“If you’re having girl problems I feel bad for you son. I got 99 problems but a bitch ain’t one.”
I slammed the radio off. It’s not like I haven’t heard that Jay-Z classic before, but riding in the car with my teenage son next to me, while he scrolls Instagram, rendering me basically his personal Uber driver, there’s such a thing as a last straw.
The fact that I gave birth to something that alternately ignores me and rolls his eyes while I talk, has nearly broken me in recent months. And yet, despite his teen-appropriate abuse, I feel anxious and guilty just typing these words.
Here’s the thing: I have spent the better part of my career writing about my life. I’ve done solo shows with puppets, okay just one but it was very powerful, performed stand-up, written several books and countless articles documenting the highs and the much more entertaining lows of trying to be a successful 21st-century woman, wife and mother.
Most notably, I produced and performed on a show about the shock of having young children called “Afterbirth…stories you won’t read in a parenting magazine” and I did it for, get this, 10 years. An anthology of stories from this show was also published as a book. I write that not to impress, but to illustrate how committed I’ve been to creating community through publicly shared parental angst.
I believe passionately in the healing power of storytelling to ease the burden of isolation that raising children can sometimes make us feel. However, the tide of my confessional humor has turned, largely because of the aforementioned teen. My artistic expression, not to mention catharsis, is now stymied by some facts: 1) My son is old enough to read. 2) Apparently, he has feelings separate from me and my needs. 3) He is not interested in being my muse.
What is a writer/mom to do? Where do we who find peace of mind in, essentially, the ancient tradition of sitting around a fire sharing stories (but doing this on the internet)? The obvious answer: write fiction, of course! “No, that’s not the best answer,” my new therapist suggests. “At least not anything you want to publish soon.” Please, I was kidding. Mostly. I know changing your story from first to third person is about as effective for maintaining privacy as the age old, “asking for a friend.”
So it’s not that I can’t write these stories, I can, that’s the beauty of being a writer, you can do it all day long and no one ever has to see it. And yes, there is some relief in this, but it does not give me the sense of belonging, the feeling of calm from knowing that I not the only one facing a tsunami of misery, that swapping stories with other people in the trenches of family life does.
“You should meditate,” my husband said to me recently after my fourth soothing muffin. He suggests this to me more days than not lately. “Meditation is quiet, silent in fact,” he’ll throw out there apropos of nothing, or everything, “You can’t offend anyone meditating. Even a teenager.”
He has a point, I think, every time he says it. Sometimes his words even motivate me to sit quietly for five minutes. On ambitious days, I see his bid for mediation and raise him one. Why not prayer, too? I’m not from a religious family but certainly I’ve known how helpful conferring with God can be since first watching the opening credits of “Fiddler on the Roof.”
Although I haven’t officially made the leap to regular prayer yet, lately I have had fantasies of a peri-menopausal “Are You There God It’s Me Margaret?” experience. And I don’t mean writing a Judy Blume-style mid-life crisis book. I mean actually talking to God.
Before sitting down to write this I hadn’t thought about taking that popular tack of looking at my current familial challenges as “opportunities.” But it certainly seems like a better idea that jeopardizing my relationship with my son by oversharing, now that he is a teenager. So next time you see me in the pick-up line with my eyes closed, I am either meditating, praying, or sleeping. Or some not-embarrassing teen-friendly state in between.