Took the Reds to the Golden Arches for supper. I had hoped to read the paper while they played, but the place was packed, so we ate outside the play area and had lessons on sitting-properly-in-public instead.
A well-coiffed, well-dressed woman sat alone two tables over, staring intently at her laptop and giggling at the Reds, though she was trying hard not to. In the end, I grinned over Luke's head at her: "I give up. Some days, they just crack me up."
And she laughed out loud and said, "They crack me up, too!" and congratulated me on having such great kids. I tossed back that I am indeed very, very lucky.
This woman, as it turns out, has not been as lucky. Over the next hour, I heard about her divorce, her job loss, her childhood, the resentment she holds for her own mother, who is long past the age of being able to set things right.
I learned that she has one child. A son, long-grown. One who never calls or writes or visits. One who is very, very angry with his mother.
"But why?" I asked quietly. (What I meant was, "Tell me everything you did so that I can be sure not to do the same.")
She shrugged elegantly, splayed her hands in a gesture of defeated confusion, muttered something about not having read the same parenting book that I have and then promptly burst into tears.
Shit. Shit, shit, shit, damn-it-Liz-why-do-you-gotta-TALK-to-people-all-the-damned-time?
Mortified at her tears and my nerve, I fumbled through an apology and then wrung my hands together as I gently mocked myself: "Parenting book. Ha! Mostly, I spend each night before sleep counting all the ways in which I've damaged the children today!"
She blinked in surprise, wiped carefully at her tears and smiled sadly.
"I carry that with me every day, that knowledge that I damaged my son. That I did it all wrong. That I didn't do enough."
"You know, you're taking an awful lot of stuff onto your shoulders, mama. I don't know you, or the reasons for your son's anger, but at some point, we all become responsible for our own shit. At some point, we've gotta stop blaming our mothers and blame ourselves instead."
"But he hates me. He told me."
"That's hard. Why do you think that is?"
"Because he's gay."
"You think your son hates you because he's gay?"
"No. I find it hard to love him because he's gay, so he hates me."
I think my jaw dropped open and there was a weird rushing in my ears - like a distant roar, which I now recognize as rage, but then, I could only blink in shock.
Finally, I found my voice:
"Well, hell. That's huge. And sad. And frankly, if I were him, I probably wouldn't speak to you, either."
She glared at me then, furious: "I gave him everything. Every advantage. Every dream. Every chance. And he won't even talk to me!"
"You gave him everything but acceptance about who he really is. Because all he sees, in the end, is that you don't love him."
"Would you love your sons if they decided to be gay?"
"I love my sons. Period."
"Even if they won't ever give you grandchildren?"
"I love my sons. Period."
"But what if they love men?"
"Then I will have more sons to love."
We sat quietly for awhile, absorbing, assessing, fuming, watching the children play. Finally, I could stand the silence no longer and was moved to say this:
"I hope that this conversation has offered you something good. I hope that in the days and weeks to come, something will happen or a call will come and you'll think of my sons and me and this all make some sense."
"Why do you hope that?" she asked, resigned, a little bit bitter. A LOT angry.
"Because," interrupted an older man, sitting quietly nearby with his wife, cradling a coffee in his hand, "Because you have lost love. Hope's all you've got left."
We all looked back at the woman, whose eyes filled once more with tears. I cannot say that my heart ached for her, because it didn't. Not for her.
"I suppose it's worth a shot," she offered, reluctantly. "His birthday's on Friday. I suppose I could call."
Part of me hopes she does. Part of me prays that she doesn't.
All of me loves that man.