Martha Stewart Mommy
No matter how much you look forward to the day when you no longer have to taxi kids around, text instead of talking on the phone, or hide in the bathroom with the door locked for a few hours of solitude, when children grow up and leave home, it leaves a big hole in your life. I’m not exactly a helicopter mom. I don’t hover over my children. I don’t get my confidence and security from my persona of “Mother”. I believe that as a mother, it is my job to work myself out of a job. To this end, from the time my children were little, I have not done anything for the child that the child can do herself. Or himself. I’m not the world’s greatest mom. I don’t do Martha Stewart birthday parties. I did. Once. It nearly killed me. I don’t like playing the taxi mom, and I hate sports where you have to sit for hours in the cold spring rain and watch your kid sit on the sidelines or daydream in the outfield as, all the while, I’m thinking of the hundreds of dollars I had to scrape together for the pleasure of doing so.
I long ago gave up comparing myself to the “stay-at-home” moms who get to have the nanny come over while they head out for their weekly manicure and waxing or massage session. I mean, I would love to live that lifestyle…I think. You know, to have the relationship that is solid enough that you don’t feel you have to be able to support yourself…just in case. Just in case, things don’t work out. So you can relax about the other adult in the equation, because there’s trust, and stability and a partnership. Because, when you can relax about that relationship you have with the other adult in the picture, then you can focus on making life great for the kids. You can go to Stampin’ Up parties and hand stamp your Christmas cards every year. You can bake things from scratch for the school bake sale. You can, wow, even volunteer to help out at your kids’ school. Or chaperone a field trip.
I had such great aspirations as a parent. I was going to be the best mother ever. I was going to avoid all the mistakes my parents made and have the perfect relationship. My kids were going to be perfect. My house was going to be perfect. I didn’t care about money or things so much as having that one great relationship from which all the rest of life could flow fully and freely.
Instead, things progressed a bit differently. I met the “perfect” man. Problem was, he was perfect for someone else and not me. We clashed and differed on just about everything. He wanted to go right. I wanted to turn left. He wanted to move away from the San Francisco Bay Area. I wanted to stay. He hated trying new kinds of food. I loved trying new things, meeting new people and exploring new places. We rarely did any of that. I ended up terribly miserable and unhappy for sixteen years. This is not to say that he was not a good man and that he didn’t try. But when you have to completely remake yourself in order to make the relationship work, it isn’t a good thing. We were both trying to be something we weren’t in order to keep the peace.
I learned early on that I didn’t have enough energy to wage war (in order not to completely lose myself) and to be the perfect Martha Stewart Mommy. While others were dressing their daughters and coifing their child’s little golden locks for the Christmas Tea, I was lucky to show up. It was a really good day when one of the kids showed up with me, and it was an even better day if they were fully dressed. Forget the pretty gown and perfect curls. I was doing well to just show up. I usually forgot the gift for the gift exchange. If anything edible was ever required I was, quite simply, doomed. I was holding down a career, all the while, that supported the spouse through college, and made me the primary income earner. I never knew what my paycheck was until I left my ex. That’s not his fault. I own it completely. I had so abdicated my responsibilities for myself that I was in a miserable place. Sure, he was a control freak and my doing so, seemed to help keep the peace. But it was nearly death to me. I had no idea who I was.
Those were tough years. They were years of failure and heartbreak. I never did anything right (according to the spouse). In my own opinion, I also never did anything well, at least, not on the home front. Work was another story. This is not a formula for relational or parenting success. I hung in there year after year. Gritting my marital teeth. Telling myself, “You made this bed now lie in it.” I lasted 16 years out of a lifetime. Then I folded and I folded big. That was 12 years ago. My oldest was in 4th grade when she learned the news that she was going to have a baby sister and that her mommy and daddy were getting a divorce. That’s not exactly how you go about being the Martha Stewart Mommy.
I’ve spent the last twelve years recovering from the one poor choice I made in my mid-twenties. Sadly, I followed that poor choice by numerous others. I guess, I’m the remedial student who needs more repetitions of the lesson before the concept takes hold. As badly as I’ve done it, as disastrously as I’ve messed up, and, believe me, I am the poster child for what not to do in life and parenting, I am simply humbled by the fact that my children have turned out all right. This weekend, I sent my oldest one, that little fourth-grader, so crushed by her mother’s failure, off to college to finish out her junior year. She’s turned out to be such a lovely young woman. And, at 22 years of age, she’s already worked for several very significant campaigns. Her last adventure was spent working the last few months of 2012 as a field organizer for a critical national senatorial race and her candidate won. Not a bad thing to put on your resume before you even graduate. She’s already got more experience and academia under her belt than most of her peers. And she’s making decent decisions about her life. She seems to understand the value of spending some time in life doing your own thing and getting to know what you are about. Only then can one actually understand or recognize when someone comes along who is healthy, compatible and a good fit.
This weekend concluded what might possibly be the last extended time she is home. She won’t be returning this summer. That realization hit me tonight. It didn’t hit hard, but it hit. I’ve known this day was coming for many years. In spite of the mishaps along the way, in spite of my failure as a Martha Stewart Mommy or as a financial backer for her academic pursuits, in spite of my non-example, my daughter has landed professional wage positions before graduating from college. She’s developed a resume that will place her well ahead of her peers when she finally does graduate. She knows what she likes. She knows her dealbreakers. She knows that she’d like a relationship to come along and be all that a really good lasting relationship is supposed to be. She also knows that if that person doesn’t show up right away, she doesn’t need to marry the first person who asks. She doesn’t need to be afraid of doing adulthood on her own. She’s already doing it, and she’s managing quite successfully. She no longer needs me as a child needs a mother. I’ve successfully worked my way out of a job with her. This is a gratifying knowledge. I know my daughter will stay close emotionally, though she travels far and visits or calls infrequently. I am assured of my daughter’s devotion and she, of mine. As I turned to say good-bye this time, knowing that from this point forward she will only be returning home as an adult to visit and not as a child to stay, I felt the pain of a bittersweet sadness.
I love the young woman my daughter has become, in spite of the risk factors she’s overcome. I’m so very proud of who she is and of who she is choosing to become. This world needs more like her. Good people. Willing to invest of themselves to make life better for all. This is who she is. This is my child. I failed as a Martha Stewart Mother, but my daughter is making her way and I couldn’t be more pleased. I know the feelings won’t last, but right now, the void she leaves behind is overwhelming.
Posted on January 6, 2013, in Family Life and tagged aging, college students, coming of age, daughters, empty nest, growing up, kids leaving home, Martha Stewart, mommy, mothers and daughters, parenting, single parents, soon-to-be empty nesters. Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.