Dear Dr. Somebody,
The other day my daughter Margaux told me that God gave her one dimple so she’d always have a place to store my kisses. She’s 5, and she says things like that all the time because that’s what 5-year-olds do—they woo you with cuteness. Margaux’s brother is 8, and he woos me with wisdom because that’s what 8-year-olds do—they blow your mind with their ability to grasp adult concepts. But 5-year-old girls, they’ve got a lock on cute. Every day is an endless adorable cute-fest filled with unicorns, pink things, and places to store her mom’s kisses.
Just this morning, Margaux was asking when her dad was coming back from a work trip.
“Mommy,” she said. “When is Daddy coming back from Your Ami?”
“Actually, kiddo,” I said correcting her. “He’s in Miami.”
“That’s what I said, Mommy. Your Ami.”
See, endlessly cute.
I tell you this because you and I both know things between me and her probably aren’t always going to be so cute. Ask any mom of a tween or teenage girl, and she’ll see your adorable 5-year-old girl and raise you a “Just wait…” followed by a long pause as she remembers when her now sullen, texting teen was her little unicorn-loving 5-year-old girl who stored her own mother’s kisses in her Hello Kitty purse.
Moms of tweens and teens are always quick to remind a mom of a younger kid that life won’t always be so cute and cuddly. They always say the same thing, “Just wait…”
“Just wait for cute to turn sullen.”
”Just wait until she rolls her eyes at you, shrugs her shoulders, and says, ‘I hate you, Mom. You are so stupid.’”
It’s happened a few times already. “Mommy!” Margaux yelled from the back of the car because she had dropped her water bottle. Driving the car without killing my passengers prevented me from being able to get it for her. This pissed her off.
“Mom,” she barked like a tiny little terrorist. “You are the worst person ever. You are frustrating me. You are gisdusting.”
Sure the words stung, but she’s 5. Five is little. Five is learning. Five is even adorable when she’s mad and calling me “gisdusting” because she can’t quite pronounce disgusting.
Moms get the brunt of tired kids, jealous siblings, and hangry meltdowns. We get used to being told we’re stupid when we’re actually right. We chalk up the mom-disdain to a passing phase, because from the little ones we also get love, cuddles, and our kisses saved for a rainy day.
But moms of teens don’t get the cuddles, or so it seems from the teary-eyed sighs from my friends who tell me to “just wait…”
“Just wait until you question every parenting choice for which you were once celebrated.”
“Just wait until the teen years end, and you hopefully get your kid back.”
“Just wait,” they all say. Just wait.
So I’m assuming that because my daughter lives in LA where you get asked to leave the city limits if you don’t have a dozen mental health professionals on retainer, and that because my daughter is growing up in the age of Snapchat and Kylie Jenner, and that because my daughter is Jewish and going to shrinks is in our blood, I’m assuming my daughter will eventually have a therapist.
In theory, this doesn’t bother me. I’ve had many therapists in my lifetime, some who saved me from the darkest times of my life. I believe in the value of a great therapist, but I also know that what my daughter is probably going to spend most of her time talking about is me.
This weighs heavily on me.
Not the part where I’m criticized for the times I lost my temper, because on occasion I do, and I’m sure she’ll probably tell you about all the times I forgot to make dinner and tried to spin it as Family Soup night. But truthfully, I want to spend my time with my three great loves—my kids, my husband and my writing. So sometimes I forget to make dinner because I’m doing something I love with someone I love. That’s when we have soup.
What weighs heavily on me is that somehow my daughter will assume I forgot to make dinner or I lost my patience because of something she did. It keeps me up at night that no matter what I do, she will somehow see what I didn’t do as a reflection of what she’s not. Taking things personally is a girl’s rite of passage. My job is to help her avoid that.
So, Doctor, when you find my daughter lamenting my love for her on the couch in your office, do me a favor and just say these words to her: Chuck E. Cheese’s. Tell her I went to Chuck E. Cheese’s for her—many times. If you can get over the sensory overload and the meltdown your child will always have over their lack of prize tickets, you will spend the afternoon following them around with Purell. All the while, you’ll never actually sit down because your kid wanted you to follow them around to hold their coins. Chuck E. Cheese’s turns every mother into a downgraded Secret Service Agent who never gets a pension plan. If that’s not a sign of a mother’s love, then I don’t know what is.
I tell you that because kids don’t remember the time Mom stayed up all night helping with homework or the time Mom got up early to wash her daughter’s favorite shirt—the one she’d “just die” if she couldn’t wear that day. Kids don’t remember the time Mom was spit-swearing because some jerk stole her kiddo’s coins at Chuck E. Cheese’s. They just remember the time Mom forgot to make dinner.
Kids don’t remember the good, because Moms don’t call attention to it. We quietly, humbly and graciously do for our kids, and we ask for nothing in return except that our kids to do us the favor of not growing up to be assholes.
You should also tell her about the Legos, which I’m fairly convinced God invented just so mothers could prove their love for their children. Dr. Somebody, Margaux got a Lego Friends Pop Star Tour Bus set for Hanukkah, and it’s 682 pieces. We spent weeks trying to put it together, and when I say “we,” I mean Margaux was yelling, “Let me do it!” before she’d take somewhere between 15 minutes and an hour to put the tiny little strobe light onto the tiny little boombox. Somewhere in that time, she’d fall apart and start crying because the Lego newspaper didn’t stay in the Lego beach bag or whatever little item was frustrating her.
So it took us weeks to put the tour bus together because she wanted to do it all herself while I sat by and watched. Eventually, she and I both tired of the process, but every day that half done Pop Star Tour Bus would beckon me. It was a sign of my failing as a mother. Finally, on an afternoon when my husband was out with the kids, and there was no one in the house, and I could have done anything with my time, I finished the Lego Friends Pop Star Tour Bus for my daughter. It took four hours, one back spasm, and the loss of one perfect manicure, but I finished it for her, and I was happy to do it.
I didn’t tell her I had finished the Lego set when she returned home. At first she didn’t notice it. Then she realized the previously half-finished Pop Star Tour Bus was now complete. She squealed with delight like a leaking helium balloon and ran over to me and buried her head in my leg. She told me I was the best Mommy ever and that the Pop Star Tour Bus was the best toy in the world.
But, that’s not why I finished the Lego set for her. I finished the 682-piece Lego set because I wanted her to be happy. I’m not talking about in-the-moment happy, which she was. I built it because I don’t want her to be an in-the-moment happy person. I want her to be a long-term happy person. I want her to be happy with herself.
I want her to date fewer bartenders than I did. I want her to go on fewer diets than I did. And I want her to scrutinize herself in fewer mirrors than I did. So I go to Chuck E Cheese’s, and I build 682-piece Lego sets when I have a sacred few hours to myself, so she will know she is loved endlessly, and deeply, and wildly. And then hopefully she will love herself endlessly, and deeply, and wildly.
It took me until I was wildly loved to wildly love myself, and that wasn’t until I was 29 years old. I’m hoping she can get there faster than I did. It’s your job to help with that.
When she comes to you and says, “If my mom loved me more, she wouldn’t have forgotten to make dinner,” please remind her that I endured Chuck E. Cheese’s, Dave & Buster’s, and roller coasters that terrify me to death. I killed spiders even though I think a spider in the house is worthy of a call to 911. I did it quietly, humbly and graciously so that my kid would know that she was loved deeply.
When she wonders why I didn’t love her more, you have to respond by saying, “Your mother couldn’t love you more. She loves you with all the love there is. She loves you endlessly and wildly. She just forgets to make dinner.”
Then, Doctor, please hug her for me and remind her that life will be OK. She’ll get through whatever it is that brought her to your office. And then remind her that someday she may have a daughter of her own. “Just wait…” tell her. “Just wait.”