I’m going to be real (I like to be real, and not waste people’s time): this has been a summer. Last summer was a summer. And the summer before. And the summer before. As I go into the home stretch before my life gets very, very scheduled and quite hectic and very exhausting (5:00 AM alarms, y’all), I like to reflect at the halfway point – how’d it go? Am I okay? Better than when I started? Or worse off?
I had some lovely days. Truly, very lovely days. Almost an entire week by the pool by myself, reading a good book. One whole lovely day in the Blue Ridge Mountains on a very very blue lake. I got my closet cleaned out (finally), and my daughter is sleeping in her own bed 90% of the time (this has been a major Thing since she was 2 years old…long story). I finished one whole, wildly good book (highly recommend: Reincarnation Blues by Michael Poore – so much wisdom, simply and entertainingly told via fiction…with some deeply disturbing scenes, and these are disturbing simply because they are just not that far fetched to imagine happening today; humans are basically terrible things. If I were to sum up this story, that’s what I’d say: humans are terrible things, though capable of huge love). I’m reading The Passion of Mary Magdalen by Elizabeth Cunningham currently. It’s not for people who like to read the Bible literally, or believe Jesus of Nazareth was God Incarnate. I do not do or believe either of those things, so I’m willing to consider Mary of Magdalen could have been born a Celtic priestess, educated by Welsh druids, enslaved to become a whore by the Romans. Whatever, it’s a wild story and I’m only on page 112 of 620. Wild stories are the best kinds.
But I’ve also had some crap days. I didn’t start eating healthier the way I wanted to…too many fun days with friends and family. I didn’t start a work out program the way I’d intended…too much staying up late and sleeping in. I didn’t write as much as I wanted to…too much intense anger that created lack of focus. (I have been really, really, really angry. For a long, long, long time.) I’ve had some reckonings this summer. I’ve given some other people some reckonings too. I don’t care whether it was my place or cruel to do it or not. Sometimes you be cruel to be kind. It’s my new motto.
But it doesn’t leave me feeling very good about myself. Or other people. Or the world.
My daughter and I have had some knock down, screaming fights. That’s really why I’m writing this. Let’s have a hard, honest, heart-to-heart talk about what it means to be a single mom raising a girl, an only child girl at that. In the 21st century.
And I’m going to share some really private information not to be an attention ho or a crappy mom (trust: if you want to call me a crappy mom, I’ve literally got about 10 other things I’ve done or said or not done or not said to her that far outweigh everything I’m about to share here). I’m sharing because I KNOW I’m not the only mother on the face of this planet who deals with some or most or all of this.
First, she’s nine going on thirteen, desperate to be twenty-one. Part of this is YouTube and the Internet. But even if I outlawed and obsessively monitored every single website and thing she was exposed to on the Internet, I couldn’t save her from other kids whose parents haven’t been obsessive. I’ve had other parents, other teachers, other people judge me about this, subtly try to shame me, and whenever I think about it, really think about it, I’m fucking livid. Because this is how people are in the 21st century. They have all kinds of opinions, based on their own political or religious beliefs, or one or two things they’ve seen on TV or read on the Internet, or have experienced, and they jump to conclusions. They don’t ask; they just insinuate. And my job makes it tricky for me to go full mama bear on any of these people, which I absolutely would if I were in a different career. So there’s that part of parenting. But even if I obsessively monitored her Internet activity, there is still even just regular TV. The kids on today’s TV shows are smart-mouthed. The adults are bumbling fools. The kids are cool, the grown ups are clowns. Essentially, this is the crux of all of my fights with my child: I am not a clown, YOU are. Because you are nine, and think you know what you’re talking about, and you aren’t even fully developed abstract thinker right now. Piaget said so. I have a college degree that included three classes on what child development experts learned by studying your kind, so stop arguing with me.
And there’s peer pressure. I personally don’t want my child to have a phone – a smartphone – until she’s in middle school. Really, I don’t want her to have one until high school, but I’ll acquiesce and get her one when she starts 6th grade. Meanwhile, all the other psycho parents are getting their KINDERGARTENER smart phones. Seriously, what the hell does a 5 year old need their own data plan for? (FYI: I’m about to be a hypocrite in three more paragraphs because I’m totally judging here, and later complaining about being judged). My child sees other children with these things, and feels left out. We argue about it. She negates Piaget. I tell her she’s wrong. She argues again. I say NO. She screams. I say NO. A door slams. My blood pressure rises. Rinse. Repeat.
Also complicating my parenting stress: I’ve never written about it, but she also has a condition called premature adrenarche. She started having adult-type body odor when she was 2 and growing pubic hair, then was diagnosed at 4 with it after we finally took her to see an endocrinologist. Girls, ethnically, develop like this (not every girl, but generally speaking): African-American girls go into puberty first, then Hispanic/Latina girls, then Caucasians, then Asian girls.
With premature adrenarche, she’s going to be first of the first. I’m not sure that it has anything to do really with her ethnic heritage (ethnically, my daughter is a mixture of African-American, Caucasian-European, and Native American), but it’s just something we’ve been aware of since she was four years old and told: she’ll hit puberty young, possibly in 3rd grade.
And here we are.
She’s also extremely tall for her age; her dad is 6’2″ and I’m 5’10”, so this makes sense. But right now, screaming fights with her get a little scary for me – she’s not as tall as me, but the top of her head reaches my forehead. And she’s muscular. And she’s pretty much in puberty; womanhood is simply not far off for her. We are dealing with an amazing amount of hormones, in other words. And not the good kind of hormones; the kind of hormones I have dealt with my entire life: hormones that make her weepy then enraged then weepy then enraged, and the amount of rage is stunning. On top of all of THAT, she’s opinionated, headstrong, dramatic, and beyond stubborn (omg I wonder where she gets THAT from????).
So I’m envisioning, in my brain, what’s going to happen, oh, three years from now when she hits 13 and the TRUE parenting fun begins. And I know I need to cull it and reign it in NOW, before doctors start telling me she’s of age and they can’t tell me anything without her consent (I’m not kidding: I’ve been told this is a real thing in the state of Georgia when a child hits 14).
She’s an only child. This is part of our problem. Because she doesn’t WANT to be an only child. She wants what she sees other people having (and omg where the heck did she get THAT from, I wonder??): two parents and siblings.
No matter how much I explain to her: two parents doesn’t equal happy, and siblings are a pain in the ass, trust me I grew up with one…she doesn’t care. And my level of guilt about this is gigantic, you guys. Gigantic. Because one of the perks of having at least one sibling is (a) you have someone to run to when one or both of your parents is driving you nuts or worrying you – your sibling grew up with this person or these people, they know; and (b) there is a comfort in knowing when both of your parents are gone, there is someone in the world still who’s a connection to them, to your childhood, to that life you once lived.
On the other hand, siblings generally don’t stop being a pain in the ass until you’re no longer living under the same roof. And speaking for myself, I love my brother immensely, but I’m kind of closer to his wife my sister in law at this point. She calls me more. (Love you, Chad! MWAH!)
So we’re trying to come up with ways to help her have the “feel” of having a baby sibling, but for me not to have to (a) put my body or exhaustion levels through that process again, (b) not have financial help in raising a baby then a child then another pre-pre-teen alone, and (c) not to have to put my body or exhaustion levels through that process again. A and C are the most important. Right now, she’s decided she’d like to babysit. The problem with this is: she’s not 13. Thirteen seems to be the Magic Age. This distresses and angers her. I mean, SUPER angers her. Yesterday I sarcastically apologized for having the gaul to birth her in 2008 and not 2005. (We settled on pet sitting and dog walking, but I had to stay on her to feed our cat today, and the litter box is still not emptied, so we aren’t off to a great start.)
The other part of the problem is my child is an extrovert. I am not. I am decidedly not. I’ve made a sweet new friend at work who is, and I’ve had to break her heart several times this summer by saying No to some outings she wanted my company on. She understands, and is sad because (I quote): “Amy! You’re such a delightful person! I just love your humor and laugh and spirit! I wish you liked to be around people more!” This woman has known me only a year, and has basically summed me up in about three sentences.
But I can’t. I just can’t. I can once in awhile, but not all the time. I cannot. People drain me. After I’m around a lot of them, or even just small groups of them for extended periods, I need a good day or two of decompression. I get weepy and weird. I have to lie on my sofa and read or scroll through social media feeds or watch TV. Had I known when I picked teaching as my profession how I was, and how much peopling it truly involves, I would be doing something else today. I’m okay Monday through Friday, but Saturdays are my decompression days. Every Saturday. That’s one reason I make no apologies for taking summers off; I have peopled enough, end of July through end of May. I have peopled enough. I typically take all of June JUST to decompress from August through May.
My child is the opposite. She wants (and needs) friends and play dates. So I don’t mind hosting friends over once in awhile, but two things happen: first, I get annoyed when the other mom doesn’t reciprocate, and I’m sorry that’s not how life works. I took one of her little friends out to the movies once, spent a ton of money on both of them, and that family never even invited Miss M over for an afternoon play date. I don’t care if that comes across petty; there’s an unspoken but understood Universal balance to play dates and that family’s weighing down the seesaw. Nope.
Second, I just don’t want to hang out with these moms. They’re usually not the kind of people I’d choose to hang out with. I’m cool chit chatting at pick up and drop off, but I don’t want to spend the afternoon with them. We have the exact kinds of conversations I abhor: we talk the weather. We talk about chit chatty, small talk things. And we typically have to do this thing I call The Mom Dance, where I have to be careful and she/they have to be careful to make sure we look like great moms, but we all know we aren’t. I prefer moms who are open and honest about how they really mom: they stress eat and drink, they cuss in front of their kids, sometimes they let them have ice cream or cereal for dinner because they’re too damn tired to cook, they lose their shit a lot more than the world wants moms to lose that, and occasionally, just occasionally, when they’re alone and exhausted and just really really really done with everyone else’s shit, they wish they could get in their cars and just drive and drive and not come back. They love their children with their entire beings; they do not regret having child or children. But they question the sanity of having children in today’s world – not just with the crazy politics and stuff going on, but with crazy PEOPLE. The judgments. The other day on Twitter I put up something that said something like if I’d known what was going to happen in the USA by 2018, I might not have had a child. I found it really fascinating that at least 3 men kind of jumped on me for saying that. I didn’t say I regretted having a child; I said I wouldn’t have had a child had I known.
Men are full of all kinds of opinions about women, though. I find. Even the good ones. Even the ones I love a lot. We’ll just blame the Y chromosome and leave it at that. I do like men; I’m not going to be an asshole to a man who’s just expressing concern over a child. But unless you’re in my life and in my house, you, Mr. Guy, don’t know what I deal with. And you don’t understand the level of worry I lie awake in bed at night with. Life is very different for you as a man.
Tonight I am tired. This was a rough day. We’ve had a lot of Come to Jesus moments this summer, she and I. Today was a big one. Because one of the OTHER things I’m worried about is breaking her spirit. I WANT a child, a young lady, a grown woman who will scare the SHIT out of men – not all men, just the kinds who really really need to have the shit scared out of them. I want to raise a girl who knows it’s okay to march to your own drum, it’s okay to play the drums, and dresses and heels aren’t even remotely comfortable; wear pants and go barefoot when marching and playing your drum. I’m raising my daughter to stand up to people and say goodbye to friends who show her they’re not good friends, actually. One of the friends I said goodbye to this year was someone she actually adored, and one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do was talk to her about why he was gone. She asked: what if I run into him somewhere, will he be mean to me? And I had to consider that, because I don’t know…he and I ended on a really toxic note. But I also don’t want to destroy her innocence about the world or for her to wrestle with some of the friendship stuff I do, so I just told her no, no he thinks the world of you and his and my problems aren’t yours. He’d be very sweet to you, and very kind. He’s not all bad. Just bad for me. Because I want her to be able to see people for who and what they are, before it’s too late, but also not to grow up afraid of getting close to other people. It’s just one of the hardest parts of life I’ve had, and I’ll be honest and just say I really have no idea how to help her with it, except to be honest with her: this is hard.
And being a mom is one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. Ever. Ever. Whether you’re married or with a partner, or single with a great co-parent, or single with an absent ex-partner…being a mom is deeply, incredibly, heartbreakingly hard.
But it’s also really cool! Because you have a selfie partner so you don’t look TOO narcissitic-y. And sometimes I watch her talking or laughing with other people and I just love her. The other day she was in her room laughing at something on television, and the joy and love I felt listening to her was completely and utterly overwhelming. I know what life was like prior to her existence, and I do long for those days at times – cannot tell you how many times I’ve had a door slammed in my face this summer, flipped her off behind that door, and walked away muttering: Good. Stay there, bitch. Yes, I did say that. Yes, I have called my child the b- word, and you can go right ahead and call the police on me if your meddling, judge-y ass feels like it and then I’ll get to flip you off and call you the next step word, the C-dash-dash-dash word that gives 99% of all Americans (except this one) the vapors.
Because I say it is okay to admit your kid can be an asshole and NOT go to jail over it. Know why? Cuz kids can be assholes. Piaget said so. And back in the day, about 1975 or so, people actually said that to kids’ faces and did much worse – I once had my mouth washed out with soap for some word-related infraction. So I think we’re fine saying it to doors they slam in our faces, especially if it’s true: they’re being a jerk. (We’ve talked about that too; we do not slam doors in parents’ faces…we do not refer to our parents words like “dude” or “woman” or “bro” or “sis” or “yo”…we do not tell our parents “no” and argue with them about how terrible they’re making our lives…we do not…we do not…this list goes on for five more paragraphs.)
But I’ve also had sublime moments of pure joy this summer. I love that she’s sleeping in her own bed now, but last night she had a nightmare and I woke up at 3 AM to find her next to me. I’m okay with this – everybody needs comfort at 3 AM when they’ve had a nightmare. And she earned her mermaid fins for working hard to bravely sleep in her own room (though we did have some supreme arguments at 2 AM when I refused to let her in my bed…she’s not used to me being mean, and there’s another long story about why I’m just now being very very very mean finally). They came this afternoon and watching her transform into the mermaid she’s always wanted to be was delightful. It was one of the best parts of my day.
And maybe that’s what parenting kids just is: some days are great, some days are crap, but find one best thing. I don’t know. If I knew, I wouldn’t have written this not-cohesive or concise blog entry about it.