Motherhood poses a lot of challenges, and different ones at various ages in the lives of our children. When mine were younger and could barely speak, I had total control over their lives, or it felt that way. Friends commented on how often I was throwing them in the car to go places and see things. “The tall ships are coming into San Pedro. Let’s gooooo!” I’d say and they’d look at me like, uh, okay, as if they had a choice. Nine times out of ten, they had a great time. Undoubtedly, they’d fall asleep in the car on the way home, I’d haul them in and make dinner, we’d bathe, read a book, bed. Life was perfect; or at least, that’s how I remember it. When people asked where I found the energy, I’d tell them that coffee fueled my day and that my excursions with the girls were part self-preservation and part necessary mothering. If I didn’t leave the house with them, chances are I’d never really spend “quality” time with them at home. “Will you play a game with me?” was often answered, “Just a sec. Let me finish my work/the dishes/laundry/vacuuming/organizing/reading People magazine.” In other words, at home, it was nearly impossible for them to get my undivided attention. Out there in the world, before iPhones and Blackberrys were everywhere, it was possible to focus solely on them, to watch them learn, laugh, discover, stumble, grow. It was exhausting, but it was wonderful.
Today was Day Six of spring break in the year 2010. I no longer tell the girls where we’re going on any given day. I make suggestions, all of which they think are horrible. “I bet if we head to the Getty today, we could see the ocean. We could roll down the grass hills,” I offer. Or a simple “Let’s go for a hike” gets this response: “NOOOO. I’ll do anything but that!” So when I then tell them we need to wash the dog and then take her to the dog park, it’s like I’ve threatened to give them nothing but chicken liver and asparagus for breakfast, lunch AND dinner until they clean their rooms to my satisfaction. Or worse, I’ve suggested we visit the Norton Simon Museum to look at the French Impressionists. OMG Mom, you might as well forget to wear clothes when you pick me up from school! But here’s the thing. When I get so frustrated and order them in the car because we’re going to Descanso Gardens whether they like it or not (and with friends to boot), they have a great time like they did this past Monday. My record is no longer a nine out of ten, but it’s still an eight out of ten. That’s not bad. So how come the whole process seems infinitely more difficult? People warned me of this. They said my children would eventually learn how to speak and have opinions of their own. I was also told they’d develop unique personalities that would sometimes come into conflict with my own. Did I think they were lying? Or that my kids were so special this couldn’t possibly happen to them, or me?
Still, I know things. During my ten years of mothering and my 40+ years of living, I know more than they do. I know that a hike in Griffith Park will turn out to be more fun than Typing Pal on the computer. I know that walking on the sand at the beach and kicking a soccer ball will make their cheeks rosy and checking out videos on You Tube will not. My oldest fought me over going to see “How to Train Your Dragon” yesterday because, well she’s ten going on twenty-two, and a dragon movie, Mom? Really? She and I liked it even more than the other four kids we were with. Why? Because it has a message that a ten-year-old can understand, even hiding behind the cloak of a cute 3D film. And she is only ten. Besides, I was taking them to the Black Eyed Peas concert later that night, which was totally inappropriate but a super cool thing for me to do. Like the dragon-movie lesson, Goldie was also the only one of my three girls to make out the F-bombs that Will.i.am. dropped during his amazingly spontaneous hip-hop routine. And did I mention I want to be Fergie for just one night?
I’m getting off track. I’m frustrated. I’m a mother raising opinionated young women and that makes me happy. At the same time, I don’t want their opinions. I just want them to come with me and get out of the house so I CAN BE WITH THEM. Mothering in the confines of these four walls (we have more, actually) is about getting meals, straightening up, folding laundry, answering emails, writing Daily Cup of Jo, sweeping the kitchen floor because WOW, when the sun comes in at that angle it looks like there’s an entire meal down there and who else is going to do it? I’m not a neat freak, just someone who gets emotionally bogged down with clutter. And as much as I like to joke with anyone who will listen that my kids drive me insane and I’m not really cut out for all this motherhood crap, the truth is being their mom is the best part of my life. But not the cleaning, cooking, wiping runny noses part. I’m talking about the part where I get to watch them discover the world and all the different people in it. I’m referring to the time when Goldie was nearly three, pressing her nose up to the glass at the aquarium down in Long Beach. There was wonder on her face at all the different colors the fish came in and then “What’s your name?” she asked the little girl who happened to be standing next to her. I’m talking about two years ago when Bun-Bun taught Miss T how to ride a two-wheeler up at a campground in Santa Barbara, and I’m talking about last night when all three girls rolled their eyes and looked the other way when their mom sang “Boom Boom Pow” at the top of her lungs as she jumped up and down with her fists in the air. I’m not claiming that precious moments don’t happen here at the house. They do. But more often than not, I’m the mean mom at home, the naggy one, the short tempered one, the kind of mother who kids don’t call everyday when they’re all grown up because that mother was a big, fat drag. It’s no fun being that mother. They know it. I know it, and I know a whole lot more. I know that for a few more years, I should still be the bad guy and order them out of the house for field trips to parks, playgrounds, concerts and culture because I’m still batting eight out of ten. And pretty soon, no matter what I say, they won’t go with me anywhere for a while and they’ll notice things by themselves and find out truths and secrets without me.
I’m sure that’ll be one of the saddest days of my life (and possibly one of the proudest).