Sunday, August 17, 2008

Where is Supernanny When You Need Her?

It was 10:15 PM when my host's son came to the door to pick up his child. The two-year-old was remarkably fine: wide awake and happy as a clam. My hosts, on the other hand, were dead tired after a day of entertaining the two year old and Thing 1, whom I had brought out to California on an 8-hour road trip at their invitation (but alone, after Thing 2 came down with a nasty stomach virus that kept him and The Wife at home).

We had all had lunch together: my hosts, their son, the two-year old, Thing 1, and me. And as we were settling up, the son turned to his father--my friend, a supremely generous and kind man of 62--and asked him if he could take the two-year-old for the afternoon. He said this knowing full well that his father had guests for the weekend. That didn't seem to faze him. He had things he wanted to do. And his father, who adores his grandson, said, "no problem."

And, honestly, it was no problem...for the afternoon. But then it got to be dinner time, and no sign of the dad. So we took the (adorable) two-year old off to dinner with us. And then it was after dinner time. Thing 1 took a shower, read a book, and happily passed out (after a day of playing golf, swimming, and playing more golf). I came downstairs after tucking him and found my two hosts still entertaining the two-year old. They looked wiped out, but they kept on going. They had to. What choice did they have?

And then, at 10:15, the father came to pick up his boy. He didn't hug him or pick him up. He let his mother carry the boy out to the car. He did not seem to notice--or care--how tired his parents were.

And it all just mystifies me.

I see behavior, sometimes, that seems (to me) to be so clearly and obviously wrong that I can't understand how normal and rational people can endulge in it without shame. I can't even imagine asking my father or my in-laws to look after my children at a time when they were entertaining guests. Who does that? What kind of person is so convinced of the importance and rightness of his desires that he can't see anything else? Or who can see other people's needs, but discounts them down to zero compared to his own?

I know, I know. Tons of people. But I still find it mind-boggling.

My hosts never said a word about it. They are far too decent for that. I also said nothing (though I am not too decent). But I could see a pained look in my friend's eyes, and it was about more than being tired (though he was surely that). I could see the annoyance, and worse, the embarrassment. This particular dirty laundry was not, I think, part of what he wanted to share with us this weekend.

And I felt bad about his embarrassement, because surely that emotion should have belonged to his son. That emotion, or worse. Because embarrassment is easy. Embarrassment is what happens when you get caught. What his son should have felt is ashamed. Shame is what you feel when you know you've done wrong--whether you get caught or not. Shame is what you feel when you catch yourself--when you realize that you have fallen short of the standards you have set for yourself, or the standards other people have expected of you. It's what you have to struggle with when you know you haven't been the person you should be, or would like to be. It's more than an Oops, and requires more than a Sorry.

It's an emotion that seems to be in short supply, these days.

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