Twice, I’ve had my psychic gut sucker punched this week. The first was by David P. Goldman aka Spengler, who blogged “Everything important that we do in life, we do alone, and in our own way, for there is no-one else to do it for us.” The second was by my friend Marie’s mother (who’s quite the case study in psychic sucker punches all by herself.) Marie was telling her mom she was finally wearing the braces at age 48 she first needed 35 years ago. Her Mom commiserated that they just didn’t have the money then, but she knew “that God would make sure that one day, you got what you needed.”
For a 21st century snow-plowing, helicoptering, handholding, Purel squirting, extracurricular chauffeuring Mom, this hurts. Somehow I developed the idea that, if I do everything right, my kids would be set. They would arrive at the doorstep of 18, or 21 (or if things continue the way they are, 37) and not have a problem in the world. They would ace exams, pick perfect partners, pay their full balances, never visit payday loans. The drops of life-sucking misfortune would sheet off the oily feathers of their healthy self-esteem. They would never doubt themselves, or feel unloved. I had come to believe, that even though we live approximately 80+ years, my kids would do all the important living sometime in the first 20.
Yet in my own life, most of my big stuff happened waaaay past 18. And, as for the “good foundation” trope: I’m not denying a good upbringing is a precious gift, but in my case I was raised by a people with mental illness, drug addiction, chronic unemployment, and I had been walked-out on by not one, but two different fathers. Why this might explain volumes about my constant twitching, I still wasn’t sentenced to a life spent in Ontario Housing on the Finch/Jane corridor.
Why I can’t fight my kids’ battles — well, not all at least — and ensure that their life is easy-peasey-lemon-squeezy, there is something more precious I do owe them. My epiphany happened during a concert at Tall Girl’s school. She had “problems” with a girl in her class, and I when I heard that name called out behind me, my head snapped to the face . A typical mean girl, she was indistinguishable from every other insecure, gawky tween in the gym. Suddenly, she jumped up and ran to an adult entering the auditorium. Polished, professional, 4″ heels, hair that had been properly attended to after she got out of the shower, dressed all in navy and cream. This was a lady who was someone in the world. But to this little girl, she was Mom. And all the meanness dropped from her face, and she tried to desperately get Mom’s attention. Pulling gently on her arm, pleading, swerving her head between eyes and Smartphone. Then, the resignation that comes from being dismissed and ignored. And as the heels clicked off, I realized that this is where the poison my daughter sees weeping from the tree, pulled down by gravity onto the next victim.
All this girl wanted, was to be seen. All everyone really needs, is to be really seen. Everything important, we do alone. But it is this alone-ness that I can help, by loving the real kid I have, not the kid of my dreams, or the kid that I think should have. What a burden is lifted from us, when we know that the other knows us and accepts us that way. The first thing you learn in crisis counselling is active listening, or how to rephrase what someone has told you and say it back to them. I’ve heard you. We can’t fix every problem, but we can be present, always with love, as our precious children solve their own problems. And we can hear them, and accept them as they are. My job as Mom isn’t always to move mountains for my kids. Sometimes, it will mean being the rock that they can rest on, and letting them know that the true them is never really alone.
Post-script: That very day, Tall Girl came home with the former-Mean Girl’s phone number. Bullies often turn on their own, and so too with this girl. After breaking down in tears in class, Tall brought her to the bathroom and calmed her down. (“It’s just a natural reaction to help someone who’s crying beside you, Mom.”) After, she asked for her number. Like I said, sometimes you just need someone to see the real you.