I love my children. I actually like them sometimes – at least often enough to keep me out of jail and them out of house arrest. Sometimes though, I have to rely on love alone and remind myself that motherhood is a blessing.
Children are cute when they’re little and incapable of wiping their own ass. It’s Darwinian: even if expelled from the perfect derriere of your perfect progeny, poop stinks – and wiping it up for more than a few years can lead to insanity.
Some children are capable of rudimentary self-care by age six. By the time they reach double digits, most can feed and bathe themselves. Thank God. What little sanity any parent retains after a decade should not be wasted on body fluids. At least not on a regular basis.
By the time a child is a tween, whether or not they feed and wash themselves becomes a matter of choice, not aptitude. And when one’s perfect progeny enters puberty’s purgatory–well, they’re not cute and they never wipe anything – not their ass, the bathroom counter, or their mouth after breakfast.
At least not to this mother’s standard.
Clearly, this is Darwin’s way of enabling parents to separate from the heaven-sent little darlings who are now Hell-spawn.
A mother’s responsibilities are many, and some can be farmed out–God knows I would outsource most all of them if I could. But you must be present to win the parenting game.
Because, in the end, it’s not all of the recitals attended, goals applauded, and birthday parties hosted. It’s sitting there with them when their world is savaged by social shunning. It’s the first time they realize they could have if only they had worked, focused or studied harder. All of those ouchies that continue to ache. It’s sitting there, grounding them with the strength to rise again. The boo-boos get worse as they get older, but a mother’s kiss will always make it a better, even if it’s just a little bit. We are mothers. Like is optional. Love unconditional. Resilience – mine as a parent as well as my soon-to-be-adults’ – essential.
I knew something was up when I casually checked my phone only to find that Life 360 had been disabled.
“What’s up?” I texted.
“Why do you ask?”
When a sixteen-year-old answers a question with a question – on a Saturday night especially – it’s not a good sign.
“They went to Susan’s,” the other mother replies to my text, “she said you were okay with them sleeping over there.”
My snorts and expletives keep time with my sleeping husband’s snores.
“Get home NOW,” I no longer care where she is. She is not where she said she would be. My trust is broken.
“We just went out for food.”
“I don’t care. You lied. COME HOME IMMEDIATELY.”
“You shouldn’t go to bed angry,” she texts from her room.
“I’m too angry to speak. Omission is a lie. I’ll speak to you in the morning.”
“If you’re not going to use your phone when you should, you’re not going to use it at all.” I tell her the next morning when I am able to speak actual words versus the night before when venomous hisses were all that my mouth could form.
“When do I get the phone back,” she pleads even as she hands it over.
“When I feel like it.”
“When you’ve earned back our trust,” says my husband more calmly.
“If you say you’re going to be at Angela’s, don’t go to Susan’s – especially not at 10pm – without telling me,” I conclude before sending her to her room. Sunday is no longer my day of rest. Discipline, like many maternal mandates, is inconvenient.
I do not like punishing my children. But I love them enough to do what has to be done. I need to make this a teachable moment, to try to make sure that a foolish misjudgment doesn’t have future-jeopardizing, possibly life-threatening consequences.
“Do you know how annoying it is for me when you don’t have your phone?”
My only daughter sits silently in the passenger seat and stares at the rising sun as we head east to catch the school bus.
“Okay,” she says flatly.
“I’m so tired of being angry at you.” She continues to stare anywhere but at me. We pull up to the bus in silence.
“I love you,” I whisper as she slams the car door. “But I’m not sorry to see you go.” Love is unconditional. Fear, omnipresent. Like is an option – not one I can exercise presently.
She knows how to take care of herself—literally. I hope I’m doing the right thing to teach her how do so figuratively. As I drive off to face the week, I look up at the dawning day and pray that she’ll develop her own set of standards by which to live the life I dream is possible for her.