Saturday, November 22, 2014

I just don't want to f*&k it up.


Tonight my son told me that someone told him I was a "very involved parent."

I don't think it was meant as a compliment. But it's not the first time I've been indirectly or directly "accused" of that.

I don't get it. I just don't get it.

I'll admit - I pretty much helicopter-parented my first kid. I didn't know what the hell I was doing and I was scared out of my mind. I questioned every move I made - all the time. But here's what I think about my spin with helicopter parenting. I think, in my case, the task of parenting was and still is such an incredibly overwhelming experience that I JUST DON'T WANT TO FUCK IT UP. Therefore, I have this subconscious or even conscious feeling that if I fuck up, it's my fault. If my KID fucks up, it's STILL my fault. Because I birthed him. I brought him into this world. I planned to make him exist. Not him. ME.

So I don't take the parenting thing lightly. Maybe that's my problem. I stressed when I was pregnant about eating the right things and exercising and staying away from fumes. Shit, I lay inverted on an ironing board for days trying to get him to turn from the breech position. I had a doula and a birth plan and am sure to this day that the vacuum they had to use to get him out is the reason for any issues he's ever had.

As an (unplanned) stay-at-home mom I stressed over making sure that his brain was stimulated, that I wasn't relying on TV as a babysitter, that he socialized with other babies, that he was on par with where all the books said he should be, that he wasn't too hot, too cold, too selfish, too friendly, not friendly enough, got enough exercise, napped at consistent intervals, ate the correct amount from all the food groups, and believed that his father and I paid extra to have the house sprayed for monsters.

When I got divorced, I made sure the kids knew that dad and I were not at odds and still friends. I never said a bad word about him in front of either child. His dad came to every family and holiday celebration when he wasn't working, and has spent every Christmas Day at my house since the year we were divorced. We've all traveled together, stayed in hotels together, sat together at soccer games, football games, parent/teacher conferences and counseling appointments. BECAUSE IT'S GOOD FOR THE KIDS. We're lauded for our relationship and how wonderful it is for our children. It's like they never really had to face the divorce - we took the brunt of it for them, and continue to do so.

Too involved? I don't get it. When my son had problems, I sought help. Answers. Whatever it took. And it took a LOT. Granted, there's not a lot of quality help OR answers around here - so I expanded my search. Tonight I was told basically that the help around here was useless, but the help OUTSIDE of here is great. Know what I wanted to say? I DID MY BEST. Followed closely by, YOU GET WHAT YOU PAY FOR. Because I'm paying now. He's got the help that he hopefully needs, and I'm beyond thrilled. I'm beyond hopeful. It's beyond worth it. I'm also beyond broke.

Yet somehow, I'm "involved," and not in a good way. And OK. I get it. I get that I ask questions. I get that I even question the answers. I get that I ask for alternatives, and that I offer up my own ideas. I get that I don't agree with everything and fight to do things the way I think they should be done.

But here's what you need to get. I EARNED THAT RIGHT. He's MINE. More than 17 years ago, HE BECAME MINE. And I have spent nearly every day with him since then. My life became forever changed when I became his mom. My career changed. My life plans changed. My body changed. My relationships changed. EVERYTHING CHANGED. And it was worth it. It was all worth it to see his smile and hear his deep voice say, "Hey, Mom, how's it goin'?" So I'm not complaining. I'm explaining.

And I wish he'd see it. But to him, I'm "involved." I'm the one who cries when I see him. I'm the one he rolls his eyes at when I gush over how proud I am of him. I'm the one who listens to all the cool stuff he and his dad do, who has spent less than a fourth of the time with him that I have. But I'm not his hero. He doesn't necessarily look up to me. I'm the emotional, involved parent who shows him how to do laundry and special orders his jeans because he's so damn tall. And yes, I know my reward is him. My reward is to see him thrive. Survive. Grow up to have an amazing life. Overcome adversity with skill and grace.

Last night, I attended the saddest visitation I've ever been to in my life. A friend from high school's son took his own life, at age 18. I cannot even begin to imagine her grief, but I can tell you that from the moment I found out about it, my heart broke for her, and I grieved and still grieve her loss. I have not been able to get her or her son out of my mind. And when I looked at every one of the hundreds and hundreds of pictures of this boy last night, this beautiful light with a smile that literally lit up his face - just like my son's, I felt my heart break even more. There was so much to say, yet nothing to say. There were so many thoughts. One of them seems horrible and shallow and inappropriate, but it was a thought I've had before about my son and I thought it last night. It was this:

So much work.

So much work. This friend of mine, this mom, is like me. I don't know about the helicopter parenting part, but she was in it, man. She was at every game, every school function, every family event. She had pictures like I have pictures - tons of them, scrapbooks like I had scrapbooks - pages and pages of brightly colored paper and stencils and stickers. She had captured every minute of her son's life just like I had with mine. She fought for her son like I fight for mine.

And now he's gone. Just like that.

So much work. And yes, so much love. The work is the love. The love is the work. That's probably why they say that motherhood is the hardest job you'll ever love. But what they don't tell you is that motherhood will break your heart every day. You'll do the job, oh, you'll do the job like your life depended on it. You'll do the job when you're happy, sad, energized, exhausted, angry, disillusioned  or just plain spent. You do it because you love this child so much and YOU DON'T WANT TO FUCK IT UP.

My friend didn't fuck it up. She was - and is - amazing. I look up to her. She has my awe.

Yet still he's gone.

Yes, I'm an involved parent. And I will never apologize. If I ever crossed a line, I hope I acknowledged it. Believe me, there were times I had to sit back and think, "Stop. I have to trust this person and that they know what's best for my son AT THIS POINT." And I'm OK with that, as long as it's quid pro quo. As long as that person realizes that my opinion matters too. Because I know my son on a level that they never will. And no matter what level you may know him on, mine COUNTS.

Don't think for a second I'm not grateful for this kid. Don't think for a second that I regret being "involved." I don't. I'm damn proud of my son. But if somebody would have told me how my life was going to play out before I ever had him would I have thought twice about it? You bet your ass. I'm sure I would have thought, "There is no way in HELL I am capable of this. Why would ANYONE in their right mind take this on?"

Because the reward isn't obvious. It's not often. It's not prodigious. No one could have told me that my reward would be a smiling, clear-eyed boy, and that would be enough to take away years of pain. No one could have convinced me that hearing my son say casually, "Love you too, Mom" (because I always say it first) would wipe away any bad thing that happened that day. No one could have sold me on motherhood by telling me it is the most painful, heart-wrenching, soul searching, mentally and physically exhausting, moral-questioning lifetime commitment in which the rewards are a small as a smile, as minute as a "Love you too, Mom." I would have told them that seems like a pretty raw deal.

And here's the deal now. I see 18 looming like a freight train in the distance. Because when my son turns 18, my powers fade. When my son turns 18, I sit back and wonder if everything - or ANYTHING I did was all for naught. So I'm desperately trying to exercise my "right to be involved" before I'm told, "He's 18 now. Thanks for playing." Oh I know I'll still be involved - but it will be different. And I know that every time he fails, I have a feeling I'll still think that I somehow fucked it up. And when he succeeds, I'll be happy that he did it in spite of his "involved" mom.

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