Whenever people find out I have two boys, the inevitable question I get asked is “Are you going to try for a little girl?”
No. NO! Definitely not!! When the ultrasound technician announced I was carrying a second boy, I had to fight the urge to throw my arms around her neck and plant a big kiss on her forehead. My blood flowed with elation. I praised the heavens. I let out an audible sigh of relief.
It’s not that I don’t like girls. I adore little girls. They definitely got the better end of the deal when it comes to clothes. Since I am a confirmed glitter addict, it would be nice to have someone besides myself to buy tutus, feather boas, and rhinestone jewelry for. But no. Little girls I like. Much like ripe berries, little girls start out sweet and wholesome. But over time, they turn into black, rotten masses of bad fruit called teenagers.
Teenage boys are their own brand of hell (and by even writing this post, I am dooming myself to a new brand of rebellion). My brothers seemed to be genetically predispositioned towards engaging in stupidly dangerous activities. I shouldn’t say seemed, past tense, I should say, seem, present tense. They are still known to think getting in fist fights or using each other for target shooting is a good idea (hey, he had on a bullet proof vest! What could possibly go wrong?) My parents might as well have opted for a house across the street from the emergency room. But even though my brothers were prone to misbehavior and trouble, they still adored my mother. There is a reason the phrase is Mama’s boys. As a teenager, I never so much as broke a toe, but I certainly did my share of butting heads- with my mother.
Right when I needed my mother the most, I exiled her from my life. I was clumsily negotiating the world of dating and guys. My mom had been betrothed to my dad since prehistoric times. What could she possibly know about boys?
Teenage girls are genuinely competing with each other in a game called “I’m Better Than You.” Older guys equal big points in this game. I could not fathom why my mom did not want her fifteen year old daughter going out with a twenty two year old Air Force serviceman with his own apartment. I was a straight A student and scared of sex. In my mind, that meant I should be trusted to go away for a long weekend with my father-figure boyfriend. My mom, on the other hand, opted for an 11pm curfew and flicking the porch lights on and off to signal she knew I was making out in the driveway. You can see how we might have a breakdown in communication.
I wasn’t just in a hurry to grow up; I was sprinting toward adulthood. I worked summer jobs so I could buy midriff baring halter tops, spandex dresses that hugged every curve, and skirts that barely concealed my bum. I equated showing skin with looking older. My mother delicately implied that I didn’t look mature so much as I resembled a streetwalker. But my mom didn’t watch Beverly Hills 90210 or shop at “Merry Go Round.” What did she know about fashion? She may not have understood fashion according to Seventeen magazine, but she did know that most guys willing to date a high school girl are going to expect her to keep up with the college gals, and not just when it comes to the length of their miniskirts.
I’d like to say my mom’s error was not telling me about the dating mistakes from her past. But truth is, all I would have heard is “YOU dated an asshole so why can’t I?” How do you reason with teenagers? Their clear-thinking pathways are clogged with hormones, emotions, and illegally purchased beer. You can’t. I made my mistakes, and my mom watched in quiet agony and silently waited for her little girl to come back to her.
Our reconciliation took longer than expected. I met a musician in my senior year of high school. He was older, of course. He had a job, had his own place, and had zero respect for parental authority. If my mom said “Be in by midnight,” he was the guy telling me I could sneak in at 12:30am and she’d never notice. She accurately named him Bad News from the moment he shook her hand, and that of course meant I would stay with him for eight years.
During that time, my mom and I spoke, but not often and not at length. I called her about once a month to check in, and didn’t divulge much about my life beyond the usual “work’s fine. I’m fine.” I spent holidays with my family, but in that way that I’m showed up, watched the clock to see when I had officially put in enough time, and then bolted for the door. It was a relationship built on obligation.
In the way that fashion divided my mother and I in my teenage years, it brought us back together in my late twenties. I had finally ditched the asshole and was living on my own for the first time. I had a miniscule apartment to match my miniscule income. I could not afford a cable TV bill, but I was in love with the show Project Runway. To my surprise, my mom was too. Her initial invitation to watch the program led to a weekly ritual. We’d watch the show and gossip while eating decadent desserts. Very cliché, very girly- and very fun. I loved gabbing about the different designs, each of us picking our favorite for the week and hoping our choice wouldn’t get cut. It didn’t happen right away, but over time, those silly fashion conversations evolved into something more. We were getting to know each other perhaps for the first time.
There are those times in your life where you just need your mom. During my first pregnancy, I was the picture of self reliance. My husband and I were living in Arizona. My family is in Colorado. Everyone kept asking when my mother was coming into town, assuming she was going to be there for the birth. But I was insistent that I wanted just my husband and I there. I wanted a few days alone as a family before a bombardment of relatives.
My son’s was born by emergency c-section, and he had some complications that resulted in a weeklong visit to the NICU. He had been rushed to another hospital for treatment. I remained at the hospital where he was born. When babies are subjected to a traumatic birth, a lot of times, they will spend the first two days of life crying non-stop. I don’t really remember what the reasoning is behind this, I only remember that my husband was having to deal with it all on his own. He wanted to be there for our son, but all day with a newborn screaming, not sleeping, not eating, was wearing on him.
With his head in his hands and bags under his eyes, he questioned “Who can we get to help? We need someone that can hold a screaming baby and not be bothered by it.”
I didn’t even have to think about it. I got on the phone and told my mom I needed her. She had every right to say no, to brush me off as I had done her when she offered to come before the birth. But she didn’t. She bought a last minute airfare and came to our rescue. She didn’t tolerate holding a crying baby; she relished it. She talked to him quietly, and rubbed his back. Before long, he wasn’t crying so much.
Sometimes being loved means you have to give someone the opportunity to love you. It is in my nature to be a bit of a loner. Even as a kid, I would hole up behind the clothes in my closet, so I could read without being disturbed. I still find that type of solitude to be a necessity. But I also remind myself that enjoying solitude does not mean I am without a need to share. I don’t know what psychosis is behind it, but I inherently hesitate when it comes to saying things that matter, especially to my family. I always wanted to be part of one of those sitcom families that share hugs easily and never end the day without saying “I love you.” I guess I’m a bit more guarded.
Every once in awhile, I take a chance. I call my mom and tell her something close to my heart. I usually just have to kind of blurt it out before I can think about it too much. She responds in just the right way to let me know I am heard. I end the call telling her I love her, which I rarely do, and find my face flushing when she responds that she loves me and is proud of me. I hang up and feel her warmth for the rest of the day.