Yesterday, my son decided that a good use of his downtime was to take a knife and stab a perfectly good cantaloupe repeatedly. I found it on our counter in the morning. As a result, the Taz got woken up by the wrath of his mom, and all his electronics taken away to show him what bored really feels like.
When I came home, I found a few new gifts and this note:
“Dear Mom. I’m sorry for cutting the canalope. To prove it I’m giving you my best lanyard and I bought a new canalope. Please forgive me! 🙂 ”
I mean, how can I even stay mad?
He is either really, really cute for doing this, or one hell of a manipulator. Either way, I fell hook, line, and sinker.
It’s been 10 years today since my son Connor Marley was born to Heaven. Just a few days before this date 10 years ago, I had no idea what pain felt like. But on this day, I discovered firsthand what it’s like to have your whole life change in the matter of an instant, and the reality that even babies die suddenly stare yourself in the face.
10 years ago, I felt like the whole world had suddenly stood still. I was shocked at how totally unjust life was that an innocent baby could die before he even took his first breath. I learned what it was like to hold my newborn’s son lifeless body only moments after I gave birth to him, and how much the look of his face scared me.
10 years ago I was in a different world. And every year after that, I relived the pain. Days would lead up to his birth/death date, and I would be on edge for no reason I could think of. And then it would hit me. September 23rd was getting close. In the past years I have learned how to be kind to myself as I near this date, allowing myself a day to remember and to grieve. And each year gets easier and easier.
This year, I decided that instead of just remembering, I would celebrate Connor’s birth into Heaven with a day of family. Mr. W and I took the kids to church in the morning, and then we went in our own separate directions so that I could spend time with DQ and Taz on my own. I think it was fate that I accidentally left my phone at home all day, because there was nothing to distract me from giving my full attention to the kids. We went to DQ’s soccer game first, where Taz and I sat on the sidelines joking around in between cheering on the girls. During halftime, the three of us got into a game of football toss, where DQ and Taz threw perfect spirals and I tried to look as little like an unsporty wimp as possible and miserably failed. When the game was over, we went in search of the nearest Starbucks and bought ridiculously expensive high calorie drinks, and enjoyed every single sip.
Then we went to Connor’s grave.
Taz doesn’t remember much from that time 10 years ago. He was only a toddler. But DQ remembers it all clearly. She and I stood over the grave after I placed a bouquet of roses from our garden into the holder below his gravestone. We talked about what it would have been like had he survived, what it was like back then, and how things had changed. Taz came and joined in, expressing how he would have loved to have had a little brother he could teach things to. Had Connor survived, he would have been a special needs kid, and Taz told us in all seriousness how he would have encouraged him. DQ slipped a folded note she had written him between the stone and the flowers, tucking it in so that the words were between her, Connor, and God. And then we went on our way.
Today was special. It was just the three of us, sharing a moment about something that we experienced together. It needed to just be us three honoring Connor while honoring the family that we are. In less than three weeks, we get to experience another change in our lives – the day Mr. W and I get married. Then we will officially be a family of 5. And over the past few years, we really have become a family of 5. But inside that family of 5 is still this family of 3.
This has been a whirlwind of a year, and I can’t believe we’ve actually reached the end! So much has happened in 2011, making this one of my favorite years yet.
Earlier this year, DQ became a girl. It’s true. She traded in her tomboy looks for more feminine clothing and a bit of make-up. But not to worry, the skater shoes will never leave my pretty daughter’s feet. And I had a bit of a girl revolution myself, making a new step to nurture my female friendships instead of focusing solely on being a mom.
I also had to come to grips with the fact that my daughter is changing as she grows older – and that’s not such a bad thing. While we’ve always been close, and I suspect we always will, this year I finally had to accept that some walls are ok to be in place between a mother and her teenage daughter.
As for the Taz, we actually survived the dreaded 4th grade Mission Project. Ever have to do one of those? Let’s just say I never thought I’d have a need to paint cardboard with sand-infused white paint, or ever have to unstick myself from so much hot glue. Wait, whose project was it?
This year, the Taz also got to spend a ton more time on the pitcher’s mound. It was incredible to see my son show his true talent and maturity in baseball, even if it still meant his forgetful nature never truly left…
In October, all of our lives changed with one tiny question….. Mr. W asked me to marry him! We were on cloud nine….until we had to break it to the kids. Needless to say, they just didn’t take it that well. Fortunately, a family vacation gave us a chance to get used to the idea while also working at blending as a family. It’s been an uphill battle ever since, including a family adventure of picking out our first tree together as a family.
2011 holds so many wonderful memories, and 2012 has much to look forward to. Thank you for coming along with me on our adventures as they unfold. Your comments, advice, and friendship have meant more than I can tell you!
This last week, DQ was an only child. In a household that generally consists of three kids, she was gleeful in telling Mr. W and me that we were finally a “normal” family – one that was made up of just two parents and one adorably sarcastic 13 year old. Mr. W’s son was in Tahoe with his mother. And Taz was at the Ex’s house several hours away. DQ had decided to skip the visit with her dad this time around, and was anticipating a week of peace and quiet from her annoying little brother.
I was looking forward to it as well. Being cooped up in the same house all summer long, DQ and Taz were only inches from literally breaking each other’s necks. They were constantly bickering and purposefully teasing each other to add some excitement to their boredom. And in the end, I was the one that ended up getting annoyed long before either of them did, resulting in a permanent vein taking residence on my temple and a strain in my vocal chords. But they took great pleasure in teasing the holy heck out of each other. Let me tell you, having only one kid who had no one to fight with sounded like a heavenly vacation. I didn’t even mind that our kid-free week was no longer kid-free. With just my fairly well-behaved teen, it would still feel kid-free.
Except that DQ had no one to torment – EXCEPT US.
When the weekend ended, Mr. W and I had to go back to work. DQ was left to sleep in all morning long until she woke up to her quiet house. By the time we came home, she wouldn’t leave our side. Usually she would stay cooped up in her room or plugged into something (iPod, TV, computer – usually all at the same time) on the couch. But this time, it was like she couldn’t get enough of us. At first it was cute. Obviously she had been lonely in the house on her own. But soon, it became apparent what was going on.
She was trying to torture us!
We went to our room to change from our work clothes. Upon re-opening our bedroom door, there she was on the floor, her feet leaning against our door. She followed us down the stairs and ribbed us mercilessly. If we said anything, she turned it into some funny quip at our expense. Settling down for the evening to watch TV, she sat on the couch with us. “I’m not touching you,” she said as she poked her finger at my leg. And the sarcasm! While I generally think of DQ as the funniest person in the world, it was exhausting keeping up with her and her jabs at us. Neither Mr. W nor I were safe as she mercilessly ribbed us.
Towards the end of the week, the teasing and ribbing had ebbed a bit. It was still strange not to have the boys in the house. But the benefit was that the house stayed clean and calm. And DQ and I had enjoyed some much-needed girl time together. But the day finally came when I needed to pick Taz back up.
“Do you miss your brother?” I asked DQ, and she shook her head vehemently.
“No way!” she said. He ironically called a few minutes later and I chatted with him over the phone.
“DQ misses you,” I teased.
“Yeah right,” Taz said. “Fine, let me talk to her,” he said after I insisted it was true. I handed the phone to DQ who rolled her eyes as she took it from me.
“Hello,” she said in a bored voice. And before long, the two of them were catching up on everything that had happened throughout the week while they were away from each other. In fact, they talked for a full 30 minutes before hanging up the phone. And waking up the next day, the two spent the day playing together at the pool and planning some time to play with friends together the rest of the week.
Taz has been back for several days already, and they have been getting along famously ever since. I’m not sure how long it will last, but it’s sweet to see. Before this week, I would have sworn they hated each other. I always told them that one day they’ll be friends when they’re older. But even I had my doubts as they denied that would happen. However, seeing them get along the past few days, it made me aware of the deep bond the two of them share with each other. Their perspective on the events of our life are separate from mine. The divorce, sharing a home with their grandparents, moving into our own place, moving in with Mr. W, issues with their dad, growing up…
When I’m gone, they’ll still have each other. And they’ll be that common link to a family that once went through hell and back to get to the peaceful place we’re at now, and wherever that road leads in the future.
At 10 years old, he had been on many sleepovers without me there to keep watch over him. And he just got back from a week with his dad and never even called me once while he was gone. So it wasn’t like he didn’t know how to be away from me. But still, camp was different. It’s easier for a kid to get lost in the shuffle, being surrounded by so many other campers. I didn’t worry about whether he would mind the rules. It was pretty much guaranteed the pool would be his bathtub, and gunk would have to be chiseled off his teeth when I picked him up at the end of the week. I didn’t even stress about whether he would eat enough, as my boy is not one to skip a meal. But I did worry if he would make friends, or talk to anyone during the day. While the Taz has many friends at school, the awkward age he’s at now makes it difficult to leave his self-consciousness and meet someone new.
With so many kids around, it’s easy to find a friend. But it’s also easy to not say a word throughout the day, and spend time sitting all alone at meals.
I visited camp mid-week to help out and, yes, because I knew I’d miss the kids too much not to. Both of them were happy to see me, even my teen, DQ. But it was the Taz whose face lit up when he caught sight of me after three days away. Just moments before, his face held no emotion as he walked without energy towards the dining area for lunch. But when I called his name, he immediately lit up at the sound of something familiar, searching to find my face. And his energy returned as he ran up the steps to greet me.
He promised me he had made a bunch of friends. He named them off one by one when I asked, and I was pleased to know he was doing so well. But when I glanced over to him as I ate, I was dismayed to find that he was sitting alone. He sat near me after lunch to show me the letters he received from home, and I encouraged him to go play with some boys at the basketball court.
“I don’t know them,” he said shyly. “And they probably won’t play with me.”
This wasn’t like the Taz at home. Before we had even moved in with Mr. W, he had made good friends with the kids down the street. At school he seemed to have plenty of friends. But here? His confidence was gone and he was all alone. While he still went off on his own while I was there at camp, I saw he was happiest when he knew I was around. We played ping pong together, and then I watched him jump off the diving board at the pool.
And at least a dozen times, he asked if he could just come home with me when it was time to go.
I refused, of course. He only had two days left, and this was good for him. It was good for me too. I needed to not run to his side every time I felt he was uncomfortable. I really wanted to introduce him to some kids, find a way they could all play together, and create some friendships for him so I could leave knowing he was having a good time. But that wasn’t my job, it was his. And so I stayed out of it.
It was late in the afternoon when the radio in the dining hall was turned on as loud as the teens could make it without blasting us out of the forest. Without direction, kids made their way to the tables and stomped their feet in time with the beat. The music surrounded all of us. A group of girls led a line dance on several of the tables, dancing country to the hip-hop groove. On another table, a group of kids jumped and laughed. And in the back, my son was in the center of a bunch of kids, showing off his dance moves effortlessly. Dancing was something he loved to do, and would do without abandon. And darned if my kid isn’t a brilliant dancer! Yet, he was neither center of attention or totally ignored. Instead, he was one of the crowd, a part of this movement and energy that invited more and more to join in. And soon almost the whole camp was there, dancing away in a spontaneous dance party until it really was time to turn the music off and get ready for dinner.
“Can I come home with you?” the Taz asked me one more time that evening. It was mere minutes before campfire was over. The camp was going to go on a night hike. I was going to drive back down the hill and go home. I smiled at him and shook my head no.
“You’ll be fine,” I told him, kissing his head as I got ready to leave.
And I knew that he would. He might not be having the same experience as I did. He might be stuck a bit in his awkwardness. There would be times when he would be alone, and that would feel uncomfortable. Heck, it’s uncomfortable for all of us – from being a self-conscious tween to an insecure adult. But there would also be times when everyone banded together and he would feel like he belonged.
And who was I to take that away from him?
This awkwardness, it will pass. He’ll survive it. After all, it’s just a part of growing up. And in all this, I think I’m growing up too.
A couple years ago, my kids were intent on giving me the best Mother’s Day ever. We had plans to visit the San Francisco Zoo, a trip all of us were looking forward to. But before that could happen, they had secret plans to serve me breakfast in bed.
So naturally my job was to lie in bed and pretend I was asleep. (Also, I had to be sure to set up the coffee pot the night before so that I could be served coffee with my breakfast.)
My eyes may have been closed, but I could distinctly hear them going through the cabinets. I could also hear them lightly bickering in the small kitchen as they worked around each other. Soon their voices rose up the stairwell, catapulting off the walls and into my ears, followed by the distinct sound of them walloping each other to a pulp while my caffeine headache set in and my stomach complained. It was now an hour past my breakfast time. I could feel the tension mounting inside as they continued to beat each other up instead of pampering me. I couldn’t help but think about all I did for them throughout the year…and they couldn’t even get me a lousy breakfast in bed as a gesture of appreciation. Forgetting my required task of laying in bed and relaxing, I sprang up and called them to my room. And when they were standing in front of me, I laid into them – telling them how disappointed I was, about how I sacrificed everything for them and their rottenness made me regret it, and how going to the zoo no longer interested me because all I wanted for Mother’s Day was to sit in bed and be left alone.
“Thanks a lot, Taz,” my daughter muttered darkly, shoving him right in front of me. And if they thought I was mad before, they hadn’t seen anything yet. I became a screaming banshee, my eyes practically rolling back in my head as I lost all sense of control, my words becoming one long and shrill sound that no longer had any meaning at all. And the kids shut their mouths, realizing it was better to just let me howl instead of making it worse with any excuses or blame-shifting. When I was done, I banished them from my room so that I could wallow in my misery.
And while it started out with resentment that they couldn’t even stop fighting on Mother’s Day, I was left with a sense of disgust at myself for even expecting that this day was supposed to be all about me.
One of my favorite poets, Billy Collins, came up with a poem titled “The Lanyard”, where he describes the great deeds his mother did for him and his meager way of repaying her. Here’s an excerpt:
She nursed me in many a sick room, lifted spoons of medicine to my lips, laid cold face-cloths on my forehead, and then led me out into the airy light and taught me to walk and swim, and I, in turn, presented her with a lanyard. Here are thousands of meals, she said, and here is clothing and a good education. And here is your lanyard, I replied, which I made with a little help from a counselor.
What can a kid actually give their mother as a Mother’s Day present in exchange for years of hard work and countless giving? An ornament with glue and glitter that holds their school photo? A lopsided clay ashtray for a non-smoker? A coffee cup that says World’s Best Mom? Was my mom moved by the countless crappy gifts I gave her each Mother’s Day, thinking to herself that it was all worth it because I had served her burnt toast and spilled OJ in bed? Not likely. But my 8 year old self didn’t know any better as my mom raved about the present I had worked on in class, and how breakfast never tasted so good. See, it wasn’t about her, it was about me – her child. Even on Mother’s Day, she was still a mom.
And me in this moment? Not exactly Mom of the Year.
The kids sheepishly entered my room 10 minutes after my outburst. Breakfast was placed on my lap, along with a present they both had made. It was wrapped in homemade wrapping paper full of apologies for fighting and ruining Mother’s Day. And I apologized back to them for acting like an ogre and a tyrant when we all deserved a good day together. We decided to have a do-over for the day. We laughed over all the pictures and writing on the wrapping paper, shared breakfast, and then got dressed and left for the zoo where we had a fabulous time.
It would be nice to get a day off on Mother’s Day, to be a day when everything goes right and children are perfectly behaved. But is that really what motherhood looks like? No. It’s full of miracles and runny noses, laughter and frustration, praise and disappointment, triumphs and mistakes. And there are plenty of lessons learned along the way. My lesson was that I’m not really being a guiding force when I’m in less control than the kids, and no one wants to serve breakfast in bed to a banshee. Yet, my kids still did. And I saved that wrapping paper as a reminder that Mother’s Day is less about perfection, and more about celebrating a bond that helps us move on from bad mornings and still have a really great day.
I hope everyone has a Happy Mother’s Day, even the perfectly imperfect moms like me!
So Mr. W and I are planning on shacking up in the next couple of weeks. We’ve been working out the details for several months now. Mapped out are how the kids will be going to school, how the finances will be split up, who gets to park where in the driveway, and calendars coordinated to include a merged family’s daily schedule. Each kid has their own room, and they’ve selected colors to paint the walls and make their space more personal (DQ has a lovely shade of brown, the Taz chose a wild shade of bright golden yellow after I put my foot down over “Startling Orange”. Trust me, it was definitely startling). And Mr. W’s son gets a brand new room that we’ve had built just for him.
Every day I’ve been setting time aside to go through the corners of each room, separating my items into ones I want to keep and ones I want to give away. It’s not a fast process, placing my hands on things I haven’t seen for years, bringing memories of the past several years flooding back in. There’s my diary that I kept from the very beginning, chronicling every triumph and mistake I’ve made in my dating life after divorce (oh, the juicy shame in that little book!). There’s the box of art that contains a Mother’s Day card that turned into an “I’m Sorry” card when the kids spent the morning fighting while I waited for their promised breakfast in bed. There are the clothes I no longer fit into when I took a stand and decided to lose the weight I’d put on and take pride in my appearance. There are the blue flowered plates I coveted so long that now sit in my cupboard. And there are cabinets upon cabinets of kitchen supplies I’ve collected over the years when all I started out with was a drawer full of borrowed silverware, $2 ugly dishes, a few dented baking sheets, and a pan I used for everything. All of it is now to be divided up, bit by bit. And while it’s freeing to be rid of some of the clutter and exciting to be moving into a new life, it’s a little melancholy as well. For in those boxes, I’ve divided different compartments of me – deciding what of myself I’m keeping and what I’ll be saying goodbye to.
I moved in here a scared single mom. I had never lived on my own, and frankly, I had doubts about what I was capable of. Could I afford to feed my kids and pay my bills all at the same time? Would the landlord kick me out once she realized I was just a silly girl playing make-believe house? Would my mom say “I told you so” when it proved to be too hard and I needed to move back home? All we had in the house was a kitchen table and our beds. But it was after a few friends made the house a home by furnishing the rest with donated items that I realized it. This was home. And I was determined to succeed. I became a wizard with my money, making it work each month even when I wasn’t exactly sure how it happened. I watched every penny, and my landlord never had to worry about when my rent was going to come to her. I went from a stay-at-home housewife to a full time worker, to where I finally am now in the desk I’ve always wanted to sit in. We graduated from a timid family just barely scraping by to a seasoned one that knew the ins and outs of being a one parent household…and having that be no big thing.
Frankly, we made it.
I think I needed to prove this to myself more than anything, that I really was capable of anything even when I wasn’t coupled in a marriage. I created my own white picket fence reality. It may not have been perfect to everyone, but dammit, it was mine. Being a single mom didn’t diminish who I was, it made me more. And I take pride in that as I leave my single mom house behind and join into one of a partnership with Mr. W. Yes, I’m saying goodbye to my complete independence, my very own bed, bills and schedules that are dealt with in my own way, and dinners on my own terms. But in exchange, I’m gaining space I’ll share with my best friend, another son, a partner in parenting three fantastic kids, waking up to the man I love every morning, someone to help me clean and cook, help with the bills… I’m gaining a co-conspirator in life. And knowing that I could do it all on my own, that I did, what I’m gaining now means that much more.
It was a showdown in our living room this past weekend. I gave her a task to complete, she refused to do it. And finally, when she saw that I was just as stubborn as she was, she huffed off and went to go do my bidding…or so I thought. When I came to her almost an hour later, she was face down in her bed, doing her best to ignore me. And when I asked her why she hadn’t finished the task I set out for her to do, she mumbled into her pillow that she was better equipped to do it in the morning.
The next morning, she informed me that she would be hanging out with one of her guy friends. No asking. Just telling. And it was insinuated that I was not invited. So I informed her that this sounded too much like a date, and as she was only weeks from being just 13, this was not going to fly. The argument from the night before made an encore into this tense conversation. And fireworks were soon being set off right and left as we danced around a battle of wills to see who would win and who would submit to defeat. Thing is, I’m the mom. That is supposed to automatically make me win, right? And in her mind, she was just RIGHT, so that automatically made her the winner.
Obviously, neither of us was even close to backing down.
We eventually stated our final testimonies, leaving each other to stew in our own anger before letting it simmer to a gentle roll of thoughts and emotions that included a “maybe I was too harsh”. Of course, uttering those words would mean automatic disqualification, so neither of us was really keen on saying them out loud. But I am the mom, after all. And that gives me a slightly bigger responsibility to stop being immature and try to diffuse the situation. However, my daughter made it a little easier in her own way.
I continued making breakfast – soft boiling the eggs, pushing the bread down in the toaster, and buttering the already toasted pieces. She silently stepped in beside me, flipping the bacon when she saw that I was too occupied with the rest of the breakfast to keep them from crisping too much. And she helped me crack the soft boiled eggs and put them on the plates for the rest of the family. It was her way of making peace without ever uttering any words of concession. And it helped to soften the argument to the place of actually getting down to the root of the whole problem (which was separate from what we were actually arguing about, as it usually tends to be).
“I understand where you’re coming from,” I told her, regarding this separate issue. “I really do. And it sucks. I’m sorry,” I said. And she just smiled a small smile, letting me know that while she still didn’t think it was fair, she was willing to at least work with me on it.
And with that, it was over.
It was reminiscent of the arguments I used to hold with my own mother, the ones where we’d be at each other’s throats, screaming awful things at each other as we both struggled to be the one in the driver’s seat. And eventually we’d become so enraged that we’d be forced to separate and retreat to our own rooms where we could wish the most horrid things upon the other while mourning our own suffering and pain. And after a time, we would calm down and be able to diffuse the situation in a matter of moments, giggling and laughing as if we hadn’t just been guilty of leaving the household in an uproar as we bombed each other with the words we used as weapons, nicking anyone who was stupid enough to get in the way. And it would leave my poor dad wounded as he shook his head in disbelief that two totally stubborn women who had waged such an embarrassing war of words were now carrying on like nothing happened. I mean, where were our battle wounds? Because he seemed to be carrying the bulk of them.
And this was the case of DQ and me. Mere hours after our blowup, she insisted a seat next to me in church (an ironic place to be after a hell of an argument), and then spent the rest of the day hanging out with me as if she sort of liked me. And Mr. W was left to shake his head at the whole incident – though he had managed to avoid injury by quickly retreating during our flurry of angry words earlier that morning.
She turns 13 next week. And as my aunt (who raised three great kids who are even better adults) told me when I shared my story, “You’ve got a mountain to climb my dear, but you’ll eventually reach the other side. And it will be wonderful again I promise. I speak from lots of steep, rocky, avalanche-prone climbing experience.”
Ah, teenagers. Here’s to some steep mountains of torrential avalanches and gorgeous views.
In the final weeks of summer vacation (what?? It’s over already? Noooo….), my kids are spending time with their father. For 10 glorious miserable days, my kids are missing from my house as they do God knows what 3 hours from here. And me? I’m missing from my house too. Mr. W and I are playing house, and relishing the fact that we have no kids counting down the minutes till our children are home (his son is at his mother’s house). So obviously, that means we are living large while living it up! It’s party time, our time to dance and to paint the town red! It’s time to stay out late and travel to exotic places! It’s time to do all those things we want to do but can’t when the kids are around.
Which pretty much means that we are eating quiet dinners, watching TV, and then going to bed. Oh, and I managed to beat my high score on Bejeweled.
So when did we get boring? Honestly, the kids are coming home in less than a week, and I have spent most of my downtime doing absolutely nothing. And part of me feels bad that I’m not living it up more. I mean what would I be doing if my kids were here? I’d be eating dinner, watching TV, and then going to bed. But in between all of that, I’d be doing laundry, cooking, grocery shopping… When the kids are here I am breaking up fights and thinking of things for them to do. I’m constantly picking up after them. I’m on the go from the moment I wake up to the minute I lay down to go to bed.
This week it’s been nice to be in a clean home. The quiet in the house has been fantastic. And most of all, it’s been a dream to do….nothing.
Sure, when the kids are back, I might wish I had made better use of my time. It’s about to be a really long school year as they skip going to their dad’s house due to the 3 hour drive, and I’m about to say goodbye to my regular breaks from being a mom as our schedule triples itself. I may wish I had done more social outings, or traveled to more local hotspots, or even took some days off of work to get even farther away. I may wish I had danced more and really painted the town red.
But honestly? I’m not sorry about how I spent my time. It’s been great to unwind and relax, recollecting my bearings before the kids come back home so that I can be a better mom. And truth be told, it hasn’t all been the day-in or day-out. In our kid-free days we’ve gone out to lunch, I’ve done more writing, I’ve found new hobbies I want to try out, and we’ve even tried out a couple fantastic culinary creations.
But yes, for the most part we have relaxed. And in that process, I’ve lost the feelings of mom-burnout as I make laziness an artform. I even miss my kids, and look forward to having them home again. Eventually.
Until then, I think I’ll just relax.
When your kids are away from the house, do you live it up….or lay low?
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.
Giving the kids something to talk about in therapy.