A Writer’s Motherhood Moment: Power Shift
I’ve reached the end of my chauffeuring duties. My last child is driving. I’ve posted a bit about car troubles. Goodness, I hate car trouble. We’ve had quite the adventure buying the first teenage car for the last boy, braving the car dealership after my little, red Jeep died, and now the very last ‘drive to school’ day for me. Sigh. I counted this morning, I’ve been driving kids to school for about 18 years.
Outside of special instances, I’m done with my schlepping career. Whew! Several people I know have small babies or are about to have babies and the number one complaint is lack of sleep. Welcome to parenthood, I say. It doesn’t get easier and children aren’t as cute. Every day I find myself in a struggle between motherhood and independence. I use the term loosely as everyone in the house currently has a cold and needs their mother/wife. I wrote this essay a year ago July, but given the fall weather has triggered my nostalgia I think it’s worth a revisit…
I was driving my 17-year-old son to the doctor when I noticed him braking in the passenger seat. It flashed in my brain that we’ve reached that shift in the mother child relationship.
It’s been coming on slowly these last few years with all of my kids. It’s natural, they’re 20, 17 and 15. As a side note, teenagers suck. Kids start out sweet, little bundles of goo to draw you in. Those coos and smiles sink the hooks in deep. Oh sure, there’s a brief struggle during those terrible twos or threes to test your resolve, and then there’s a lull in the storm until about 13. That’s when the real trial starts. Kids aren’t cute anymore, they aren’t cuddly and boy howdy, are they mouthy. Those four-year old “I hate you’s” were a small sting compared to the doozies they throw at you with a strong teenage vocabulary.
I have no reference. Of course, my teenage diaries are filled with the fights, “you bitch” and door slamming I experienced with my own mother. My mother is a tad crazy, certifiable. I figured it was a product of a volatile, damaged personality combusting with my teenage rebellion. I was a breeze as a teenager. I was unnaturally mature due to a combination of factors too depressing to go into. I was never arrested. I didn’t get pregnant. I earned good grades and I only wrecked the car once….the day before I left for university so it hardly counts.
I have wonderful kids. They’re each brilliant, gorgeous and amazing in their own way. It’s one of the reasons they’re still living. Also, prison…..don’t think that would suit me.
This last year has been challenging. I’ve changed careers. One of my kids is suffering a long-term illness. Close friends have suffered crisis. My kids have made some challenging choices for themselves. I’m beat. Seeing my son pressing the imaginary brake pedal while I drove him to the doctor’s hammered home the widening gap between us as individuals. It’s time I remembered that I’m a whole entire person all on my own. Woosh! My brain’s struggling with this idea. Since they were born, every decision I’ve made involved them. Choices I make have to be measured with these kids on the scales. The contrast is that they make choices daily without considering the effects on me or my husband. We don’t have that luxury.
I’m beginning to see a moment when that will change. If I can only let go of the irritations, frustrations and plain old crappy attitudes they throw at me until then. They might continue to live! I love them, I’d certainly regret their loss. Oh and prison. Even now, my daughter lives away from us. I’ve no idea how her daily existence looks. For 18 years, her existence, her life, her activities were embedded with my own……we were concurrent. The boys have started to drift away or rather I should say push away. They’re caught between needing me and independence. I’m caught too. I remember road trips, family dinners, drive-in nights and countless other mundane events where we were united. A tribe. Some aboriginal tribes didn’t include designation beyond “us” until contact with other societies less cohesive. The entire tribe was one being. That’s how it felt for me, not any longer.
I’m imagining a time that I won’t have to put seven glasses in the dishwasher. There’ll be a time when I clean the house and it stays clean for longer than five minutes. Moments when I’ll be able to walk around my bathroom, my bedroom, my laundry room….oh hell, the entire house naked without worrying about scarring one of the boys. Nevermind that I couldn’t go to the bathroom alone the first five years of each of their lives…..and for the next ten or so they stood outside the door shouting at me. Seriously, mothers….when was the last time you even bothered closing the door? I’ve spent 15 plus consecutive years without privacy. Oh they still interrupt or need something, but I shout, “Naked here!” and they go running. Sometimes, I’m not naked at all. I just need a minute to myself.
I’ve worked hard to be the best mother I could be. Growing up with, shall we say….complex parents is no fun. I’m crazy, but in a fun, entertaining, “I can’t believe your mom just said/did that” way (That’s what I tell the kids.). I’m still a mom which by definition makes me persona non grata…..but I’m one of the sickest people I know. Frankly, I rock. This space, a natural development in this symbiotic relationship, is necessary. I’ve got to figure out a way to recover. My friends who’ve survived their grown children tell me that the kids will realize some time that I’m a phenomenal person and they’ll want to hang out with me again. In the meantime, empty nest syndrome? Not in this house. I’ll enjoy the silence a long while I think, before I start missing them.
The preface to this drive was a week of my son burning his candle. Working full-time, squeezing in basketball camp, and hanging out with his friends have been his total focus. It’s summer, Mom. That’s his response to my suggestion that he stay home a night or two and get some rest. He’s been sniffling and coughing off and on for two or three weeks. I’ve given him my advice: use your neti pot, take your vitamins, get more sleep. The consistent response is “I did” with eye rolling and exasperation, as though I have a mom switch that I can flip on or off at will. Oh if it were so! The most recent of these exchanges was the other night. I made fried chicken, mashed sweet potatoes and steamed asparagus….we’ve had family dinners since, well….always. It’s our thing. The kids’ friends are surprised we eat together. The gym was his preferred destination and he took off asking me to save him a plate. Mind you, he was coughing on the way out. I pinged him later on to find out where he was….three hours later. He wasn’t still at the gym.
Me: Do you still want a plate?
Son 1: Yes please, I’m at Brian’s.
Me: Just come home.
Son 1: Why?
Me: You’re running on empty. You need the rest and I’d like to go to sleep. Eat, get some extra rest.
Son 1: I’m watching the game!
Needless to say, he didn’t come home early. He came in, woke the dogs, stumbled around and made his way downstairs. The next morning I went down to see if he was going to work. Nope, he was sick, sicker than sick, burning up with fever and coughing to beat the band. I received a text message a little later in the morning.
Son 1: Can you get me a doctor’s appointment today?
Me: Cough or skin? (He needs his minocycline script renewed and has to see the dermatologist)
Son 1: Real Doctor
Me: I’ll try….bronchitis? What?
Son 1: Jesus, no. I just have a cold.
There was some eye rolling on my part here, but only the dogs saw it. The doctor isn’t going to do more than I’ve already been telling him to do for a cold.
Me: Okay….(I was confused) dermatologist or general doc and for what exactly?
Son 1: The general doctor because I feel like shit.
Me: Stop. (I don’t have to take attitude in a text too) If you only have a cold doc won’t do anything….is it more serious than a cold?
Son 1: Maybe.
Me: How long have you been feeling this sick? They’re going to ask.
Son 1: Since Wednesday. It just got worse though.
Me: Do you think this has been going on since last week?
Son 1: It might be.
I called the doctor’s office knowing good and well he’s been feeling like this for longer than he’ll admit.
Me: Okay, Doctor at 11:20. I’ll put the copay on your paypal card. Please ask for a full page receipt.
Son 1: Okay, where are you?
Me: Upstairs at my computer. Writing.
Son 1: But you aren’t going with me?
Me: Do you want me to?
This is dangerous territory. He’s driving. He’s independent. He bristles when I suggest otherwise. I’ve stumbled down this road before and it only ends in head spinning and pea soup.
Son 1: If you aren’t busy, yeah.
I was busy. Son 2 had an appointment at noon. I was working on the second novel and the blog. I wasn’t dressed for public view. I sighed. Mother me took over. That’s how I ended up in the car too see him stepping on a non existent brake pedal. Turns out he had an ear infection. He needed a script and received advice that he’d been receiving from me all along. As soon as we were home, he asked me to make him soup. This is the balancing act that I work every day. Not just for one, but for all three. Even the daughter who doesn’t live at home. How much help to offer? How much reminding to give? Can I change my schedule? Can our budget handle that? Too much of any one thing and the exorcist needs to come calling. I accept this is the natural way of things. It wasn’t easy separating myself from my own folks. Hell, I didn’t really shake them off until I was 30. I’m glad the kids are independent and confident enough to move away from me. If they don’t look both ways before crossing the street, it isn’t because I haven’t mentioned it a time or two or three or 200. That’s all I can do. I’m starting the process of letting go, washing my hands of their responsibilities.
Remember when they were learning to ride a bicycle without training wheels? We gave them all of the encouragement, tips and help that we could. In the end, no one can tell you how to ride the bike. You have to feel it. It’s exactly the same way in the car, believe me, I’ve observed two student drivers for hundreds of hours…no matter how hard you stomp the floor that imaginary pedal isn’t going to do a thing. The driver has to be in control. Advice works the same way….I can’t force them to make strong choices. My daughter has promised profusely to listen to my advice….that doesn’t guarantee she’ll apply it. She’s actually said, “I hear you, Mom.” and then done the complete opposite of what I advised her. The fact that my son (not the world’s worst driver, and though terrifically coordinated at so many other things, not the best either) has reached the point that he’s worried about my control of the car is a milestone, ironic, but noteworthy. It’s about time he felt the same way I do when he’s driving. Do you think he’ll take more of my advice?