My daughter is mean. But only to me.
Most of the time, my 10-year-old, is a sweet, funny, kind and loving girl. She burrows her head into me for daily snuggles. She illustrates cards that say, “Best Mommy in the World,” with hearts and stickers and a picture of the two of us holding hands. She isn’t yet embarrassed to be around her “old mom” and is still open to hugs and kisses in front of friends. We go on hiking and biking adventures and genuinely like being around one another. When I occasionally go out, she says “Don’t go Mommy!” and I have to pry her little arms from my waist. I know too soon she will pull away for adolescence. But for now, she still needs me and still appears to actually like me. But lately she’s been, well, mean.
When I make a silly joke, she rolls her eyes and acts like I’m an idiot and quite possibly the most unfunny person in the universe. Nothing I say is right—no comment or observation accurate. If I say the sky is blue, she sighs an exasperated you’re-such-a-moron sigh and says, “Uh, I think you mean the sky is aquamarine with a tint of periwinkle.” Sigh, eye roll, sigh.
The food I cook, that just a few months ago was delicious, is now just “eh, I’ve had better.” If I take her to school late or drop an F-bomb or misstep in any capacity, she is my harshest critic. She fumes when asked to do something she doesn’t want to do, acting like each chore or responsibility is a system of mythological torture. “How could you ask me to take my plate to the kitchen? How could you?” Making her bed is the equivalent of being asked to solve a labyrinth and slay the Minotaur with a pillow and down comforter. How could I?
I know part of this is hormonal, that her 1o-year-old body is already getting pummeled with “my mom sucks” hormones. But why me? I mean, why only me?
She doesn’t treat anyone else in her life with such disrespect. I’m a single parent, and she doesn’t treat her father this way, or her grandparents, teachers or friends. Nope. She saves it all for Mama. Every eye roll, disgruntled sigh, irritated sneer, and complaint has a missile with my name on it. It is the Mommy Missile, carefully designed to track me in any part of the house with insult, disappointment and anger. And she has a limitless supply.
When I spoke with a friend about this, she said, “Take it as a compliment. She feels so safe with you. She trusts you with all her emotional junk. You are her Beloved Garbage Heap.”
At first I thought, “Why do I get all the garbage?”
I’m already the bad cop parent who makes sure homework is done and takes her to the doctor for shots and forces her to do the million and one unpleasant tasks in life like, God forbid, teeth-brushing and picking up after herself. Sometimes (please don’t alert the authorities), but sometimes, I even make her dust the living room. Yes, the three-headed dragon that is housecleaning. Sigh, eye roll, sigh.
Hearing I was the Beloved Garbage Heap didn’t feel like a compliment. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized my friend was spot-on, as mama friends usually are.
My daughter knows I will never leave her, that I will never turn my back and walk away no matter how mean or hurtful she is. She isn’t testing me; she’s proving me. She knows I can handle it. And she isn’t trying to be mean (most of the time)—I know this.
I am her only constant, the one who is there to pull her up when she falls, to dance to James Brown in the living room when she is sad, and to lead her kicking and screaming into the role of responsible adult. And I am the one she trusts with her pain.
I am the Beloved Garbage Heap, and I can take it. Every rotten rind and discarded hurt, each perishable worry and recycled heartache, the heavy garbage and moldy remains of life, I can take them, because I am beloved.