The Defeat of Crabby Guy
I’m pretty sure my inner crabby person is a male over 80, what with the way he swings in, plops down with an exhausted sigh at the kitchen counter, and acts like I should pour him a cup of coffee because he couldn’t possibly pick up the mug in front of him and fill it from the pot percolating next to his elbow. He never learned how.
Some say it’s a generational thing.
Malarkey. It’s an issue of character, not age: dude is both indolent and demanding.
Indeed, my inner crabby person is irrational, expects coddling, and is unwavering in the belief that his view of the world is correct.
Specifically, my inner crabby person is exasperated by
- small talk becauseofcourseit’shotorcoldoutsideoritrainedorsnowedordidn’t
- bumper stickers that read “Be the change you wish to see in the world”
- the assumption that simply because people share an employer, they should spend their off hours socializing
- perfume ads in magazines
- the value placed on “likability” over “simultaneously held diverging thoughts”
- readers who pay good money for Nicholas Sparks books when worthy multitudes sit on nearby shelves, gasping for an audience
- rotator cuff tendonitis that keeps him awake in the night
- people who won’t own their role in the problem
- the bottom of the beer glass ’cause why it always gots to show up in such a hurry?
- passive/aggressive social media posting
- jinky crap
- cutesy shit
- the namby-pamby of matchy-matchy
- people who can’t discern a difference between faith and religion; people who want religion to dictate policy; people who use religion as a means of promoting anti-intellectualism; basically all the Fox News anchors plus them Duggar types, and I have to stop typing now because my old crabby guy’s ear hair is tying itself into knots with the irritation, and soon he won’t be able to hear if I don’t move on
- people who know they are going to sit for hours but don’t bring a book, preferring instead to stare into space
- fuckers who swear at their shitty kids
To tell you true, there’s actually a lot I enjoy about my inner crabby person. If nothing else, he’s authentic, unwilling to brook fools, impatient with having his time co-opted by nimrods. Then again, there’s that lazy business of My Hand Can’t Pick up a Coffee Pot.
Harrumph. Sometimes my inner crabby person makes me cranky.
Mostly, though, he is very welcome–a pipeline for frustrations and anxieties, pumping the sludge out of my head and into the Bog of Wasted Energy. He’s predictable, too. For example, I can count on him to show up every May and June, sporting a bad attitude like socks under sandals.
See, my inner crabby person gets revved up as the end of the kids’ school year approaches. Bushy brows scrunching, Crabby Guy considers all the time he’s had alone in his house during the previous nine months. He reviews how effective his host lady has been at her work, which occurs largely from home, due to having time and space inside her own head, at the keyboard, focused on doing. He grins when he recalls long afternoons of writing and grading interrupted only by the need to move the laundry from the washer to the dryer. He contemplates how solid, balanced, and content Host Lady feels during this stage of life, when the kids head off for a goodly chunk of the day. It’s a beautiful phase, this era of solitude so sufficient that the counterpoint hours of togetherness are a genuine joy.
But then. May arrives, and the countdown to summer begins. Suddenly, we’re in the last weeks of school, and those days are like a trial run for summer vacation in the way they whack away at time that could be, ideally, devoted checking items off to a to-do list; every other night is band concert and art show and Honors Banquet and Track Banquet. It’s a busy schedule, a loaded countdown, a few final weeks that gnaw at the edges of the remaining “free” parental free hours. Before school ever lets out, my inner crabby person is yanking at his remaining tufts of hair, removing the batteries from his hearing aids, attempting to dodge the frantic celebrations that mark summer’s imminence.
But of course he represents. His host lady drags him to every damn thing. Shoves him into a wheelchair and rolls him in if he dares kvetch about a sore hip. Hisses into his ear, “Yes, you may have been humping around all day, longing for a quick grab of more minutes, but hesh up and behave now. We are HERE in the school, and this isn’t about you. This is about showing up, shutting up, and making that soft, sweet kid in our lives feel loved. So cement your complaining maw closed.”
Tamed by the hiss, Crabby Guy tamps down his crankies and weathers all the end-of-school-year festivities. However: even while he’s obliging–eating flaccid green beans at a table with strangers and snapping photos in dimly lit auditoriums–he’s inwardly paralyzed with dread.
He can’t stop fretting. After the celebrations are done, and the school year is a wrap, the kids come home. And stay there. Every day. All the time. For 90 days. Bored. Saying, “I’m hungry. What is there to eat?” Pitching boneless bodies onto the couch. Sighing deeply. Asking, “So. Are we doing anything today?” Showing up across the table just as he’s sat down with a hot cup of coffee someone else poured for him, a pancake made by Host Lady on the plate in front of him, maple syrup dribbling into lakes. Those dang kids wondering aloud, “Would you like to do something? Maybe play a game?” just as the first forkful enters his mouth.
Such stuff adds another bullet point onto the list of what makes him crabby:
- being cruise director of other people’s time
It would be different if Crabby and I went off to work each day, and the kids went off to camp or daycare. The entire situation would be different if we had that respite from each other, gratefully coming together just before the dinner hour. It is not like that, though. Rather, I am here all day. They are here all day.
To put a finer point on it: Byron does go off to work. Allegra is teenager enough that she has driver’s ed, a new job, babysitting, her running group; the only pleading looks she casts my way are more like “GAWD, Mom. Stop talking.”
That leaves only one person to trigger my crabby.
Interestingly, he’s one of my favorites. He’s much like me. I adore him.
Yet he sits there, adrift, and watches Crabby Guy lift that first forkful of pancake to his mouth, at which point the kid asks, “Would you like to do something? What can we do?” That’s Sunday. He does this on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday, too. He’s particularly good at tapping the Host Lady’s shoulder while she’s vacuuming and asking, “Do you need to finish that right now? If not, would you maybe like to go outside and play volleyball?” For 90 days, it’s like this, with Host Lady teetering wildly between swooning that her dearest pal wants to play volleyball with her…and simultaneously wanting to snap, “Uh, YEA, I do need to finish this right now. I’m vacuuming one room. It’s a seven-minute task. We have company coming; we are pigs; and I’m trying to hide that fact from our guests. I plugged this machine in and am currently using it. So, YES, I do need to finish the thing I’m in the middle of doing. When I’m done, of course, let’s play volleyball. Unless you’d like to watch me eat a pancake first.”
Teetering for 90 days puts a significant strain on the stabilizer muscles.
As a veteran of archery camp, Fiber Fun Camp, YMCA camp, swim camp, soccer camp, game-design camp, and you-name-it-he’s-done-it camp, the boy resists nearly all suggestions of camps. Being twelve years old, with a parent at home, he never goes off to any sort of “care.” Despite teaching two summer classes, I never go off to work. Instead, I pack my online teaching into hasty minutes tucked around queries of “What should I have for lunch?” My work, the source of our family’s everything, is cobbled together. So is my mood.
He is my Paco, and although I am nuts for him, sometimes–*looks both ways; gestures towards the corner, over by the step stool, where we can crouch down and have a sibilant tête-à-tête*–he gets the crabby person inside of me all wound up. Truly, it’s so much easier now, when he’s twelve, than it was ten, nine, eight, seven years ago. Those were the tough years during which Crabby Guy sometimes sneezed vigorously in an effort to blow the hands on the clock forward. Now, in adolescence, Paco can be expected to self-entertain; he gets a certain amount of screen time, and he reads, reads, reads…but only if he can find a book, book, book that captures his mind. Sometimes, he hangs out with friends. Other times, he’s home by himself. But when others are in the house, he craves companionship. He’d like to play a game. He’d like to bake. He’d like to walk. He’d like to stand, hovering over his mother’s shoulder as she checks her email. He’d like to ask, as his mother agitatedly sneaks a glance at the 131 discussion posts tossed out in class since 9 a.m., if she might like to throw the frisbee around. Often, he deflects all suggested activities, swanning about tiredly after having done absolutely nothing.
He is all of us when we were twelve, should we care to recall our early adolescence with honesty.
His need for interaction is so sweet that I just about want to elbow the crabby person who lives inside of me off a cliff and cover my ears against the echoing “Whaaaat theeee helllllll???” as he falls. My boy is a love. Crabby Guy has some sort of nerve–to grouse when a pure “Would you like to do something?” comes out of the mouth of a lad whose first whisker is years off, who still can’t believe how good lentil chips are, who just wants to make some plushies if he could get a little help with the sewing machine.
The good news is that the crabby person who lives inside of me, after becoming surpassingly crusty as the school year draws to a close, gets over his bad self once he gives in to the rhythms of the seasons. Maybe his faculties are flagging, and he can’t be bothered to maintain his sour mood. Or maybe, just maybe, he slams a shot of vodka-spiked Ensure in the coat closet and discovers it’s easier to let warmth and acceptance spread through his aching bones. However it happens–once summer hits, and school is out, and I’m stressy with attending to teaching just as the kid would like to learn to wind a bobbin–I do relax. Whenever Crabby Guy staggers out of the coat closet, raring to slur some complaints about “work-home tension,” he has a choice: he can shape up and appreciate the bounty, or he can turn around and march himself right back into that tiny room of fleece jackets and winter scarves and crack another Ensure.
In general, he makes the right choice. Sure, occasionally he still limps around, one hand massaging his rotator cuff, the other plucking at rogue nostril hairs, ready to bitch about his lot.
But then, stopping to tug at a drooping compression sock, the crabby person who lives inside of me spies, out of the corner of his eye, a twelve-year-old body sitting on the piano bench, noodling out a composition using only the black keys. Seeing someone enter the room, Paco sits up straighter. He turns, delighted by the prospect of companionship, and asks, “Would you like to make up a melody with me? I can slide over! And maybe after that, we could whip up some popovers?”
Before he finishes, a quiet “Poof” blows through the room. Defeated, Crabby Guy dissolves into nothingness, leaving behind only Host Lady–me–smiling fondly as she considers the shock of wavy hair hovering over eighty-eight keys.
Teaching can wait. Vacuuming can wait. The pancake can wait.
None of it matters when there’s a duet to be played.