I’m a planner.
I make lists. I print out residency schedules and school menus and stick them to the fridge. Friends marvel that I have my summer camping trips and day camps all set up by the end of February. I have a paper calendar in my purse because a mom has got to be able to see the whole month at a glance.
I’ve kept a pocket calendar since 1983! In my dog-eared collection of little booklets is recorded the plan I had for my life — college deadlines, my hair appointment for engagement photos, the first day I felt my babies flutter inside me. Future calendars would hold anniversaries, family trips and so many milestones as my husband and I raised our children together as a loving, supportive team.…
Spoiler: That’s not how things are turning out.
My life — and motherhood, in particular — has become a challenge in learning to deal with not being able to have a plan. Sometimes it feels like living with something that you didn’t realize you signed up for, like the fine print just keeps getting added to the contract after you already signed.
You prepare yourself as well as you can, for both the expected and the unknown, but until you’re living it, there’s no way to plan for how you will react.
In choosing to become a mother, I knew that there could be complications, that serious and life-altering things could happen. You prepare yourself as well as you can, for both the expected and the unknown, but until you’re living it, there’s no way to plan for how you will react. You just go.
Weaning, potty training, puberty, ER visits, diagnoses, individualized education plans, divorce, parenting plans, finding therapists for the kids — I have all the books. I read all the articles. I work for a parenting magazine, so, believe me, I’m up to speed. The experts tell you to be your child’s parent, not their friend; that your children will be eager for your favor, your approval, your attention; that being a pretty good parent is good enough.
But the stakes just keep getting higher. Or, at least that’s how I feel as my kids get older. What do you do when your child tells you they hate that they can’t count all of their ribs in the mirror? That they tried cutting themselves to see how it felt? That they like their stepmother better than you?
How do I manage the conflict that rises when my experience, wisdom and authority clash with their experience, sense of self and struggle for autonomy? What happens when putting my foot down for what is best for my child means possibly losing my relationship with them? All of a sudden, the balance of power has tilted nauseatingly in the other direction as I find myself seeking my child’s approval and love.
These days, as the mother of a teen, motherhood for me means understanding how little influence I have at the end of the game. The experts tell you that a teen will separate themselves from their parent as a necessary stage of development. It still sucks.
I find myself, way before I’m ready, witnessing that not only is my child their own ship, but they’ve already tossed the line back on the dock and they’re drifting away. I don’t get a do-over. I did my best, yet no matter what I did right, things still might not be okay. I live with the regret of the things I did wrong and can apologize for but not fix, and with the pain of missing this person I love so much while they’re standing right there in front of me.
Motherhood for me means letting go. It means finding my sea legs as plans are made and plans dissolve, and persevering as we keep moving forward. I can still, at least, book the exact campsite I want, on the weekend I want it, and write it down in my paper calendar.