Monday, July 02, 2012

Tell Me, Who Do You Think is Out There

This sounds slightly different than Usual Quinn, but it was meant to go somewhere else. Now it's here, because recyling isn't just for pasta-sauce jars.

Some people paint. Some people create sand mandalas. I worry and then I nag. I won’t say I nag excessively but my daughter once staved off homesickness at a sleepover by imagining my nagging her to brush her teeth.

“It was almost like having you there,” Alice explained as she unpacked her bag the next day. I countered with reminding her that the wet beach towel didn’t belong on the floor, as it’s unsightly and could lead to mold.

Why do I nag? I nag because I love. Of course, many people love their children as much as I love mine and not every one of them has a lecture called “Please don’t share hairbrushes with friends unless you enjoy the lice-removal process” waiting in the wings. Maybe I nag because she’s twelve and I have, at most, five years to get her into the habit of taking care of herself, and of viewing her body and her life as being precious and worthy of maintenance. Maybe I nag because my father died suddenly when I was nine and there’s a small, insistent voice in my head constantly murmuring,” If you died tonight, would your daughter remember to floss tomorrow? Who would remind her that the bacteria between teeth has been linked to heart attacks? Would anyone check the filters in the dryer or would they just wait for the laundry-room to burst into a lint-fueled inferno?”

Mostly, I nag because I possess all the joie de vivre of a FEMA first-responder and I know that bad things happen. They happen without warning. Often, they happen to somebody’s child. If I alert my daughter to every single thing which might possibly wish her ill, I can delude myself into thinking she’s inoculated against bad fate. Otherwise, I’m going to have to be restrained from inserting a tracking device in her sternum. As it is, I’m going to be that parent who e-mails articles to her grown children about how beach-towel mold might lead to brain tumors. No such articles exist but it’s the type of thing I fixate on. I’ve apologized in advance to Alice for this.
Recently, Alice and I were racing out the door to day-camp. There are fifteen things which need to be done before we leave in the morning and we never get more than thirteen done, leaving two for the car. That day, it was sunblock and breakfast. She suggested pizza squares. She always suggests pizza squares. Remembering the pediatrician’s recent suggestion to increase her calcium, I handed her yoghurt instead. As we raced off, I could see her in the rearview mirror prodding moodily at the cup.

“I hate yoghurt,” she grumped. “Why do I have to eat it?”
“If you don’t, you’ll get sunburned.”

We both waited a long beat to see if that started to make sense. It didn’t. Playing it back, I realized this was the part of the journey where she typically complains about the sunblock, so I had run the usual nagging response for sunblock. My parenting was now so predictable I had nags specific to certain freeway exits. This struck me as hilarious. My anxieties seemed so completely absurd. My child was saner than her mother and nearly everything I’d ever worried about hadn’t come to pass. For one strange moment, my inner FEMA official gave way to Zorba the Greek. Life is brief, and a gift, and catastrophizing probably wasn’t going to make it longer or better.

I have a friend whose first daughter fought, and beat, cancer before she was three and whose fourth child was born with multiple health issues. If these had been my kids, I’d have tried to stuff them in my mouth for safekeeping, as certain kinds of fish do. My friend has a different impulse. She simply shrugs and says, “Today was a good day, and that’s what I have.” My worries and nags jangled on, but my friend’s words kept percolating up and that day in the car, I finally admitted she was right. It’s exhausting and terrifying to believe you can make everything right. It’s just as terrifying but far less taxing to suspect you probably can’t change a damn thing.

Back in the car, I agreed I wouldn’t get that particular kind of yoghurt again if Alice agreed to eat a few spoonfuls. Without prompting, she dabbed sunblock to her nose, cheeks and ears. I’d have preferred more of a spackle coat but held my tongue. Maybe the lesson would be more durable if she had a pink itchy nose all week. At the camp, she flung herself from the car, kind of looked both ways as she trotted through the herd of minivans, and raced through the camp gates, beyond which I couldn’t see her any more.


Blogger Debbie St.Amand said...

Hear, hear!

2:52 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The lint comment made me snort out loud. I was 23 years old, married and had an infant son when I first learned what he lint trap was. Our dryer wasnt working well. Husband asks if the lint trap had been emptied lately. "you mean that funny compartment full of insulation?" 21 years later, it is still funny to him. No, my mother taught me nothing. Not how to cook, clean, budget as well as parent. We figured it out on our own and I haven't starved one of my kids yet. They get sick of my "hey this is an example of a life lesson" speeches but I will be the Mother of All Mother In Laws because my children will be so well rounded and capable when they pick a life partner.

10:17 PM  
Blogger Mark Moran said...

I like the fact that "Daughter" has become "Alice" ... Now I picture her peering down rabbit holes and sharing tea with a Mad Hatter. That earlier Alice had also been well prepared for a life of surprises, both pleasant and daunting.

7:23 AM  
Blogger sarah said...

Lol, priceless! I am an over-anxious mother and now I have a teen who nags me about the lint compartment and turns everything off at the wall before we go out. You'd think such a sense of responsibility would win her some confidence from her mother - but no, I still struggle not to hold her hand as we cross the street. And halfway through your article I stopped reading and called out to her, have you cleaned your teeth this morning? She said yes. My response: are you sure??

5:20 PM  
Blogger Nelle said...

Hey! Have you ever previously referred to Daughter as "Alice" before? Is this new? What's the scoop?

When our daughters were 7 and 8 year-old Brownies, Husband and I let them go to Girl Scout Camp for six whole days and nights. They had such a great time, they cried when we came to take them home and begged to stay another week. I still shudder to think what the parents of all the happy, smiling daughters must have thought. And so began my nine summers of magical thinking.

Each summer I drove my precious cargo to a camp nestled deep in the woods of Northeastern Pennsylvania. I cheered for my little swimmers who always earned the next level swim cap color. I smiled as the camp nurse pronounced them free of head lice, athlete’s foot, and other communicable ailments I hoped they’d still be free of at the end of their stay. I toured the grounds and the canteen where I bought postcards and stamps for them to write home. I kissed their sweet little faces and took their pictures ostensibly to document another fine First Day of Girl Scout Camp but… really? To give to the State Police once the search party had been formed. See, according to my magical thinking routine, if I took that picture I’d never actually have to use it. All the way home, I soothed myself with grim and gruesome scenarios that, once thought of, would never come to pass. And they never did. Oh, no, it was always something that hadn’t in a million years occurred to me, like when the 10-year-old wrote: “Dear Mom & Dad, How are you? I’m fine. Heather fell off the side of the high dive, to the side of the pool. She’s all scraped up and bruised. But she’s all right now. We’re going to the Glen and camping out a lot. Well, bye. Have fun. Love, Amy Lee xxxooo”

So, there you have it, nagging and magical thinking. They both seem to work – but not really.

(P.S.: Nearly 30 years later and both are alive, well, and still speaking to me!)

8:22 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

That last line reminded me of the Abba song "Slipping Through My Fingers." Just wait until she goes off to college! BTW, I believe this is one of the only times when Daughter has a name - although I suspect it's not her real one. If not, why did you choose Alice?

1:34 PM  
Blogger Judy said...

I once heard this conversation between my oldest grandson and one of his younger siblings:

"Don't jump off the couch."
"Because you might die."

I've done my job and am now working on the next generation.

8:18 AM  
Blogger Mama Bear said...

I can relate. My adult children (26 & 29) thought it was hysterical when I sent them each multiple text messages about getting a TDAP shot after our state had an outbreak of whooping cough. I even pulled out their old shot records, but to no avail. I think the term "nervous mother" is redundant...we just get better at hiding it!

7:27 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm 56, my mother is 90. I still get clippings. I'm trying to break the cycle with my DD13, but it's a conscious struggle!

9:06 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Now we know who hasn't read Quinn's first book.

7:58 AM  
Anonymous mandy l. said...

I will be this type of mother when I have children. I worry. That's what I do. I know I will do this to my kids because I do it now, at 32, to my 17 year old sister. I've been fussing on her, along with my mom, since she was born. This is because she is a treasure. After 17 years, though, I know she is sick to death of us. lol

But my baby sister has to know what to do and how to do it, right?:) Despite the eye rolls, she knows I love her!!

3:19 PM  
Anonymous Michelle said...

I laughed so hard I cried. Thank you for relieving some stress! I'm new to homeschooling so I'm really looking forward to your book and hopefully a tour stop in Washington DC. Oh, and thanks for clearing up something... it is late here and I am tired so after seeing Consort in an except from TYLD, I originally thought it was so odd that your husband/partner would have that name. Of course I get it now.

8:49 PM  

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