It was Thanksgiving last week, and I flew into Los Angeles last Tuesday night to spend the holiday with my family. On Wednesday, I met Tink in the Valley for a spin class in the early AM, and had a quick tea with eee in my parents’ town. That was only moderately weird. eee and I had gone to school together, and had both finished at UCLA just over a decade ago — eee a year before me. We’d even both been on the swim team at our school, and had moved in some of the same social circles, but had never been more than friendly acquaintances sharing some of the same close friends until she moved to NYC.
By mid-day, my brother and I were off for the Sierras.
We drove for a few hours, through the Central Valley dustbowl; through the foothills as they rose out of the valley floor and into the saw-toothed mountains. “Sierra,” in Spanish, literally meant “saw.” We were getting into the parts of California where people cared a lot about water; where people looked side-eyed at Los Angelenos — blamed them for stealing the water that rightfully belonged to the North.
I’d never been able to bring myself to use the first-person plural with regard to being a Los Angelena, even when I was technically part of that demographic. I’d always put miles of distance between myself and the City; the County. But I never figured out why.
After hours of driving, we finally passed through the familiar gates and into the Park.
Your Uncle Sam couldn’t even have a martini last night, my mother said.
Obviously, the situation was dire.
It only went downhill from there. But more on that in a minute.
On Thanksgiving Day, my father and I sat out on the back deck in the hot tub. As we are wont to do, we got into a conversation about work, and life, and The Way Things Are. He shared some of his Life Lessons, which, for purposes of the matter at hand, were about Being the Boss.
I am struggling, lately, with being the boss. With managing up, and managing down, and managing myself. With not losing my temper and screaming WHO DO YOU THINK YOU ARE?! And DON’T YOU KNOW WHO I AM?! I don’t know how to communicate without failing to communicate. I don’t know how to teach without giving up and doing things for someone else.
And so Daddy was explaining the art of managing up; managing expectations; managing down; managing oneself. And that the most one could do was manage oneself.
That made sense, really.
I just regretted that this whole important conversation was carried out in a hot tub, because it gave the revelation an unnecessary patina of skeeviness, as sometimes happens with anything that occurs in a hot tub.
And then it was Thanksgiving, which was lovely, until the rest of the family went down with the VOMIT SUPERBUG at some point in the night, except for Daddy, Auntie Carol, and me.
It was basically something like this:
So instead of waiting around to see what happened next, I peaced out immediately.
As I sat on the plane back to New York, I recalled that, on Thanksgiving night after dinner, but before the rest of the family started dropping like flies, we’d been watching a movie. While I’m not a touchy-feely person — in fact, I’m notorious for not liking to be touched at all — I climbed up next to my dad on the sofa, and put my head on his shoulder, and fell asleep just like that as some forgettable film rolled on.
That said, I didn’t want to have to leave Thanksgiving as quickly as I did — but between the anxiety of being a germophobe, and the reality of being immunocompromised in a house full of vomit on the eve of two long-haul flights, I had to remove myself from a virusy situation as soon as possible. It was for my health and the good of everyone around me.
But the points my father had made to me were much more powerful than the virus circulating amongst my family members. And learning to manage is a lot about figuring out what is important versus what is not. What DOES matter? The family stuff: seeing the kiddos go from tiny babies to actual…people; seeing my brother go from trainwreck to success. Watching my parents and my aunties and uncles pass the torch to the younger generation. Going for walks; building fires; having long conversations.
Falling asleep with my head safely on my daddy’s shoulder.
And yes, also knowing that you can’t risk catching a stomach bug if you can’t avoid a trip to Asia so you’ve gotta do what you can to avoid it.
This month alone I have travelled frantically. I’ve had to remember chargers and adapters, and currencies of all shapes and sorts and sizes. I’ve run a marathon; I’ve had a marathon unexpectedly cancelled on me. I’ve had to manage my own expectations and the expectations of others. I’ve had to be nice when I didn’t want to be; I’ve had to be firm when I’d rather have been nice.
I suppose then, that’s it — the nature of the thing, and the beast, and the glossy, memorably memorable Life Lesson With The Inadvertently Skeevy Patina coming to life: managing up, down; managing oneself had mostly to do with doing the best one could under the circumstances.