Thirteen, The PhD, and Me

I had no idea what I was getting myself into.

My daughter is fifteen today. She’s celebrating some 2000 miles away from home with new friends. That’s my birthday wish for her-- that she is celebrating and that she has some cool new friends. I would guess that she is also celebrating a new found sense of independence, but how all this has happened is beyond me. After all, it was just yesterday that she arrived on the scene and her father exclaimed, “She has red hair!” Those sweet and scary, sleep deprived and hazy early days of being a mother that began fifteen years ago today. And to think I started all over again with her brother two and a half years later. That was just yesterday, too.

So, I celebrate because today is also the day I became a mom. With a capital M. Mama, Mommy, Mother (she says, exasperated), and Ma (his brusque response to “Time for a haircut.”)

I knew that being a parent would be a tough job, but I had no idea what I was getting myself into. Do any of us know what we’re getting into? I had no idea that I wouldn’t see a good night’s sleep, or an empty laundry basket in years. I had no idea how many trips to the kitchen I would make for snacks, or how many trips I would make to the ER. I couldn’t imagine how many times I would throw up my hands, or cry into my pillow at night because they were impossible children and I was doing it all wrong.

Thirteen and The PhD are best buddies and bunk mates.

So get this: My daughter is fifteen and her name is Madison, but she’s Thirteen in many of the stories I tell about her. So much about year thirteen, both sweet and maddening, defines her today.  For better or for worse, I think my mind’s eye will always see her as Thirteen, even when she’s thirty.

Maybe it was just my Thirteen. A frantic bundle of hyperbole and angst, bravado and uncertainty; often insightful yet clueless. Insecure one minute and OMG-I love-my-boobs the next.  She’s a smart kid-- not just a good student, but curious about the world around her, socially conscious, and into learning for the sake of learning. At the same time, she’s all Thirteen as evidenced by scenes of our everyday life like this one:

            Me: Please pick up your socks.

            Her: (suddenly exasperated and offended) Mommy!

            Me: Madison!

            Her: What are you talking about?!

            Me: What are you talking about?!

            Her: Mo-om! Aaargh!

I can still remember feeling strangely satisfied when she stomped out of the room even as the socks remained on the floor.

Isaiah is her brother and my little guy.  He’s an old soul. I knew that from the time he was only a few weeks old; I saw it in his eyes. He’s a still waters kind of kid. He doesn’t chitchat-- he only speaks when he has something worth saying.  And he feels very strongly that he should have been a kid in the 70s when kids played outside until the street lights came on. He prefers Al Green and Stevie Wonder (he says that’s real music) over the likes of Kanye and Fetty Wap (really, I still don’t know who that is.) He wants to be an engineer and earn a doctorate degree, so I call him The PhD. In return, he calls me Dude when he’s feeling cocky. I don’t tell him, but I hope he’ll also study philosophy because he is a thinker and always asks the big questions. You know, the kind to which a wise parent responds, “I don’t know.  Google it.”

Thirteen and The PhD are best buddies, bunkmates, ace boon coons. She’s the pea in his pod; he’s the cocoa in her coffee. She’s his Maddy Miss Pattywat. Except when they hate each other (coincidentally, like right now, as I write this, the apparent source of the beef being toenail clippings and the TV remote.)  On these occasions, he’s her Stop Isaiah!

We can talk about our own lives because we do have one.

Me?  I’m just a mom. I get up every day and go about the business of my family, with some level of competence. Generally, I muddle through with equal parts hits and misses. Fortunately, the kids can’t tell the difference. I knock wood every time I mention how well they’re doing and allow myself to bask in that for a minute, every once in awhile. To my kids, I’m all at once cool and clever (they can’t beat me at Jeopardy yet), mean and magical (finder of all things lost in obvious places), rock solid and ridiculous (which I don’t take personally because I suspect most of us are ridiculous to our teens and adolescent kids).

As I’ve entered this new phase of parenting, the one I like to call “pre empty nest” because, yes, I’ve already started my countdown-- I find myself wondering, “Is it just me?” Is it just me that kind of misses the old days when being a mom was a communal activity? I miss sitting at my friend Bridgette’s kitchen table, chatting over a cup of coffee then, if I stayed long enough, laughing over a glass of wine-- the baby on my lap, the growing toddler off playing with Bridgette’s little ones. I miss hooking up at the park, a good excuse if there ever was one to forget about everything but the grass, the sun, and the sky-- pretending this outing was for the kids, but really it was for us.  I even miss trading off babysitting duties. I don’t need a babysitter anymore, but at least it would indicate that I was getting out of the house.

Don’t get me wrong. I certainly don’t miss diapers, or the midnight fevers, or having to create imaginative school lunches for the kid that won’t eat sandwiches. But, I do miss my village-- the mothers, my circle of friends, the aunties, and cousins that seemed to come together organically. We all lent a hand, commiserated, and gave advice on thumb sucking, what to do about that rash, or what school might be a good choice because we were all muddling through it together, or remembered a time when we were. As our children grew older and more independent, it seemed we became more independent, too. And, just as I believe our children need us just as much, if not more, we moms need our village just as much, if not more. 

So instead of sitting at my sister-friend’s kitchen table because we have a tough time catching up with each other, I write about the things we would talk and laugh about. Because I really can’t do this mom thing all by myself. Let’s share!  Now, we can lend a hand, commiserate, and give advice on what to say when she asks if she can get her nose pierced, or when after a unit in Social Studies on the Civil Rights Movement, he asks, “Mom, is there ever any good reason to go to jail?” Sigh!

Even better, we can talk about our own lives without the kids because we’re starting to remember that we have one.  It’s very exciting to discover that we have stories to tell and new chapters to write. I gotta be honest, though, most of my stories are going to be about Thirteen and The PhD. A common refrain in our house being, “You’re not going to write about that, are you?” And the answer always being, “Why, yes.Yes, I am.”