Mothering comes in various stages of learning to unlearn to relearn. Isn’t that what the woke, young folks say these days? “We gotta learn to unlearn…”
As I type this I am sitting in a bar with a splitting headache. It’s * checks phone * 9:47 am. I’ve ordered a margarita because it seems like the type of drink Hemmingway would’ve consumed at a similar hour. The waitress looks at me quizzically.
“I’m thirsty,” I explain.
“I don’t think we serve alcohol before…10 am,” she explains.
“Well, it’s 9:50 am right now. By the time you put your order in, it’ll be 10.”
We stare at each other momentarily before she relents with a hearty laugh.
“The margarita is small. Why don’t you have the Jolly Gin. It’s twice as large.”
“The Jolly Gin sounds perfect. I may order two.”
At 10:02, my drink is on the table. I am pleased. This is the service I signed up for.
How did I get here? I’m glad you asked. The short answer is: My children have finally driven me to drink. A longer explanation awaits you below.
When you first become a parent, you make yourself a set of promises. You swear that there are mistakes your parents made that you will never repeat. Surprise! Your own special Gift set of Mistakes is waiting for you in aisle thirteen, next to the regrettable pair of high-waisted stone washed jeans that you’ve kept since 1994.
There are incidences and behaviors that my parents exhibited during my teen years that I felt were stunting to my human development. My parents put demands on my siblings and me. They made us do chores and go outside and play. Peripheral poverty meant we had no M-Net and had to re-watch the same VHS cassettes year after year, until one of them visited the US and updated our cache. The evening that someone broke into our house and cleaned out our Chuck Norris/Stallone/Schwarzenegger stockpile, we were all gutted. Our solution was to make guns from rubber bands and broomsticks and play Rambo on our own. My parents hardly ever made an attempt to entertain us, and I found this peculiar tic stunting. So when I had my first kid, I decided that I would be in her face as much as possible. Rookie mistake number 1.
I recognized early that it was a rookie mistake, and yet it’s one that I continued to repeat up until baby number four. I have regulated not just the safety of my kids’ play, but the manner of the play for so long, that my children don’t know how to play without direction. The evidence of this is in a conversation I had with the younger three last night in different intervals.
Enter – Aya: “Mommy. I’m bored.”
Me: I’m not your entertainment prefect.
Exit – Aya.
30 minutes later, enter – Stone: “Mommy, my time is up on my computer. What can I do?”
Me: I really don’t know.
Exit – Stone.
2 seconds behind him, enter – Liya: “Mommy, I’m bored.”
Me: I’m not the minister of your good times.
Liya (and remember she’s the persistent one): What does that mean?
Me: It means I’m not responsible for you having fun.
Liya: Ya, but I don’t know what to do now. Daddy says I have to get off the computer.
Me: Okay. Then read a book; like I’m doing.
Liya: No thanks.
Me: Ask your sisters to go for a walk around the neighborhood with you.
Liya: They don’t want to. Well…I don’t want to.
Me: Kick a soccer ball with your brother.
Liya: No. That’s boring.
Exit – Liya
– 8:30am, the following morning –
There has been bickering between the two younger siblings. I look at my husband, who is looking at his computer, blissfully oblivious to the noise. Liya is preparing to pour syrup on her sugared cereal. I calmly command her to put it back…except I’m snarling and my heart is racing like a jackhammer. They are supposed to be doing their homeschool lessons and I’m supposed to be working on my next novel. Except none of us is capable of doing either, because I have never given them the gift that my parents bestowed upon me: The gift of struggle.
My children have never experienced hardship – not in any significant way – and now I am burdened with Struggle Life: Reloaded. My parents gave me my own hell, and in trying to shield my kids from any sort of hell, I’ve revisited hell upon myself. Unreal. Talk about an own goal.
So here I sit, at a knock-off version of the Roadhouse Grill in southernmost Africa drinking really bad gin at 0’too:early in the morning. This isn’t quite bottom, but it’s a slippery slope on which I stand. Looking out on the precipice of what could be my ruin, now is my chance to unlearn and course correct. I’ve done it before, and I am certainly capable of doing it again. Up until 2017, my children had never faced disappointment. If I set a goal or expectation for them, I always met it. The first time Aya wasn’t able to attend a sleepover (a scenario completely out of my hands), she fell to pieces. I saw the damage that never having had to contend with disappointment did to her, and now I make it a point to disappoint my children on a more regular basis.
Perhaps because my generation – more than any other – has stood at the confluence of both devastating wealth and poverty, we have been able to press more effectively for one than the other. We’ve been able to give our kids access to things we could only dream of, from something as simple as a back yard to dream vacations in the Caribbean. The struggle of our forebears facilitated this. Every man/woman who marched, boycotted, went on strike or simply said “Hell NAW” – who didn’t sell out because for them, principle was more important than profit – made the good life we enjoy today possible. What legacy will a cushiony raised generation leave for those that come after them? What advice will they be able to pass on, rarely ever having been through anything resembling difficulty? These are the dangers I worry about.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to fix the problem in my house. But first, I need finish this drink.