Good Enough Mother:
How I Hit The Brink – And Found My Way Back!
(Hey everyone: TeamGEM is taking the last week of 2013 off so please enjoy this encore post. We’ll be back at it in early January!)
Have you ever taken a job for which you were wholly unqualified?
Of course once you got your foot in the door you realized, “Hey, I can figure this out.” You did it for a couple of years and your confidence began to build. Soon you were patting yourself on the back, saying, “I’m pretty good at this.” After a few more years, you’re so good you’re placed in a supervisory role, doling out advice to others while fearlessly leading the way. “Damn, I am JUST.THAT.GOOD.” you think to yourself. Then technology changes, or there’s a software update or worse yet, a new boss with a new way of doing things and before you know it, you’re back at square one. Your confidence is badly shaken and you begin to question whether you have the tools or the fortitude for the job. Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the world of parenting.
Something happened to me over Spring Break that shook me right to my Good Enough Mother core. You see, we drove 842 miles from our home in New York to Charleston, SC where we have a little place. In the car, was Casey, Cole, Cole’s buddy, Steffan and the gassy dog, Olivia. The trip itself was nerve-wracking, what with traffic and a tornado (yes, we pulled in to our overnight stop just after the thing touched down a few miles south of us) and what normally would have taken 7 hours, ended up taking twice as long.
My son, Cole
(I have no idea where he gets it from…)
But when we arrived at our destination the following day, I actually found myself longing for the tornado after running headlong into the immovable force that is my son.
For the record, Cole is one of the funniest, smartest, kids I have ever known. He has a knack for imitating dialects and accents after hearing them just once and he’s the child who makes you laugh when you’re trying desperately not to (like in the middle of a reprimand). Add to all of that a huge heart; he’s a love bug. Or was. Now, at 13, he’s “smelling himself” as the old folks say, and frankly, that prospect terrifies me. Why? Because the little boy with whom I was so enamored, the one I shared so many of the same physical and mental characteristics with, the one with the same sense of humor and who I communicated so easily with that my husband worried about Oedipal syndrome, is fast becoming someone I don’t recognize.
It all came to a head in Downtown Charleston. I was driving the family SUV through the narrow streets crowded with vacationers and students, searching for a place to park. When I got to the top of one garage, not only was there no place to park, there was no place to turn around. Can you say stress? So I asked everyone, well, really barked, at everyone to be quiet, as I needed to make sure I was not going to remove a bumper in the process of getting out of the garage. Everyone zipped it, except you-know-who. Cole began snickering and singing, and sighing and sucking teeth and making just about every other noise in the annoying kid noise repertoire. And it prompted me to do something that was not pretty nor am I proud of; I lost it.
I told my beloved boy, the one I carried for nine months, who looks and acts so much like me, that if he didn’t zip it, I was going to strangle him. Now you know, like I do, that I didn’t mean it. But in the literal world of children, it meant that his mother was going to kill him and she threatened to do it in front of witnesses. But that wasn’t even the nadir because the entire situation went from bad to worse after that…
After we found a place to park at another garage, Cole let me have it. When I said, “Wow, what a beautiful day” he replied “Yeah, a beautiful day to threaten to kill your kid.” I ignored the first comment but the snide remarks came fast and furious after that. “What kind of mother threatens to kill her own kid?” he asked incredulously. “You know people get their kids taken away from them for stuff like that.” At that, I wheeled around and grabbed him by his arm and ordered Casey and Steffan to keep walking. And it is there that what I will forever remember as the Charleston Stand-off, occurred.
“YOU-LISTEN-TO-ME!” I seethed through clenched teeth. “If you don’t knock it off, I will call Child Protective Services, MYSELF!” Then I gave him a verbal dressing down. But what frankly scared me, was in years past when we’ve had showdowns like this, he jumped right back in line, picking up the playbook and marching to the beat of the drummer – me. Not this time. There was defiance, a willful disobedience that I have never seen before and I was at a loss as to what to do next. As I continued berating him on the busy Charleston sidewalk, I felt myself losing my temper and far worse, my control.
Cole and I reached an uneasy truce, which ended the argument, for THAT day. Unfortunately the smart mouth and snotty ‘tude reappeared the next day. When I went to grab Cole this time, he flinched; that’s when I decided I needed to change. See, while I wasn’t fond of what I saw in Cole, I truly despised what I saw in myself. I was angry, out of control and ultimately ineffective at getting him to fall in line.
When we got back home to New York I did two things. First, I came up with a new game plan. I thought about the thing he values the most, which are his electronics and decided to hold them hostage. I explained that every time he answers me with a smart mouth, or sasses back, I take everything, EVERYTHING for one hour. Guess what? That got his attention for more than screaming on the street in Charleston. The other thing I did was apologize. I got my boy in a quiet moment when his guard was down and I told him how much he means to me, that I love him very much and would never really kill him. I also told him I was worried about our relationship and about his smart mouth, which if he’s not careful, is going to earn him an ass-whoopin’ and not by me. As we lay on the bed, beneath the 13-year-old bravado, I saw my baby once again, the head-strong love bug whose motto in all things from mini-golf to life itself, is “I did it my way.”
So where are we now? Well, things are better, much better. He’s clear on what I expect and the fallout if he disobeys. I’m clear on the type of mother/disciplinarian I want to be and the lines of communication are as open as the Autobahn. I feel good about how we settled our little issue. And while this may have been the first time we’ve been at loggerheads, I have no illusions; it won’t be the last. Until then, I’m saving my strength.
But what about you? Have you ever had a similar situation, a disciplinary issue that had you stumped? What about the changing relationship with your kids, how did you navigate that? And what suggestions do you have for dear, sweet Good Enough Mother? I’ll take them all under advisement.
(Editor’s note: This piece originally ran on April 25, 2011)