Sunday, January 30, 2011

We Become Our Parents

Ariel Pink's Haunted Graffiti--"Can't Hear My Eyes" (mp3)
Donnie Iris--"I Can't Hear You" (mp3)

My wife and I left a "concert" event at intermission on Saturday night. It's a student-performance show that we have enjoyed for the past three years, but this year, we just weren't feeling it. Why? Because we couldn't quite hear it.

No, it wasn't because our joint hearing is shot, though it is headed in that direction. Instead, the kids behind us just would not shut up. We got there about 15 minutes before the show started, and that left us with a choice of seats in the upper third of the auditorium. Little did I know that that is where all of the middle school children sit.

And that's when we became our parents. It's not a role that I enjoy playing. But play it I did.

Ears did have something to do with it. When you get older, your ears, even if they haven't been abused at rock concerts like mine, are not as good at distinguishing between noises coming from different sources. When you can't hear something that you think you should be able to hear, it makes you feel anxious and isolated.

So we became our parents in two ways: 1) we turned around and asked the children to be quiet and 2) previous to that occurrence, the wife looked repeatedly at her husband with the expectation that he would be the one to take care of it. Nevermind that the wife in question is a litigator who spends her days (and nights, debriefing) in confrontation and conflict, while said husband has established himself in his school in a very comfortable "good cop" role.

The husband-wife interplay built until after the second performance. The wife kept looking at the husband--when was he finally going to do something about the incessant talking going on behind them? And so, yet another example of the greatest motivator of man since time began kicked in--the gaze of wife drove husband to act. So the husband turned around, tapped the knee of a boy from his school in lieu of the many chattering girls surrounding (thus keeping this as a social agreement among men) and said, "You're not going to talk non-stop the whole time, are you?"

You'd have thought I reached above his head and pulled the string attached to the lightbulb above it, so shocked was he to have to embrace the idea that he was making too much noise. And he did stop talking. Sort of. For awhile. And not nearly as much.

Me, sensitive to children's issues as part of my life for the past 27 years, immediately flashing back to a moment in my own middle school when our French teacher had the very bad idea of taking all of us to an evening performance of Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme, a well-known Moliere play that not only had we not read in English but that, as middle schoolers, did not even begin to be able to comprehend in French. So we were antsy and crammed into tight seats and chatty and fidgety and when my friend Mark, sitting next to me, decided to put his right foot up on his left knee for a change of position, I was having none of any invasion into my space, and so I shoved his foot, causing it to kick the woman in front of him in the head. That she only turned around and let us have it but didn't go get the manager and never told our French teacher is one of the great miracles of my life.

And I also glanced over at my daughter and her friends, several seats and a couple of rows below us, and noticed that every time I checked, they also were talking pretty much non-stop.

My male friend behind me wasn't having much luck either. Chastened by me, he had really toned down his talking, but that had had no affect on all of the girls surrounding him that he was trying to navigate, and so perhaps he sat there, mostly miserably or using sign language, while they continued with the multitude of things that needed to be said while one performer after another took the stage. I didn't have any intention of telling him that it was not going to get any easier, that navigation.

Until intermission.

One of the beauties of marriage, cultivated over years together, is that without having said a word, without have expressed a discontent or sulked silently, both of you stand up at intermission and know that you have had enough and that you are leaving. So it was with us. We were not angry or upset; we had just had enough.

We drifted slowly, without apparent sense of purpose, toward the door. And, I suppose, that is a bit of our parents, too, that realization that no social outing is all that important, that it's just as comforting and satisfying to smile your goodbyes and walk out the door towards something else. Whatever happened that we had missed, we would hear about it. That would be enough.


Billy said...

(1) The second half was better. If you could have heard it. Which you probably couldn't have.

(2) I'm all the more grateful we were, if anything, too close to the stage. And we still occasionally heard the chatter from the upper deck, so to speak.

(3) Getting older, for a variety of complex reasons, seems to make everyone less tolerant. Of bad fast-food service, of talky teens, of incompetent coworkers, of inane policies, of people we don't understand for one reason or another.

Thom Anon said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Thom Anon said...

Even my 6 year-old wonders sometimes why teenagers are so dang noisy.

According to Mike Leigh's "Another Year" (or at least the opinion of a character therein) it is the prerogative of Youth to be noisy.

From my own experience we are hot when we are young and grow progressively cooler over time until we are stretched out for the undertaker. Then we are really cold, and utterly quiet.

Apropos of nothing, I suppose.