Friday, December 9, 2011

Just Smile and Nod

I embarrass my almost 13-year-old daughter.

Shocking, I know, but true.

Let me tell you a story.  Picture it, Shawnee, Oklahoma, 2011.  A few nights ago Child Number 1 auditioned for a part in our local theaters' upcoming Spring musical extravaganza.  She was a little young to audition, but they let her anyway, and I was beyond proud of her for taking the risk.  This is what she says she wants to do with her life, so I figure she better get used to going on auditions sooner rather than later.

The first step (no pun intended) of the audition was dancing.  She was put in a group, was quickly taught a dance routine, then performed the dance for the director and choreographer and other head honcho type people.  After the dance, she went to another room to sing her prepared piece.

Once the audition was done, we were waiting in the green room for a few minutes and I decided to try a few of the dance steps she was taught.  No one else was with us.  No other people were there, potentially judging us.  It was a private moment, just daughter and dancing mother.

But my eldest pleaded with me to stop dancing.  It was embarrassing.  I argued that since no one else was looking, what was the big deal?  That's when she spoke her truth.

"Mom, you embarrass me!"

Ah.  At that moment I realized I have entered a new phase of parenting.  My daughter is embarrassed by me, not because of anything I do, say, or dance.  It is merely my existence on this earth that causes her shame. 

And outside of the dancing, I don't really see myself as all that embarrassing.  I don't wear mumu style housecoats in or out of the house.  My hair is never in curlers.  I actually think of myself as a pretty hip mom.  But I am an embarrassment nonetheless.

I guess that kind of truth should hurt, but strangely enough, I'm okay with it.  Well, maybe not fully okay, but I've been expecting it.

Because even though  it's been many decades, I was also a 13-year-old daughter once, and my parents were the humiliating bane of my existence.  Especially my mother.  The classic example of my own embarrassment at her very presence in the world was the letter my fellow students and I were asked to write to our parents inviting them to the school's Open House.  I suspect now it was a ploy on our teacher's part to have us do some of her work while we were supposedly getting letter writing experience.  But that is neither here nor there.

In my letter I politely invited my parents to attend the Open House on such and such date at such and such time.  All very well and good, until I added a special post script.  It read something like this.

"P.S.  Mom, please try to wear something nice." 

I know this is a real letter, really sent by me, because my mom saved it along with my artwork and other childhood paraphernalia.  It's something we laugh about.  I think she laughed about it back then as well.  At least I hope she did.  Because she was also a pretty hip mom.  She didn't wear mumu's or housecoats either, although I do remember a few curlers -- that and wads of tissues in her purse with lipstick smeared on them, but they were still good because it was only lipstick.  My mom worked full time when a lot of moms didn't.  She was capable and competent, loving, but tough when she needed to be.  I've inherited some of her better traits and a few I prefer not to discuss.  Just like my daughter has inherited both good and bad from me.

I guess that's the crazy blessing  and curse of parenting.  Just as we see our children as individuals, unique in their own genetic makeup, we also see bits and pieces of ourselves floating in their DNA soup.  And those bits and pieces scare us, because we know the mistakes we made, and the hurts and heartbreaks we endured.  More than anything else in the world, we want to protect our children from those same hard knocks.  But there's no real protection from life is there?  Not if you actually want them to live.

I hope one day my daughter looks back and realizes I wasn't all that bad as a mom.  My mom miraculously grew wiser the older I got, and maybe that will be true for Phoebe as well.  But if not, I'll deal with the fact that she secretly wishes her real parents, the cool ones, would come and find her because obviously the hospital must have switched her at birth.

I also hope that I will be able to savor that brief period of time in my children's lives when I'm not embarrassing.  From the time they're about 25 until the time when I hear my grandkids whisper, "Mom, why does Gramma say such weird things?"  and "I don't know.  Gramma's losing it.  Just smile and nod."

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