Oars

From Anne of Green Gables (the Kevin Sullivan production of 1985):

Marilla to Matthew, while discussing Anne’s invitation to the Christmas ball: “Remember, in the beginning, I told you not to put your oar in.”

I should have remembered about the oars — and the fact that oars can propel one forward, or backward:

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Image courtesy of National Media Museum, UK

I thought I would have a chat with the Bride-of-the-Century about being kinder to her mother.  This is the mother who went into debt to give her daughter the Wedding of the Century and then could not understand why said daughter ignored her on the wedding day.  This is also the same mother who routinely got the cold shoulder for inexplicable reasons, along with the “dumb as shit” eye-roll treatment when she and BOC got into (usually pointless) arguments.  Anyway, I didn’t get very far.  BOC went running to Mom to complain that I was “freaking her out” by wanting to have this talk, and furthermore, this future conversation was ruining her upcoming spring vacation.  Mom of Diva told me in no uncertain terms that really, I had no business trying to have a conversation with her daughter, and that she would never do this sort of thing with my daughter without clearing it with me first.  BOC is TWENTY-EIGHT years old this year, gainfully employed, a wife, a mother (unfortunately to budding Diva #2, but that’s another post). Who knew I could “freak out” both mother and daughter?   I genuinely thought I had been in BOC’s life long enough — watched her grow up and all that — that I could offer some minor words of wisdom.  I thought I could help.

I could not, of course.

BOC’s life is one of drama, and where there is none, she manufactures it.  We are all expected to be spectators, and I should have known all that based on her wedding production.  It did not occur to me that Mom was not only willing, but was in fact an absolutely essential participant.  I used to rag on BOC’s Dad for his seeming unwillingness to rein her in; I now realize that it truly was more than his life was worth to even attempt to interfere in the incredibly entwined mother-daughter relationship.  It is a dysfunctional relationship, but one that both need in their lives.

I regret all the times I told The College Kid that she had to babysit Diva #2, had to go have dinner, had to participate in some event or other . . . .  not because those things were not important, but because I should have let her to manage her own relationships.  I hope she would have done all those things anyway because she loves her godmother, but nevertheless I should have trusted her judgment, young as she was.

Now I sit in the back row, or perhaps I am actually up in the gods, but I am at least much more removed than I used to be.  The view from here is just fine, and of course too far to toss an oar.

In Penitence

When the Teenager was in elementary school, we took her to London with us.  On one of our long walks, we saw a traffic sign:  Changed Priorities Ahead.  We were quite amused, and posed the kid in front of it.  We had certainly changed our priorities when she came along.

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In less than two weeks the Teenager becomes a College Student.  She is excited, she is terrified, she is firmly ensconced in her own world.  Changed priorities indeed!  I confess I am feeling quite detached from all this, partly because I do not have particularly high opinions of this college even though I have a degree from it.  The Teenager wrote the move-in date on the calendar and added the comment that we will be, officially, empty nesters.  The truth is that we have been empty nesters for a while now: the Teenager occupies a room in the basement, but she does not actually live here in any real sense.  We have all been moving on.

I used to make her clean her room, clean her bathroom, change out her bedding, sweep the floor underneath her chair, put away the dishes, all the usual “clean up after yourself” things that parents try to instill in their offsprings.  A few weeks ago I ran out of breath.  Really, if I still have to remind her to do all these things, then I have failed, at least for now.  So at least for now, I just do it, whatever “it” is.  As I write this, I hear the train, and it reminds me that more of my life is behind me than before me.  A year from now has as much reality for me as a day from now, and I just need to get on with life.

I remember all the times I watched my mother clean the kitchen floors. She did so everyday, and she continued to do so until the day she went into the hospital.  I watched, and I did not help, because like all teenagers, I had so many other things to do!  And if she wanted my help, wouldn’t she just have told me to do it?  I know now that she had run out of breath.  When I visit Dad, I clean her floors: it is the first thing I do when I step in the house.  In penitence, I clean the floors on my hands and knees, as my mother did, as my grandmother did.  And my daughter watches me.

Let Go

I wonder if Mom remembered the last time she hit me.

I spent much of my childhood in fear of my mother.  I understand, and have understood for a long time, why she had such an awful temper.  Life was hard: she and Dad were starting over in a foreign country with three kids in tow, she did not speak the language, and there was very little money.  It was a brave venture, and doubtless all sorts of people thought it quite foolhardy too.

Many years ago, The Teenager asked me if Mom hit me with a stick, and I think she was quite surprised when I said yes.  She did not understand sticks, or being hit, because of course she couldn’t even remember the two times she was spanked.  Mom’s weapon of choice was a bamboo switch, but bamboo was not ubiquitous in America.  Much to my dismay, she found a big plastic ruler to replace the bamboo switch; I believe it was one of Dad’s engineering yardsticks.  I hid the ruler, thinking no ruler, no beating …  but of course she found it.  The ruler broke during one of the beatings, but she continued to use the broken pieces into my teenage years.  The last time she hit me she could not find the ruler, so for the first time I could ever remember, she used her hand.  She grabbed me and twisted my cheek so hard she left a bruise.  I did not cry, I had learned not to cry a long time ago.

She never touched me again.  I think it was because maybe for the first time in her life, she felt my physical pain.  There could be no distance between her hand and my flesh.  It took me twenty-five years to forgive, twenty-five years to let the anger go, twenty-five years to say good-bye to the child I was.  In true Mom fashion, she never asked why I left and stayed away, and why I came back.  I’m sure she thought me the wayward daughter, and was waiting for me to come to my senses.  She was waiting for me to hui niang jia. 

Not My Business

New Year’s resolutions, a month early.

I had a moment yesterday morning in the laundry room: The Teenager had stacked the wet workout clothes from the night before on top of the washer.  The clothes were still wet, of course, but one had to admire the neatness of the stacking job.  She had apparently “forgotten” to hang them up.  I love the all-purpose teenage excuse of “I Forgot.”  I lost my temper, and just as quickly regretted losing my temper — not because she didn’t deserve the tongue lashing, but because I had wasted my breath.

And then there is DH, who had a plan called Thirty in Thirty (that would be thirty pounds weight loss in thirty weeks).  Among other changes, he is trying to reduce the amount of carbohydrates (from grains) in his meals, but changes are difficult because DH is also something of an expert at self-sabotage.  This morning, we came back from breakfast, and he had an early (as in, less than 90 minutes between meals) lunch of two servings of cereal.  Me, in the background, rhetorical question: “Is that cereal?  Is that a second bowl of cereal?”

Yes, I wasted my breath on that one too.

If I truly believe that the only thing I have control over is what I do, then I need to stop having futile expectations.  Or expectations in general, because expectations are always in the future.  I cannot expect “reasonable” behavior from The Teenager, because she is indeed a teenager, and everyone knows “reasonable” and “teenager” do not mix.  But the act of expecting does not change just because my daughter is a teenager, and my husband is not.  Ultimately, his diet or her silliness are not my business.

This is the year I learn to make myself quiet.

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Are You Smarter than a High Schooler?

What does it mean when the school district not only allows a sports event to take place on a school day — in this case, part 1 of the Class 5A Front Range League conference track meet — but also sanctions it being run well into the night (The Teenager did not get home until 9:30 PM)?  And what does it mean when The Coach insists that all team members stay to the bitter end — presumably because Good Sportsmanship trumps academic demands?

Oh, wait a minute . . . .  this assumes the school district actually makes academic demands!

Silly of me to believe you cannot outrun ignorance.

How utterly futile of me to even write about this.  According to a National Assessment of Educational Progress report, only 32 percent of eighth graders could name an advantage Americans had over the British in the Revolutionary War, and just 22 percent of high school seniors knew that U.S. troops fought Chinese forces in the Korean War.

Obviously, whatever the question, whatever the issue, people prefer to belong to the majority!

Letting Go, One Body Part at a Time

Having a teenager means thinking — a lot — about what “letting go” means. It is about letting go of control over her person — when she no longer needs you to clean her up, feed her, carry her around, when she does not need you to buy her clothes and shoes, when she goes to get her own haircuts, when she has her own ideas (no matter how erroneous) of what to put inside her body . . . .  The letting go, one body part at a time, has been ongoing for a while, but has become so much more visible of late as I realize how tired I am of doing certain things.  I am tired of hearing about her foot problems, so I have decided that what she chooses for footwear — aside from running shoes, which we agreed to subsidize until she is 18 — is no longer my financial responsibility  And I really wish she would go ahead and shave her head, as she has been “threatening” to do for a couple of years now.  I would love to have clear drains and clean carpets!

The biggest body part, and obviously the one I am most ill-equipped to let go of, is of course the brain.  It is my business in some ways — I mean, we have set up a very healthy college fund for her — but in the most real sense, her brain is none of my business.  A few months ago I had the minor epiphany that her failures and accomplishments are hers, and how she defines “education” is also hers.  Last night we had the latest round in the “what is education” argument: the Teenager’s  AP Human Geography teacher wants her to take the AP exam because she is convinced that the Teenager will score a 5.  Do I think the teacher has the Teenager’s best interest at heart?  That is debatable.  The whole AP industry is about making money, and the schools and teachers collude with the testing service because success on paper translates to more education dollars for their schools and programs.  Truly top tier colleges are not going to give a damn that an applicant got a 4 or 5 in AP Human Geography, while the schools that may give brownie points would admit the Teenager anyway.  So . . . .  I backed out of the whole argument and let DH decide, and being a Dad, he gave in and wrote the check for $89 (!) for what we both agree is actually a rather useless test.  I think the Teenager will in fact do well on the exam, but as with her grades, I hope she does not take the result (whether “good” or “bad”) to heart and assign it greater meaning than it merits.

In the meantime, the lines of the day:

Me: Have you fed the dog?

TT:  No; I am having issues with her.

Me:  I have issues with you, but I always feed you anyway!