Here we are at the Cape for the 23d summer as a family. My sons are 23, 21, and 15. And I am wondering for the first time if we are maybe getting too old for this particular vacation. It takes so much energy keeping everyone happy. I know that I should not feel so responsible for everyone’s happiness but I can’t find another way to be. I love them all so much and I want us all to be having fun. But Nat wakes up at 5 or 5:30, and goes to the bathroom four times in a row, and flushes and stomps out of the bathroom each time, doesn’t wash his hands, and shuts (slams) the bedroom door. He does not mean to make so much noise. He just does. But there is Max, on an air mattress in the living room because our rental does not have enough bedrooms. I thought we could cram in this one for a few nights; our usual rental was taken. This one is lovely, enchanting, clean, bright – but small. Nat’s going home tomorrow and I’m looking forward to that! How shitty that feels, but that’s the feeling. I love him with all my heart and would do anything for him, but he is tough to live with.
So I get up with him and I whisper, “go wash your hands, Darling (I always want to soften any order I give)” and “walk quieter,” and “don’t slam the door,” but I hear Max stirring anyway, and Max stays up so late. Even when he goes to sleep early, it is late. Max says it’s fine, it’s fine. Okay. He’s a nice guy. Max is sunny and cool and breezy and fun and so… I don’t worry as much about his state of mind anymore because I see where he is, how he is. Lives on his own in New York, works, enjoys life. Ben, not so sure. He’s always been prickly. A very deep heart and a mind to match. Ben retreats into warm dark places and creates art and thoughts of brilliant shape and sometimes harrowing meaning. Ben sleeps through all of the early morning noise but the moment he is awake he mutters about Nat’s behavior. Ben’s happiness counts just as much as anyone’s and so I feel what he is saying. I know it is true that Nat should wash, I understand the germ situation Ben is imagining. I struggle between validating Ben and urging him to accept, grow, be compassionate. What I want is even more than that. I want Ben to love Nat.
Last night I realized I was feeling stress and not much else. I was worried about the next morning, not being able to sleep in for fear of noise, for damage control. It’s not damage; I know it could be far worse. I’m talking about tension, delicate sleep, irritating sounds, wobbly balance. It’s just so tiring. So before bed I told them all gently but honestly that I am feeling very stressed out managing Nat for everyone’s sake in the early morning.
Oh, my God, I should not give the impression that Ned does not help. Ned more than helps. Sometimes I think Ned does far more than I do, in physically being with Nat, steering him through the world. He also sits and looks at Max and Ben’s stuff and speaks their language. What do I do in comparison, the scut work, the cooking, cleaning, laundry, worrying. Together, I think, Ned and I manage — there’s that word again — and sometimes we even fly above that level, to enjoyment. Probably a lot, actually, but it is all so hard won. I suppose everyone feels this way?
It’s just that I want us all to each get our chance in the sun and it feels like it’s up to me to use my five arms to hold us all out there to get at that light. But though they are strong, my arms are tired and there’s only two of them besides.