The kids and I went to camp together this past week. And in this week I got to see a different side of them, especially my daughter. It’s one thing to carry on a relationship with my daughter in our home. She is polite and helpful, the one I can rely on. She is rarely disrespectful, and is extremely trustworthy. While I hold fast that a parent should be just that to their kids – more a parent than a friend – I like to think that my daughter and I do share a special bond that does allow us to be friends as well. But in the week surrounded by more than a hundred kids her own age, she changed. She stopped wearing the cuter clothes she had (in my opinion) and started hiding under a straight-billed hat and baggy boys clothing. She was hanging out with mostly boys, losing anything girlish about her as she took on a tough posterior. She was the center of attention in her group. And I was suddenly placed in a role that I hadn’t been accustomed to.
I was an embarrassment to her.
We’ve been doing this for years, the family camp experience. So my presence at camp as a chaperone was nothing new. But as a preteen, my daughter wordlessly let me know that just the mere suggestion of my existence was mortifying. Anytime I looked at her, snapped a photo in her direction, or even hinted in a conversation that we might be related, I was met with a roll of the eyes, a glare, or worst of all, an actual reaming from my daughter to leave her alone.
Being young when I had my daughter, I really thought I was immune to this kind of treatment. I thought that I’d be the cool mom, the one that all her friends would wish was their mom. I thought we’d be bosom buddies – the mom and daughter team that would try on each other’s clothes, gab about boys, make kissy face photos together, share heart-to-heart talks every night, and have each other’s backs. I thought for sure that I would be way cooler than my own mother, who was a whole 2 years older when she had me than I was when I had my daughter, and embarrassed the holy heck out of me.
A little note about my mother. She got great pleasure out of embarrassing my sisters and me. HUGE pleasure. The only explanation that I have for being forced to wear handmade dresses in 6th grade was that my mom was sadistic. She must have been wildly amused by the torment I received from all my classmates in their cute pegged jeans and white Keds. And me? All I could do was slink away in my patchwork dress with the wide bow in back, sporting my ugly brown hiking shoes so that I could run on the playground while looking pretty. My mother also memorized every single bar song that exists. She would break into song about “Lydia the Tattooed Lady” at random times of the day, ignoring our pleas to keep it on the downlow. Same goes for the Monty Python “Lumberjack” song, and a certain song from the Dick Van Dyke show:
“I’m in love, I’m in love with Attila the Hun! Attila the Hun! Attila the Hun! He’ll pillage the village and kill everyone. Attila’s the one, for me!”
And because of our Italian heritage, my mother had my preteen sister in tears when she told her this joke: “How do you tell who the bride is at an Italian wedding? She’s the one with French braided armpit hair.”
Yes. My mom was a hoot. Oh, and my sister’s getting married next year, and it’s supposed to be classy. Anyone know any fancier braids than the French braid?
At any rate, I thought for sure that I had conquered the mom-barrassment by being young, cool, and hip. Obviously, I was wrong. And apparently she’d have everyone believe that she sprouted out of the ground rather than coming from someone as repulsive as her mother. Things finally came to a head at camp when I was taking a picture of all those around her to gather photos for the whole camp, and then pointed the camera at her.
“Would you get that thing out of my face???” she demanded, hiding behind a scowl as I snapped photos. “God, you’re so embarrassing!” And then she turned away from me, ignoring me as she gabbed with her friends – doing her best to pretend that I didn’t even exist. I let it go in that moment, but my feelings were hurt. Gone was my daughter who still shared most of the contents of her heart with me at home. And here was this preteen girl who was suddenly dressing strangely to fit in with all her friends and wishing me away as furiously as she could. I decided it best to not call her out and embarrass her anymore, but that evening I pulled her aside, away from her friends, for a chat.
“You need to accept the fact that I’m your mom, and I’m here,” I told her.
“I am!” she protested.
“No, you’re not. You’re totally mortified by my existence. And I’ll have you know, you’re the only one. No one else here cares that your mom is here, only you.”
“But I’m not doing anything!” she insisted.
“But you are. You are acting like everything I say or do is totally stupid and mortifying when I have done my best to leave you alone this whole week. And it’s hurting my feelings.”
In that moment she seemed to actually be listening, and the hard look on her face softened some.
“If you want, I’ll just pretend that you’re not my daughter. I’ll continue the week as if I’m just a chaperone and we’re not even related. It wouldn’t be my favorite thing to do, but it sure beats what’s going on right now,” I told her.
“No, I don’t want you to do that,” she said.
“Well, how about this. You treat me a little bit nicer, and I’ll do my best to not do anything to embarrass you.”
“But know this,” I continued. “I’m taking pictures of all the campers here, you included. I won’t go crazy, but at least smile for a couple of them?”
She nodded again, and actually leaned in at the same time as I did for the kind of hug you give after a disagreement, letting herself be wrapped up in my arms just like she did when she was younger and I was her whole world.
Amazingly enough, the talk we had did change things. She made a point to smile at me as she stood in line waiting for her lunch the next day. And she came over to where I was sitting to share what family had written her in letters to camp. And she even made friends with some girls and spent just as much time dressing like a girl and being sweetness and spice, as she did wearing her hat and beating up her guy friends. And true to my word, I left her alone as much as possible, letting her have fun without her mom watching her every move. At least, I hope I did.
While this isn’t the first (or the last) time she’s been averse to my presence, this week taught me several new things. First, communication really can help break down the walls that exist between parents and their children. Second, I’m not as cool as I thought I was. And last, I need to brush up on my bar songs – because if she’s going to be embarrassed by me anyway, I might as well have fun with it.
“make kissy face photos together” – LOL!! You could dedicate your entire to blog to coming up with new and creative ways to mortify her! You are much too wonderful a mom to ever do that, but the threat alone might scare her straight!
Hun, *I* know you’re awesome and way cooler than pretty much everyone, but I think you’re just stuck with the fact that, for at least a few years, you are going to be totally embarrassing to your daughter no matter what you do. My parents were, according to my friends, ‘the cool ones’. My dad, in an attempt to recapture his youth, actively tried to hang out with me and my friends and happily told dirty jokes that had my homies in stitches, and me in mortification land. They all thought he was awesome. I just wanted him to LEAVE. And my mom…well…she was a hippie. Enough said. That eventually became cool again, but still embarrassed ME for years after the look came back into vogue.
It’s tough when they push you away. But after college when they’re flat broke they seem to miraculously change over night. So I’ve been told.
This reminded me of when I was DQ’s age and all of my girlfriends were constantly sharing their “awful mom” stories. Apparently they all fought with their moms, about everything from makeup to boys, and every one of my friends had some new blow-up to vent about during our lunch period. Well. My mom and I never fought. In fact….I thought my mom was awesome. But heck…if my friends were doing it…maybe I should try it out, too. Maybe this was what preteen girls were supposed to do? We had one rough summer wherein I attempted to be the rebellious-attitude girl. Then the world was right again in the Fall when I realized I was being lame and I was very relieved to know my mom was right there, patiently waiting for me to return to normal. Now, after college, after marriage, and babies, and life’s ups and downs, we have been able to achieve that a rare closeness that I can only hope my own daughter and I will share. The key was always knowing that she was not necessarily a friend…but something infinitely better. My mom.
HaHaHaHaHa!!! Imagine being a total embarrassment to your kid! (Oh, sorry, was that out loud?) Being the totally cultured and benevolent mom that I am and having trained you in ultimate coolness, bar songs not withstanding, I’m shocked that DQ was embarrassed by your presence at camp. Seriously, you three girls and I had a rule at 4-H camp – you weren’t my kids and I wasn’t your mom. I tried ignoring you and when I started to stick my nose into your business, my friend T would pull me aside and take over the role of Mom for the week. And after a few days of not paying attention to you kids, you’d all come around and hang out with me. Being embarrassed by your parents is a rite of passage for most kids. Don’t worry, the older DQ gets, the less annoying and gross you’ll be. I’m almost there with you!
BTW, I told that joke ONCE. And I wouldn’t call my choice of music “bar songs” since I’ve made it a lifelong habit to NOT hang around in bars. Scary that I didn’t have to have a drink to sing them, huh? And it’s “he’ll burn every village and kill everyone”. Gotta keep the words correct for the next generation. Guess I’d better write the words down for the Taz in preparation for our vacation next month…
You know that I googled that song and came up with about 30 different versions of it? And not one ended the same way we, um, I mean YOU, sing it. And there aren’t any YouTube versions of that song. Too bad, too. You really need to hear an audio example to get the full impression of the song.
P.S. The kids and I have the same rule at camp. And I have realized just how hard it is to keep that rule. That’s why I have my friend H, just like your T, there to keep me from stepping in too much by reminding me that my week at camp is also my vacation from being their mom.
A few thoughts about mother-daughter boundary issues:
The first is that I’ve often noticed moms who say they envisioned being “bosom buddies” to their daughters, and fondly cherish the hope that they are “cooler” than their own parents were. It’s always seemed to me that what they really wanted was to act like a sister instead of a mother. I handled that in my family by sending my daughters on solo visits to my own younger sisters and cousins. That way they could reap the benefit of a adult female relative without having the confusion of a mom who was blurring the lines between generations. If I really want to go out and act silly and immature, I have those relatives (and my indispensable gay male friend) to do it with, without burdening my kids with my foolishness.
The second thought is more of a strategy – when you are at an event and you really want those photos, there are ways to get them without it becoming an issue. I attended literally hundreds of events as a 4-H leader, Girl Scout leader, and horse show mom, and figured out how to avoid annoying my kids. Get really good at using the zoom feature on your camera! and you can also enlist another non-related person to use the camera. Try it, and after lots of practice, you will be the “cool” mom who is there when needed, but who doesn’t intrude. My payoff came (15 years into the horse show routine) when another young equestrienne told my younger daughter, “You are so lucky! I wish my mom would act more like your mom does at horse shows!” It does take practice, and the occasional tense moment is unavoidable, but just remember that you are there to hold the spotlight for your kids, not to bask in it!