Posts Tagged ‘parents’

The “B” Word

Thursday, March 6, 2014
No Gravatar

I look at you sitting there politely — hands clasped, feet crossed at the ankle — and I wonder when and where it all went wrong.  With your Kate Middleton-inspired hair and makeup, monogrammed sweater, pearls, Ralph Lauren oxford, starched khakis, penny loafers, and blush-polished nails, I see your image on every Pinterest board dedicated to pretty, preppy girls. You are the poster child for a sought-after adolescence: academic achievements in a private school, elite social position, athletic involvement, Ivy League hopeful.

But this footage is also proof that you’re a kid who has come to expect it.  Since you aren’t getting your way, you’ve turned into an adult who has come to demand it.

I’m responding to news reports, of course, because I don’t know what’s gone on behind closed doors.  Yet I seriously doubt that you grew up in a house of horrors.  If your mother called you fat, and if your father invited you to drink beer with him, then that’s their misery. However, your account of psychological abuse is challenged by a rant directed toward your mother, which was laced with the filthiest words in the English vocabulary.

Have you been rebellious and disrespectful all along?

You’re the daughter of a former police chief. If a father of his professional background can’t control your tantrums, then who can? You see, that’s what bothers me.  All of the pieces that promise a better shot in this world were in place. You appear to have (or have had) it all.  Then, when you reportedly stepped out of line by drinking, cutting school, and dating boys who weren’t ideal, stricter rules and harsher consequences were enforced by Mom and Dad (obviously too little, too late). Now, you’re suing them.

I’m sitting here trying to figure out a way to make sure my daughters don’t turn out like you.  Why? Because you, my darling, are a brat.

While I don’t know you personally, I do know of you publicly.  You are not special.  You are common. There are many teenagers in this world who could be your identical twin. They just haven’t dragged their parents into court and made a media spectacle out of private family matters to get even more attention.

Yes, thanks to your drama, I’m in a tight spot. I now see the dangers of giving my children too much, too soon, and too often. I pray I haven’t already established a similar pattern of expectation and delivery. I suddenly question everything I’ve ever done for them, and what their father and I intend to do in the near future. I keep repeating to myself: Everything in moderation…including parenting.  But what does that mean, exactly?

Growing up as an only child, I was comfortable. When I turned 16, my mother bought a car for me to travel back and forth to a remote high school.  My dad put gas in it (I could drive all week on $5).  They bought the majority of my clothes and paid for a lot of my fun.  Most of this support was in exchange for never giving them any trouble. But when it came to my college education, my mother was frank: “I’ll do the best I can, but you’re going to have to help.” She sold a farm in Greenbrier County, and it guaranteed 40% of my undergraduate tuition to a local university. I was awarded a partial scholarship, and I worked on campus to pay the balance due.  When it came to graduate school, though, I was on my own. I got a loan.  I earned a master’s degree. I found a better job.  I paid off the loan.

My husband is a true do-it-yourselfer.  He wanted to attend college, but the money wasn’t there.  As an honor student, he could have earned scholarships, I suppose. Instead, he joined the Army, served his time, accepted GI Bill funding, graduated from engineering school, launched a career, and made a life for himself.  By himself.

Now, he’s saving every nickel to help send our children to college.  Unless our daughters land full scholarships or piece together enough financial aid to pay the way, they’ll owe something when it’s over.  And this fact keeps us up at night. Before hearing about your little situation, I felt terribly guilty that we wouldn’t be able to give our children free rides. Now, I’m beginning to think that it would be a mistake to underwrite the entire thing. In reality, we can only save and do so much. There are limits, and you don’t seem to comprehend them.  To be so bright, you don’t understand the meaning of the word “no”.

If you were my daughter, I would be thoroughly disgusted with myself. Mothers, in particular, have such high hopes for their children.  We want to make life easier for them. We want to give our kids material possessions and exciting experiences that we never had. We want them to be happier. Today, I see what all of those wants can do to a child, even if they are well intended.

What I need is the courage to be a bitch now — not later.  I need to remember that I am a mother, not a friend.  I am a parent, not a bank.  This hurts. It’s an entirely different type of labor pain.  But I refuse to be afraid that my daughters won’t like me someday.  I have to stress the importance of personal responsibility and accountability. What they can rely on and expect in this lifetime is unconditional love from us. But the rest is up to them.

As for you? Your family and everyone else’s family will wait for a judge to decide if children are entitled to prepaid college funds. Recent testimony revealed that after a series of infractions, your parents allegedly cut your access to a life of privilege that you took for granted.  Indeed, you should go away to school.  But biomedicine is the very last thing you need to learn.




The Mother, the Daughter and the Holy Ghost

Monday, May 7, 2012
No Gravatar


Since my book was published, friends have asked me if I’ve always been so happy. If I’ve always laughed. The short answer is no.  The long answer takes about 10 years.

From 1996 through the early part of 2006, I had nothing to smile about.  My dad suffered a stroke that ended his career and much of his independence, and my mother hid breast cancer from us while she focused on him. She died within weeks of diagnosis, and my dad’s Alzheimer’s disease progressed to the point that he was in and out of hospitals and assisted care facilities…even a mental institution for severe dementia.  Caring for them took its toll on me, and I took their deaths — particularly my mother’s passing — extremely hard.  For 10 years, I worried non-stop about what was going to happen to them, and to some extent, what would happen to me because I was so dependent upon my aging parents.

I recently decided to clean house beginning with my closets to throw out things that I no longer wanted (or could wear, quite honestly).  Then, I moved on to bookshelves, which were stuffed with bound pages containing messages and lessons that once meant something to me.  It was then and there that I realized how badly I hurt in those 10 years.  Why Bad Things Happen to Good People.  The Orphaned Adult. Finding Peace.  How to Handle Adversity.  The Daughter Trap. And one title that I couldn’t get rid of: Motherless Mothers.

Hope Edelman’s book, Motherless Mothers: How Mother Loss Shapes the Parents We Become became a supplement to my bible for a long time. When Edelman became a parent, she found herself revisiting her own loss in ways she had never anticipated. As the mother of two young girls (like me), Edelman set out to learn how the loss of a mother to death or abandonment affects the ways women raise their own children.  She reveals the anxieties and desires mothers like her (and like me) experience as they raise their children without the help of a living maternal guide.

In an early episode of “Mad Men”, Betty Draper tries to talk to her husband, Don, about her mother’s death and the fears associated with it.  Don, showing little interest in his wife’s grief told her very simply, “Please stop. Mourning is an extended form of self-pity.”  Whatever you say, Dick Whitman.

Even though my mom died in 2000, I still think of her every single day.  I wrote letters to her for a year, deciding on the first anniversary of her death that I, too, needed to stop. I filled a hat box with sealed envelopes labeled only by date, and they’re buried in a much larger bin in our basement. Writing served a purpose back then — a type of therapy that helped me feel like she was still around.

And then… last Sunday, I saw her.

Mike and I were outside trying to decide what to do with our grass-less backyard.  After trading a few ideas, we decided to go to Lowe’s to price landscaping materials.  It was a nice day for resting in the hammock …a nice day for playing in the tree house…a nice day for reading in the shade.  But I was going to put a stop to all of that.

“Ava, get your shoes.  We need to go pick up a few things.”

My daughter turned to me with one hand on her hip and a look of stern disapproval on her face.  Her left and right feet were positioned in a majorette “T”, and her jaw was set.  Her eyes narrowed at me under furrowed brows.

My God.  My mother.

I remember that look.  Whenever I would say or ask something out of reason, that was the exact look my mother would give me.  The only difference is that she usually had a cigarette secured in the opposite hand; a stream of smoke lifting up to the sky.  She would stare at me for a moment to think about how to respond.  Yet she never had to.  I always knew that look meant whatever I wanted wasn’t going to happen.

We went to Lowe’s anyway,  and the drive to Southridge was a quiet one.  I kept looking back at Ava to see if I could catch another glimpse of  “Little Betty Lou” with her pouty face and crossed arms of protest.  Then I emerged from that smoky haze realizing that Ava may be a version of my mother — a throwback — but she’s really an eight-year-old girl with blonde hair, blue eyes and legs longer than anyone on my side of the family.  She’s not my mother.  She’s her own girl.

Today, May 7th, is my 39th birthday.  My mother gave birth to me at this age.  I was her only child — a “gift” she said, which was an alternate word for “surprise” as my dad called it.  In our society, advanced maternal age is no big deal, but in 1973, it was a news headline because she was on the verge of entering her fourth decade.  However, my mother — always cool, always collected and always calculated — saw her age and my birth in an entirely different way.  “Life begins at 40,” she wrote in my baby book. “This is just the beginning.”

And that’s something to smile about.

Let My People Go

Monday, January 31, 2011
No Gravatar

Between animated movies and reality television shows, separation anxieties are here to stay.

Toy Story 3 brings children and adults to tears, as college-bound Andy is forced to part with his playthings, while Hoarders: Buried Alive follows the obsessive behaviors of people who “house” excessive quantities of items to which they have unnatural connections.  If holding onto the past isn’t crippling enough, deciding what to keep and what to toss drives boys and girls (of all ages) to the edge of mental collapse, fueled by the crushing weight of guilt and Beanie Babies.

Perhaps producers from A&E and Disney should join forces to create a new show, such as “Toddler Hoarders (Part One of Three)”.  I just might have the perfect child to star in their first episode.

My four-year-old daughter is one of the most loving children you will ever meet, to the point that she treasures everything.  Stringy cheese wrapper? Better save it…there’s a smiling cow in the logo.  Half-eaten peanut butter sandwich? Better hang on to that…Woody and Buzz Lightyear are watching from the Sara Lee bread bag.  Broken Ken doll?  Better hide him under the couch so he can recuperate from a dislocated hip.

Out of fairness to Disney and Arts & Entertainment (and TLC and Nick Jr., and…), it’s important to point out that the children’s literature market is identically involved.  After reading The Velveteen Rabbit, my older daughter cried off and on for two days.

Why is the rabbit in a trash bag? The parents are going to burn all of the little boy’s toys because they’re covered in germs that could kill him!

Alexander and the Wind Up Mouse is an equally distressing tale, as a furry gray rodent wishes his mechanical counterpart real so it can scurry out of a box of toys sentenced to the trash can.  Commercials are getting into the act, too.  A pediatric cough syrup advertisement features stuffed animals and dolls sitting around a table, fretting that “she’s not coming today because she has a fever”.

While ibuprofen and acetaminophen tend to wipe out a pesky temperature, what’s the remedy for eliminating an alarming number of toys?

If you’ve tried to smuggle them out of the house lately, you’ve probably had to smuggle them back in after being turned away from thrift stores and preschools. Hard toys may have been painted with harmful chemicals or contain parts that pose choking hazards, and plush toys can’t be cleaned effectively to kill dust mites or…lice.

The short answer is to stop buying toys and dolls altogether, but that’s not what manufacturers want to see or hear.  As the adult consumer, we’re supposed to keep accumulating, keep ordering, keep collecting, and keep spending.  Children, however, are supposed to learn to let go.  Have you ever noticed that Disney usually kills a parent in the first few minutes of a movie?  Even Huey, Duey and Louie were raised by an uncle! It seems as though the creative goal is to make children face up to their fears of being left alone or left behind, and to muster the superhuman strength to overcome the odds through a 60-minute bout of courage.

Yet after the movie or book ends, we’ll feel compelled to shop for a plastic action figure or fluffy stuffed version of our child’s new hero, which will help keep the memory alive (and with us) forever.