I’m an ‘old school-new school’ Mom. I have a saying. “If my daughter isn’t mad at me at least three times a day, I must be doing something wrong.” And I mean good and mad at me.
When I was a child, many normal, natural, emotions that all human beings feel were not allowed in children, and most definitely were not allowed in me. Anger was one of those emotions. This was difficult to say the least, considering that anger is a crucial, complex emotion necessary to the healthy development of a child. It is the alarm that signals us that something is wrong. It is the justice barometer. This meant that on my emotional spectrum, several essential feelings and signals were rendered out of reach. They were forbidden. I do not ever remember the feeling of anger as a child. The emotion I remember most clearly was fear. I was raised in a time and in a culture where the predominate emotion fostered in a child toward adult family members and caregivers was fear. I accepted without question this imposed disconnect from my emotional body. In my world, a good child was a broken child, a frightened child, a malleable child. On the rare occasion I did question an adult, the response was invariably , “Do as I say,” or, “Because I say so.” Children in my world were seen and never heard.
At the time of her death, my mother and I were best friends and had been so for over a quarter century. By the end, she and I had shared every aspect of our lives with each other. We were able to talk sex, divorce, regrets, loves realized, and love in waiting. My mother undoubtedly taught me how to live, and in the end, she taught me know to die. But as a child I cannot ever remember daring to feel anger toward my mother, and most definitely the expression of it. I could not, and did not, speak up, talk back, question why, say no, negotiate, discuss, mumble, grumble, hold direct eye contact, suck my teeth, roll my eyes, walk away or, God help me, slam a bedroom door.
As the well behaved child my adults took pride in, my role was to speak softly, respond politely, lower my eyes, stop fidgeting, hug and kiss on demand, and stand stock still while being lectured, threatened, berated, shamed, shouted, snatched, slapped, pinched, spanked or slammed…and that was by the grown-ups who loved me. These grown-ups could be parents, teachers, family members, neighbors, nuns, priests, shop keepers or basically any adult I had the misfortune to inadvertently provoke. These adults could and would frequently correct, reprimand, and punish and with casual benevolence do violence to my child-mind, body and spirit, simply because ……they were the grown-ups.
Growing up in a post colonial British culture, in a middle class loving home, there was not one single adult I felt I could trust or turn to as an advocate. I remember the day my mother, who as I have said was a wonderful mother certainly by the end of her life, this loving mother took me to San Fernando Government Elementary School for my first day of school. Navy blue, gabardine, pinafore uniform, perfectly pressed, white shirt blued and starched my tiny hand in hers, she concluded the introduction to my new teacher with “and you can beat her, just don’t mark her.” So when sometime later, I came home with deep bloody whelps on my legs and arms, my Mom, was forced to return to said sadist teacher to have a “private” conversation. After that, the beatings lessened, but the shaming increased, because as we all know….. Those don’t leave a mark. My sweet heart broken mother was fiercely protective and I never, ever doubted that she loved me, but in her attempt to be a “good” mother of the time, rendered me utterly powerless, and thoroughly brutalized for most of my early childhood. She just didn’t know any better. Because when you know better, you do better. And by the end, made up for those awful years in so many profound ways.
Now that I am a mother, I mirror my mother’s fierce loving. I have however, done my darndest to shine the light of awareness upon the dark shadows of her ignorance. My daughter, unlike me, has a voice. She has a magnificent voice, clear, entitled, respected and heard. My daughter has access to all her feelings, and in mutually respectful ways, the freedom to express them. As the grown up, I do hold the power, by virtue of being older, wiser and more experienced in the ways of the world. I hold the power because in most cases, I do know more, and hold sacred, the charge given me to keep her safe and whole and free. In these ways, I am indeed the grown-up. But beyond that, my daughter has all the rights allotted to adults because she is first and foremost, a human being. I see my job as being her guardian, her caretaker, her caregiver, her safety net, her soft place to land, and the only place where she will most probably know what it feels like to be loved utterly unconditionally. I love her unconditionally, but I do not interact with her unconditionally because I am indeed the grown-up. More importantly…..I am “her” grown up. I am the one to whom the universe, in its infinite wisdom and mercy, has entrusted her care and well being. I am the surrendered heart who loves her beyond reason, no matter what she does, forever, because I separate her behavior from who she is. I am the one who gives myself “time outs” when I am so angry I want to throttle her. I am the grown up who says, “I’m sorry.” I’m sorry I was grumpy. I’m sorry I was tired. I’m sorry I was frustrated. I’m the grown up who has to shut up and learn and be humbled by her clarity about who she is and why she’d here, the true master of her own soul. All the promises of safety and freedom and empowerment I have made to myself, to my daughter, I struggle every day to keep them. I am committed to being smarter, and better, and kinder, than my mother, and her mother before her.
All of the promises I have made to myself, to my daughter, the commitments for example to never hit my daughter because I know you cannot do violence to a child’s body without doing violence to a child’s spirit, I stand by these commitments, these intentions and I check myself every day. When I’m tired or busy or frustrated or menopausal I check myself because this is my job as the grown-up. And that’s hard. It’s hard and humbling and revealing. And there is no place to hide, not from myself and certainly, not from my daughter. I look in her eyes sometimes and I already see her grown-up self incubating in there. I want her grown up self to emerge as whole and intact and healthy as she arrived on this plane. I want to leave as few footprints on her soul as possible. She will have the best of me and the worst of me because I am committed to revealing all of myself to my daughter. I believe the greatest gift I can give my daughter is my authenticity. I also know I’m gonna screw it up in some way because I’m not perfect, I’m a parent. She will have good reason to go into therapy in her thirties. But what the hell….that’s what your thirties are for. And then God willing, prayerfully by then, she will be her own grown up. And I will have done my job.
That I think is as good as it gets…