Yesterday, when I picked my daughter up from her afterschool program, she said, “Oof. It’s you.”
I said, “Wow, that really hurts my feelings, and makes me feel very small.”
She tossed her long brown hair and said, “Whatever.”
I told her again, “That really hurts my feelings and makes me sad.”
We all have different ways of being with our kids. Many parents hide their feelings to protect their children. I don’t.
One afternoon, my kids were being so awful that I just sat down in the middle of the long walk home and I cried. They looked at each other, mouths all open and catching flies, then they sat down with me like visitors in a mourners tent. We sat there together in the dust, until I dried my tears and we got up again.
I told my friend about what happened, and she was horrified. “They aren’t grownups,” she said. “You shouldn’t expect them to act like they are.”
Maybe she’s right, but that’s advice I will not take. Maybe it’s because I don’t have the luxury. My ex and I share custody of our kids, and when the kids and I are together, if I’m sad, if I’m stressed, if I’m sick, that’s what they see. There isn’t another adult in the house to be with them. Either they get me in all my gory glory or I check out into a room in shades of grey.
It isn’t perfect. But it’s so real. And here’s the good part: They get to see me pull myself up and take care of shit. They get to see what problem solving looks like in meaningful ways. I’m helping give them the tools they need to deal with the vast and scary and amazing world in others.
I’ve come to the conclusion that no matter what we do, we’re going to fuck up our kids in some ways. But at least my kids are learning resilience. They’re learning how to be resourceful. They’re learning how to be honest with their feelings.
Like today, over chocolate soufflé with extra vanilla ice cream at the cafe, my daughter told me about these girls in her class who sometimes exclude her — how they team up together, and don’t let her play.
This is an ongoing thing, and we’ve tried various solutions. Nothing works. Sometimes girls of any age can be real bitches.
And forgive me Lord, but I told her so. Because that felt real and honest. “Wow,” I said. “I am so sorry that these girls are being such horrible little bitches.”
“They really are, Mama,” she said. “Thanks for saying that.”
“You’ve done nothing wrong, and you don’t deserve this,” I said. “But I can tell you something, baby. Kids like this stay in their little boxes all their lives — they never leave where they began because they’re comfortable. These boxes get a little bigger, but not much, and they never really go anywhere because they don’t have to. But you aren’t comfortable now, and you’re going to explore this great big world.”
“How do you know?”
“Because I did,” I told her. She liked that.
I told her about the girls in elementary school who sometimes excluded me, and how it hurt, and how I found other things to make me feel good. And how I did find a best friend — Aimee Dawson — who is still my best friend to this day.
“Like Ziv?” she asked, smiling as she thought about her best friend, who isn’t in her class anymore, but who makes her feel good about herself.
“But I don’t see her that often,” she sighed, “except sometimes.”
“That sucks, and I get it,” I said. “Aimee and I went to different schools, and it was hard. But in the meantime, you can cultivate the things you love. You’re an awesome artist, and you’re a great writer, and you like playing with the younger kids and putting on shows for them.”
“It’s just hard when you don’t always fit in,” she said.
“Yes,” I replied, “but when you don’t really belong anywhere, you can go almost everywhere.”
“Because we’re mermaids,” she said.
“Yes,” I said. And I started to cry, right there in the middle of the café. Because even though I know she’ll be OK, that she’s strong and resilient and courageous AF, I hate that she has this pain. Because I know what it’s like. I remember the loneliness — but I also know there is no way on the beautiful green earth that I would be able to do the things I love doing now if I had had it easy.
It’s a trade off, and it’s worth it. And I told her this. “Is there anything else I can tell you, or do to help?”
“No — you give the most honest advice, and that’s enough,” she said. “And I’m sorry for acting like a little bitch yesterday when you picked me up, and I made you feel bad. I’ll try not to do that again.”
“Thanks,” I said. “And if you do, I’ll tell you how it makes me feel.”
“Yeah, yeah, yeah, I know, I know,” she said. “Now stop being all emotional, and let’s have ice cream.”
So we did.