I find myself being even more of a Mama Bear than normal this month. The JV tennis coach just sent a mean email to my daughter and two different driving test administrators have failed her on parallel parking. I am biting my tongue until it bleeds to keep from saying “Look. This is a sweet, kind, funny, hard-working, good kid. She is not, to my knowledge, doing drugs, having sex or skipping school. I chose as her father a miserable alcoholic from whom she finally freed herself when he drove drunk with her in the car and plowed into a stationary object last July. Her step-dad was the father she loved, needed and deserved but after only 4 short years in her life he died a year ago. Her life has been pretty sucky and still she trudges on, trying to be kind to others and find her path in the world. Can you PLEASE just give her a break? Cut her some slack? Help her along the way instead of putting up giant road blocks?!?!? Is that really too much to ask?!”
But of course, I say none of this. She would kill me. She would be mortified. She can handle all of it. Except when she can’t and sobs after each driving failure or awakens me at midnight to help draft a response to the truly horrid coach who chastised her for honoring a prior commitment to the pit orchestra that will conflict with tennis. I want to build a giant protective wall around her, made of steel and pillows. I want her to move in a bubble of construction zone or crime scene tape that warns people to stay back. I want everyone who comes within thirty feet of her to sign a pledge to be kind. I want her life to be happy and fun and exciting and full of love and adventure. I want to smack anyone who stands in the way of that, even temporarily.
I remember so well the day my oldest daughter came home with the tale of a school counselor intervention gone terribly wrong. I was furious and spewing venom until she quietly told me that my anger was not really helping her situation. As is so often the case in human interactions—especially between men and women—one is not always looking for a solution. One is often just looking for a listening ear, someone to hear us out, agree we have been wronged and give us a great big hug. But I am very male in my desire to conquer, to solve, to go right for the most effective SOLUTION. I lack the patience needed to hear the woes of others unless they will let me DO something, and fast, to help.
I showed up at pickle ball and saw a woman who had years ago called and chewed me a new one because her daughter had not been on the guest list for a party my daughter was hosting. The two girls didn’t like each other, which was my response, but she was unmoved. Her daughter was sad, crying, felt left out. All her friends had been invited and my daughter had been in her HOME just two weeks earlier. I probably should’ve said, “Oh gosh. I’m so sorry. If she’d still like to come just bring her over” but I was righteous in my belief that kids could choose their own friends. I told her this and she countered that it was up to us to teach them how to behave. I am positive I heard her give a quick summary of this ancient encounter sotto voce to her sister at pickle ball. And honestly I don’t blame her as I could still probably recite chapter and verse of every wrong ever done to one of my kids. I have long ago forgiven those who were unkind to me, but people who hurt your kids are branded for life.
One of the best lessons infants teach us is resiliency—theirs, not ours. We are positive the hospital has made a horrible, possibly fatal mistake in sending us home with such fragile tiny creatures and no instruction manual. We are sure we will unwittingly kill them. We cannot be trusted, don’t they see that? But we soon discover that most of the time they take our errors in stride and bounce right back. They are tiny, yes, but also programmed for toughness, programmed to survive all our parental failures. I once walked twenty feet to the bathroom while infant Franny was lying smack in the middle of a queen-sized bed. I needed a damp cloth to wash her or change her or something. I was gone 10 seconds and she managed to get to the edge and fall off. She cried like crazy, I was horrified and ready to turn in my mommy badge. In 5 minutes she was fine, nothing broken, nothing harmed.
Once when Alyssa was small she had been awake for 24 hours with an ear infection. She finally fell asleep in the car on the way from the doctor’s office to the pharmacy. There was no drive-up window back then and wild horses could not have convinced me to awaken that exhausted child. I parked smack at the front door of CVS, locked her in the car safely strapped in her car seat and ran straight back to the prescription drop off. I was gone less than 3 minutes, but when I returned a concerned woman had gathered a group around the car and was just about ready to call Child Protective Services or the police or SOMEBODY to report my abandonment. All I can say is I am very glad that phoned-in scripts and drive-up windows are now on the landscape.
We want to protect our kids and we can’t –not always, not fully—and they don’t really want or need us to. I worry constantly that Alyssa will crumple in the real world when she leaves the nest in two short years. Who will have her back? Who will wash her clothes? Make her lunch? OMG—SHE WILL!!! She should already be doing all this anyway. I have babied her beyond all reason because it fed my need to feel useful and needed. She has allowed it (mostly) because being babied is not all bad. But those who are babied don’t get to grow. They don’t get to try life out on their own. They don’t get to fail. And they don’t get to captain their own ship and THAT is the dirty little secret behind the baby-ers. We like to be in control, set the schedule, decide on the lunch contents, choose the temperature setting on the washer. Holy mackerel! Someone send an intervention team!
That’s it. This has to stop. The caution tape is coming down. This bird has got wings and must be allowed, forced even, to use them. I suspect she will do just fine. I suspect it is I who will suffer under the strain of superfluousness (superfluosity?) Being needed has always been at the tippy top of my most wanted list. That ship is in the harbor taking on supplies for a long journey that is just about to begin. I better get busy making myself indispensable someplace else or get that dog I’ve been postponing. Gonna need some hobbies. Gonna need a LOT of hobbies. The heart that may need caution tape is—-mine.