Several years ago, I took classes online from the local community college for a paralegal degree that I’d had my heart set on at the time. This meant many late hours after my then-4-year-old had gone to bed learning Excel spreadsheets and Word formatting. It was twice as terrible as it sounds.
I had a revolving door of TV sitcoms or stand-up specials going in the background through Netflix. I watched all of Roseanne twice and every Louis C.K. special available. When I needed comfort, I got out a blanket and watched Mermaids. Again.
My daughter’s age then was especially difficult. She walked out doors when she pleased, even when we lived in a studio apartment that was part of an old house next to the freeway. To take a shower, I had to latch a chain at the very top of the main door higher than she could reach with a chair. She liked to run off in grocery stores and hide in the floral department, screaming and kicking when I wouldn’t buy her a stuffed animal.
That time was rough for me emotionally. I’d moved us a few hours away from her dad, something he chastised me for. In his eyes, I was a failure, I was selfish and I needed to work my way off government assistance instead of getting a degree. Being on food stamps made me strive for perfection. I didn’t want to be associated with the poverty-stricken families people associated with welfare. Every time my daughter refused to get dressed or go out the door, I thought I’d failed at my one most important job: parenting.
Then, one night, I heard Louis C.K. say, “If you’re with a group of people who are trying to go somewhere and you can’t go because a member of your party just refuses to put their shoes on, that person is a fucking asshole.” I chuckled. The following morning, my daughter wouldn’t put on her shoes and kept kicking them off, and for the first time, I didn’t feel like I’d failed already at parenting for the day. I chuckled—inside, of course. I’d be damned if I reacted at all to her drama.
Louis C.K.’s stand-up and eventually his show Louie helped me get through those horrible years. My daughter’s behavior seemed to get worse before it showed any signs of getting better. At those moments of hair-pulling frustration, teeth-grinding anger and the urge to ugly cry, I started to slowly rub my face with my hands, cover my mouth and call her an asshole. It wasn’t a relief to curse her out (okay, it kind of was). It took my role out of the behavior and my guessing and wondering why she acted that way and what could I do to help her through her frustration and what love-and-logic, no-drama parenting move I could use. Louis C.K. guided me through those moments and reminded me that often there’s no explanation or cure. Kids can be total jerks.
Similarly, Roseanne Conner remains one of my mother heroes. That woman’s crass humor and work ethic came through even when I was a teenager refusing to do half the jobs Roseanne did for her family. Years later, as a single mom scrubbing toilets, I thought of her not having shame in any of the work she did as long as there was work to be had.
Roseanne’s insightfulness and focus on keeping her girls true to themselves struck a chord with me on those late homework nights. Even though it was obvious that Darlene and Roseanne’s personalities were similar–like mine and my daughter’s–she still celebrated the differences they had. She taught me ways to relate to my daughter’s differences in a matter-of-fact way that doesn’t involve feelings or fluff, such as when Darlene got her period and started throwing all of her sporting gear in bags, saying she had to get rid of them because she had to be a girl now and do girly things. Roseanne said, “These are girl things, Darlene, as long as girls continue to use them,”
And as a single mom, the movie Mermaids taught me to be true to my form in addition to letting my daughters be who they are. Though my degree of fabulousness differed greatly from Cher’s character Rachel Flax in that I have no sense of style and probably can’t walk more than a few steps in heels, I try to walk down the street like she did with her head high and shoulders back.
Ms. Flax had the cool, calmness to her that I envy and hope to perfect one day. Even when a man came into her life and tried to change her ways, Ms. Flax did not falter. I love the final scene where the three girls are dancing around the kitchen and serving an array of finger foods. It’s much like the dinners in my house. “Don’t be ridiculous. A real woman is never too old,” Ms. Flax says, which continues to be one of my many mantras.
I’ve since had a second daughter, seven years after the first, and this baby girl is a force of determination matched with a happiness that I’ve never seen in anyone. Watching her cope with frustration over not being able to stand at the fridge or throwing all the items on the shelves onto the floor feels completely different than with my first. I can separate her screaming fits of rage from my parenting and acknowledge the genes, hunger or exhaustion that could be at play too. I don’t see her crying big alligator tears over me taking a large ball of lint out of her mouth as any fault of mine. It’s just her, being her. Overcoming these moments isn’t important to me. What’s important to me is that before she really knew how to walk, she already knew how to dance.