Talking a blue streak, my adult son, Colin, grabbed the last ice from the freezer bin. Tall, broad-shouldered, belted, and brushed, he looked every inch a man. But I needed one last bit of proof that he was well-launched into adulthood, so I watched.
He emptied two trays of ice cubes into the bin, refilled the trays with water, and replaced them in the freezer. I gave him a perfect 10, rejoicing at how far we've both come. During his adolescence, ice cubes had triggered our biggest fight.
Back then, when he was just old enough to have his own car keys jingling in his pocket, he had developed an ice-cube passion. My husband and I went to sleep to crunching sounds coming from his bedroom and were frequently jarred awake hours later by his mindless rattling of ice cubes in a plastic mug. Ice was his crutch, his pacifier.
While I worried about potential tooth damage, the fact that he didn't refill the empty trays rankled me even more. Our neighbors grew accustomed to my appearance at 5:30 p.m., clutching an ice bucket like a monk's begging bowl.
"It's not about the ice as much as it's about being part of a family," I argued.
Ice cubes became the metaphor for Colin's teenage self-centeredness. As the empty trays remained unfilled, my complaints veered off into messy bedrooms, dirty dishes, and empty gas tanks. The list went on and on, but it always began and ended with ice cubes.
One evening, after a difficult day at work, I opened the freezer for ice. Nothing. Furious, I saw the empty trays at the far end of the counter. Gripping one like a war club, I rounded on my son and, if words could do bodily harm, he might still be in a cast.
I yelled, he swore, I hit him on the arm with the empty tray. He pushed me against the counter, and I screamed, "Out!" He slammed out the back door in tears, and I threw the tray against the wall.
I stood still, ashamed of the things I had said, but certain that all fault lay with my son. My husband shook his head and went next door with the ice bucket. Colin circled the house, came in the front door, and went upstairs to his room. We ate dinner, his unoccupied chair speaking volumes.
At bedtime, I listened outside his room. Silence. I knocked, and when he didn't throw something at the door, I entered.
He lay with one arm across his eyes. My memory flowed back to his crawling days, the sound of his palms slapping against the floors as he zoomed to greet me. Chubby hands then, with bits of graham cracker between the fingers. Now those hands were broad and tanned, with tendons where lovely dimples had been.
A surfing sock line separated his chalky feet from the deep tan above. Peeking from beneath frayed cutoffs were knobby knees scarred by skateboard tumbles. A man-child lay before me, no longer a baby I could nuzzle and hug at will.
I knew I couldn't touch him yet, but I yearned to pull him onto my lap and rock him, whispering my love into his tousled blond hair. I wanted others to love him as much as I did. I wanted a guarantee that his selfish behavior would disappear and that he would turn into the compassionate son I had always expected to raise. What had I done wrong?
I knelt and said, "Colin, I'm sorry I lost my temper, but you act like you're the only one in this family." A strangled sniff came from the bed. I touched his fingertips - carefully - and he didn't flinch, so I held his hand. He squeezed my fingers, and my heart soared like an anthem.
"Mom...." he began, but paused. I held his hand to my cheek. He tried again. "Mom, I just don't understand why you get so upset about this."
I took a deep breath, choking back a resurgence of rage. "Speak calmly," I told myself. "Because," I said, "when you leave us without any ice cubes, it makes me...."
He lowered his arm with a jerk and stared at the ceiling. "Mom, just listen, will you? Look, I've never been arrested, I don't use drugs, and I don't smoke. I always let you know where I am, and I've never gotten anybody pregnant."
He paused, turned his head, and stared at me. His chin trembled as he continued, "I just don't understand why you get so upset about ice cubes!"
I swallowed around an enormous lump in my throat. Then I kissed his damp forehead and looked into those blue, blue eyes. I relaxed for the first time in hours. "I'll make a deal with you," I said. "You keep taking care of all that other stuff, and from now on I'll do the ice cubes."
Every afternoon till he left for college, I emptied ice cubes into the bin and refilled the trays. First thing each morning, I did it again. I made so much ice every day that he never had to deal with the trays at all. I kept my part of the bargain, and he kept his.
I figured that, by far, I got the better part of the deal.
(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society