Parenting is hard

It’s St. Patrick’s day. In 1984, my oldest child was born. I remember checking into the hospital and the nurse saying I would be having a  St. Patrick’s day baby and in honor of that, they would be tattooing a shamrock on the baby’s butt. Whether my serious expression was primarily fear of this whole birthing process or I was so tired I looked as if I were taking her seriously, she quickly assured me she was only joking.

B was probably 6 before she realized that the St. Patrick’s day parade we took her to each year was not actually held in honor of her birthday.

It’s 21 years this month since she left us, and I miss her still.

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3/17/2017 – B, Jan-1985; about 10 months.

And her final school picture, taken not long before she passed away.

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B – Jan-1996; not quite 12 yet.

March is a challenge every year. Not a day in the last 21 years passes that I do not think about her, and I would not have it any other way. Mostly I smile. Occasionally, I tear up and feel the weight of loss. Mostly, though, I really do smile. So much life and memories packed into 12 years and 5 days. In my heart I cherish all she was to those who knew her and turn away any and all thoughts of what might have been. Our time together was limited. I am glad to be someone who was present with my children, so my regrets about that time are so tiny and insignificant relatively to the balance of my life.

But parenting young adults is still hard.

C called early this morning after a major fight with her husband. Unfortunately this is not the heartbreak drama of teenage angst, but the seriousness of a grown-up married people. Trying to be fair and balanced – out the window. My kid is crying, having a panic attack over the telephone. Forget fair and balanced. A said cruel things and there is blood in my eyes.

Okay, not quite that bad.

Being her mother’s daughter, I cringe at some of C’s decisions and mannerisms that come directly from me. I know that when this kind of dust-up happens, it’s not just because A came home and decided to be a prick that day. Having been in Florida only a few months, there are a billion details that one takes for granted growing and becoming an adult in your own hometown. Finding doctors and dentists and making new friends – it is a process. And when shit hits, the gap between what you had before you moved crossed the country becomes the grand canyon.

I talked her down off the ledge, called and checked in on her more than I have in 20 years, since that first summer that she and her brother stayed home alone while M and I were both working. By the end of the day, she’d calmed down and made significant progress finding healthcare providers and making appropriate appointments … in a few weeks. But she found stop-gap help with a local clinic – a referral from an assistant manager at their apartment complex. And with a little guidance from me, began the outline of The Plan for what she would do if this type of thing should come up again.

As for me, it was a busy day at work with a lot of gratuitous meetings that did little other than frustrate me with stranger’s ability to demonstrate their cluelessness. I am a master at compartmentalizing, though, and chugged along and got through it. By the end of the day, though, I was unrepentantly swigging sugary soda.

Parenting is hard sometimes, something no one really stresses before you take on that role, and I am honest enough, selfish enough, to say I do not really love the responsibility and the job itself. But I love the kids involved, all of them, and my hopes for them hinge on their overall happiness. Even when things are not going so well and they do stupid shit that frustrates and/or irritates me, I have to believe they will learn from the experiences.

Another St. Patrick’s day, another of B’s birthdays in the history books.

I miss her.

 

 

The hopelessly un-cool parental unit

Over the weekend I received an email from a good friend. While she lives locally and is definitely close enough to meet for coffee, we only do so about once or twice a month. She works swing shift, weekends, and holidays which makes scheduling an absolute priority for getting together. So we chat on the phone when we can, or she emails me when I’m sleeping and I reply when she is at work. Somehow it works out for us. Lately she has been dating a lovely gentleman and it is going surprisingly well. She characterizes it that way because she has either terrible taste in men or has the worst kind of luck in dating. Personally I think it’s a little of both, because no one should make it to 40-something feeling as if they have too much bad luck or bad judgment. But I digress, as usual.

This friend was married 10 years, no children by her choice, very painful divorce she wanted, he didn’t, and fought her every possible step of the way. Makes one a bit gun-shy about dating. We’ve known each other for more than 20 years – I remember attending her wedding with M and the kids – and shared big and little piecesof our lives. While she has no desire for children of her own, she is actually quite good with kids, even if she does not see it. She confesses liking them a little older – grade school age – but not caring for tweens or teens all that much. I get it. Hell, anyone who has raised children gets it.

Her “lovely man” has three boys – idential twins age 10 and his oldest age 12. Not quite tweens, but rapidly approaching it. She has been seeing him for about 6 months now and the subject of meeting the kids has been coming up more and more as the days pass. While she is fine with the idea of meeting them, she is quite smitthen with this man (and he with her, it seems) so meeting the kids becomes a Very Big Deal. As a girlfriend she feels capable of managing their interaction. As a more serious prospect, though, the task is daunting. She is a more serious prospect since he is a one who keeps his romantic life separate from his parental responsibilities.

Her email requested advice for making a positive impression, because “you’re a cool mom and are completely at ease with kids.”

Ha!

Ha! I say.

She is not very observant and has not been in the same reality with me all these years. I am the poster child for un-cool, socially awkward parenting. This does not surprise me at all, because I was completely un-cool and socially awkward growing up and now into middle age. I full anticipate being a stodgy, boringly average senior citizen. As for being at ease with kids, I’m only completely at ease with my kids, all the other kids in my universe have been approached with a “fake it til I make it” attitude until I was sure they were of no serious threat to my sanity and well being.

But I brainstormed with M, an actual step-parent without children of his own and having no desire for any either, and he was surprisingly unhelpful. I thought for sure he would have detailed, classified, childless-person advice for me. Nope. He merely nodded sagely and agreed with what I came up with in my first draft. Not helpful, M! This is not a situation where you get extra points for agreeing with me. He merely laughed. The putz. Anyway, here’s my questionable advice:

  1. Be normal friendly, pleasant, interested self. Kids can sense fakery and will make your life hell if you try to snow them.
  2. Don’t talk down to them as if they are children. Speak to them as if they are intelligent, observant, interesting, and challenging people … which they probably are in 10 and 12 year old bodies. If they seem indifferent and impolite at first, give them the benefit of the doubt that they are merely nervous and not plotting against you on principle.
  3. Let their father take the lead on correcting their behavior or anything else. If he fails you in this on the first meeting, discuss it privately and well out of hearing distance.
  4. If you don’t know about something they reference (i.e., everything pop culture that boys their age are intrigued by), ask questions and demonstrate your curiosity. They already know you’re old, have no kids or neices/nephews, and therefore are completely clueless in ways of the world. Let them instruct you and be game to try (and fail) at anything they offer to show you.
  5. It’s okay to be nervous, but don’t let your fear overwhelm you. And don’t take it personally if you are too uncool to engage with. These are kids, with a language and universe of their own, be patient and let them come round to you.

I have no idea how right or how wrong I am with this advice, because my kids were easy going and accustomed to male and female friends coming and going while I was single. When I did introduce a romantic interest to them, they were very accepting and okay with it, just another of mom’s friends coming to hang out. To this day there are male friends I dated that evolved into family friends, so my kids are pretty social and grew up meeting and making new acquaintances and adult friends comfortable.

If she completely goes down completely in a firey plume I know she will forgive me. I have already cautioned her that I might not be the best resource for this situation and to take any/all advice provided with caution. Yet I am the nervous wreck hoping it goes well tonight.