You know what gets old? Managing other people’s feelings.
I mean, I’m really good at it. I’d likely score very high on whatever empathy scale or test you gave me. I think it’s the result of growing up with a mother who needed that kind of intense, watchful focus – she was a bit like a bomb that might go off if you didn’t handle her carefully, or you accidentally pushed the wrong button. And so I grew up and into a career that, at its essence, is managing other people, including (and sometimes especially) their feelings. In the Before Times, at work in an office, I probably knew many of the personal details of most of the people I worked with. My current boss sometimes calls me the “office glue.”
And don’t get me wrong, I like doing that. I like knowing things about people. I enjoy it; I want people to trust me, to want to talk to me. That’s not a complaint. I am, in fact, a trustworthy and reliable person. I can be a surface-level gossip (because that’s relatable and makes other people comfortable), but the big stuff? I don’t gossip about that. Your secret, assuming it’s deeper than the fact that you call yourself a mustard snob but your fridge says you buy cheap mustard too, is safe with me.
But sometimes …. sometimes, particularly during a pandemic, it gets old. The radar’s up, I’m getting signals, someone’s in a mood, someone’s a little off on a Zoom call, and my little brain-cogs are working overtime, focused on what does she need here, or how can I make him happier, and … eh. I decide, it’s someone else’s turn.
Because they didn’t ask for all that management. They just asked to be human and live and say stuff, and not to be treated like rare bonsai or hothouse flowers. They aren’t puzzles, and I don’t have to solve them (or find all the pieces.) Things break, stuff’s missing, they deal. They figure it out.
The funny thing is (this is kind of a dark post, isn’t it?) I think I have some emotional distance, and enough self-understanding about my understanding-ness that I can, in the wrong time-space continuum, be a real witch. I can be, in a precise moment, a deeply cruel and unfeeling person. Don’t get me wrong – the guilt almost kills me, practically immediately – and then I have to go back and apologize and explain and undo whatever boneheaded thing I’ve just done (or, more likely, said) to try to fix it. Most of the time I’m forgiven. The kids gave me one of those twee wall-plaques, like the ones that say Find the joy in today or It’s the little things that count, only mine says Lord, keep your arm around my shoulder and your hand over my mouth. It’s hanging in the hallway next to the kitchen, with the fridge magnet they also gave me that says It’s like my mom always said, what the f*ck is wrong with you? OK, I’m a mixed bag. Aren’t we all?
The twins are limping along toward high school graduation in June. The last two of four kids out the door. We’ve been in lockdown together for more than a year, three of us in this tiny house. I’m simultaneously ready to buy them tickets to anywhere, just to get away from them, and absolutely dreading it. Deep, bone-aching dread. I’ve now spent …. 26 years? Being someone’s mom at home and someone’s mom at work. I want to try out for a different supporting role. We’ll see how it goes.
How are you doing? Are you more on the empathetic side, or less? Do you get tired of it? Do you want to emerge from the pandemic and try to do (or be) a different person in some way?