“To nourish children and raise them against odds is in any time, any place, more valuable than to fix bolts in cars or design nuclear weapons.” ~ Marilyn French
” . . . Mothers most of all . . . carry the key of our souls in their bosoms.” ~ Oliver Wendell Holmes
Since today is Mother’s Day, I thought that I might offer some insights on parenting. I am in fact qualified to do this as I have survived the teen years with one child, have survived having three children live in the same house with only one bathroom, survived the whole mindset of why skipping school is not a bad thing, survived having my car appropriated and destroyed, survived one full year of colic and being thrown up on constantly . . . I rest my case.
Those of you who are regular visitors know how much I love my offspring, even when they are trying to wear down my last nerve, and since I’ve done a bit of complaining of late, I thought that I would offer something on the lighter side.
Please bear in mind that all of the information below has been written from a Lola perspective. In other words, completely facetious and full of sarcasm.
That being said, please feel free to add to my Then and Now list, as I am anxious to see how many more parents out there have their own special opinions on the subject. (Note: The chart may take a bit longer than usual to load, or it may just be my computer . . .)
The heart of a mother is a deep abyss at the bottom of which you will always find forgiveness.” ~ Honoré de Balzac
Happy Mother’s Day to all of you mother’s out there: the ones who have been at this a while, the grandmothers who are now mothers again, the single-parents who are doing the jobs of both parents, the less-experienced mothers who still feel as if they need a road map (trust me, you’ll always feel that way), and the mothers-to-be who are anticipating the birthdays of their unborn children.
It’s the hardest job in the world, the most complicated, most daunting, most taxing, but in my opinion, it’s still the best job that you could ever have.
“Well, everybody hurts, sometimes” ~ From “Everybody Hurts” by REM
“Stop trying to perfect your child, but keep trying to perfect your relationship with him.” ~ Dr. Henker
I’ve been wiped out for over 24 hours now with a killer migraine. I had to stop taking my migraine prevention medicine cold turkey (instead of the usual method of backing down gradually) because I had developed a rash on my upper body that had blisters. I know—too much information, but I just wanted to explain my absence. I actually spent most of today lying on the bed in the fetal position with cold packs on my head. Even walking into the brighter living room and kitchen caused me pain. Just have to say how much this sucks in case you couldn’t tell how not happy I am.
Mother’s Day is in two days, and I’m also feeling sorry for myself about this. Believe it or not, it has nothing to do with eldest son. This time it’s my daughter. She’s been getting progressively aloof in the last four months. Corey and I have been trying to figure out what’s going on. But when I ask her about it, she says that nothing is wrong. This is kind of her normal reaction when confronted: denial.
“Children begin by loving their parents; as they grow older they judge them; sometimes they forgive them.” ~ Oscar Wilde
I should say that Alexis has always gone through these phases. I remember when she was in school, she and her best friend would suddenly not be speaking, and when I would ask what was wrong, Alexis would say “nothing.” I mean, she and her best friend would be like sisters one day, and then a complete rift would arise the next day. I always found that odd, but I knew that it was none of my business.
I’m not even sure that she realizes that she does this, but she did the same thing at the beginning of last year. She just began to withdraw from our lives, and when I asked about it, she assured me that nothing was wrong. And just as suddenly as she withdrew, she was back, and everything was fine.
This time, her displeasure seems to be aimed at Corey, but we aren’t sure why. Their relationship has been close ever since Corey and I got married, and when her boyfriend got a new job that causes him to be out of town sometimes, it has always been Corey who she calls when she needs something: clogged toilet . . . mouse in a trap . . . broken coffee table . . . whatever. Corey would drop everything to help her, even if he was in the middle of something here.
Now, she doesn’t call him at all. He has tried to find out what is wrong, as have I, but the only response we get is that nothing is wrong. She’s busy. I’ve had the same thing happen to me, so I can empathize with what Corey is feeling: frustrated from the lack of information and the ways in which his attempts at reconciliation have been ignored.
“Young girl…violins…center of her own attention” ~ “Daughter,” by Pearl Jam
As far as friendships are concerned, Alexis is actually a lot like her father and eldest brother in believing in the idea that the whole world revolves around them. Don’t get me wrong. Alexis is a wonderful, generous friend. Always there to help her friends when they need it, and most of the time, always there for her family. Her father was like that; if one of his friends called and asked him to help chop down a tree, he was there. In the meantime, things around the house that needed repairing were never attended to.
Friendships for all three of them are very important. I, too, believe that friends are important, that if a friend needs me, I should be there. However, the big difference is that I put family first. This inability to put family first was a big bone of contention between my ex and myself. It was also what caused Alexis to leave home after she graduated. She was absolutely clueless or perhaps indifferent as to how her actions were adversely affecting her family. We finally had to draw a line, and she chose to leave.
“If you have never been hated by your child you have never been a parent.” ~ Bette Davis
I remember so many sleepless nights during that period, worrying about whether or not she was alive and safe. I wanted to call the police but didn’t. Instead, I would sometimes drive through the neighborhood to see if her car was parked by one of her friends’ houses. In that way, I knew where she was and could take some small comfort in the knowledge that she had found some place to stay.
Oddly enough, our reconciliation occurred on a Mother’s Day when I came home to find a card from her and a long letter apologizing for her behavior. I called her immediately and asked her to come home, and she did. From that point, things were very good, until she began to go into these phases of isolation again.
“In spite of the six thousand manuals on child raising in the bookstores, child raising is still a dark continent and no one really knows anything. You just need a lot of love and luck—and, of course, courage.” ~ Bill Cosby, Fatherhood, 1986
When you are a parent, it’s so hard to know if you are making the right choices, if you have made the right choices, if you could have done something differently that might have resulted in a better outcome. I have learned that parenting is one of those on-the-job training situations. You can never be fully prepared, no matter how many books and articles you read.
There is no other job in the world that can make you feel so completely insufficient and that can cause so much self-doubt. It is a job filled with regret over words spoken in anger and frustration and actions taken in an attempt to reign in unruly offspring. Parenting can make you feel completely unqualified, whether you are raising sons or daughters or both.
“To understand your parents’ love you must raise children yourself.” ~ Chinese Proverb
And then there is the “mother curse” that comes back to haunt you: “I hope you grow up and have children exactly like you.” And you do. Your children may not be exactly like you, but they test you in the same ways that you tested your own parents. They push the boundaries and break your heart just as you did the same to your own mother and father. In this way, history doesrepeat itself.
A friend of mine, in responding to my recent post on Eamonn, had this wonderful analogy: “Raising a teenager is like nailing Jello to the wall.” Oh how true. Except that I would change the word teenager to children, because no mater how young or old they are, your children still retain that ability to make you feel as if you are somehow wanting, unfit, and unreasonable, even when you are certain that you are not.
“Your children will become what you are; so be what you want them to be.” ~ David Bly
In my heart, I have no doubts that Alexis loves me and loves her family. I also know that the very aspects of her personality that grate on me so much are those aspects that are similar to my own disposition: her moodiness, her mercurial swings, her absolute fierceness in her devotion to her friends. So I do keep these things in mind.
Another thing that I know is that I still have the ability to hurt my own mother and she me, even when we don’t intend to do so, which only shows that regardless of age, the relationships between mothers and daughters are fraught with landmines.
The risk diminishes with age and maturity as both parties reach a point at which they understand each other more than they don’t understand each other. But the need to step carefully never completely goes away.
So in the end, I will wait out this current estrangement, try to be patient, knowing that this pulling away is a necessary part of her growing up. And I will try to remind myself not to be hurt, even when I am . . . in spite of the fact that my daughter, who lives in the same city as I, mailed my mother’s day card.
Today is my youngest son’s 16th birthday. I won’t bother to get into the details of how we celebrated because most of you would find it oh so strange; however I will share one of his deeper comments with you: “Krispy Kreme donuts must have cocaine in them.” I’m not so sure that he isn’t close to the truth about that one. If any of you have ever tasted these delectable concoctions from hell, then you will know of what I speak. Don’t even bother to swallow. Just apply them to the largest portion of your body as that is where they will eventually settle; have no doubts.
But back to the birthday. After buying books–yes we went to the bookstore first, and we had to decide which ones to put back because we both had too many in each of our piles–we headed out to find other things for his birthday celebration. I have a special place in my heart or my youngest son, and I will admit it, and it is not that I love him more; it is that I love him differently. When it was time for him to be born, he did not want to come out. Right before his due date, he turned laterally (women who have given birth, you can appreciate this special pain). He put his elbows under my ribs, and I had to have a c-section to have him removed. My ob/gyn, with whom I have a special bond, said that there was no way that he was going to come out on his own. He had decided that he just didn’t want to leave. And it has been pretty much that way ever since. We have a connection, he and I, and I think that it comes from the fact that he is a living, breathing replication of my father in so many ways, down to his eyebrows and the way that he stands.
Nevertheless, one thing is for certain: no matter how old he gets, or how old his brother or sister get, I will never stop being amazed at how we reached this point in time, how we survived this crisis, or that calamity. I have to believe that there is some fabric that exists in our tapestry as a family that binds us together, that will not let us be tossed to the furies of the four winds alone without the support of each other. Ours is a pattern that fate has chosen not to weave easily but intricately, making us resilient, independent but always interdependent, creating a beautiful whole.
I wonder if we ever reach a point at which we feel that we have finally made our parents proud, that we have finally gotten enough A’s on our report cards, made enough touchdowns, earned enough certifications, learned enough skills, gotten enough degrees, painted enough masterpieces, won enough statues . . . or is it just a completely hopeless task? For me, I know that it will never be enough. I lost my father before I could redeem myself, and I know that with my mother, I will never quite pass muster.
This is not to say that my parents do/did not love me in their own way. But I remember standing at my father’s casket after almost everyone had left on that terrible night that they call “the viewing” and just keening (a word that my friend Kathleen gave to me years ago) and apologizing for not making him proud. It was an intensely personal moment, and one that I had not planned on, and I wish to god that everyone had left me alone until it had passed, but of course, my mother sent someone over to keep me from making a fool of myself, and so, it was left unresolved because it was an apology that I truly felt that I needed to make. My father never saw me dig myself out of the hole that I had fallen into. After my divorce, I went through a succession of short-lived jobs and he despaired that I would never find myself, but I did. I went back to school. He never had the chance to get to know my second husband, a man who stepped in and really was there for me and my children when we needed someone, a man I really think that my father would have respected and liked. My father never had the chance to see any of this. So much was left unresolved.
My mother, on the other hand, has been around for all of this, and still doesn’t quite know what to make of me. She still believes that I’m the same person I was ten years ago: lost, irresponsible, guided by my twofold grief. That I have changed she is unwilling to acknowledge for it is easier to believe otherwise. And so we have reached an uneasy existence: One in which I try to do my best by her with her many ailments and failing memory, and I promise myself not to be impatient when she makes remarks that could be construed as cutting. This is my only parent, I tell myself. I have no idea how many years I have left with her. She is not outwardly loving, and I remind myself that she is a child of the depression, that perhaps they did not have time to say “I love you” to one another in a family of 12 children, that hugs were probably sparse in a family in which the mother died young, that my own mother did not have a mother after 8, and was sent to live with sisters and so, while she was cared for, perhaps outward signs of affection were not passed out generously.
So I have to be content to know that deep in my heart, I am not a failure. I received many A’s on my report cards. I supervised a newsroom before I was 20. I finished graduate school at 21. I’ve done some pretty cool things in life. But that doesn’t stop the deep-seated insecurity that I carry with me to this day. Was my father proud of me? I hope so. The not knowing is a wound that pierces me. And this brings me to the second part of my entry: the fathers who are alive and have no concept of how they wound their children no matter how old they are.
I have tried to teach my children since an early age that they are all valuable people, yet I sense in each of them insecurities of different sorts: deep personal insecurities in one that come from a sense of abandonment, emotional insecurities in another because of a sense of not understanding the concepts of the give and take of love, and basic social insecurities in another because of a feeling of not understanding society and his place in it. Luckily, these insecurities can be worked on and there is still time for some parental love and understanding to help. Granted, motherly love can only go so far, and it is only a balm, not a curative, but if accepted, it can help. But in spite of it all, the one thing that we all give to each other freely are these three words: I love you. Each and every day. I’d like to think that that helps.
But what about the adults in my life who I see still hoping for recognition from their parents without ever getting close to acknowledgement? How much will it take for some parents to realize that their children are successful adults, living, working, and succeeding in a hard world that is actually not tied to their parents any more. The truly awful reality here is that some parents will not allow for that one moment of pride to slip between the overall facade of disappointment and bless their child with acceptance for being who they have become, choosing instead to hold onto the disappointment, whether that disappointment is leftover from a decade or even two decades ago. These individuals cannot let slip the noose of supposed injustice done to them, some wrong on some slate that has been tallied and memorized by only that person, while everyone else has moved on, happily ignorant through the years, thinking that yes, perhaps the purported love and forgiveness were genuine, not given with an unspoken caveat, i.e., yes, I forgive you, but only if you behave as I would have you behave.
Put that fatted calf back in the freezer. You haven’t lived up to my expectations yet. Well, sure, you’re a successful adult by everyone else’s standards. You’ve put yourself through school? Great! But it wasn’t the school I wanted you to go to. You own a house? Great! But it’s not where I want you to live. You’re married with children? Great! But it’s not to the person I chose for you, and those aren’t really your kids. You’ve expanded your horizons to learn about new ideas and concepts? That’s wonderful, but they aren’t in the approved curriculum. You’ve traveled to far away places and seen new things? My, my how you’ve grown, but was that really the best way to spend your money? You’ve become politically active? Well now, you know we don’t believe in voting for that party in this family. Actually, I don’t know who you are any more. I really think that you need to come home and spend more time with your real family. We have more work to do.
It’s been going on since Mars fought Jupiter. Since Antigone stood up for what she believed in. Those darned kids, always getting into trouble, not following the rules. But seriously, I wonder how many of us have run out of time and let our pride get in the way and not said what we should have said. I swear it will never happen to me again. I will never stand before another coffin and realize that I haven’t said everything that I needed to say, as a child or a parent. Nothing is worth that moment of pain, that realization that that moment is never going to end.