Dear Dr. Somebody,
The other day Margaux told me that God gave her one dimple so she’d always have a place to store my kisses. She’s five and she says things like that all the time because that’s what five year olds do, they woo you with cuteness. Margaux’s brother is eight and he woos me with wisdom because that’s what eight year olds do, they blow your mind with their ability to grasp adult concepts. But five year old girls, they’ve got a lock on cute. Every day is an endless adorable cute-fest filled with unicorns, pink things, and places to store her mom’s kisses.
Like just this morning Margaux was asking when her dad was coming back from a work trip.
“Mommy,” she said. “When is Daddy coming back from Your Ami?”
“Actually, kiddo,” I said correcting her. “He’s in Miami.”
“That’s what I said, Mommy. Your Ami.”
See, endlessly cute.
I tell you this because you and I both know things between she and I probably aren’t always going to be so cute. Ask any mom of a tween or teenage girl and she’ll see your adorable 5-year-old girl and raise you a, “Just wait…” followed by a long pause as she remembers when her now sullen, texting teen was her little unicorn loving five-year-old girl who stored her own mother’s kisses in her Hello Kitty purse, special wooden box she painted at fairy camp, or in her pocket where she also kept her most treasured possessions like a shiny heart sticker she found on the floor and that penny she was sure a pirate left specifically for her.
Moms of tweens and teens are always quick to remind a mom of a younger kid that life won’t always be so cute and cuddly. And they always say the same thing, “Just wait.”
“Just wait for cute to turn sullen.”
“Just wait until your girl gets a cell phone.”
”Just wait until she rolls her eyes at you, shrugs shoulders and says, ‘I hate you mom. You are so stupid.’
It’s happened a few times already. “Mommy!” Margaux yelled from the back of the car because she had dropped her water bottle. Driving the car without killing my passengers prevented me from being able to get it for her. This pissed her off.
“Mom,” she barked like a tiny little terrorist. “You are the worst person ever. You are frustrating me. You are gisdusting.”
Sure the words stung, but she was five. Five is little. Five is learning. Five is even adorable when she’s mad and calling me “gisdusting” because she can’t quite pronounce disgusting.
Little kids never tell their dads they’re stupid, rude, or gisdusting. But Moms, we get the brunt of tired kids, jealous siblings, and hangry meltdowns. We get used to being told we’re stupid when we’re actually right. We chalk up the mom-disdain to a passing phase. We call it a development. Because from the little ones we also get love, cuddles, and our kisses saved for a rainy day.
But moms of teenagers don’t get the cuddles, or so it seems from the teary-eyed sighs my friends who have older kids exhale before they tell me to, “Just wait. “
“Just wait for the bottom to drop out of your happy little family.”
“Just wait until you question every parenting choice for which you were once celebrated.”
“Just wait until the teen years end and you hopefully get your kid back.”
“Just wait,” they all say. Just wait.
So I’m assuming that because my daughter lives in Los Angeles where you get asked to leave if you don’t have a dozen mental health professionals on retainer, and that because my daughter is growing up in the age of Snap Chat and Kylie Jenner where posing will be taught as a college major, and that because my daughter is Jewish and going to shrinks is in our blood, I’m assuming my daughter will eventually have a therapist.
In theory this doesn’t bother me. I’ve had many therapists in my lifetime, some whom saved me from the darkest times of my life where I felt as though someone had severed my nerve endings and left me to feel all the feels in the world. I believe in therapy and the value of a great therapist. But I also know that what my daughter is probably going to spend most of her time talking about, is me.
This weighs heavily on me.
Not the part where I’m criticized for the times I lost my temper, because on occasion I do. And I’m sure she’ll probably tell you about all the times I forgot to make dinner and tried to spin it as Family Soup night. I could brush it off by telling you that cooking isn’t my thing, which it’s not. Honestly, there are just so many things one woman can do with a chicken!
But truthfully I want to spend my time with my three great loves, my kids, my husband and my writing. I don’t want to spend that time in the kitchen. And so sometimes I forget to make dinner because I’m doing something I love with someone I love. That’s when we have soup.
It weighs heavily on me that somehow my daughter will assume I forgot to make dinner or I lost my patience because of something she did. It keeps me up at night that no matter what I do, she will somehow see what I didn’t do as a reflection of what she’s not. When I was her age I did. Taking things personally is a girl’s right of passage. Your job is to help her avoid that.
So when you find my daughter lamenting my love for her on the couch in your office, do me a favor and just say these words to her: Chuck E Cheese. Tell her I went to Chuck E. Cheese for her. Many times. I went to Chuck E. Cheese many times for her.
Dr., if you haven’t endured a day at Chuck E. Cheese than you don’t know that spending your afternoon in an over stimulated petri dish is the sign of a mother’s love for her child.
If you can get over the sensory overload and the meltdown your child will always have because kids never have enough prize tickets to get anything more than a terrible piece of stale candy when what they really wanted was the stuffed bowling bowl, you will spend the afternoon following your child around with Purell praying she doesn’t come home with Bird Flu or some random ailment she got from the kid who sneezed on her.
All the while, you’ll never actually sit down because your kid wanted you to follow her around to hold her coins. Chuck E. Cheese turns every mother into a downgraded Secret Service Agent who never gets a pension plan. If that’s not a sign of a mother’s love than I don’t know what is.
I mean I nearly got arrested once at Chuck E. Cheese. In all fairness, a grown man stole my daughter’s tokens. She was four! What kind of heathen steals Chuck E. Cheese tokens from a four-year-old?
“Ma’am if you don’t stop swearing and putting your finger in his face, we’re going to have to call the police,” the pimply-faced manager said to diffused my rage.
“But he stole her tokens,” I screamed. “You have to live with yourself, sir.”
I tell you that because kids don’t remember the time Mom stayed up all night helping with homework. Or the time Mom got up early to wash her daughter’s favorite shirt, the one her daughter decided she’d “just die” if she couldn’t wear that day. And kids don’t remember the time Mom was spit swearing because some jerk stole her kiddo’s coins at Chuck E. Cheese. They just remember the time Mom forgot to make dinner.
Kids don’t remember the good because Moms don’t call attention to it. We quietly, humbly and graciously do for our kids. And we ask for nothing in return except our kids to do us the favor of not growing up to be assholes.
You should also tell her about the Legos, which I’m fairly convinced God invented just so mothers could prove their love for their children.
See when we were kids you bought a toy and didn’t also have to put it together. Whose idea was this to pay for a toy that you also have to build? Someone who hates his mother, that’s who.
Dr. Somebody, Margaux got a Lego And Friends Pop Star Tour Bus set, and it’s 682 pieces, for Hanukah this year. We spent weeks trying to put it together. And when I say we I mean Margaux was yelling, “Let me do it!” before she’d take somewhere between fifteen minutes and an hour to put the tiny little strobe light onto the tiny little boom box.
Somewhere in that time, she’d fall apart and start crying because the Lego newspaper didn’t stay in the Lego beach bag or whatever little item was frustrating my little girl.
So it took us weeks to put the tour bus together because Margaux wanted to do it all herself while I sat by and watched. Eventually she and I both tired of the process, but everyday that half done pop star tour bus would beckon me. It was a sign of my failing as a mother. Margaux’s brother’s Legos get finished and here was her pop star tour bus, incomplete, and on display on the coffee table.
On an afternoon when Justin was out with the kids, and there was no one in the house, and I could have done anything with my time, I finished the Lego And Friends Pop Star Tour bus for my daughter. It took four hours, one back spasm and the loss of one perfect manicure, but I finished it for her. I needed a chiropractor afterwards and I had to Google the directions so I could zoom in because the directions to a Lego set are written in teeny, tiny, Lego-sized hieroglyphics. And I was happy to do it.
I didn’t tell her I had finished the Lego set when she returned home. When she came home later that day she walked by it, at first not noticing it and then she realized the previously half-finished pop star tour bus was now complete. Her eyes glazed over as she looked at Lego Stephanie, Livi and Mia all seated in their outdoor Lego lawn chairs while they read their Lego newspapers because they were on break from their pop star tour. Margaux squealed with delight like a leaking helium balloon and ran over to me and buried her head in my leg.
She told me I was the best Mommy ever and that the pop star tour bus was the best toy in the world. But, that’s not why I finished the Lego set for her. I didn’t even finish it for her so I could avoid the mind-numbing toddler water torture that is building a Lego set with a small child. I finished the 682 piece Lego set for my kid because I wanted her to be happy.
I’m not talking about in the moment happy, which she was. For days she played with her Lego set and said, “Oh Mommy it’s funtastic.” And instead of fantastic she said funtastic because to her everything fantastic is fun. And she was happy.
But that’s not really why I built it, though I was thrilled to see her so happy. I built it because I don’t want her to be an in the moment happy person. I want her to be a long-term happy person. I want her to be happy with herself.
I want her to date less bartenders than I did. I want her to go on less diets than I did. And I want her to scrutinize herself in less mirrors than I did. And so I go to Chuck E Cheese and I build 682 piece Lego sets when I have a sacred few hours to myself, so she will know she is loved endlessly, and deeply, and wildly. And then hopefully she will love herself endlessly, and deeply, and wildly.
It took me until I was wildly loved to wildly love myself and that wasn’t until I was 29 years old. I’m hoping she can get there faster than I did. It’s your job to help with that.
When she comes to you and says, “If my mom loved me more, she wouldn’t have forgotten to make dinner,” please remind her that I endured Chuck E. Cheese, and Dave & Busters, and rollercoasters that terrify me to death. And I killed spiders even though I think a spider in the house is worthy of a call to 911. I did it quietly, humbly, and graciously so that my kid would know that she was loved deeply.
So when she wonders why I didn’t love her more you have to respond by saying, “Your mother couldn’t love you more. She loves you with all the love there is. She loves you endlessly and wildly. She just forgets to make dinner.”
And then hug her for me and remind her that life will be okay. She’ll get through whatever it is that brought her to your office. And then remind her that someday she’s going to have a daughter of her own. “Just wait,” you’ll tell her. Just wait.
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**Photo credit: Dishan Lathiya