I’m Married to an “Older” Man

My husband (7 years older, a fair bit grayer than me, and NOT Tony Randall), my daughter (9), and I are at Lowe’s looking at tile for our kitchen floor. We’re also looking at wood for floors in adjacent rooms, so there’s a fair bit of traveling back and forth between 2 aisles. I’ve laid out several tiles that we like, and G has turned to go to the wood-flooring aisle to select even more differently-colored samples (we apparently do not have enough already) so that we can line them up against the tile and see how well they “go.” Meanwhile, a young man (30?) approaches, pushing his adorable little girl (3? 2 1/2?) in the cart. (Sorry about the number thing; it’s important to the story.)

She watches G walk away, and with a look of grave concern in her eyes turns to me and says, “Your dad went away.”

Now, I enjoy this just a little, repeat it to G when he returns, have a good laugh, etc. etc. (Okay, I’m not proud of it, but it was funny.)

What I realize (much) later is that his apparent departure was probably a source of great distress to her. She’s at the store with her dad, I must be at the store with my dad; if he goes away, she is/I am alone and vulnerable and that’s a scary thing to a child of her age.  Instead of laughing I should have reassured her; “It’s okay; he’ll be right back.”

I’ve been thinking about this in terms of our dependence and vulnerability, or at least our perceptions of these things, as we move through childhood and into adulthood.  Babies “know” they need something, somebody (if they can be said to “know” anything). Preschool age children want all kinds of independence until you ask them to put on their own shoes or put away their toys, at which point they “can’t do it” and “need help,” but even the most self-reliant are not able to get a job, drive, nor can they cook for themselves as they are not yet allowed to use the stove.

Does this dependence/independence change that much in adolescence? My teenager can drive, but he’s still not comfortable driving on the highway; he’s allowed to use the stove but has certainly never asked if he is “allowed” to pay into the grocery kitty; he doesn’t want me even to talk to him unless he wants to talk to me. Then, even if I’m in the middle of: writing a paragraph, planning a class, a sentence, and can’t acknowledge him immediately, he’s so offended from being “overlooked” that he stomps away in a huff muttering “nobody likes me.” (Maybe it’s a middle-child thing.) You’ve probably all heard of the book, Get Out of My Life But First Can You Drive Me to the Mall?  He knows he needs us still, and it probably, at least partially, makes him crazy.

My 20-year old held me at arm’s length for 9 years. He now, fairly regularly, seeks out, and seems to respect, my advice.

Would I not be as sad, as lost, if G “went away” as this girl would be at the loss of her father? Are we all just on a perpetual cycle from one type of dependence to another, the only difference being that as adults we recognize its worth, and call it interdependence? Maybe interdependence is just another word for dependence without vulnerability.

Then again, maybe “dependence” isn’t the right word at all: I’m perfectly capable of taking care of myself, even if I do find my whole day feels much better when my husband wakes me by brushing my back with his fingers, makes the coffee (he does make much better coffee than I do don’ttellhimIsaidso) and poaches my egg. I don’t rely on him for my survival (although sometimes it feels that I do); I would know that even without him I could support myself, drive, use the stove; but I’d be alone.

From the September 23, 2002 issue of the New Yorker, in a review of the poet W. H. Auden by Adam Gopnik:

Being everywhere at once while going nowhere in particular is what poets do, and Auden did it. Where journalists write about what people are arguing about in public, and novelists about what they are talking about in private, only poets seem able to show that what people argue about in public is identical to what they talk about in private, that what we are arguing about is the sum of our own guilts, fears, anxieties, hopes. And only a handful of poets show that what people are talking about in public and what they are talking about in private is always a variant of what they say to themselves when they are alone, and that, Auden knew, is simply ‘I wish I were not.'”

She knew this, that wee little girl in the cart at Lowe’s. And she was only 3.

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