My son and I were in the car the other day, having a typical conversation. He was driving and I was yacking away, asking him questions and not waiting for an answer, jumping from subject to subject and interrupting myself while he stared straight ahead. He caught me off guard when he said, “Now don’t take this the wrong way but – were you an annoying wife? Because I get the feeling you were.”
I know my son pretty well. He’s good-hearted but he’s blunt. Any woman who takes more than a passing interest in him will need a tough hide.
Even so I was tempted to remind him I’d just sprung for an oil change and a new battery for his car so he ought to proceed with caution.
Instead I decided to take the sage maternal approach: “Now that’s an odd thing to ask, son. What prompted a question like that?” Then I braced myself for his answer.
He didn’t hold back. “Have you ever heard how a guy supposedly marries a girl who’s like his mother and vice versa? I just want to tell you, if you ever see me getting involved with a girl who’s like you – now don’t take this the wrong way – those words again! – but if you see me doing that, I want you to remind me to run. Because you know how you are, you talk too much and you repeat yourself and you’re a pain to watch movies with and, well, I don’t want to regret anything.”
I was a model of restraint. He’s young, I told myself. What does he know? Instead of being insulted I forced myself to focus: Had I been an annoying wife? It was an interesting question. I’d been many things as a wife but I never thought of myself as annoying.
What really got me was the movies remark.
When his dad was alive we used to have what I dubbed “Movie Friday”. I looked forward to it all week. I loved watching movies with Keith. It was even better than the closed caption feature I’d use when I had to watch a movie by myself because I could ask him questions.
Movie Friday lasted a lot longer than the movie itself. We couldn’t watch the movie until I’d cleaned up the kitchen, given the kids baths, read to them, walked the dog, straightened up the house, talked on the phone a little and checked on the kids. He’d holler for me a few times then threaten to hit “play” and fast-forward through the previews. I loved the previews so that usually got me in the family room, assuming my usual position on the floor in front of the television, nose nearly touching the screen so I wouldn’t miss a thing. Keith sat behind me and off to the side in his recliner, remote in hand, awaiting my every command, question and opinion:
Keith! I missed what just happened. Hurry up and rewind it before I forget what I saw.
Pause it. Okay now explain that to me because I didn’t understand one thing about it.
Did you get that joke because I didn’t. Let’s hear it again. Again. One more time please. Again. Well that wasn’t very funny. Did you think it was funny because after hearing it six times I just don’t think it was funny. Actually it doesn’t even make sense; they should have left it out.
I also frequently asked him to stop the movie so I could: get a beer; use the bathroom; check on the kids; bring in some laundry to fold; pop popcorn; change into my pj’s; look at a recipe; scan the newspaper.
I assumed Keith looked forward to our Movie Friday events as much as I did. After a few sessions he even asked me to get two movies. “But I can’t stay up late enough to watch a second one,” I yelped when he first suggested it. “We'll be up all night!”
“Not for us; for me,” he said.
“Oh. Okay, sure. I’ll get you another movie. What kind do you want?”
“Margaret, get me anything. I don’t care. Even if it’s in Swahili with no subtitles, I’ll watch it,” he told me.
I figured he liked movies.
One Friday night I was doing my usual thing, happily asking Keith to explain, replay and if he really really really meant it when he said I was prettier than Julia Roberts, when I twisted around to look at him.
He was in his recliner but he wasn’t reclining; he was sitting ramrod straight, eyes closed, hands gripping the armrests, the back of his head pressed into the chair cushion, turning a whiter shade of pale.
He looked the opposite of delighted. Did he always look this way on Movie Friday? What about other times?
When my son and I watched movies together it wasn’t remotely the same. Once he sat there with a yardstick and whacked me on the head every time I opened my mouth. Other times he’d simply turn off the television, settle into the couch, arms folded, and say, “When you’re quiet I’ll turn it back on.”
“Well? Do you think you annoyed Daddy?” he asked.
I said, “Alex if I did, he never let on.” To his credit, I added silently. “And as far as you getting mixed up with someone like me – you’ve got nothing to worry about. It’ll never get that far, trust me."
He seemed okay with that. We drove the rest of the way in silence, him probably thinking about smart, quiet girls and me wondering how I'd raised such an annoying child.