The Enabler

I let Gavin skip school on Thursday.

He said he wasn’t feeling well, which was probably true, though I was pretty sure he wasn’t sick, and he had this look in his eyes that said, “I’m going to the nurse as soon as I get to school, and then they will call you to come get me.” It was a stubborn sort of a look coupled with a stony silence that spoke volumes. I was running late for my bus and feeling guilty about having brought everybody to Ann Arbor just to suffer, apparently, so I told him to stay home and sleep. I thought, ‘Well, I take a mental health day every now and then, why shouldn’t he?’

Yeah, that’s probably lame. And lazy, I guess.

When I told William about it in the evening, he hit the roof. He had a very difficult time containing his frustration with me and his disappointment in Gavin. He spoke as calmly and as directly as he could to Gavin about losing all his screens if he tried to pull something like that again. Gavin retreated to his room to cry. I followed thirty minutes later to listen to him rail about wanting to go back to Austin, where life was perfect, you know. Part of what came out of the tearful conversation was that Gavin had had an argument with someone at school, and he didn’t want to see him. He hadn’t told anyone about the fight, and he couldn’t remember what it was about. I didn’t know that, and I felt worse having assisted his avoiding strategy.

I am an enabler. And I can’t even say that I don’t mean to be, because in many ways it is the defining feature of my personality, and one I’ve worked to develop in positive ways. I like to enable thinking, talking, writing, reflecting, connecting. I consider myself a problem-solver, and my method is to find out as much about the problem and the key players as I can, and then put them in a relationship with each other that changes the direction of the situation. Rather than alter the people, I try to reshape the context. Ideally, I step right out of it. Ideally. I’m just as often a problem-maker when I see myself as a key player in the situation, and I’ve reeled myself in recently from meddling in other people’s problems for just that reason. I solve problems, and I create them, largely by (re)shaping the scene. I’m always moving the furniture and reorganizing the closets (physically and figuratively) to try to make things run smoother. It just as often bruises shins.

So I’m not really surprised that I messed this one up, failing Gavin and frustrating William. I think it must be one of the tragedies of life that the qualities you most love in a person can also be the things you find most frustrating about them.  It must be why people say familiarity breeds contempt. But I don’t think it has to. Familiarity could just as easily breed compassion, if we set up the right context.


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