Tuesday, February 14, 2012

The Really Hard Thing About Writing

Sometimes I think the hard thing about writing is coming up with ideas, but then I go for a walk or look around my kitchen or reflect on some random event in my life and suddenly, I have more ideas than time to write about them.  Sometimes I think it’s finding a way to express my opinions without offending people, specifically the people whose opinions I value even though they differ from mine.  And that is hard, but then I consult a thesaurus and do a little mental calculus and strike the best accord I can.
The really hard thing about writing is that I want to write about what matters most to me, and right now what matters most to me is being the best parent I can.  Writing about the challenges of parenting helps me to sort things out, and get perspective, and make connections I can’t make just by whining or obsessing or bitching to my friends.  I also like to think it might help, or at least amuse, some reader somewhere who is going through something similar.
But the people I am parenting don’t necessarily appreciate this.  Not yet, anyway.  I cling to the comforting illusion that someday, they might look back on what I’ve written and find the value, the tenderness, the love, or at least a little humor.
By all indications, however, that is going to take a while.
Right now, for instance, I am having the sort of day week where I feel like I’ve knocked myself out in the parenting department only to have my heart shredded on the emotional cheese-grater that is budding adolescent independence.
And it’s that moment where you realize: Parenting is not a quid pro quo.

All the dirty diapers and sleepless nights and worry and wonder and sagging breasts and lacerated vaginas (hypothetically speaking, of course)—in other words, the entire topography of your parenting experience—are completely transparent to your child.  Your child gazes into the bottomless pool of your love and sees only his or her own reflection.
And that’s OK, of course, that’s exactly how it should be, because our job as parents is not to make our children see us or understand us or reflect us.  It is to help them (or, perhaps better, allow them) to see and understand and reflect themselves, until eventually they can venture away from the edge of the pond, ready to create and navigate their own landscapes.
Several nights ago, my not-yet-teenage daughter casually mentioned that she wants to be a mom just like…a certain friend of mine, who is always nice and sweet and loving and fun.  Shortly thereafter, she said she feels bad for her peers who don’t have an awesome mom like me.  She rejected my assistance with her homework, preferring to wait for her father, because she “can’t be open to the person who grounds her all the time.”  A day or two later, she cracked me up with her smart-alecky antics, the first glimmers of what is sure to be an incisive wit.  She treats her younger sister like her own personal vassal, but then makes her tea and cookies for her nighttime snack.  She rolls her eyes and storms around and hurls invectives that are at once venomous and hilarious in their absurdity.  She threatens to boycott our ritual nighttime snuggles, but then recants.  She wakes me when she has a nightmare, and permits me to comfort her.  She informed me that grounding her for being disrespectful doesn’t teach her a lesson, it just damages my relationship with her. 
This morning, Valentine’s Day, I made my girls chocolate-filled French toast with fresh strawberry sauce for breakfast.  She told me it is the best thing she has ever eaten.  Twenty minutes later, I was on the receiving end of a deluge of disdain and dismissal that felt like it was targeted straight at my solar plexus.
I try to weather the alternating current of her emotions with equipoise, with mixed results.  Some days it electrifies me, supercharges me with the mortal miracle that is motherhood.  Other days, it’s more like electrocution. 
So I strive to be a conduit, allowing the energy to pass through me, trying not to obstruct it or resist it, but rather to channel it into the most productive outlets.  For her, this means growth and independence, action and consequence.  It means assessing which risks she is ready to assume for herself, and which ones I’ll have to buffer for a little while longer.  It means fostering and even protecting her self-esteem without inflating her ego. 
For me, it means being sometimes her best friend and others, her least favorite person in the entire world because all I ever do is boss her around and ground her!   It means surrendering to my role as gazing pool, transparent and often overlooked, but always there, a constant feature in her landscape, even when she sees only her own reflection.  It means opening myself to the possibility of electrifying connection followed abruptly by seemingly lethal discharges. 

And sometimes, it means writing about it, trying to make my shaky script follow the line that contours the boundary between us.


  1. Oh man. You are so much a bigger person than me. I just burst into tears right in front of them and ridiculous crap like that. Sometimes I wonder who parents whom in our scenario...

    1. let's just say I could totally relate to your tweet, "at least I'm not a hitter! that counts fro something, right?" I'm much more eloquent on the blog than in real life. :-/