I was sitting across from my Dad at the Bagel on Belden. The year was 1995. It was a Saturday, mid-morning and I was slightly hungover and forever grateful my Dad was paying for my tuna on rye with a whopping cup of coffee. I was 24, living in Boys town and met up with my papasita on the occasional Saturday morning to eat, catch up and hug.
After a bite of his lox and bagel, he said, quite casually “You know, your mother got crazy on me this morning.” I rolled my eyes and snorted a bit, picturing the typical scene: Him reading the paper, making a mess of sorts with crumbs from his toast. Her saying something like ‘Leo, please! I want to read the paper too, could you just use a dish!?’
He then said “No. Really. She got me crazy. She went on and on and I had to get outta there today.”
“Nina, you don’t know anything about marriage. It’s a long haul. It’s not easy. People get on each others nerves.”
Yeah, this was way too much for me, semi-hungover and trying to enjoy the best tuna ever. There I sat, happily enjoying my free meal and time with my cute Dad and he’s talking about marriage? What was happening?
He was looking at me like an adult and talking to me like I was one. I didn’t feel like one. So, I said something like “Well Dad, I’m sure you drive Mom crazy too. I mean, come on. You’re really annoying.” And I smiled and laughed.
I really didn’t want to hear what he had to say about my mom, and I didn’t want to hear any advice. I really just wanted my tuna and coffee.
“This is the thing,” he said. “You grow up in a house with married people. You see what you like and you take it with you. You see what you don’t like and you leave it where it is. Do you like anything you see in our house?’
“Well of course, Dad. A lot.”
He smiled and then asked what I didn’t like. I had a decent list. “Think about it,” he said. “And then leave it behind.”
We continued our meal and we walked around outside until it was time to go. With a hug and a kiss, we parted ways the way we always did on those Saturdays. This one felt different though, a bit heavier? Something new in the air. Something shifted between us and I wasn’t certain I was comfortable with it yet.
When I got home, I dialed up my mom. “Hey babe,” she said. That sweet ‘hey babe’ a little out of breath. Was she sweeping crumbs off the floor? I asked her if anything happened with Dad that morning. She said that “Yeah, I’ll tell you what happened. He’s driving me crazy and I couldn’t wait for him to get out of here. He’s always around and I always clean up after him. I can’t believe he’s already on his way home!”
While this was nothing serious, nothing marriage threatening and nothing I hadn’t witnessed during my lifetime – it WAS strange that they were both voicing their annoyance with each other. To me.
And then I realized – they are both people, not just parents. My mom is a woman. A married woman with a kid still at home and a retired husband. And she was still working. And she was annoyed with always taking care of everyone. Huh. It made sense. I could empathize with her. That would drive me NUTS.
My Dad was a man. A married man that wanted to sit on his tush on a Saturday and read the paper with his toast and crumbs falling all around him. He didn’t want to hear his wife nagging. I get it. That would bug me.
But that was my mom he was talking about. And that was my Dad she was talking about! And that was really weird and confusing and normal at the same time. Somehow I went from being my blissfully ignorant self who only knew one kind of reality to a new version of me that learned that my parents were human beings – separate unto themselves. Individuals with wants and needs that sometimes were not met.
I felt older somehow after that morning. A little bit wiser having a glimpse at Florence and Leo, not just mom and dad. And I wondered how I was going to navigate these new conversations, this new realization. I wanted to be this new version of Neen. I realized I really had no choice. I took on the role of grown up pretty well. I took away the good stuff, and left what I didn’t like behind.
But I still let my Dad treat me for lunch at The Bagel on Saturdays.
When was the first time you felt like a grown up? Let me know in the comments below.