In defense of my child

“Do you even want to hear my side of it?” my child asked.

“No,” was my tense response.

I had been informed by someone about his actions and behavior and did not like it one bit.

I didn’t want to hear excuses or justifications.

I had been told by someone I trusted that my child had done something uncharacteristic of him.

And because his behavior since turning 14 was that of some small stranger, I believed them.

Believing this person was not a bad thing; the person was trustworthy, and I had known them for quite a while.

The bad thing was not believing or listening to my child.

I didn’t give him an opportunity to tell his side of things.

He wasn’t even allowed the chance to defend himself.

Why did I do this?

Well, for starters, I am not a perfect parent by any means.

And, I was taking his behavior personally.

Over the last few months, there had been a shift in our dynamics as we have butted heads in some heated disputes.

He has been moody, mouthy, and argumentative.

He has been withdrawn and opinionated when he was trying to engage in conversation.

All traits I didn’t care for very much.

So, when someone told me he was misbehaving, I believed them because it supported my own bias.

I was angry.

I was disappointed.

And I was not going to let him tell me what happened.

I took someone else’s words over his.

I am not saying we shouldn’t listen when someone tells us things about our kids.

By acting like we have perfect little angels that do no wrong, we get in a very dangerous dance that creates kids who think they can get away with everything and sets them up for a life of entitlement.

But I do think we should also listen to our kids, especially when we know they are inherently good ones.

A few days later, I had a meeting with one of my child’s teachers.

“He is a great kid,” she said when reviewing his notes.

Her genuine words resonated in my heart.

I repeated them.

Suddenly, hearing another person’s perspective reminded me of a fact I had somehow forgotten.

“I am glad you said that,” I told her. “Since he’s turned 14, I feel like I don’t know him.”

The other teachers in the room nodded. “It’s the age,” one said.

“Yes, it is the age,” another commented.

“So, this is normal?” I asked.

I had never been a 14-year-old boy before; I had been a 14-year-old girl and couldn’t really remember what I was like. According to my Mama, I was pretty horrid.

“It’s normal,” I was told.

I asked another friend who had two sons. She too assured me this was normal, even thought it was not exactly my favorite phase.

“We did some obnoxious stuff when we were 14, too,” she assured me. “We just don’t remember it. But I am quite sure we were just as bad. But boys will come around. Believe me; they do. That heart they have is still there, it’s just buried over hormones right now.”

His compassionate, kind heart was what I had always loved about my child. It was what others had loved as well.

I was thinking about all of this as we went through a drive thru one evening.

“I owe you an apology,” I began. “I should have let you tell your side of what happened. I am sorry.”

He looked at me and nodded. “It’s okay.”

“No, it’s not. I was not being very fair to you. And I was over-reacting just because I have taken some of your behavior personally. I should have heard you out.”

“I just don’t understand why the person said that,” he began. “And after thinking about it, the only thing I can think of, is she was just trying to look out for me because she cares about me. So, maybe it made her a bit overprotective. What do you think?”

I thought it was amazing that my child was looking for the positive in the other person, instead of trying to cast blame or fault, or even justify what he did.

He was looking at the heart of the other person.

For a fleeting moment, I saw that little tenderhearted boy flash before my eyes again.

Suddenly I realized, he may not be perfect, and he will make mistakes; that’s how he will learn. He may do some stupid things and get in trouble.
But deep down, he is a good kid and has a good heart. And I needed to remember that a little bit more.

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Love harder

When I became a mom, one of my dearest, life-long friends gave me some advice.

Whatever I did, do it out of love and it would be the best decision for my child.

Those words have guided me and been in my heart for the last 14 years, my frequent gauge as to what I did, how I reacted, and what I said.

Loving our children should be natural – I know it isn’t always for some. Not everyone is nurturing, or expressive with words; some show love in different ways. My Granny was not one who heaped praise or wasted words on endearments, but she loved in a different way.

Mama is the one who loves unconditionally and quietly, not making a big fuss or demanding.

So, love has different modes of delivery when you’re a parent and is cut from different cloth depending on the person.

But love is love and it is supposed to cover a multitude of sins.

It doesn’t always work that way though.

I have heard of people who have turned their backs on their children for various reasons.

Some of those reasons are painful reasons, too.

It is hard for me to imagine because I knew growing up, no matter what I did, no matter how wrong I was, nothing would have separated my Mama’s love from me.

Granny wouldn’t have stopped loving me either, but she would have fussed about whatever I did until Jesus returned.

Nothing I could have done would have made them stop loving me. Sure, they may have been disappointed, and I am sure Mama is still disappointed by some of my choices, but she never stopped loving me.

As a mother, I have said nothing would ever change my love for my child.

I couldn’t foresee there being anything that would make me stop loving him or forsake him.

But let me tell you something, you should never say make such presumptuous statements because you will have a doozy thrown at you to test you.

I had thought of every possible situation my teenager could throw my way and the very one I had not considered was the very one that came up.

I couldn’t grasp it. All the things I had taught my child were discarded and it felt like a personal attack on me since it was a topic I had so verbally expressed my opposition to.

Had he not listened to me?

Did he not care what I believed or thought on this subject?

I was told that it didn’t matter what I believed or thought, it was his beliefs and not mine. He was being tolerant of my beliefs and position, and expected a little tolerance in return.

I was devastated. I was not prepared for this.

I told Mama and she was shocked.

“Oh my,” she said. “Goodness.”

I sought solace in my dearest friends and one lovingly suggested that maybe this was his way of rebelling.

That made sense.

My way of rebelling was wearing Black Sabbath shirts and lots of eyeshadow. I still wear the eyeshadow but have long discarded just about anything related to Ozzy.

My music was the way to rebel against my Mama’s country music. The main thing she was vocal about was my music and her dislike for the loud, headbanging noise she said wasn’t fit for audio consumption.

Was this his way of rebelling against me in the one area that he knew would strike a chord?

“He is trying on different perspectives to find himself,” one friend said, “It’s his way of just seeing if this fits.”

What if it does? I wasn’t sure I could handle it.

“Then, that’s what he is. What does it change?”

It changes that he is not following my way, my path, and the presumption I had that he would be like me in this regard. It meant he was not living up to the expectations I had for his life and the things I had assumed for him.

“Are you going to love him any less?”

“No,” I said. “But I am hurt. Really, deeply hurt. And disappointed.”

“I get that,” she replied. “But he is learning. And maybe this is a time where you love him harder.”

It doesn’t matter what he did.

Just like it doesn’t matter what someone else we love has done that we deem to be a mistake, or some path we wouldn’t necessarily chose for them.

Sometimes, we have to let them make those mistakes and choices and just love them harder through it all.

Intrinsic grace

I have found one of the most challenging things about being a parent is when a child starts forming their own opinions outside of your own.

Free of your dogma, your point of view, your very strong position.

At least that is something I have encountered since my own child has hit his teen years.

It was so easy when he was younger.

His questions revolved around gentler topics, such as which Charlie Brown holiday special was the best or if cereal truly constituted a suitable dinner.

My answers were the Great Pumpkin and yes, absolutely.

When I stated my opinion on something, it was regarded with earnest respect and as gospel.

There was no hesitation, no question.

Just a cherubic little face, smiling up in adoration and agreement.

But suddenly, that changed.

His overnight deepening voice also brought a contrast that surprised me.

Out of the blue, he disagreed with me.

I was shocked.

Not because I want my child to just parrot what he’s heard me say over the years.

I knew people who did that; who merely regurgitated facts and beliefs they had heard their parents say, void of any real meaning.

I didn’t want that for Cole.
Or did I?

“How can you think something like that?” I asked one day.

“It’s not a thought, it’s a fact,” he argued. “I have researched it, Mama. Have you?”

I stopped in my tracks.

No, I had not researched it. I was going strictly by my gut reaction. Or was it my heart?

“You are responding emotionally to this and if you would take five minutes and do some educated research, you may see a different side of things. Don’t just believe what supports your opinion.”

What the what – who was this person? Was this really my child?

I did not like this turn of events.

Did I raise him to be a critical thinker? Yes, I had.

Did that mean I only wanted him to be a critical thinker if it aligned with what I thought?

I was starting to wonder.

I didn’t like this shift, and I wasn’t quite sure how I felt about some of his differing opinions.

The things he wanted to discuss and talk about were so different than what he had been interested in before and so vastly different that areas I felt comfortable talking about.

I expressed my concern to Mama one day, telling her how unsettled these changes, this growing up thing, had made me.

She listened quietly, letting me whine, vent, and question everything I had maybe done wrong.

“Sometimes I feel like I don’t know this child,” I finished.

“He’s fine,” she said gently. “You’re fine. He is growing up, Kitten.”

“But he is coming up with stuff that I don’t like!”

Mama laughed softly. “Oh, really?”

How could she find this amusing?

“Is any of it morally wrong or is it just not your opinion?” she asked.

My child is pretty moral; he has always had a good sense of right and wrong and been quick to point it out to anyone who was violating it.

“Let me tell you something,” she began. “Cole is his own person. He is going to have his own thoughts, ideas, likes and dislikes, and perspectives about things. Those may at times be totally different than yours. And that is okay.

Right now, he is forming his own point of view. You can guide him and re-direct him if he gets way off base, but you need to realize some of those may not be the same as yours. Let him find his way.”

I didn’t like this and said so.

“You really have no say in it,” she said. “I didn’t with you; Granny didn’t with me.”

“So, we raise children to grow up and be argumentative and contradictory?” I exclaimed.

“No. We raise them to think for themselves. And to stand up for what they believe in. Let that baby talk to you about everything he wants to. Don’t quiet him or silence him. It’s better for him to talk through these things with you than someone else who may really give him some bad information.”

“But some of the things he is saying –”
“Hush, Kitten,” she said. “It’s not about you. It’s about your child. He’s forming his view of the world and how you guide him and provide the grace for him to do so will stay with him for the rest of his life.”

I sighed, a heart-weary sigh.

In Mama’s gentle way, she had done just that as I was growing up, listening to me talk about the craziest of things, enduring my wild ideas, and my whimsical nonsense. And, especially tolerating my different opinions, my perspectives, the times I rebelled against any of her compassionate teachings. Those moments I wanted to be mean-spirited, hurtful, and as Granny decreed, “evil.” Mama listened and held the space for me to learn my own boundaries without swooping in to make me change.

She let me find my own way – and grow up in the process.

Sharing what I had been so graciously given was the least I could do.

d one of the most challenging things about being a parent is when a child starts forming their own opinions outside of your own.

Free of your dogma, your point of view, your very strong position.

At least that is something I have encountered since my own child has hit his teen years.

It was so easy when he was younger.

His questions revolved around gentler topics, such as which Charlie Brown holiday special was the best or if cereal truly constituted a suitable dinner.

My answers were the Great Pumpkin and yes, absolutely.

When I stated my opinion on something, it was regarded with earnest respect and as gospel.

There was no hesitation, no question.

Just a cherubic little face, smiling up in adoration and agreement.

But suddenly, that changed.

His overnight deepening voice also brought a contrast that surprised me.

Out of the blue, he disagreed with me.

I was shocked.

Not because I want my child to just parrot what he’s heard me say over the years.

I knew people who did that; who merely regurgitated facts and beliefs they had heard their parents say over the year, void of any real meaning.

I didn’t want that for Cole.
Or did I?

“How can you think something like that?” I asked one day.

“It’s not a thought, it’s a fact,” he argued. “I have researched it, Mama. Have you?”

I stopped in my tracks.

No, I had not researched it. I was going strictly by my gut reaction. Or was it my heart?

“You are responding emotionally to this and if you would take five minutes and do some educated research, you may see a different side of things. Don’t just believe what supports your opinion.”

What the what – who was this person? Was this really my child?

I did not like this turn of events.

Did I raise him to be a critical thinker? Yes, I had.

Did that mean I only wanted him to be a critical thinker if it aligned with what I thought?

I was starting to wonder.

I didn’t like this shift, and I wasn’t quite sure how I felt about some of his differing opinions.

The things he wanted to discuss and talk about were so different than what he had been interested in before and so vastly different than areas I felt comfortable talking about.

I expressed my concern to Mama one day, telling her how unsettled these changes, this growing up thing, had made me.

She listened quietly, letting me whine, vent, and question everything I had maybe done wrong.

“Sometimes I feel like I don’t know this child,” I finished.

“He’s fine,” she said gently. “You’re fine. He is growing up, Kitten.”

“But he is coming up with stuff that I don’t like!”

Mama laughed softly. “Oh, really?”

How could she find this amusing?

“Is any of it morally wrong or is it just not your opinion?” she asked.

My child is pretty moral; he has always had a good sense of right and wrong and been quick to point it out to anyone who was violating it.

“Let me tell you something,” she began. “Cole is his own person. He is going to have his own thoughts, ideas, likes and dislikes, and perspectives about things. Those may at times be totally different than yours. And that is okay.

Right now, he is forming his own point of view. You can guide him and re-direct him if he gets way off base, but you need to realize some of those may not be the same as yours. Let him find his way.”

I didn’t like this and said so.

“You really have no say in it,” she said. “I didn’t with you; Granny didn’t with me.”

“So, we raise children to grow up and be argumentative and contradictory?” I exclaimed.

“No. We raise them to think for themselves. And to stand up for what they believe in. Let that baby talk to you about everything he wants to. Don’t quiet him or silence him. It’s better for him to talk through these things with you than someone else who may really give him some bad information.”

“But some of the things he is saying –”
“Hush, Kitten,” she said. “It’s not about you. It’s about your child. He’s forming his view of the world and how you guide him and provide the grace for him to do so what will stay with him for the rest of his life.”

I sighed, a heart-weary sigh.

In Mama’s gentle way, she had done just that as I was growing up, listening to me talk about the craziest of things, enduring my wild ideas, and my whimsical nonsense. And, especially tolerating my different opinions, my perspectives, the times I rebelled against any of her compassionate teachings. Those moments I wanted to be mean-spirited, hurtful, and as Granny decreed, “evil.” Mama listened and held the space for me to learn my own boundaries without swooping in to make me change.

She let me find my own way – and grow up in the process.

Sharing what I had been so graciously given was the least I could do.

The Mama Daughter Dynamic

There are two things I have grappled with most of my life.

One: I have always had hair angst. If it is long, I want it short. If it is short, I can’t wait for it to grow out. And, I have always wanted bangs. That thick fringe that sets off your eyes or the side swept bangs that frame your face.

The second, and one that is most shocking, is I have always typically done the complete opposite of what my Mama has wanted me to do. Pretty much every big decision – from marrying the first husband to not going to law school– has been the polar opposite of what she has wanted and demanded of me.

Both – the bangs and the Mama – have given me fits throughout my life.

And the horror of both is that Mama has always tried to dictate what she thinks I should do with my hair.

There was nothing quite like going to the salon as a teenage girl, with dreams of how you wanted your hair only to have your mother standing behind the chair telling the stylist, “Just give her a perm. And she’s growing out her bangs, so don’t cut them again.”

“I don’t know why I can’t do what I want to my hair,” I would protest.

“Because I know better,” she said.

In a moment of desperation, I once cut my own bangs the night before going to a school competition at the state level.

I think I placed out of pity.

“Why did you do that to your hair?” she asked me.
“You wouldn’t let me get bangs. I needed bangs!”

“You didn’t need that!”

I had cut them so short and unevenly, they were a jagged line about an inch below my hairline and would curl up like corkscrew pasta. It was a wretched mess and there was no way to fix it.

Granny took me to get a pair of shoes.

“Shoes?” I asked. I never turned down shoes but thought it was an odd outing.

“There’s nothing we can do with your hair, but you may as well have some cute shoes as a consolation prize.”

Of course, this probably set me up with the belief that when all goes wrong, buy shoes.

Mama just used this as a multi-purpose example of what goes wrong when I don’t listen to her.

She never lets me live down anything, either, so for the longest anytime I didn’t heed her warnings, she would remind me: “Don’t let this be another cutting your own bangs incident.”

Mama has been quite outspoken and vocal about all my mistakes.

“I don’t know why you married your first husband,” she said one day. “I never could stand him.”
“Maybe if you had, I wouldn’t have,” I replied dryly.

Granny snorted at this comment. In all of her infinite wisdom, Granny never uttered one bad word about my first husband while we were dating or married. She waited until the divorce was final before she expressed her utter disdain of him.

“Well, Jean, you knew how we felt about her daddy, and you married him anyway. Reckon that’s the only thing the old gal got that was like you,” Granny stated.

Mama reminded me every chance she got about what a mistake I had made by marrying him. She recited every time she had warned me and had been right.

I did like I always had and tuned her out.

“You aren’t listening because you know I am right!” she would say.

She urged me to go to law school and I didn’t.

Every time I have complained about my career – or lack thereof – her immediate response has been: “Well, if you had gone on to law school like I told you, you would have had a better career. But you don’t listen to me. Even when I am telling you something that will help you.”

“Where’s the fun in that?” I asked. “You would have absolutely nothing to hold over my head.”

Granny once told me to not pay her any attention.

“She ain’t never listened to me so I don’t know why she expects you to listen to her,” she said. “Bobby listens to me; Cole will listen to you. That’s what a son does. But a daughter is made to not listen to her mother.”

Maybe she was right.

I was needing a change recently, tired of my chin length bangs and sent Mama a photo I found of the hair I wanted with soft, long bangs.

 “Cute!” she texted back.

I called her the day of the appointment. “What do you think about that cut I sent you?”

“I thought it was precious! You would look so pretty with your hair cut like that!”

“Really?” Did she see something different than the one I had sent?

“Absolutely.”

“You saw the photo of Emma Stone, right? With bangs?”

“I don’t know who Emma Stone is, but I saw the girl with the red hair and bangs and loved it. Are you getting your hair that color, too, or just the bangs?”

“Just the bangs.” What was going on? She always fussed about me coloring my hair.

“Well, it will look good on you. I can’t wait to see it.”

“So, you think I should get bangs?”

“It’s your hair. You should get what you want, and I think that will be adorable. So, if you want it, get it!”

I walked into the salon in shock. Had we finally, after 46 years of existence, turned a corner?

And then it hit me: she was reverse psychology-ing me.

Not only did she reverse psychology me; it worked.

I didn’t get the bangs I wanted, but I will.

Even if I have to cut them myself.

A matter of miscommunication

Frantic.

That is one word to describe how I felt, yet it did not do the emotions rushing through my body justice.

I was wrought with outright fear and anxiety.

My child was not where he said he would be.

Or more succinctly, where I thought he would be.

When I last saw him, I asked him who was with him; he told me he was going one place, so I thought he was with his friends.

When I went to round him up, he was not there. I asked another parent – she had not seen him, but told me where her kids were.

Since my child is always in search of food, I thought it was quite possible he had been scrounging for a rogue granola bar or leftover Halloween candy.

I found his bookbag outside my office, so I took it to my car before going off to find him.

“I better go back through the building; he may be looking for me,” I thought.

I got to where I thought he would be and where he should be; only, he wasn’t there.

I took a deep breath.

Surely he was in the building somewhere, I just didn’t see him yet.

I walked around the top floor looking for him. Nowhere.

On the lower level, I found one of his friends and asked her if she knew where he was.

He had told her he was going where I was the last time she saw him.

And that was when he told me he was going with them.

Anger was the new emotion coursing through my body.

Had he lied to me?

I made my way through the building in a frenzied pace, hoping I would find him.

He was nowhere.

I headed back to another building to see if he was there, anger, fear, anxiety and worry brewing.

My heart was in my throat; was he OK? where was he?

And again…had my child lied? If so, why?

I thought I caught a glimpse of him as I walked back up the hill and called his name.

No response.
Was it not him?

I kept waiting for him to catch sight of me and come running but nothing.

The few yards I had to walk seemed to take an eternity until I got up to the building and finally saw him coming around the other side.

“There you are,” he said, “I have been looking for you.”

I was immediately relieved, grateful and wanted to sob I was so happy to see him. But, in true fashion, I did what all the women in my family do when scared out of our wits.

I yelled at him. Or more accurately, screamed. Irish banshee, soul rendering screams.

All the way home.

I am not even sure what I said, other than, “Where were you and what were you thinking?”

I am sure it was much worse than that because I was in an anxiety fever fit.

I had been looking for him for 20 minutes and every imaginable horror that could happen to my child had raced through my mind.

When I saw he was safe and sound, I unleashed locusts on his little mop top self.

After we got home, I continued my rant.

“You just need to calm down,” Lamar said.

Even though I have no empirical evidence to support this claim, I am pretty sure saying that to a hysterical woman has only proved to worsen the situation.

I texted Mama to let her know I was home, because even though I am nearly 46 years old, she wants to know I am safe. Wanting to know your child’s whereabouts, no matter how old and grown they were, was never more tacit than at this moment.

“Home –too exhausted and upset to talk. Talk later.”

“What’s wrong? Are you OK?” was her immediate response.

“Just really upset and don’t want to rehash.”

So she did what any mother would do – even this mama.

She called.

“What’s wrong?” she repeated her question.

I briefed her on the events of the last 40 minutes.

“Bottom line, if he had just been where I told him to be – which was with me – to begin with, this would not have happened. I have let him have too much freedom.”

She was quiet. Unusually quiet. Normally, Mama is the one who defends Cole, her only grandchild, no matter what and things that would have gotten me whoopings for days, she waves away and tells me to let it slide.

This time, she wasn’t so quick to defend.

“Put Cole on the phone,” she said sternly.

I handed him the phone.

He quietly talked to his grandmother for 15 minutes before handing the phone back to me.

“We have discussed what happened,” Mama began. “It was a matter of miscommunication, but, we came up with some ways to avoid it in the future.”

“There won’t be any future incidents,” I said. I was being irrational I know, but I was still shaking.

“You can’t do that, Kitten,” she said quietly. “You can’t do that with him, no more than I could do that with you when you were his age. He is a good kid. Remember that. A good kid. But still a kid. And sometimes, you have to give him chances, even if it means he messes up.”

“How are you so calm about this?” I asked.

“Because,” she began, “I know how that feels. Oh, how I know that feels. It’s an awful feeling. But, he thought you heard him tell you where he was going and you didn’t. It was, as I said before, just a miscommunication. That’s all.”

Mama did something Granny in all of her infinite, omnipotent power and wisdom had never been able to do.

Mama was somehow on both of our sides.

 

Edge of fourteen

My child’s teenage years have given me lessons I did not expect.

For one, I had no idea that most of my time would be spent feeding an ever-growing human being who apparently was never full.

I need a GoFund Me just to cover my grocery bill.

He can eat vast amounts of food and still be hungry.

At the same time he professes to be near starvation, he does not want anything that is currently in the pantry or fridge.

“There’s plenty to eat,” I will tell him, running down a list that includes pasta and burritos among the possibilities.

He shakes his head. Dairy Queen and Taco Bell were not offered so he may very well starve.

Thankfully, the child gets hungry; otherwise, I wonder if he would have a reason to emerge from playing Fortnite.

Besides the constant feedings, teenage years have brought some angst, more on my part than his.

Gone are the days where it seems like I am the center of his world.

He has pulled back just ever so slightly, finding independence, forming his own opinions that sometimes differ from mine.

He’s growing up.

I am glad to see him making these steps even if it feels like I am having my heart torn out at the same time.

I still remember the little boy who wanted to be walked to his class while holding my hand, giving a kiss in the center of my palm to “take with me.”

The little boy who never wanted me out of his sight.

To me, in my heart, he will always be that little boy with the blonde hair and cherubic cheeks that called his mama his “sweet girl” and loved me more than he did Piggie.

But now, he is a young man, and doesn’t need Mama quite as much.

It has been a hard transition.

My pastor asked me just a little over a week ago how school was going. I told her he was in 8th grade; she gave me a sympathetic sigh that only mamas can understand.

“8th grade is tough,” she said. “But Cole is a good kid.”

I agreed. He is.

Overall, he is a great kid. That’s not saying he’s perfect; he can be moody and mouthy at times. But, considering how moody and mouthy I was at his age, he is practically a saint.

When I was 13, I heard my own Mama mutter, “This is why animals eat their young” more times than I can count.

I pushed every boundary button with her I could and somehow both of us survived even though in retrospect, I admit I was a total brat.

And now, I am extremely cognizant of how parenting can be one of the most painful things we do.

We lose sleep, sacrifice things we need for things they want.

We change our lives for a tiny, little person and literally move mountains that need to be moved to give them everything to make their life better.

And after years of nurturing, loving and sacrificing, they become teenagers who no longer need us quite like they did before.

It feels like your heart has been yanked out of your chest and tap danced on.

I think the feeling unneeded is what hurts worse than anything.

Thirteen has been the year he has pushed away from me, the year I started to feel obsolete. As he creeps closer to the edge of fourteen, I have feared he will pull away even more.

Will he just get to where he doesn’t need me at all?

“Boys always love and need their mom,” my pastor promised, giving me a squeeze.

I hoped she was right; it didn’t feel that way sometimes.

Feeling this ache prompted me to make sure my own Mama felt like she was still needed and appreciated.

“Boys do always love their mom,” she said. “I’d like to think daughters do, too.”

“They do,” I said.

“Just remember, Kitten, it’s good to always let folks know you appreciate them. Even if it is your dear old mama. Or your child. Maybe Cole feels like you think he has changed so much since he’s become a teenager, he doesn’t know how to talk to you anymore.”

Was that it? Surely not. I mean, what does my Mama know about a teenager suddenly acting like they don’t need their parents?

As I thought all of this over, I realized it had been an hour since my child had ate, so I made him a sandwich just the way he liked it and took it to him while he played his video game.

“How did you know I was starving?” he asked, taking the plate.

“Just thought you may be hungry,” I said, retreating from the room but not before I overheard him talking to his friend online.

“Man, my mom just brought me a sandwich. Gimme a second, I gotta eat. She makes the best sandwiches. Yeah. My mom is amazing.”

Maybe everyone was right; boys do always love their moms. And maybe I don’t have to wait until he fully grows up to learn that.

 

A delicate balance

I overheard someone say recently that Millenials are to blame for all of the societal problems we are experiencing.

I am not so sure about that – I don’t know what a Millenial is exactly and I’m usually cautious about casting a wide net of blame when I am not certain what I will catch.

I also tend to think this whole “It’s the Millenials’ fault” is an easy way for some to avoid taking their own responsibility as well.

Sure, every generation has had its issues and problems, including my own, but I shoulder the blame for my ozone-depleting use of Freeze it!, the horrible shoulder pads that never did make my waist look smaller, and my misguided use of blue eyeshadow.

I am sure my sassy mouth and attitude had more to do with the fact I was lightheaded from the aforementioned overuse of the liquid hair glue than it did with being a Gen-Xer.

Yes, my generation had its flaws and faults.

We grew up in a decadent decade, where everything was bright, loud, and just best described as excessive.

But we were good kids. And we took responsibility for what we did.

If we didn’t and got caught, we knew there was something worse than some of the punishments that were doled out back then; we usually had to face our mamas.

The few times I did something stupid – which truthfully, was rare – I usually got caught.

And somehow lived to tell about it.

Mama’s wrath could be scarier than anything legally imposed.

Nowadays, when people do something stupid, they blame someone else or richly tell you it was your fault.

“I didn’t know I was supposed to do that,” someone whined recently. “So how can it be my fault if I didn’t know about it?”

Ignorance only gets you so far.

Some folks seem to think that everything is supposed to be hand-delivered as an app on the latest iPhone and spoon fed to them in bite sized gluten-free, non-GMO, organic nibbles.

When I was younger and didn’t know what I was supposed to do, Mama of course imparted her wisdom.

“Are your legs broken?” she would ask. “How about your finger? Can it dial a phone? Can you still speak? Good, go call someone and find out what you need to do. When you get to the point you need me, let me know but you need to learn how to take care of some of this stuff on your own.”

Guess what? I did what she said.

I was only 6 but I did it.

Maybe not that young, but you get the drift. Mama was overprotective and prone to hyper-vigilance in a lot of areas of my life, but she made me learn to deal with the consequences of my actions or lack thereof.

If I knew what I was supposed to do and didn’t do it, well, that was on me.

I tried saying one of my mistakes was someone else’s fault and she nipped that junk in the bud fast and furiously.

“Did they hold a gun to your head?” she wanted to know.

I told her they had not.

“Then you were not forced to do it and yet you did. You only have yourself to blame.”

Mama didn’t have to threaten bodily harm either; she would either give me her deafening silent treatment or take away whatever privileges I had at the time.

See, my generation was one that believed in restrictions and being grounded. Losing the keys to the family Oldsmobile, having your phone unplugged from your room, and not being able to go to the football game on Friday with your friends were common sentences. After you endured those punishments for a few weeks, you made sure you didn’t suffer the same mistakes again.

It was a generation where the parents were loving but firm.

They weren’t our friends; they were our parents.

I know that is a tough role to fill most of the time.

We want our kids to love us, to want to be around us, to not hate us.

But truthfully, if they don’t think we are the unfairest of human beings at some point in their lives, we are not doing our job.

And maybe that is what has happened.

Somewhere, parents quit enforcing those rules and it has created some situations where people think they are entitled to special treatment.

Do I want my child to have the best of everything? Absolutely.

Do I want him to succeed? Of course.

But I don’t want him to become a jerk in the process.

Not too long ago, he complained to his father I was being unfair and mean.

Our house is less than a thousand square feet, so I could hear his stage whisper clearly from my chair in the living room.

“She’s your mother,” my husband replied. “That’s her job.”

My decision –whatever it had been – stood.

None of this playing one side against the other. No special treatment.

My child eventually came to me and said he understood; he even apologized.

It hurt me to get on to him; it did. I love my child and want him to be happy about everything.

I also want him to grow up and be a well-adjusted, successfully functioning adult.

Usually, that happens in an environment with some rules and firm boundaries.

I think if we want to start changing some things in this world, we need to start at home.

And maybe some good old-fashioned ‘80’s style restrictions and punishments of taking away cell phones and car keys would be a good place to start.

Because

Once upon a time, in a galaxy several counties over, there was a sassy mouthed little girl who didn’t like taking no for an answer.

And any time her mama told her she couldn’t do something, she immediately demanded to know why.

“Because,” was often the reply.

“That’s not a reason,” the child responded. “You can’t just say because.”

“Yes, I can,” the mama said.

“No, you can’t.”

“Yes, I can,” she said, this time quite firmly.

“No,” the child insisted. “You can’t. Because is not a good explanation.”

The mama, weary from her child’s questions, knitted her brows and said, “Because, I am the mama, and I said so. How’s that for an explanation?”

The child sucked her lower lip in for a moment, not liking the tone nor the logic. “I still don’t like it.”

The child that lived to tell this story was none other than yours truly and that mama was mine.

And throughout my life, any time I asked her to explain why she was being so ridiculously overbearing, so stringent, and so unrelenting, her reasoning was: Because.

If I pressed for a better explanation, I was told: Because I am the mama and I said so.

Needless to say, I did not like this, not at all.

It was the veto of all vetoes. I could not argue with her stance. It was the ultimate power play and she knew it.

“I will tell Granny!” I cried one day at her injustice.

Mama laughed. “Go right ahead. She knows what a mama says is gospel! Who do you think I learned it from?”

Being a mama apparently gave you some super-authority. It superseded anything else, possibly even the law.

Once when I tried informing the crazy redhead that I had rights and I was pretty sure she was violating them, particularly my pursuit of happiness, she told me she was my governing entity.

“You don’t have any constitutional rights until I tell you you do.”

“How are you so sure about that?” I asked, sticking my chin out defiantly.

“Because,” she began. “I am your mother and I said so.”

That because again.

I couldn’t get away from it.

This was Mama’s go-to, her one-size excuse fits all. When I became an omnipotent and apparently brave teenager, I told her it was lame and weak, because she had no solid ground whatsoever and only used that Mama card when she knew she was failing at finding a solid reason.

She looked at me over the haze of her Virginia Slim 120 and said, “Doesn’t matter, Kitten. That’s still the answer.”

I think hearing that phrase so frequently is what made me start sighing so much.

I soon learned to anticipate the word any time I asked something.

“Can I go __” insert any place that was outside of the city limits with one of my friends and the answer was no.

“Why can’t I?”

“Because.”

Anytime I asked to go somewhere and was denied – because.

Anytime I wanted something and was told no – because.

Every ding-dang time she wanted to just say no and not explain – because.

That word basically meant she was being unreasonably unfair, unyielding, and didn’t give a rat’s skinny tail if it made me happy. She was doing her job – being my mama – and me getting my way was not part of her job description.

If anything, it seemed like her sole life purpose was to do the opposite of making me happy.

I argued. I debated.

I begged.

Nothing worked.

Because stood on its own.

“One day, you will understand,” Mama said.

“I doubt it,” I muttered.

I swore fervently I would never be an unfair parent and would always give a decent explanation for my decisions.

When I became a mama, I would listen to my child’s reasonings and let them have a voice.

And for the most part, I have.

At least, I think I have anyway.

Until I realized, I have kind of used that old trusty Mama card myself.

He asked me the other night if he could do something.

I said no.

“But why?” he wanted to know.

I didn’t respond.

“I would like an answer,” he said.

“I gave you an answer. I said no,” I said.

“That is not a legitimate answer. You need to give me a legit, for real answer.”

So,I did.

Because.

I am the mama. And I said so.

A mama’s faith

Growing up, I never realized just how much my Mama probably worried.

I knew she was overprotective; I was her only child after all. But I never realized just how much a mother had to worry about until I became a mother myself.

The minute I held that little swaddled lump, I instantly knew life was no longer the same.

Things that I didn’t even give a second thought were suddenly terrifying and anxiety producing.

I did all the child-proofing imagined, crawling around on my hands and knees, looking at things from not just the eyes of a curious child, but from the perspective of a mother seeing possible dangers.

I had to make sure food was cut into pieces that would not choke, the laundry detergent I used on his clothes had to be dye-and allergen free, and I worried about the ingredients in the baby food.

I worried about everything. I still do.

Mama understood; she has lived a life of worry since I was born.

Granny, however, had no sympathy for me.

“You think you are the first mother that ever worried?” she asked me one day. “You ain’t. You don’t know worry.”

“I do know worry,” I said. “How can you possibly know the depths of my worry?”

I was in for an earful.

“How can I know anything about worry?” she began. “I will tell you what I know about worry. I gave birth to a child that didn’t live to his first birth day. That’s a pain you never get over.

Then, your uncle was in Viet Nam.” She shook her head, remembering that time period. “My child, my baby, was over in a foreign country fighting. And in the middle of that, your mama nearly died. She has only one functioning kidney, and it shut down on her when she was pregnant with you.

The doctors told me she had a 1 in 100 chance of making it through the surgery, and your chances depended on if she made it,” she said, her voice solemn as she lost some of her normal constant anger as she relived these previous experiences. “And that’s just a small fraction of what I have worried about. You think you are the only mother that worries? You don’t know the half of it.”

I was quiet as I digested all of this. I had heard all of this before, countless times, over the course of growing up. This was just the first time I had heard it in the framework of being a parent myself and how that must have felt.

“How did you do it?” I asked. “How did you get through all of that?”

She let out a deep breath, as if releasing the weight of the world. “I prayed. I think I prayed from the time I found out I was pregnant with my first child and I haven’t stopped. And I won’t stop until my last breath, either.

When Bobby was in Viet Nam, all I could do was pray. I couldn’t go over there with him – if they would have let me, I would have. Believe me. But I prayed all the time. Some people’s kids didn’t come home.”

Her voice caught a little and she paused to re-center herself. “When your mama nearly died, I had to make a decision no parent should have to make. For the doctor to try to save one of you. I told him you both would make it.”
“How did you know?” I asked.

“I just did. I had to remember that God doesn’t put more on us than we can handle. And I figured the good Lord knew I couldn’t handle me losing either one of you.”

Granny had always been honest with everything she said; a trait that was a blessing and a curse, depending on which way she was driving her message home. But this was the most vulnerable she had ever been.

“It’s just part of being a mother,” she said.

“The worry?”

“That,” she said. “And finding your faith. You may think you’ve got it before, but you spend more time in prayer when you become a mother than you ever thought possible.”

She was right. I think I have spent the majority of the last 13 plus years praying, with just about everything I say being some form of prayer.

I seemed to remember Granny praying as she took me to school. It wasn’t a big production, it was just something she did as we made our way through town. I didn’t think anything of it when I was little but have found myself doing it now.

Granny wasn’t the only one who prayed. Mama did, too, and, still does.

It wasn’t something I heard her do until I was a teenager, and then in the stillness of the night, I heard her prayers when she thought I was asleep.

That first time I heard her pray was before I had back surgery. I was scared but can’t even imagine how scared she was.

She was terrified but didn’t want me to know. Hearing her prayers made me wonder if I needed to be more scared than I was.

“Mama, am I going to be OK?” I asked.

She smiled as she rubbed my head. “Yes, Kitten, you are going to be just fine.”

“I’m scared,” I told her. “Are you scared, Mama?”

She smiled again. “No, Kitten. I know you will be fine.”

She was lying, of course.

Another thing I have learned about being a mama is, you lie like crazy when you are frantic with fear because you want to spare your child from a second of worry.

From that point on, her prayers only seemed to increase. She prayed I never got hurt, she prayed when I was commuting in college, she prayed when I started working in Athens.

She prayed when I moved away from home and prayed when I didn’t move back.

One of her texts the other day, she just simply wrote, “Praying for you today.”

Somehow, in the middle of my anxiety, that gave me peace and comfort.

I think sometimes, as our children get older, we pray more because the problems get bigger.

As mothers, it’s hard to let go, even the tiniest bit. Sometimes, it feels like we are giving up any control we may have.

It also feels like the scariest thing to do, especially in the world we live in now.

I think that is what all mothers do at some point.

We just take that deep breath and pray.

A cautionary tale

The other day, I was reminded of the importance of one little word.

A word with only three letters but a big impact.

The word is ‘but.’

It wasn’t a word I have thought much about in a while but when it was brought to my attention, I realized it is a word I needed to pay attention to.

This one little word may have been the redheaded duo’s favorite word.

“Your biscuits were good,” Granny began, “But, they were too big.”

“How can a biscuit being too big be a bad thing?” I demanded to know.

She looked at me with disgust. How dare I defy anything she declared as fact?
“Because they are. Your sausage patty is only so big. What are you going to do with the leftover biscuit?”

“I make my biscuits for butter and honey,” I said.

She snorted. “Of course you do. But, normal folks like sausage and none of that vegetarian nonsense.”

I wanted to tell her I wasn’t even a vegetarian anymore, but it wouldn’t have mattered.

“You did good on that test, but,” –

“I like your new haircut, but,” –

“Your house looks nice, but,” –

I have learned to not only dread but wait for the but.

The but that comes to let me know that whatever compliment had been previously given was about to be taken away.

Granny was famous for it.

Mama, as kind hearted as she is, is much more subtle with her but.

And even though I am 45, I want Mama’s approval.

Some things, she is easy to please.

Others, she can hold me to task more than Granny and would probably impress the old gal.

Where Granny was critical about cooking, Mama reserves her negating for things I do to my hair.

“Your hair is cute,” she began one day. “But why did you want to color it red.”

“I was paying homage to the crazy redheads in my family,” I replied.
“Hmmm,” she demurred. “But, difference is, we are natural redheads, Kitten. You are a natural brunette. Stick with what God gave you.”

“If that was the case, I would be bald, Mama. And so would you.”

She also doesn’t understand some of my other life choices.

“It’s wonderful you went back to school, but,” – here it comes – “I don’t know why you didn’t go to law school. Probably because I wanted you to.”

I sighed. It was hard to endure the buts. I was given a compliment only to be followed by something that completely wiped out the previous praise.

I cringe when I hear that word, so I cringe a lot; it’s said by everyone.

Including myself.

I didn’t notice how much I said it until I realized how much I hated it – kind of ironic, isn’t it?

I would thank my husband for doing something and throw a ‘but’ in there.
Mama would ask me if I liked whatever she got me, and I had something to undercut it.

‘But’ was everywhere.

I wondered how different our perspective would be if instead of trying to find flaw with something, we just focused on the positives of a situation.

I know when I hear the but, I immediately anticipate some criticism coming. And after the but is uttered, I don’t focus on the things I did right or the praises; instead, I focus on the one thing that I did wrong.

The but is a great big minus sign, taking away any good we may have done and tend to put us on the defensive.

I decided I needed to try to limit my buts unless they were absolutely necessary.

Cole decided to help clean one day.

I hadn’t asked him, he just did it because he knew I had so much to do.

So, he washed the dishes and folded laundry.

“Mama, I wanted to help. Did I do it OK?” he asked when he finished.

The laundry was not folded the way I like. I have always had a thing about how my towels are folded.

I prefer the dishes to be stacked a certain way to air dry.

“Yeah, but,” – I caught myself.

“But what?” he asked. The minute he heard the but, his expression fell a little.
“I don’t have any cash to give you for helping,” I said.

He hugged me. “I didn’t want anything, Mama, I just wanted to help.”

“You did great,” I said.

And I left the but out of it.