You know how you “win some; you lose some”? Well, two years ago my youngest lost some.
Her plan went south; which meant, incidentally, that my plan also went south.
At first, it veered. Then it tumbled. And then it plummeted.
Her plan? Go to college. Her reality? Her health. And that translated to: staying home another 2 years and training a service dog.
So that then she could go to college.
And, for me, that translated to: so much for empty nest and downsizing and missing my daughters and re-thinking my life, what I could do, where I could go . . . And ended with how does one get a service dog? And holy cow! How does one afford a service dog?!
It actually meant that we both rethought our lives. And our plans.
To be honest, I took many deep breaths. In our family, when things don’t go as planned, the entire home almost runs out of air because each of us is taking so many deep breaths. We stress. We cry. We rant. We hyperventilate.
Then we get on with it. Don’t get me wrong: we still stress. But we begin to shift. To see opportunities. To create a new plan.
My daughter’s new plan? To work with a professional to train her black lab puppy to be her literal lifesaver so that she could live and work independently. It became her 24/7 job and it was hard work and then some. Her plan depended now on a dog that would go beyond house training, to polite dog training, to disability training. Sometimes a phenomenal dog may just balk at any stage along the way and then becomes a phenomenal pet and you must start again with a new plan. My daughter was – literally and figuratively – banking on this puppy.
Plus, my already mature young adult took on more responsibilities for her health; her life depended on it. She learned to advocate. She learned to navigate systems that most of us hang up on. She learned to read the fine print before signing. She learned to ask questions – and repeat answers for clarity. She learned to ask for names of anyone and everyone she spoke with. She learned to make copies and file every note, test result, medical and legal document. When she became tired of doctors doubting her vague but painful symptoms, she journaled in great detail. She became an insanely organized, medical maniac who could answer every question about her health – to the date, time, meal, weather, etc. OCD? Not so much. More like: “My life matters, thank you very much.”
My new plan? To help my daughter by getting out of her way. To continue to be available as her taxi because she’ll never drive and, with her dog still in training, public transport wouldn't be an option. To be her biggest supporter. To listen to her. To shove her into new, socially awkward (read: any and every social) moments. (Remember that her peer group had moved on. Being "stuck at home" with mom and a growing puppy is . . . well . . . isolating, no matter how cool a mom I try to be.) And ultimately to be grateful for unexpectedly getting 2 more years with her.
During this time, she taught me everything I still needed to know about parenting.
As with every moment of my daughters’ lives, they have always let me know when they were ready – from sleeping in their own bed to piercing ears to driving (or not). It’s not an age in our home; it’s a stage. And I have trusted them to clue me in.
Well, my youngest just clued me in. Her dog just passed all of her tests. The pupper-now-doggo is officially her service dog. And the two of them leave for college. Together. That’s the plan.
Perhaps it was the plan all along. Sometimes, we don’t see a plan coming because we are so engrossed in what we assume the plan is supposed to be.
She is soooooooo ready now. Scared and terrified, but ready.
I am sooooooooo ready for her. Note: for her; but not so much for me. I’m scared; yet, in many ways, I’m ready. I have to be.
We'll both walk tall.
One of us will have her service dog at her side, always worried how others will perceive her and always worried that her well-trained dog will show her best side at all times – lest anyone doubt either of them. She will always need to understand that, thankfully, neither of them is perfect. She will have the memories of how far she has come, of the additional steps she has taken to change plans and begin anew.
And one of us will have the memories of the 2 additional years she gave me as she taught me strength and a determination to succeed against the odds.
To hell with the plan. And to hell with the odds.
Sometimes you win some. And then sometimes you win some more.
Kat is CEO and Creative Director of TiffinTalk, a company that creates cards focused on different themes for different uses (therapy, parenting, coupling, and “senioring”); cards that are meant to be personalized, to engage in real time, face-to-face conversations. The original line, Child & Teen (formerly called Parent – Child & Teen) was written over 16 years: daily lunch notes on construction paper for her daughters. She and her daughters never missed an opportunity to talk and together remembering to breathe while creating new plans.
In a previous life, I was a teen.
It’s hard to admit. But it’s the truth.
I’ve told my daughters this. Me being a teen and all. Just like them.
And typical teens that they are? . . .
They refuse to believe me. As if I am lying.
“When have I ever lied to you?” I ask.
Then I quickly shut up, because the ice under my feet is feeling mighty thin and I definitely just heard it cracking.
Does a willful act of fictional omission count as a lie – even with the best of parenting intentions? What if that book / movie / video is just not appropriate – yet?
Does intentional exaggeration count? Is it a lie to make something sound more gorgeous, funny, outrageous, and awesome just to get your teens to come along or watch or listen – to be part of the family?
Does pain count? Is it a lie to tell them how I can’t possibly weed, clean, do the litter pans, or any of their usual chores because my back hurts (when it does) even if I (think I) could put up with more pain and do it all myself to save my sanity (if not my back)?
What about generational comparisons (e.g. “When I was your age . . . ”) that aren't really lies? I mean . . . do I really always have to acknowledge that times have changed – a lot?
Does biding my time count? Is it a lie to (temporarily) avoid sharing certain family truths or global terrors when I know that they are not yet ready to understand or cope with the reality of the moment? (Especially if I’m still trying to understand that reality myself.)
Parenting, my girls (un?)intentionally remind me, is full of lies – not alternative facts (they are not that gullible) – just outright lies with a variety of styles, reasons, and excuses.
For examples . . .
It turns out, for instance, that The Sound of Music didn’t end with the kids singing “Good Night” in front of that magnificent stairwell. The truth was my little girls weren’t ready for a war movie until they were older. Waiting meant less internalized fears that they could never find words for and that the discussions that then followed involved deeper contemplation because they were ready, more mature. We waited out a lot of movies. Meaning? I monitored their eye candy – their books, their movies, their video games. Mean moms do that because we love our children enough to know when they are ready to consume material without being traumatized. That was – that is – my job. I shield them from the ugly until they are ready to handle the un-niceties and truths of life. And then we talk. And talk. All questions accepted. Did I call other parents to ask what movies they’d be watching? Yes, yes, I did. And every single parent expressed sincere gratitude as if I may have given them courage to do the same, as if I was starting a Parents Who Care What Their Kids See movement.
Do I always get it right? No, of course not. But, I figure explaining the few misses is still better than my girls being inundated with images and language and realities and fantasies beyond their years, and sometimes, frankly, beyond mine.
Those were the lies of intentional temporary fictional omission. They didn’t miss it entirely. They just waited.
And my girls actually thanked me later.
Recently my older daughter was studying abroad. She sent me this text: “Thank you for all those years you made us look out the window on long drives. The US medians were not beautiful, Mom. But, I get it now. Because I am now traveling through the Swiss Alps and I’m the only one in my class looking out the window and not continuously down at a tech screen. You rock, Mom.” (So as not to further divert her eyes, my reply was short: “I love you, too. ENJOY!”)
All those lies I told about how beautiful the scenery was or how interesting it might be were intended to keep them aware of and involved in their surroundings. We played the Alphabet Game with billboards. (Not, by the way, recommended for new readers in cities where billboards can advertise more . . . um . . . adult material.) We played the License Game, the Count the Animals Game . . . And, we listened to audio books, cracked up together, and waiting in driveways and parking lots just to finish a chapter.
No one was allowed to solo plug in. No one had their own devices. We didn’t have a van with a DVD player. Instead we had windows to movies happening if we made up the stories about the people we saw. The buildings. The fields. The animals – alive and roadkill. And yes, sometimes my kids got bored. And, sometimes they would push each other’s buttons and that, of course, then pushed mine.
I was that mean mom who lied about how there is more to see – when I had no idea what we would see next and maybe it would look like nothing. To this day, I still strongly believe that nothing is rarely really nothing. When the girls poked and pestered each other, I had the “If-You-Have-Nothing-Nice-to-Say-Then-Say-Nothing-At-All” rule. Ah, silence is a beautiful sound. So is the sound of tired children sleeping.
But the best part of my daughter’s incoming quick text was the, “You rock, Mom” just as she was looking at rocks and mountains and parts of a country that she would never experience except in those very moments with her eyes looking up and out.
I admit here that I told the lies of intentional exaggeration as we creatively filled time and space without relying on apps and movies.
And they thanked me later.
In fact, I “rock”. (Hey, did you know that you can see some really cool rocks embedded in a cliff face on US 80 in Northwestern Pennsylvania? Keep your eyes open; you’ll see. Where else?)
Some lies are about the intensity of pain or are generational – handed down so many times in so many variations. These are the coaxing lies to get our kids to cook, learn the “rules” of laundry, clean (better), take responsibility for a sibling or a pet or . . . themselves. Sometimes, these are the truths that sound like lies of all the chores we had growing up versus what they have now.
And sometimes they are just the situational family facts. Like being a single mom. Like being a mom who had serious lengthy illnesses and numerous injuries. But it was not entirely true that I could not manage to do more of their chores. I just knew I had to pull that ace card. For their sake as well as mine, I had to say “No, this job is yours and the consequences for not doing it are yours as well.”
They registered a lot of complaints. Hell, I was Head of the damn Complaint Department. And they had their share of consequences which we negotiated even as I was Head of the damn Consequences Department as well.
But the end result was I’m healthier.
And this recent note: “Thanks, Mom. I’m traveling again and I am the only one in my group who knows how to go food shopping (and can compare prices properly). I can do my laundry, get money from a bank, understand how to keep it balanced, read maps, cook and eat on my own (or with others IF I want), AND actually – as in really – clean up after myself. You wouldn’t believe what kids don’t know, Mom.”
"Why, yes, yes, I would," I say only to myself. "I’m thrilled you are independent and yet still call home. I am tickled that you ask for recipes. I am so excited that you don’t like the smell of dirty litter pans anymore and will react of your own free will and that you understand the impact of a vacuum and enjoy the satisfaction of a scrubbed tub. Perhaps I prodded you toward your becoming independent? I'm okay with that."
And, I think, "I am proud that you see that by me being me, you are an amazing you."
A few painful lies along the way and we all made it.
There came a time, of course, when family gossip and tragedies and world realities were in our faces. There could be no lying. BUT, for the time that they didn’t need to know it, I didn’t speak of it. I was biding my time. I waited for my own clarity and, depending on how far-reaching the news was, I waited for the right time for them.
Define “right time”? Hell if I know; it can be minutes, hours, days. It can be one-on-one or family-time. I go as much by gut in these moments as my own emotional strength. I listen to a few inside voices asking me, "Do they need to know this right now? Can it wait until I'm more centered?" And I go from there. Centered or not.
But then we talked. I listened for their questions and answered just those. Then I always asked what more they wanted to know and what more they needed to know. The trick is in not over-answering, in knowing your child’s age and stage and needs and abilities and weighing all that against what else they might want/need to know (and who else they might hear it from). It’s dodgy, sticky, messy. Truth in the moment counts. How much to tell also counts. What moment counts.
Most importantly, every few days for several weeks, I’d check back with them (likely in the car where there is less pressure). I simply did not trust them to remember to ask; and I did not trust their other sources of information (namely other kids); and I did not trust where their own imaginations and silent night terrors might take them. So I gave them lots of chances to cover the reality again. Kids have an uncanny knack of knowing how much and what to know. And that was how and when we talked.
The truth is that I chose to wait on some truths about family peace and world peace until I felt that they could make peace with unpleasant truths and process how relationships, like friendships, shift and grow and die in inexplicable ways. I couldn’t explain everything and I learned to explain that. I never lied about what I didn’t know. I left those truths to joint internet research, other adult role models, and good counselors.
I may have omitted some truths, waited on others, stretched a few along the way, overstated more than I should have, but these lies never damaged our trust. In fact, as they grew up, we came to trust each other more.
And to be clear, I never lied about anything else. When they asked, I answered. And I gave them other trustworthy sources to fact-check.
The truth: I never lied about my being a teen. I was there. And (unfortunately?) I recall it. (I’m pretty sure my girls were just teasing me because their active imaginations had created those scary mom-as-teen images – that were probably pretty damn close to the truth – truth be told!)
Another truth: I am not ashamed of my lies. Nor do I believe I set a double standard when my girls reached their own whopper-lie stage. It is essential to role model proper lying and to explain the subtle differences. That’s the truth. And it’s not an alternate truth.
Lies. Truths. Both can hurt. Both have times and places and yes, sometimes, we get it wrong.
Still, my truth is that I lied. Some times. For some reasons.
And my kids are thanking me.
Looking for creative ways to talk with your kids? See TiffinTalk's conversation cards for Parents - Children & Teens. Talking with (not to) your kids can be fun. No lie!
I’m old enough to be a mom and blessed enough to still have my own mom close by.
Here’s how being a mom and having a mom works: My teens don’t listen to their mom (me) and I, in turn, don’t listen to my mom.
It’s not intentional. It’s a mom thing. It’s a kid thing.
The truth of it is: Moms do know best. They are brilliant. They have experience. And they know (and try to accept) that their children actually do hear them even if they are not listening in the moment.
Or maybe children are listening but trying to reply patiently – or impatiently – about why whatever it is that their mom is suggesting won’t work or is utterly ridiculous. Because, as kids know, clearly mothers just don’t get it. (No matter what "it" is.)
How many times have children said (preferably silently): “Duh, Mom”? And meant every single syllable?
Funny thing about mothering advice . . . most times it must simmer, be stirred and mulled, often for days, or weeks, and even occasionally for years. Most times, the child / young adult / grown child then realizes “Mom was right.”
This is almost always followed by a loud but silent “DAMMIT”.
In my more morbid moments, I panic over the thought of losing my mother.
Who will explain neutral shoes to me – yet again? Who will know how to get the stain out? Who will hang the picture, paint the wall, decorate? (Those abilities were passed down to my sisters, not to me. Thanks, Mom. Thanks a lot.) Who will convince me that I'm sick and should stay home; or that I'm not dying but should get to a doctor (with an implied "just in case")?
There are so many “hows” and “whys” that only she knows. The internet doesn’t exist for most ‘mom questions’ and it definitely doesn’t exist for mom support. And even if it did, I wouldn’t want it to anyway. There is no way I can call the internet in the middle of the day and start crying about the most critical (or inane) thing that has just overwhelmed me. One thing is for sure: the internet is no substitute for a mom. Not my mom. Not any mom.
My mom loves me unconditionally – as witnessed by all the advice she continues to give me knowing it will take me a long time – not just to understand it and agree with her – but also a long (much longer) time to appreciate her wisdom and then to thank her. (Sometimes, I wonder whether she lives for that long-delayed gratification. I know I do with my girls.)
And in my even more morbid moments, I ponder over my girls losing me.
Who will see them through the good, the bad, and the occasionally ugly? Who will they go to for advice that they won’t listen to but realize later how spot on it is? Will their other mamas (my closest friends) still be here to guide them? Will they learn to trust their own inner wisdom by then? Will they lean on each other as sisters and pseudo mothers? Because – and they don’t know this yet – they have each mothered the other throughout these years with such love and kindness. How else could we have survived in this family if we haven't all been mothering one another?
But, now is decidedly not a morbid moment. Now, I am grateful for my mom.
And for my daughters who taught me how to better appreciate their grandmama. I learned this by realizing that they were not listening to me just as I understood I was doing the same with my mom. Good grief! I chuckle now with this revelation.
So, I mentioned this to my mother. She chuckled. She already knew. Wise mother that she is.
( I knew you wouldn't approve of any of the many, but way too few pictures we have of you, Mom.
This then made me realize that I've inherited that self-critical photo gene which I've passed down to my daughters.
Thus, this is the best non-picture of not-us I could find.)
Tulips for you, Mom... your favorite. And the cat won't eat these. Plus your granddaugther took this picture in Copenhagen last month...