Almost 21 years ago (8 days shy of 21 years ago, to be exact), I became a mother. Of course, I was going to be the best mom ever (weren’t we all?!) and my children would listen, do what they were told without argument, understand that I knew what was best for them and thank me for being such a good mom.
Yeah – well, one can dream, right?
In the years since, I have fucked up just about every way imaginable when it comes to mothering. Big mistakes, little mistakes and all sizes of mistakes in between. And the hell of it is, I’m STILL fucking up on a regular basis. But, I’m ok with my fuck ups, and here’s why:
Last night, two boys in the neighborhood, cousins, friends of both Oldest Son and Second Son (they’re in between my boys age-wise) were shot and are both in the hospital now recovering from surgery. The 18 y/o lives across the street and his 16 y/o cousin a few blocks away, over by PDD’s school.
My other neighbor, whose younger son stole a car earlier this year (he’s Second Son’s age) and whose 17 y/o son has been in and out of Juvie more times than I can keep track of this year alone, called me last night about midnight, crying, asking me to go with her to look for her boys.
The 18 y/o boy that was shot lives between her and I and his mother had called her to let her know what had happened, because all 4 boys were supposedly together last evening. She said her nephew was at St. John’s Hospital and she was still trying to verify whether the hospital had her son, or not, and she was calling to let her know that her boys were missing. Then she left for the hospital.
So, the neighbor (who, oh by the way, is Fresh Air’s mom, too – yeah – Second Son’s girlfriend) pulls up in front of my house, crying and hyperventilating. I told her to get out and go around to the passenger side – I’d drive. We didn’t get far before she finally tracked down her older son on the phone. He told her that he and his younger brother were fine and on their way home, so we turned around and came back home to wait.
At 1:30am, I finally walked back across the street to my house, tired of waiting for her little thug wannabes to come home. This morning, I’ve seen the younger of her two boys outside in their front yard, so I know he made it home ok. I don’t know about her older one.
When all this popped off last night, I had just finished up a new site I was building for a client, and had started working on posts for my own blogs. When I got back, Second Son was passed out on the couch and PDD was passed out on the love seat, and I woke them up, told them what we knew (2 shot, one in surgery now and one going to surgery in the morning, the other two (the brothers) were fine, but not home yet) and sent them on to bed. Oldest Son had borrowed the car to take Second Daughter out on a date and was supposed to be home by 2am, so I sat back down here to see if I could pick up where I left off earlier. There was no way I was going to bed with one of my own, I don’t care how close to “grown”, still out and unaccounted for.
Next time I looked at the clock, it was 3am and Oldest Son was still not home. So, I did the irritating, nosy, you’re too overprotective thing and called him. Just so happens he was turning the corner onto our street, so we hung up. He came in sporting a speeding ticket which was the reason he was late, but in comparison to the night’s events, I was just glad to see him arrive in one piece.
I went to bed finally about 3:30am, too wired to sleep, so I opted to let my good buddy, Craig Ferguson, take my mind off of things awhile. It was Friday night’s show I had recorded, and who was on there but Jeff Foxworthy! Those two had me laying in bed, laughing OUT LOUD…talking about?…all their fuck ups in life.
I laid there awhile afterward thinking. Oldest Son is the child of mine who has had the most reason so far to think I suck as a parent. But, as I keep reminding myself, I may have fucked up where he is concerned, but I learned those hard lessons and am doing things differently these days with Second Son and PDD. And I’m a different mother now to him, too.
Of my three children, Oldest Son is the only one who could pretty much rip and run from dawn til dusk as he pleased here in the neighborhood in his pre-teen years, and as I look back, he paid a heavy price for having no boundaries. He blew out of here at 16 behind a multitude of issues and has lived the street life, seen and done things I’m far better off not knowing about, yet is now home, appreciating my limits, though he rails against them constantly.
Second Son watched all that and has been the guinea pig for the New Mom Rules for Pre-Teens and Teens. PDD is bumping up against them now, too, and she’s the most vocal about her protests. If I had a nickel for every time I’ve heard, “I hate you! I want to go live with Daddy!” I’d be mortgage-free by now. Seriously.
Motherhood has been nothing like I expected. But I’ve learned some things (mostly the hard way):
- You can make plans all you like for how you’re going to raise your children, but the one thing you can’t do without is the ability to look yourself in the mirror and say, “You fucked up good this time,” and then instead of getting stuck in the guilt of it all, look yourself dead in the eye and say, “but that’s no surprise. Everyone does. Now, what are you doing to do about it?”
- You can preach your values, but unless you model them, too, you’re just blowing a lot of hot air for your own benefit, not theirs.
- Reward effort, not just results.
- They can’t hear, “I love you” too much. Make sure, most of the time, you’re looking them in the eye when you say it. Say, “Look at me,” first, if you have to.
- Pay attention, even when you’re too tired.
- Show up. Your presence is the best way to show them they are a priority. Rearrange, juggle, make deals with the devil, if you have to – but show up.
- Don’t give them the answers. They usually don’t listen, anyway. Ask great questions, instead.
- Parenting (particularly single parenting) is a thankless job most of the time. So, when appreciation – in any form – comes your way, enjoy it, but don’t expect it.
- Parenting is very much a pay it forward proposition.
- But most of all, if your kid screams, “I hate you!” and slams the door going in their room, that means, 9 times out of 10, “Thank you for caring but I hate that I’m not getting what I want right now. I know you love me and I love you, too.” Quite frankly, if you don’t hear “I hate you” or get the silent treatment every now and then, you’re probably not doing a good job – especially with children over the age of….oh….say…18 months old. lol
If, on the other hand, you hear the “I hate you!” as they’re slamming out the FRONT door…well, yeah…there’s some damage in need of repair there, most likely.
I’ve had both kinds slung at me over the years, thankfully not much of the second kind. Trust me, it doesn’t take much of the second kind coming from one of your kids to crush you beyond words. (That’s where #1 above becomes crucial. If you’ve got #1 down, there’s hope, no matter what happens.)
So, yeah, my kids cut me with the “I Hate You!” knife more than I like, but you know what? I’m pretty sure that’s why I’m not at the hospital today.
I can live with that.