So you use that time to relax, and recharge,” she observed.
“Yeah. So don’t ever worry about running over the hour with your one o’clock patient, because I’m happy out there. It’s one of the things I like to do anyway, go somewhere quiet and read, maybe to a coffee shop, somewhere I can sit by myself. And the waiting room is like – sometimes there are other people in there, but they don’t try to talk to me. Even though we’re all here for similar reasons, I think people get embarrassed. No one would ever think of striking up a conversation, like, ‘What are you in here for?’ Which seems kind of silly, because I’ll talk about that stuff with anyone, and I think other patients would be the least judgmental and most understanding, but the waiting room is sort of like a sanctuary.”
“You’re right; there is a sort of sanctity to it. And someone told me once – maybe this doesn’t apply to you, but for a lot of people, I think – that they use that time in the waiting room to kind of emotionally prepare to open themselves up and be vulnerable.”
“Oh.” I sat with that idea for a minute, mentally chewing it over, until she repeated,
“But I don’t necessarily think it applies to you. You’re always so open and honest anyway, and expressing yourself seems to come pretty easily.”
“Yeah. I don’t sit there and plan what I want to talk about. I read. But I was thinking about what that other person said. It’s hard for me to understand how people would need to psych themselves up for a conversation like this. I mean, it’s always surprising for me to discover that not everyone operates the way that I do, because I have no secrets. I don’t think I’ve ever had a secret in my life.”
From there, I went on to tell her about how it’s hard for me to understand that not everyone is as intelligent as I am either.
“Like at work,” I explained. “What we do is monkey work. It’s super, super easy-”
“For you,” my therapist interjected.
“Yeah, but for everyone. At least, I think it should be. So it always surprises me to find that not everyone can see things or think about things the way I do.”
“Does it frustrate you? Do you get impatient?”
“Sometimes. But mostly, I’m just genuinely surprised. And then the other day, my mom told one of my friends that sometimes I hurt her feelings, because I remind her of her sister or something, and I always have a comment for everything, and I guess I make her feel stupid sometimes.”
“How did you feel when you heard that your mom said that? Were you angry? Was it hurtful?”
“Not really. It was just surprising. Because I certainly never try to outsmart my mom. I wouldn’t ever want to hurt her feelings, you know? So I just figure I’ll be more careful.”
I swear my therapist teared up at this. “That’s so nice; you’re just concerned for how your mom feels.”
“Well, yeah. I think it must be really hard to be a parent and feel like your kids have grown up to be smarter than you…”
“Or you could just be proud of them and their accomplishments.”
“She is. But I think it must be hard for her, too. Or else why would she have said that to my friend? My mom can be really sensitive; that’s where I get it from. But the thing is, she’s really smart too, just in different ways. Like – I can’t cook. And Doug is a really good cook, but sometimes he has questions, and she’s the first one either of us thinks to call.”
“That’s nice of you guys, to let your mom know you need her.”
And then I decided I hadn’t described this well enough.
“My mom,” I began. “My mom is the best person at being a mom that I’ve ever met in my life. No joke. She majored in home ec, she taught home ec, then she became a mom for real. She’s basically been doing this her entire life. She cooks; she sews; she’s really creative and good at helping with projects; she’s compassionate; she gives good advice; she clips out articles she thinks you’d be interested in; if she finds out you like something – like Doug’s aunt, who my mom has met, like, once, is a big Dallas Cowboys fan, and now when my mom finds some little Cowboys trinket in the thrift store or something, she buys it and gives it to us to give to Carolyn.”
“She sounds like a Midwestern mom. That Midwestern breed of hospitality.”
“Well, she did grow up in Michigan. But seriously, my mom is like the mom. And I know I’m not just biased, because my friends have all told me this over the years. When we were kids, the door was always open.”
“Figuratively open? Or actually open?”
“Actually open. At our house, there’s the front door, which no one uses unless they’ve never been over before or they’re solicitors, but then there’s the back door, and as long as someone was home, it would literally be open. So all our friends knew to go around the back and just walk in. And they all knew where the spare key was, in case the door was ever closed. So I’d be up in my room, and one of my friends would come over and just let herself in, say hi to whoever might be down in the living room, and come up.”
My therapist lit up. “I just made this connection, between your openness with people, and the open door you grew up with. This is the way you were raised.”
I thought for a minute, about the years in high school and college where I felt like I shouldn’t be talking to my parents about certain things, and then I remembered that my dad now reads about my emotional life (and my sex life) on a daily basis. “I guess so,” I said.
“Have you ever told your mom all that?” she asked then.
“I think so. But probably not recently, and maybe not in so many words.”
“Maybe you should. Maybe it would change how she looks at you and your relationship with her.”
And she’s right. I don’t spend enough time complimenting my mom. It’s too easy to lightly make fun of her because she talks too much, or because she used to buy Joey tons of baby seal Christmas ornaments, stuffed dolls, and posters, until the day he finally had to tell her, “Mom, I’m not really into baby seals anymore.” Or I complain because I want so badly for her to fully accept Doug into her family, and I’m still not convinced that she has yet. But when was the last time – before today – that I sat down and bragged about how great my mom is?
Seriously, people. My mom is the best mom. Not because she’s my mom and I’m obligated to say so, but literally because my mom is the best at being a mom.
And how else could I possibly conclude this, other than to say: someday, I should be so lucky as to be more like her.