Arrested Self-Absorption


There’s this Roy Clark song, “Thank God and Greyhound You’re Gone.” Right?

That’s kinda how I feel about my kids.

Now wait. Hold the phone. Context is everything. When The New York Times Magazine runs a front page story featuring a young, attractive, college grad sitting at Mommy and Daddy’s dining room table with a bowl of Kix and a caption over her head which reads:

“one in five young adults still lives with their parents”

this becomes cause for celebration in the Whatley household because none of mine still do. I throw my head back and LOL, vibrato chuckles echoing through the empty chambers of my home, so loud, it awakens the dogs from their luxuriant slumber on rugs which still bear the divots of chewing gum removal and grease from too many tacos eaten at the coffee table. I run to the cupboard, like old Mother Hubbard and fetch my sweet doggies a bone. Just me and them now, Cuz.

Do I love my children? Have you ever read a single word I’ve written? I worship my kids. Am I proud that they’ve got the gumption to get up, and get out? Damn straight.

Not only because it is thrilling to watch them blossom into independent human beings with drive and passion and a moral compass to rival the Dalai Lama but I am also excited to wave bye-bye from the driveway because it gives me boundless freedom to wallow in my long anticipated and much overdue Arrested Self-Absorption.

Yep, when you’ve been hovering as a single mom for 17 years over four occasionally malleable budding filmmakers, journalists and champions of the downtrodden, self-preoccupation gets relegated to those highly transitory moments, such as noticing you’ve got a chin hair, when you look in the rear view mirror of the car on your way to meet a man for a cocktail and you’ve got no tweezers in the glove box, because, sure enough, one of the kids snatched them to get a splinter out. Damn kids. Splinters aren’t that big a deal.

But now, now, I’m left to my own total and complete self-absorbed devices and it is a bottomless pit of contemplation. On any given day, the revolving door of me, me, me goes something like this:

  • Make a list. Plow through the necessary shit so I can get to the “good” stuff, like writing.
  • I’m so obsessive. Why can’t I get through a single day without making a list?
  • Add “go see the therapist about my compulsive list making” to the list.
  • If I had $10,000, would I get a face lift?
  • OMG – Elizabeth Gilbert has a book signing here next month. I hate that bitch. How hard is it to write a memoir when you’ve got a six-figure advance to fund your tale of privileged angst?
  • Why am I so jealous? Bad karma. Add it to the list.
  • WHAT am I going to do about my belly fat?
  • I need to get a private trainer. But, what if I don’t do the hard work and I just pay this dude to fail? I’ll still be fat and out a few hundred bucks.
  • Why do I sabotage stuff like this?
  • I am SO gullible. I need to be more shrewd.
  • That’s why I suck at relationships, I’m too nice. Men like women who are mean.
  • That’s my problem, I’m just not mean enough. Add that to the list.
  • What am I going to do about retirement?
  • Am I genuinely religious? Or just when I’m in trouble?
  • What am I so often in trouble? I need to outgrow this “question authority” gig, it just gets me parking tickets.
  • Why am I so IN to my dogs?
  • What do I want to eat tonight? I’ve been good….

I predict, that much like the cultural phenomenon of the boomerang kids, we will soon be seeing in this country a tidal wave of parents, like me, flocking to Meet-Up Groups, psychiatrist offices, plastic surgeons, hook-up cruises, Zen retreats, wine clubs, adult bookstores and novelty shops and motorcycle clubs. This will only happen if we’re all lucky or smart enough to have broken our addiction to helicoptering– whether the kid is down the hall or across the country. Habits are hard to break.

So, let me give you a little tip: Step away from the phone. Turn it off. Okay, okay, do as I recommend, not as I do. I can’t turn off the GD phone, because Lord knows, I may get a call from one of my kids, (who will remain nameless) asking, “Hey mom, I’m at the toll booth and I don’t have any cash!” And then there was the infamous phone-a-mom when I was on a trip to Austin with my boyfriend and I answer a call from St. Louis (another son who will remain nameless) who asked me, “Hey, Mom! I need you to settle a bet. Can fuckin’ A be used in the affirmative AND the negative?” Oy vey.

At least my kids are calling long distance rather than hollering up from the basement. But hey, I understand why a lot of these kids are still living at home. They’re broke! They’ve graduated from college with tens of thousands of dollars in student loan debt. If they are lucky enough to land a job right out of school, after they pay their rent, their school loan payments, and the doggie day care bill, because many of them get a rescue dog the minute they get a roof over their heads, they’ve barely got enough money left over to buy craft cocktails and weed.

I sympathize. The parent plus loan statements that I get every month cuts me to the bone. But I always reasoned that education debt was “good debt.” Really, I was just hedging my bets. Could go either way.

If, in the absence of solving adult children daily dilemmas, I tailspin into full-fledged Arrested Self-Absorption to the point where I’m no longer able to bring home the bacon for me and the dogs and the Federal Direct Student Loan folks, I could do something really irresponsible like packing it in and hitting the road, taking the dogs with me.  What a novel idea! And now, I’ve got four, count them, FOUR residences in which I could flop — until such time I’d wear out my welcome, somebody would repossess my wheels, seize my dogs and then one kid would pass me off to the next, saying, “thank God and Greyhound you’re gone.”

Me & Roy Clark and his touring bus. Was not a Greyhound.

Me & Roy Clark and his touring bus. Was not a Greyhound.






About Jean Ellen Whatley

Writer. Dreamer. Sometimes schemer. Journalist/memoirist/observer and sometimes constructive irritant. Prisoner of demon muses. Mother to four humans and two dogs. In my spare time, I delete phone numbers of former boyfriends.

Facebook | Twitter | eNewsletter | RSS | Subscribe to Blog by Email | Buy Off the Leash


  1. Parents Plus loans?!? Yes, Sallie Mae is NOT a friend of mine…
    (By the way, I ONLY see the chin/mustache hair when I do NOT have a pair of tweezers. Then it stands up and waves proudly. When I have good light and some tweezers, it goes into hiding…)

  2. connie dunavin says:

    Jean! I love your weekly ‘right of passage’ great reading and laughs. What about those of us kids who have a parent or parents in OUR home. The worst kind of teenagers. Lol. I am headed to NYC for a week of ‘something better to do’ after getting the caregivers lined out while I’m gone.
    You deserve self-absorption – look at everything you have lived through- pro-actively; you didn’t stay in the corner in a stupor! I can’t wait for some self-absorption! Guilty and Proud!
    I leave you with a favorite song of our Tulsa boy, Stuart Roy Clark-

    “Yesterday when I was young
    so many drinking songs were waiting to be sung,
    so many wayward pleasures lay in store for me
    and so much pain my dazzled eyes refused to see.
    I ran so fast that time and youth at last ran out,
    I never stopped to think what life was all about
    and every conversation I can now recall
    concerned itself with me and nothing else at all.”

    JEAN, cheers to self-absorption at any age!
    Your friend from Tahlequah,OK.