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"No Children Were Harmed in the Making of this Summer"

As we prepare for the last day of vacation before the new school year (in my family’s case for the beginning of high school) I’d like to say hats off to all the parents who have gotten through another summer without homicide, suicide, or patricide.

To all the moms who didn’t fling fireplace tools over the junk food ground into the upholstery and the dads who didn’t take off their belt when they found their power tools in the yard.

Kudos to those who didn’t break blood vessels after another shouting match about cleaning rooms. To the parents who silently financed the shopping spree freak-out over a black belt with a round buckle not the square clasp. Or to yet another discussion on why bitterly humorous t-shirts can’t be worn on the first day of class. Kudos to anyone with kids over 10 who can still shout ‘because I told you so” and get good results.

To parents who haven’t flung themselves out windows holding hands because they’ve been told (oh so graciously) that after a decade of not sleeping through the night their crows feet have made them un-cool.  To those who press on, though their kids think life would be better if mom just threw pizza into their room and closed the door like feeding time at the zoo. To those who have gotten through years of monosyllabic Disney drivel and private school tuition, now reveling in their kid’s intelligent conversation only to have them clam up after ‘oh, never mind,’ and call it independence. 

Our kids sleep through the night now (and half the day) but I salute all of us who pour ourselves into control-top pantyhose and return after work to find boys on the sofa, eating fruit loops in their lounging pants. To all of us who fight the good fight over the laundry, the protein intake, the sleep habits, the hygiene, the chores, telling ourselves its for their own good when we know its in small part our resentment at their leisure. We remind ourselves that we like them and love them and that they do the same in return but we worry that that last bit is an untested leap of faith. 

I’m told that these are the really difficult years, when tough love, fury and good parenting, being chill, letting go, and making them responsible, jostle around in a psychic stone tumbler with our own fondness for their company, discomfort over our new hobbies to fill time, heartbreak over a great love lost and a crass longing for a house whose contents once resembled décor.

Because it’s the heartbreak of all this that astounds me.  You never love anyone like you love your child. Deeper, more completely. Infused at a cellular level with hungry love, drug love, intense blinding sacrificial love. Boat-people, fleeing-into-the-jungle love. Pick-a-fridge-up-off-their-hand love. When a spouse leaves you can feel righteous anger and point out their faults, but with your child their faults are your mistakes. When newly divorced you can lose a few pounds and dye your hair and look for someone else but you’ve only got one shot with your kids. There’s no rejection like it. No pain as searing than their disdain. There are no second or third motherhoods and the jewelry doesn’t pile up in the box over failed parenting. So here’s to the mothers weeping in their bedrooms behind the roar of Comedy Central playing in the wee-hours downstairs.

I’m told that our kids will remember that they love us, that we were in fact cooler than the mothers of their friends, and they’ll be able to tick off all the fun things we did together instead of jumping up and blocking the door to their rooms at the sound of our footfalls on the stairs.

On nights like this, I suppose you can remind yourself that in four short years they’ll be gone, and there will be decades without sofa stains and everything will stay in its place and you can cook with such exotic mushrooms and meat parts that it won’t mean anything anymore.

But in my house, it’s the night before the day before school and unlike the night before Christmas the house isn’t filled with anticipation and candles.  There’s a stillness of dread and uncertainty and teenage angst, of mother-hen preparations that are annoying and intrusive, loving protection mixed with fear of being labeled by teachers as a bad parent.  Our kids are on the runway toward the school year, and we are still floundering around with the painful knowledge that we wound up being too much like the police officer that we swore we wouldn’t be, that we wanted to be more like their friend than we would admit, and that now that they’ve become teenagers we wish we could hire hooker-kids who would let us jostle their hair or cradle their face against our shoulder, just for one more night.

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This is so very funny in parts, and heartbreaking in others. You have written so beautifully about what many of my friends are experiencing. I will be sure to send them to your blog.

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Thank you so very much for your kind words. Parenting is the most amazing challenge I've ever encountered.  Best to you in all things -- Jess