Like many children of the 1980’s, my brother and I were latch-key kids. Every day after school we would let ourselves in the house, dutifully call our parents and let them know we made it home, then feed and entertain ourselves for a couple of hours until our parents made it home from work. We didn’t have cable, and back in those days we only had about four channels to choose from. And even though PBS had quality children’s programming, for some reason we watched a lot of divorce court.
I don’t know why this particular memory decided to surface today, but I remember so vividly this episode, this divorce. The wife had said the husband was impotent. I didn’t know what the word impotent meant, but I understood from the context that it was a bad thing. I remember so well Judge Keene’s scathing rebuke of the husband as he handed down his decision. “Not only are you physically impotent, but you are morally impotent…”
“Boy, I wouldn’t want to be that guy,” thought my nine year old self. I still didn’t know what that word meant, but from the emotion surrounding the entire episode I figured that being impotent must be about the worst thing a person could be. I held fast to this new knowledge and waited until the time was right…
We were visiting my grandmother’s house. My brother and I were arguing and fighting, as we always did when we were together, and I decided to use my new weapon. I can still feel the sneer on my face as I growled through clenched teeth. “You’re IMPOTENT!!”
I couldn’t wait to see how my insult had wounded him. Instead I heard a sharp intake of air from my grandmother, and then shrieking. “WHAT DID YOU SAY??? WHERE DID YOU LEARN THAT WORD??”
Wow. Judging from my grandmother’s reaction, this word must be more powerful than F. But it remained shrouded in mystery, no one would explain the meaning to me.
I eventually learned what it means to be impotent, and I think I understand why this memory came to me today. It’s because that’s the name of this feeling I’m experiencing.
I’m feeling impotent. Powerless.
I found some baby birds and I tried to save them but they died. Natural selection is a bitch.
My husband has been out of work for a couple of months and I can’t provide for my family on my salary. Music lessons? Sports camps? No, no, no. Why does everything have to cost so much money?
My sweet children are being corrupted by their peers and I can do nothing. There are some words I just don’t want to hear come out of my child’s mouth. I know these things happen, and I remember being this age and being fascinated by the world of adult language. I’m just not ready for this.
Every now and then we all feel overwhelmed by life, don’t we? My initial response is just to lie there flaccid and let the chaos consume me because who the hell thought it was a good idea to put me in charge of anything anyway. When I think of all the things I have to do, everything I am responsible for, and all the myriad ways I could screw it all up I get that sick feeling in my stomach like when you’re walking and you miss a step and for a half second or so you’re just free falling into the abyss.
Powerless. When it seems that everything is out of control it helps to remember that nothing is ever really under control anyway. Put the blinders on and focus on what you CAN do instead of what you CAN’T do. Your power lies in your response to what life throws at you.
I couldn’t save the baby birds, and while it was sad, it did introduce my children to the fact that death is a part of life. This is something they need to know, and I’m grateful they learned it from these birds first, before a beloved pet or close family member. Baby steps, you know.
My husband will find work again, and in the meantime we will just have to learn to live on less, another important lesson for our children. I’m grateful that even during this time of hardship, my children have never been hungry. All they know is that we can’t go to McDonald’s right now. Even at our lowest we have it so much better than so many. And the biggest blessing of this hardship is that it has made us more resourceful and forced us to lean on our friends and each other. We truly are each other’s keepers and therefore we take care of each other.
As for my children being corrupted, well, it’s just time to step up and prepare my children for the path. And for all the punks and assholes they will likely meet on that path. This is perhaps my hardest task, because everything I want for them runs counter to what the world seems to expect from men. Having empathy and compassion for others, not wanting to take stupid risks, these things do not make you a pussy no matter what that kid down the street says. Don’t play with him. He is not your friend.
I suppose I’m fortunate in that my impotence is largely imagined. All I needed was some gentle coaxing and a few positive strokes, something we all need from time to time. We may be powerless to control life’s ups and downs, but we do have a choice as to how we handle the situations that we face, and how we handle each other in the face of those situations.
We are only impotent if we choose to be.