When the Daughter Becomes the Mommy

It's a running joke in our little family that my oldest daughter, Macy, and I are pretty much the same person. Obviously, I understand that we're not but our temperaments only differ in one area that we can see (I'm organized; she's not). And while being so similar seems like a bomb waiting to explode (who knows), for the most part it's been fun and fine. The weird thing I hadn't quite put together until today was that her difficult experiences would potentially trigger my difficult experiences because she's more likely to process them the same way I did as a child only now I'm the mother. It's giving me a new way to see my own mother and re-process my childhood through the eyes of the mom versus the little girl. So, so strange. And humbling. And sad. And triggering. 

This morning we got to revisit one of my most upsetting childhood memories - when I found out that Santa wasn't real. Most kids are bummed or angry when they find out. I was devastated. I felt betrayed, like I couldn't believe my family willingly deceived me. I found out on Christmas Eve when my older brother wasn't quite thrilled enough about Santa and I could tell he was summoning enthusiasm for my benefit. So I asked the questions and I got the answers. And while I knew in my heart there was doubt lurking there about flying reindeer and black coal, I was honestly totally shocked. It had become a fundamental truth to me that those things existed. And so to find out that the magic of Christmas was basically contrived, the world became a place where sometimes my favorite things are actually charades. 

Macy lost her 7th tooth last night. So I got out the glitter and replied to her note and snuck in her room for the 7th time. And when she woke up, I asked how it went and if she heard back from the Tooth Fairy. This was on the way to school this morning (first Macy, then Penny on preschool days). I had a migraine and had had to get both kids out the door in 30 minutes flat so I wasn't exactly on my A game. I believe this is why it did not occur to me to tell her we should talk about it with Daddy later that evening. And so when she asked me if I was the Tooth Fairy, I asked her if she wanted me to answer that question. Sometimes kids throw questions out there (with devastating answers) but they don't really want to know yet. And Macy, like me, loves fantasy and enjoys the benefits of belief to the highest level. I figured she had suspicions but that at 8, she had chosen to believe this far and maybe didn't want to let go of that. I fully support that as a viable choice with belief. 

Apparently today was the day she wanted to cold hard truth and as I got her consent and verified she really did want to know, I told her. I didn't want to deny her the truth when she said she wanted it and I was unwilling to lie to her. That was always the distinction for me, that I could encourage a fantasy for fun, but that when my kids asked me point blank and it was evident they really wanted the truth for themselves, I would not deny them that. At this point, we were in the car drop off line and the tears started to roll. It was not ideal, to say the least. So we decided to drop Penny off on time and I would bring Macy back to school afterwards so she would be late. That decision afforded us 30 more minutes to process, discuss and get her head and heart in a place where she could go have a good day at school. She's been reading a 150 book series on fairies and for some reason, I thought she already knew that fairies weren't real. Apparently not. So not only did she find out that it was her mother sneaking in her room with glittery money, but she also found out that all the woodland creatures she's fallen in love with through the joy of reading are also not real. Shit. So I stepped in a bit of a landmine there. I felt really bad about that. She was crushed about the Tooth Fairy because that was the only fairy that she knew personally. How sweet is that? 

And so we began a conversation about how technically, I can't definitively say fairies aren't real just because no one has ever seen them, how I'd never lived in the forest, and that maybe humans are shielded from that reality. I was totally on board for that. So she decided she still wanted to believe in the existence of fairies. Cool. She got to keep that one. The other massive fuck-up was that she then came to the question of the Easter Bunny and Santa and while I thought I'd gotten her consent to answer that question honestly, apparently her asking twice was still her version of musing and I answered it when she wasn't ready. Damn. So then we unpacked that and we discussed my experience at her age with finding out. She became angry with me and I told her that was okay. I was willing to be the problem in her process. We talked about her feelings of sadness and her shock that we had all done these things under the guise of it being Santa. She wondered if Santa was in fact real and we were just getting in his way. Maybe. We talked about the inspiration for Santa and that Saint Nick himself was a real person and that what he represents (generosity of spirit, kindness) was still very much real in how we celebrate Christmas. We talked about the magic of childhood and how Dad and I believe in the value of infusing magic into her experience and all the beautiful memories she has of that time of belief (hello church baggage!) And we talked about how she could still choose to believe, pretend to believe, participate, not participate, join us in our role with her sister or any combination of these things. That was her decision and she gets to decide what to do with her new information. We talked about the value of hard conversations and our willingness to pull back that fantasy veil as she gave us her consent to do so. That we believe in sitting in those painful realities and that not every family does that. That's why we talk about sex and changing bodies and death and belief and loss of belief openly. We talked about there being space for her anger and grief. We talked about growing up and the process of lifting veils and how the world becomes bigger and smaller, more real and less fantastic. We talked about her choices and her ability to guard her beliefs as she sees fit. We talked about being stewards of other children and not intercepting their process by shouting these new truths from the rooftops. She talked about her desire to be the one to tell her sister when the time came because "sisters give the best snuggles." And by the time we pulled back into her school parking lot, the tears had dried and she hopped out. 

And that's when mommy called daddy and felt a little teary and decided to write it all out. 

Deciding Who Will Be Your Inner Voice

As many of you know, I was raised in a conservative Christian household. I'm the youngest of 7 in a blended family and the only biological child that my parents share (picture the Brady Bunch but then they accidentally procreated - hollah!) My dad had a 20 year military career that ended in retirement before I was born (he went to the Naval Academy and everything), which I think greatly suited his perfectionist, procedural, cerebral mind. So you can imagine, the type of parenting I was exposed to being the youngest of a military, perfectionist, conservative, religious man. He was also 46 when I was born, so by the time I came around, he was also kind of "too old" to be raising another child, especially one so spirited. 

Sometimes I try to remember what kind of child I was. Chatty to the level of irritating, no doubt. Obedient most of the time, yes. Spirited, yes. But I also think I was pretty easily pleased with things (I didn't even know we didn't have money when I was little. I was very content and my parents were smart enough to not air their dirty laundry financially with their young children - well done). I knew when things weren't right and as I got older, learned to fight those things on my terms. When you're raised by a perfectionist, who loves you dearly, but is not expressive so it's hard to read, you reach a crossroads at some point. Am I going to make decisions based on trying to meet this person's (impossible) expectations or am I going to make decisions based on my own? I met this moment in 8th grade. I don't believe there was a specific impetus for my paradigm shift. It could have been another report card moment gone wrong (why isn't this A- an A type bullshit) but I'm not really sure. It just suddenly dawned on me that I was never going to be able to meet his expectations, not really. 

So the practical side of me clicked on and said, fuck that, what do I feel about say, my report card? I believed an A- was good enough for me. Time to move on. And I did. Yes, self-affirmation skills were a focus even in my adult therapy experiences in recent years. There isn't one moment where all the baggage disappears. But, in that light-dawning moment in 8th grade, my allegiances shifted from my father to myself. (Come to find out years later that he actually thinks I'm awesome...who knew?) The point is, when I realized that I got to decide if I was pleased with myself, satisfied with my performance, or looking to make changes based on what I thought, I became a full, real, separate person from my parents. The people pleasing thing knocks on my door periodically, no doubt. Many of the things I've written in my original blog posts (see www.mutteringsfromaperfectionist.blogspot.com) reflect that. But living by your own standards is such a critical piece of human development. 

This post was prompted by reading an article recently about raising "strong-willed children" and how that's actually kind of a great type of human to raise and maybe we shouldn't be trying to get them to obey so much. I view my childhood self as pretty obedient. But scrolling through my memories, as I grew up into junior high and high school, I started questioning my dad. Respectfully, but basically saying, this decision you made isn't right. It's irrational that you make a point of never changing your mind, that you're incapable of apology. It's fun to trace those lines back. I think that's where my clumsy advocacy stems from. It was always deeply emotional for me to go up against my dad. (I got to experience that again recently when I needed to tell him "I'm a grown-ass woman" when he called to outline the merits of a potential Trump presidency to me knowing that I'm a political progressive). I've learned to hold my own, to stand my ground, to draw my line in the sand. You have to ask for my consent to have these conversations. You get to listen to my ideas if you want me to listen to yours. And you know what? He respects me for it. We had a pretty sweet, albeit impromptu, meeting of the minds I ended up enjoying. But most importantly, regardless of his response, what really matters to me is that I respect myself for it too. I guess it pays to grow up.

Separation is Hard

I like to think of myself as a pretty chill parent. I let my kids lead for the most part. We still set boundaries with our children, as you should in any relationship, but I don't have a lot of actual "rules", more like rituals. Anyway, because of the whole one less car issue, I made the executive decision to have Macy ride the bus to school for the rest of the year. She's changing school next year (for exciting reasons I'm sure I'll talk about some other time!) and we are required to drive her there. So this is clearly a 5ish week change. But my darling daughter is me to a tee. She resists change. When I mentioned to her that it was a real possibility, she was upset. We were walking home from school and she essentially raced away and walked home without me. I figured she needed time to process her feelings and wasn't surprised. We had a bus incident (I'm sure it'll come up here eventually) when she was in kindergarten that I had in the back of my mind to revisit so she doesn't have issues with independence in this area and karma intervened. Here we are, taking the bus. 
So we're confronting some past trauma for both of us. We're also making an unexpected change and not really by choice. We're cutting into the precious Macy/Mommy time we have each morning and both of us share Quality Time as our primary love language. And yet, once Daddy explained through the emotional haze that this was a necessary step for all of us (it's really the safest, best choice for the family with one vehicle right now) and that sometimes being in a family means doing things that we don't want to do. Personal sacrifice is part of community and that's an important lesson (one I'm still really wrestling with on the church level) to learn. 
Waiting patiently for me to return after a potty break.
20 minutes, people!
Once I realized that on top of feeling like there's too much change for her (new school next year and getting glasses) that Macy's primary concern was not having as much time with me, I determined that I would get up earlier and make her lunch the night before. Of course, we were ready way early and rather than read together, which I was fully expecting, Macy was ready to skip to the curb and wait for the bus for TWENTY minutes. That kid. This, she also gets from me. Once the change is determined, you face it with gusto. We chatted with the neighbor boys and got the skinny on where to sit (and apparently where NOT to sit. Bus politics have not changed, my friends) and I introduced her to the bus driver. 
Lots of roadside hugs
I came home feeling sad and relieved. This time is different. When you revisit something that was scary, the fears start talking and shame voices gain traction. Sadness or grief pay a visit. If you don't know the word for this type of experience, it's called "triggering." I'm mostly nostalgic that my little girl is growing up and I'm proud of myself for making a hard decision that's still the right one for the whole family. Sometimes my perfectionist brain thinks that what is best for the whole family might harm the individual (this is a theme for me from the trauma of our post-partum depression experience). And sometimes, that's true. But in this case, I believe this is also what's best for Macy. If we can still get her need for quality time met, she will gain confidence and independence through this that will help prepare her to change schools in the fall. I guess all of that is to say, it's okay that "normal" adjustments are hard for you. I know so many people who don't bat an eye at this type of change and probably think I'm silly for feeling all the feels. But I do. Perhaps because I have so many feelings, it has made me the right mom for the daughter who is just the same.