Category Archives: Growing Up

Musings on Motherhood revisited

I will open this reprint by saying, I had NO CLUE what I was talking about when I originally wrote this.  It is so much harder that I thought. The “ick-you-make-my-stomach-lurch-because-I’m-too-cool”-ness of it all is here in full force.  A simple “good morning” can start a fight as easily as a breeze blows over a house of cards.  I am simply dying here.  Thank God for an awesome husband and a well stocked wine cellar.

It was Mothers’ Day and my nearly- 12-year-old daughter said to me, “Mom, I think I need to shave under my arms.”  “Really?” I replied dryly, nonplussed by this request because she had been asking to shave her legs since 5th grade when all the other girls purportedly started.  “Let’s see then,” I said.  She raised her stick-thin right limb and revealed to my horror a patch of scraggly ashy gray hair akin to what one would find on the chin of a 15 year old boy trying to grow a beard.  “Heavens to murgatroid, Maddonna!” I yelped, “By all means, we’ll get right on that this afternoon!”
Well, I shouldn’t have been so surprised.  I’d seen the developing buds at her chest and some hints of nether hair on her body before and had decided it would be in bad form to actually look or stare.  But in her guileless nudity getting in and out of the shower, I had stolen the askance glance over the last few months and had noted with some pride that she would by next summer be a knock out.  But there was something alarming and obscene about that grimy looking patch of pit hair.  It said, “I am puberty and I am here to stay.”  It simply made me weak.
I have heard all the horror stories of happy go lucky girls who simply adore their moms that suddenly become she-devils who will set a mother’s bed on fire as she sleeps.  I have seen my friend’s teen age children snarl derisively at their well meaning moms who have the nerve to offer them a sandwich when it is plain that only a hot pocket will do.  I have determined not to let this happen between me and my daughter.  But the patch of hair hiding behind those bony shoulders tell me that I have no say in the matter and that the storm is coming whether I like it or not.
What puzzles me more than all the portents of my own relationship with my daughter about to take a tail-spin is the way my friends deal so calmly with their teen demons.  They do not dissolve into tears when the children call them at work demanding they buy a different clothes softener because Snuggle isn’t as good as Downy and then hang up on them with an oath for their selfishness and inconsiderate behavior.  I have yet to hear any of these sainted ladies call these brats the names that are hurled at them behind slamming doors.
I do not want this.  I do not want this pit hair, shrieking, stealing of sanitary products and $100 shoes.  I don’t want the low-slung pants wearing loser boys to come sniffing around the door and steal my girl’s heart away from me.  I don’t want the moroseness and the “ick-you-make-my-stomach-lurch-because-I’m-too-cool”-ness of it all.  But it’s coming and the need for the Venus triple blade tells me so.
But what I do want is what this trial by fire brings.  When the loser-boy dumps her a week before prom, I want to be there to bake three batches of brownies and down them with spoons full of mint chocolate chip ice cream right out of the carton together.  When the queen-bee girlfriends turn on her because they just feel like it, I hope she’ll find me not too repulsive to turn to.  And on some of those nights when she’s cried herself to sleep and I’ve gone out and left flaming bags of dog poop on all the appropriate door steps, I want to know that I can sleep soundly because a little piece of her may still belong to me.
Despite all the tears, shouting, name-calling and demands, deep down when the monkeys take flight, I hope that girl will always want her mommy.  It will be then, when we’re egging someone’s car that I’ll know it was all worth it.


A valuable lesson

In March of this year, I attended a conference called WomenSpeak.  It was hosted and organized by Paula D’Arcy and the Red Bird Foundation.  Mostly it was about female empowerment and the power of love to change the world.  Those of you who know me and realize that I am not much of a “Kum-bye-ya” person are probably wondering what the *bleep* I would be doing at a gathering such as that.  But, let me tell you – When Paula does something, she does it right and I will “Kum-bye-ya” with her to my grave.

One of the keynote speakers for the weekend was a woman named Erin Gruwell.  You may know Erin’s story from the book called The Freedom Writers Diary.  It was a NY Times bestseller that chronicled Gruwell’s journey with 150 high school students who had been written off by the education system.  Through sheer determination, and admitted naiveté, she ultimately helped them re-chart their future. They dubbed themselves the “Freedom Writers” – in homage to civil rights activists The Freedom Riders – and published a book.  In addition to hearing this woman’s story, I had the privilege to hear the story of one of her students who had been called a failure, was told she was destined to be a teenage mother and a drop-out and that she was basically worthless.  By the way, it was her teachers and her principal that told her these things. (Talk about a spirit-crushing, ego-busting, gut-wrenching experience!)

Now, why am I telling you all this?  (You realize, fan, that you ask me this every time I blog, but you know I always get to the point eventually.)

The student who spoke to us graduated with her class and is in college.  Not only did she not get pregnant in high school, she aims to become the first Latina Secretary of Education for the United States.  As uplifting as all that was, that was not what struck me about this young lady.  What blew me away was that she did not spend one moment trashing the people who put her down.  She did not spend time in self-pity.  What she did instead was to insist repeatedly that she owed those people a debt of gratitude for laying out those horrible potential truths that she could have so easily lived up to (or lived down to, as the case may be).  Based on their harsh and ultimately inaccurate assessment of her, she was determined to make a change in her life.  I realized that although I’ve never been called a worthless gang-banging slut,  I owe the same debts of gratitude to a few people in my life that also helped me make some changes.

In particular, I had a friend in college — Freshman year — who did me a huge favor.  She laid it out for me.  She told me exactly the kind of jerk I had been and how my self-aggrandizing and know-it-all attitude turned people off.  She and another friend had taken just about all the crap they could from me.  I blubbered.  I stammered.  I blamed my father for teaching me that bad behavior.  I did everything except verbally take responsibility for the fact that she was right on the money.  I had been a jerk.  No one had ever called me out quite so thoroughly and authentically in my life.  I needed it desperately.

While I got exactly what I needed and deserved, let’s just say I didn’t take it well and we parted company.

These many years later, I discovered I owe that friend my gratitude.  There have been other friends and family members since who have been able to hold the mirror up to me and I made the choice to make a change, based on that first painful assessment.  While I didn’t admit my part at the time, I was personally humbled by the experience.

If you have friends like these, don’t let them out of your life.  Even if you part company with them, keep the lesson close at hand.  Use it to become a better person and try to teach it to your children.  It’s been over 20 years since I got that lesson, but like my hero the Freedom Writer, I value it and keep the humility I learned with me.  And if you have the opportunity to dole out some tough love, do so.  Be honest with the people you call your friends because it’s the best thing you can possibly do for them.

Getting it right

I  attended a weekend retreat recently.  While I gained a lot of spiritual graces, I was privileged to share a table with a lady who was recovering from cancer.  She shared with us that when she was 80 pounds and bald and she had just moved here from another town, she attended our church for the first time…and no one spoke to her. If you read my last post, you’ll know how deeply I was wounded to hear this.  It is likely I was one of the people who did not speak to her.  What a dreadful and life long lesson that was.  I will always be thankful to this gracious woman for having the courage to share that with me; for holding that mirror up to my face and showing me fear.

Following my meeting with this new friend, I had an opportunity to put my new education to use.  Later that week, I ran into a woman in the bathroom at a local restaurant.  She was wearing a leopard print bandanna and over that a straw hat with a band in matching print.  Instead of avoiding eye contact or pretending to be thoroughly engrossed in washing my hands, I looked her straight in the eye and told her I liked her “jazzy ensemble.” She replied with a wry smile that she didn’t at all.  Undaunted, I told her I was sorry that she was having to make that fashion choice but I thought she chose very well.  She seemed to brighten, thanking me for telling her that.  Strangely, her response helped ME feel uplifted.

Just tonight, I dropped into the library.  There, coming out was a dear lady with whom I became acquainted when our daughters were babies in the same daycare.  Later we became friendlier when I joined the parent advisory board and when we moved to Concord eight years ago, she and her husband were among the first to stop by and welcome us to town.  And here she was now in front of me in a brilliant royal purple top and a straw hat with a jaunty purple flower to match on the right side.  The hat covered a perfectly smooth scalp.  Her lash-less eyes brightened when she saw me.  We hugged, and commenced the small talk.

Before long I noted that she had a new look and asked how she was feeling.  I had known she was sick before, but the loss of hair was a shock as the last time I had seen her, it seemed she was on the mend.  Apparently not.  She informed me she had just had a bone scan to see where the cancer had moved to this time.  All I could do was make a sad face and say, “Oh, no…it’s moving then is it?”  “Yes,” she sighed, “I can stand not having hair but I really miss having eyelashes.”  “They’ll come back?” I prompted, hopefully.  “No,” she whispered, “I’ll be on chemo for the rest of my life.”

…And how long would that be? I wondered in my now completely stunned mind.  What a dreadful, awful, horrible thought.  I wish I could un-ring that bell.  I can only be thankful that my friend from church taught me to say something; anything.  To acknowledge.  To be available.  To say how bad it sucks that your eyelashes won’t be back.  It is the prime way to do a small thing with great love.  But it takes a great bit of courage.

I’m sorry for the sins of the past, ladies.  I’m sorry for the times I did not acknowledge, and feared opening up to your pain.  You may decide I’m a self-congratulating ass and you may think I am nosey or intruding or completely clueless…but you will not think I am ignoring you.  You will not be overlooked.  Not by me.  Not by me.