This is a Public Service Announcement: Do not ask your teenage daughter where her black swimsuit is the morning before she begins the dreaded swim rotation in middle school. While you may think you are simply providing logistical direction, you are not. You are bossy and nosey and unsupportive. You are not helping.
When she asks for a glass of juice, pass the carton without touching hands. Keep your eyes on your coffee mug! For God’s sake, do NOT attempt to lighten the mood with a political joke about burnt toast and cracked eggs. Let it be known, for the next eight Tuesdays, you are not funny and your food doesn’t taste good and your face is judgmental and you are not a good mom because the beach towels are very small. Don’t even think about opening the vitamin bottle. Put it down, right now.
Practice nodding. And making uncommitted, whisper-soft, affirmations.
Say it with me, “Ohhhh” and “Hmmmm.”
Careful! Watch your tone! Make sure your responses do not end in a question mark, as this is a flamboyant declaration of warfare and, if you don’t know by now, teenage hormones have no mercy. You will lose Every. Single. Battle.
If motherhood is the backbone of a family … I need a chiropractor. Or, at the very least, one of those full body massage chairs with a cupholder.
I am the first to admit, I have had a streak of parenting misfires lately. I’m too attentive. I’m not attentive enough. I ask too many questions. I don’t ask the right questions. I cheer to loudly. I praise to quietly. I set the bar too high, but I also enable. I can’t seem to buy the “right” snacks or socks. I have been diving off the springboard, day after day at full speed, only to discover the slap of the water on my face and the awkward climb out of the deep end of the pool.
Parenting is humbling. Soaking wet, chlorine in your eyes, stretched out Lycra, humbling.
“Wanna hang out? I miss you,” reads her text.
And there it is, the jewel of all jewels: The Invitation.
Carefully, I respond without any exclamation marks or emojis. Be cool. Be cool. “Sure. Coffee?”
My mom brain expects “news” to accompany this coffee date. She must be calling a meeting to discuss something. School anxiety? Friend drama? Perhaps, how to successfully navigate the pressures of society that instill alarming levels of self-doubt and isolation in a culture that rewards superficial relationships and over-sexualized propaganda? Or, maybe new shoes…
Instead, nothing. No agenda whatsoever. No problems to resolve or emergencies to weather. Just coffee and giggling. Eye contact and once, dare I say, a public show of affection: hand holding.
Here, at the sticky table where a thousand conversations take place each week, is where an absence of words had the most to say.
I am a slow learner, stubborn and proud. I have been convinced a “Good Mom” shows up in extremes, diving in, hands in prayer, tummy-tucked and toes pointed no matter how deep the water. This is how I show her the depth of my loyalty and devotion.
But, while parenting may feel like an extreme sport, this is not what she is asking for at all. She is craving easy, feet dangling off the end of the dock, carefree Mom.
Apparently, she doesn’t need a “Good Mom.” She just needs me.
Wade in, Mamas. Trust the water will meet you where you are.
Marny Stebbins lives in Stillwater with her husband and four children. She is a staunch believer in early bedtimes, caffeine enhancement and humor therapy.