If forced to keep it to a single word, these days, about how life is, or how the kids are, or how I feel in general, there’s no question that the most explanatory word I can grasp is WEIRD. Life feels weird. I feel weird.
Visiting a bunch of college campuses made it all real, I suppose, except it didn’t make it any less weird. Chickadee is a senior. Monkey is a junior. After years of just-get-through-today we are now firmly in plan-for-your-future mode and it should be GREAT, yes? It is. There were times I didn’t know if we’d ever make it to this point, so it IS great, and we celebrate (quietly, without any sudden movements, so as not to scare anyone or upset whatever deities were kind enough to see us through to this point), but it still feels surreal. It’s easy to talk about a mythological “someday” and even if it’s all you ever wanted, it’s still strange for “someday” to become “right now.”
So, the good: Seeing Chickadee think about her future with excitement. That is VERY good. Seeing her passionate about goals—which, to be honest, is something that’s been missing for her for years—that’s awesome. There is nothing but excitement and pride for me in getting to watch her figure this stuff out. It’s not 100% smooth sailing and there have been and will be disappointments along the way, but that’s exciting, too, because she’s dealing with this thing we call NORMAL LIFE and figuring out how to ride the waves instead of just rolling over on her back and floating or (worse) shrugging and resigning herself to drowning. She’s swimming, swimming, swimming, and I don’t know that it’s fair to want any more than that.
The continued sticking point for us is this whole mother-daughter dance that we do, and I think I’ve been pretty honest about it over the years, so it shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone, least of all ME, and yet…. It is. I’m surprised, every time we clash.
This is a normal thing for mothers and daughters, I think, but I have no “normal” for comparison. My own relationship with my mother as a teen was fraught and fragmented, and as a result I left home feeling independent and capable, but not particularly lovable. That brought its own set of baggage along into my young adulthood. As I try to navigate my relationship with my daughter, now, even before things reached crisis point for her, my touchstone has always been to provide the care and assistance I felt (fairly or not; I make no absolute claims) my own teen years were missing. I’ve overcompensated, I’m sure, and her difficulties magnified that tendency for me, too.
So now here we are: She is a senior, and she is okay, after years of being… not okay. Sure, she still has issues to handle. She has, perhaps, more triggers and concerns than your “average” kid, but she is, overall, stable and capable. And I can’t even type that without tears stinging my eyes, because it doesn’t matter how many years you hope and pray and silently barter with the universe—I will give up anything, I will do whatever it takes, just let her be okay—once you realize it has happened, it’s one part pure jubilation, three parts stunned relief, and one part clenched fear that it cannot possibly last. And that’s just my perspective; I cannot even begin to quantify what it must feel like for her. It’s complicated, is my point.
Life is weird, because she’s okay, but still we dance with and around and against each other, chafing and clashing, trying to figure out who we are to each other, now, and how we navigate this last year together. I am trying to pull back from my knee-jerk inclination to manage her life, and sometimes I fail. She is trying to be grateful for my help while taking on more responsibility herself, and sometimes she fails. We are both stubborn. We are both easily wounded. And it is perhaps my biggest shame right now how often a “conversation” with her gets louder and louder until Monkey stands and flees the room because our arguing causes him pain. I know when that happens that I’m failing both of my children, but still I argue my case while she argues hers, and even as I remind myself to be the grown-up, model good behavior, I know I’ve fallen down the rabbit hole. Again.
This past week, I spent an inordinate amount of time doing for Chickadee, in various ways. I don’t say this to say “oh look how great I am” or to imply she’s a burden (of course not!), but simply to demonstrate that a lot of time was invested (willingly!) in things which were “special” for her, and the good times abruptly came to an end with a misunderstanding wherein she felt I’d overstepped and I felt she was quick to blame and ungrateful. The resultant blowout was… spectacular, with both of us furious at the other’s unwillingness/lack of capacity to understand. She does not yet know how to balance asking me to do for her (which I do, happily) and asking me to back off (which I would also do happily, if she would ask in a way that doesn’t imply I’m forever ruining her life), and I am still figuring out her love language (gratitude and remorse are both complicated for her) and where I can leave her be and she will manage (because sometimes it’s anguish at being left to her own devices, and other times it’s “LEAVE ME ALONE, I’VE GOT THIS”). Seventeen years together, and we’re still learning each other’s language.
That skirmish was resolved, eventually, but part of it involved me doing the whole YOU WANT X, BABY, I WILL GIVE YOU X ridiculousness that makes me want to punch myself in the face afterward when I’ve calmed down. In this case it was “If you can do it all yourself, fine, do it all yourself. Don’t come to me with your college applications. Don’t expect me to remind you of deadlines or ride you about it. I’m not looking at a single essay. I am not helping. You got this? GET IT YOURSELF.” (Yep. Mother of the freaking year, that’s me!) And of course later when I tried to soften that particular bit of overreaction, I hit a stone wall of NO I WILL FIND SOMEONE ELSE, YOU SAID YOU’RE NOT HELPING and I floundered, trying to figure out how I proceed. It’s fine for her to do it on her own (or with someone else’s help), of course. She doesn’t NEED me for this. But if she wants me, I want that to be okay. And I know from experience that this has the potential to become a narrative of abandonment and disinterest with me as the star villain; I dislike that for myself, of course, but I don’t think it’s particularly good for her, either. I don’t know how this one will end, honestly. I guess I just wait and see.
So it’s weird. There is happiness mixed in with trepidation and annoyance and a lot of second-guessing about my role in her life right now. Weird.
And in the middle of it all—we headed out last week, me asking her if she was nervous, her assuring me she was not (in spite of the fact that many of her friends required several attempts and this would be her first), paperwork, an interminable wait, and then she left me for what seemed like an even longer wait. When she returned, I lifted my eyebrows in question, and she nodded, slightly, ducking her head to hide the grin that flashed across her face unbidden, then she lifted her head again to pull a funny face before sliding into the chair next to me. We waited a few more minutes until her name was called, and then I handed $10 across the counter to the bored woman behind the computer and in return, Chickie finally—triumphantly—collected her driver’s license.
Today is the first day of Band Camp, and we said good-bye to both kids bright and early as they went off without us, Chickadee driving my car like it was no big thing at all.
But it is a big thing. It’s all big things. No matter how weird it all gets, I hold to that: they’re all big things, and so no matter what else, I’m grateful. I’m so proud of her. She’s on her way.