You get brighter every day and every time I see you
Scattered brightness in your way and you taught me how to love you…
Oh, wondrous light, light, light, lighter
You give all your brightness away and it only makes you brighter
– Mike Heron, The Incredible String Band
I’ve learned the hard way that saying nice things about your kids is the third-rail* of adult relationships, right up there with saying your husband is a great guy or that you think the boss is a decent human being. Nobody wants to hear about it at the office when you’re all hanging out in the coffee room, because they went into the coffee room to commiserate (which literally means “be miserable together”) and heaven help the poor soul who injects a sunnier point of view because they will descend on you like a pack of angry wolves.
I can understand this to a certain extent. Many people have a very tough time in life and it makes them feel better to think they’re not alone: nobody can handle their kids, everyone’s spouse is difficult, and every boss is a jerk.
Don’t get me wrong. I do understand the need to talk about one’s problems. I’ve done that. And I do understand the need to laugh about things or let off steam. I’ve done those things, too. But what really gets me are the people who just don’t want to hear any of the good stuff. They love their kids, but don’t like them very much. And if they can’t stand their own kids, they certainly don’t want to hear good things about yours. Period. And so you learn to shut up.
So, what’s the point here?
The point is that it is Thanksgiving and today I am thanking my lucky stars for my daughter. I am unabashedly stating that she has been a delight from the beginning and I love her more than mere words on a page can ever possibly express. Like every new mom, I was gaga over her. Every smile, every giggle, all those cute little toes.
But I looked around at parents of older kids and how irritated they seemed with them. And I saw how so many treated their kids like a nuisance rather than a team member in the game of life. How did they get from being crazy about their kids to being driven crazy by them?
One day when My Girl was a very colicky month-old infant, I reached a point where I just couldn’t stand it another second. None of my rocking or walking or comforting was doing any good at all and I was more sleep-deprived than I’d ever been before or since. I almost lost it. I usually cry when I’m frustrated, but I was actually too tired to shed tears. Instead, I got angry. I’ve read all the books, I’m doing everything right – why don’t you just STOP CRYING, dammit? Fortunately, my inner Child Protective Services kicked in and I calmly laid my daughter down, went downstairs and literally stomped around the living room yelling. The only thing that kept me from throwing things across the room was that we owned a home with my mother-in-law and most of the stuff was hers. Then, instead of hurling her possessions against the wall, I started touching them, calming down, anchoring myself in the present. And then I became a grown-up right then and there.
This wasn’t about me. It was about us. Who were we going to be as mother and daughter? How I acted in response to her was going to define that for the rest of our lives. And I put things into perspective and decided to focus on what was truly important.
So, yes, she was messy like most kids are. And sometimes she was crabby. And she threw up on things. And she dawdled in the mornings. So what?
She was also sunny and brilliant and funny and sweet and talented and huggy and silly. She sang and danced and played dress-up and all of those other little girl things. And she grew into the sweetest, sunniest creature you ever saw. And she was so smart that I almost burst with pride. She did a dance when she was twelve of a marionette magically brought to life that brought me to tears. And a monologue when she was thirteen that had an entire audience hanging on every word. And then there was the time she was fifteen and had me laughing so hard I almost ran the car off the road. Don’t even get me started about Winston Churchill and The Village People. We had such fun. My job was to focus on the important things in life and just let her shine. And shine she did.
And then just as she was becoming an adult herself, we hit a bump in the road. I hit a storm that I didn’t weather very well and I didn’t want to be the grown-up anymore. And all of a sudden things like emptying the dishwasher and turning down the thermostat became very, very serious. I was tapped out and desperately needed someone to take care of me for a change, and I became difficult and demanding and emotional. And when I changed, she changed. For a while there, the two people who could fix anything between them and be hugging in five minutes couldn’t be five minutes in the same room without sniping at one another.
But now that we’ve come through the other side, now that we’re both being grown-ups, I can honestly say that we’re both the same, only better. She traded in dancing and theatrical performances for teaching high school math, where I’m guessing her poise, stage presence, and improv skills come in pretty handy. When she talks about her students and how much she likes them and her approach to things, I smile because it’s like hearing myself talk but even better because she’s added her own unique creative spark.
And most days I feel like a brand new mom again. If we put a webcam in her classroom, I’d never get any work done. I’d just watch and smile, gaga still.
- The rail that supplies the high voltage to power a train on an electric railway.
- A subject that tends to be avoided because of its offensive or controversial nature: “Social Security, the ‘third rail’ of American politics” (Charles Stein).