Thursday, October 16, 2014

My Backpack is Butch

By Mahlia Lindquist


Lopsided relationships. One party gives time, energy, love and affection without expecting anything in return.  The best the other half can muster is to perhaps graciously receive that which is freely given.  

These types of relationships bring to mind a teeter-totter, with the large jowled class bully sitting on one end, huge rump firmly planted on the ground. His scrawny, oppressed counterpart hanging in the air at the bully's mercy. 

I was never interested in this type of unbalanced relationship. Both the giver and receiver strike me as pathetic in their own way. Yet, here I am, in a relationship where I adoringly look down the see-saw at someone who looks up at me with mild indifference. 

Answering calls or texts in the company of others is rude, and so I generally don’t do it. However, if my special person graces me with a call or message, my response in instantaneous.  I send texts, leave loving messages, and imagine all experiences would be enhanced if we were together. 

For every 10 thoughtful gestures I make, I receive one response.  Yet, even the most cursory acknowledgment arouses a warm, fuzzy feeling of delight.

At the same time, I am plagued with angst and desire for approval: 
Darling, what do you think of my new haircut?  I just read this book, I’d love your opinion. Did you get a chance to read the blog post I wrote last week? Of course, I understand that you are very busy, but if you get a chance...
I am talking here about my daughters, ages 20 and 17.  

My girls used to look to me for advice and approval. They painted pictures, wrote poetry, and blessed me with thousands of unsolicited hugs. I was the person they most loved, admired and wanted to be with on the planet. 

I don’t recall when things changed, but now the girls are each at the bottom of the teeter- totter, in control, while I dangle up above, an ever shrinking dot in their consciousness.

It’s the same for my friends with young adult children. The first thing we discuss over lunch is what the kids are up to, with other interests taking a distant second in terms of  favorite topics of conversation. My friend, Meesh, observed that while our children will forever be the center of our universe, the day comes for all parents when we are no long the sun around which our offspring orbit.

As it should be. 

But still, it’s hard. Especially for someone who finds it excruciating to be on the high end of the teeter-totter.


The role reversal between me and my daughters puts me on edge. It's gotten so bad that I even feel anxious about my taste in backpacks. 

My younger daughter, Zoe, needs one. The timing is perfect, as I bought a new pack on my summer trip to Boulder after having left my old one in Miami.  I didn’t mind buying an extra, because I figured Zoe would use one of them for school once we were back in Miami. 

As I went about choosing the new backpack, I looked for one I imagined would meet with my sweet girl's approval. I decided on a sleek basic black model at REI made by Patagonia.*  “Functional, yet hip,” I thought, and smiled with anticipation over my impending slam dunk. I mean, how could I get a backpack wrong?

Readers who have parented a teenager already know the ending to this story, and it's a sad one.

I was wrong about not being wrong. 

Because I am oblivious and because Zoe didn’t have the heart to say, “mom, the backpack sucks,” it took awhile to comprehend how pitiful my aspirations. I had to learn the hard way that I would never know the pleasure of seeing my beloved carry the sleek basic black Patagonia backpack. Something I chose for her with every ounce of love and devotion in my soul.

The truth revealed itself at the glitzy, cheesy and crass Fountainbleau Hotel, on Miami Beach. The guests there are a veritable zoo of humanity, including hookers, convention goers, tourists from Iowa, drug dealers and, as I have previously recounted, many women with Brazilian Butt Lifts. We walked in, me with a small black rolling suitcase and seemingly innocuous backpack, Zoe with her “my mom is so embarrassing” expression. 

Even after years of being the unwitting cause of my kids’ humiliation, it still pains me to be that parent. I have indulged in many delusions over the years, including one that I am so wise, fun and cool I would avoid the fate of legions of other parents. My girls would never roll their eyes after hearing one of my stories for the 100th time. They would never lock themselves in the bedroom, headphones in, to tune me out. They would never be embarrassed to be seen with me. Wrong, wrong, wrong and wrong.

But still, I try.

That's why, at the Founainbleau I did a quick scan to see if I had committed any of my usual cringe-worthy faux pas: nondescript attire; no ponytail; no loud talking; no dumb jokes or unnecessary conversation with hotel staff. No obvious violations. 

 Yet, I sensed something amiss.

As we walked across the enormous bling ladened lobby of the Fountainbleau, Zoe lagged behind. Even a person on the up end of the see-saw has her limits, so I lashed out, “what is your problem?” Zoe replied, “well, um, it’s the backpack, it’s sort of embarrassing.”  I nodded toward a guy with a backpack passing us that very moment, and suggested that a backpack is a common and convenient way to carry personal items for a weekend getaway. 

Although it clearly pained her, Zoe explained that the actual problem wasn’t backpacks in general, but mine in particular.  I resorted to teenage talk: “Wait, what? WTF?” She hesitated, but after having tactfully avoided the backpack issue for a couple of months, she could hold back no longer, “sorry mom, but your backpack is butch.”
Me: Butch? What does that even mean? Please say you aren't turning into a homophobe. Oh, woe is me, where did I go wrong? 
Her: Geez mom, please don't cry or call me a homophobe. I just don't want a freaking butch backpack.
Zoe's current backpack is a squat grey one purchased at Target. Despite the lunacy of her opinion, like a battered wife, I actually tried to figure out where I went wrong. What was it that made my backpack butch, and hers hetero?

I may as well have tried to understand the meaning of life, why reasonable people listen to Rush Limbaugh ... or why some of us willingly hang-out on the high end of the teeter-totter. 

Not Butch

*Astonishing fact for Boulderites: Miamians are unimpressed by a Patagonia label. Indeed, most people here have never heard of Patagonia or REI. I know, inconceivable.

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