Every day as a parent, I feel as if I’ve failed.
It never gets easier, does it?
Today when I dropped my daughter off at her new school, I felt her apprehension. It was a tangible, ‘reach out and cut it with a knife’ sort of hesitation. She hustled to get her seatbelt off, flung open the door, and retrieved her backpack from the trunk. She shuffled quickly inside, following the flow of middle-schoolers entering one of the six open doors during the morning drop-off rush.
This school is huge; at least three times larger than her previous school, where she was a superstar, a kid with many friends and tons of self-confidence. My heart stung—a mixture of anxiety and guilt. I watched her in my rear-view as she shuffled inside. A car behind me honked, urging me to hurry up and move so they could drop off their fully able-bodied child and head off to wherever they were headed in such a fucking hurry. I resisted the urge to give them the one-finger salute, to scream out hold your fucking horses. It wouldn’t help Sasha in school if I did that.
No, I had to be the good mom, the one who smiles and waves politely, while muttering expletives under my breath and through clenched jaws. (Smiles broadly, ‘Honk at me one more time mother-fucker, and I will ram that Suburban up your ass.’)
Thankfully, I’m turning right and not left out of this parking lot. The line of cars coming into the school parking lot is at least a mile long, and there is no visible break in traffic coming from the opposite direction. I wave at the Suburban. “Have a great day!” (Smiles, ‘Good luck turning left.’) I make an easy right turn.
A few hours later, I’m sitting in my cubicle reading creative briefs and thinking of the kid. Is she okay? It’s lunchtime; is she sitting alone, or has she made one friend? (Silent prayer, ‘Please God, help her to make one friend. Or two, so if one is out sick—she has a backup.)
She’s wearing her sparkly shirt today, and sparkly pants. In her hair is the same purple flower that she’s been wearing for three days in a row. Will they think she only has the one hair barrette? Will they think her shirt or pants or both are too sparkly? Will she be labeled a ‘Vegas Girl’? God. Did I make a mistake moving my family from the warmth of the West Coast to the somewhat clenched cheeks of the East Coast? Am I just over-reacting? A quick listing of why we’d moved here, a mental double-check to reassure myself of the decision I’d made. Better healthcare, better education, better opportunity, a house with an actual yard, closer to our families.
It’s only been three weeks, and one of those weeks was Spring Break, so she was not in school. No chance for her to make a friend yet, and she’s too shy to approach the neighbor kids. Maybe I should make friends with the neighbors? I did kick a soccer ball into their yard twice this weekend, forcing an impromptu visit to their front door. They invited me in, and I declined. Perhaps I should have gone inside? Ugh, I need to get better at this whole talking to the neighbors thing, something I never had to do in Vegas.
Today I made a connection with a woman at work. She’s nice, a writer, and a survivor. I like the people who have stories to tell. I don’t relate to the vapidness of the Suburban driving Moms of this world. I can’t understand the urge to honk at a fellow Mom dropping off her kid at school. Are the additional 15 seconds it took for my daughter to retrieve her backpack worth causing more stress? Be a human. Chill the fuck out.
I think of my husband, who has yet to discover a lot of our new town because he’s been setting up our new house. Does he regret moving here? He typically does the drop-off/pick-up at school. I wonder if he’s met the honking rage of the Suburban Mom. She probably wouldn’t honk at him. He’s handsome. Women melt over him, not honk at him. Maybe I should ask him.
I’m gone all day. Here, at my cubicle desk, writing and working. It’s a great opportunity, great money. I feel guilty for having the chance to get out of our house and see more of the city. Every day I’m on the train from our home to the downtown portion of Charlotte, North Carolina. The locals call it ‘Uptown’, which makes me wonder how that actually makes sense if you live ‘up’ from ‘Uptown’… isn’t it technically downtown? I guess either way doesn’t make a ton of sense. People who travel ‘up’ to get to ‘Downtown L.A.’ aren’t going the right direction either.
My mind is nuts. Who thinks this way? I read an article on the train this morning about identifying psychopaths by their taste in music. In all honesty, I read it hoping that I wouldn’t be identified as a psychopath because I like John Mayer and The Beatles. (Note: I’m safe. Apparently, the only music psychopaths listen to are bands like the Sex Pistols. I mean that one song is good, but … surely liking one song doesn’t mean I’m a full-blown psychopath.)
When I was 12, my mother moved me from a very small town in Arkansas to Orange County, California. It was a complete culture shock. It was busy, and crowded, and cars didn’t stop for pedestrians. People took the public bus. In my hometown, there was a noticeable lack of public transportation. There was a train station, but no trains ever came through it. Not that I can recall anyway, and there weren’t buses.
I rode my bike from one end of town to the other without fear of being sideswiped by a car, chased by a mentally-ill homeless person, or abducted. I made it through our move to the West, but it was a big learning experience. I skipped school, saw friends do hard drugs, and walked active train tracks home. It was hard, and yet, I made it through, and eventually came to recognize the West as Home.
My daughter is sheltered. I refuse to let her walk home by herself or ride the school bus. I’ve seen the stories on TV; I know what kind of unsupervised antics are happening on those yellow traps. Yes, I own the fact that I helicopter. I over-supervise. I distrust the systems and the environments. I don’t want her to get hurt. I want to protect her from mean people, like Suburban Mom. Honking, annoying, in a hurry, driving a huge Suburban, and being a general nuisance to society Mom.
On any given day, there are about a dozen things on my mind at any given time, and yet, I make it through. Some days are better than others. Some days there are tears. Some days, I’m the honking Mom being an asshole.
A call from the school counselor, five minutes before school is set to be done for the day. Apparently, in the hectic rush of an ending recess and urgency to get to the next class period, she was left wandering the halls. Lost. The bell had rung, and she was unsure of where to go. This school is so much bigger … and I can just imagine the fear she must have been feeling at that moment. Not wanting to get in trouble for being late, not wanting to look dumb, not wanting to be lost. She asked the first adult she recognized for help. It was the school counselor. They looked up her schedule together, and found the class. No real trouble caused, but I couldn’t shelter her from that.
Today, as a mother, I feel as if I’ve failed.
Tonight my last meeting ended at 6 PM, putting me home a full hour later than usual. I couldn’t be there to encase her in a warm and protective hug when she got home from school. I gave my husband a heads-up, telling him to give her extra love today. I sent her an email, putting in a GIF from one of her favorite TV shows. Knowing that’s not enough, but wanting her to know that I care about her so much, that I love her so much. Still helicoptering and being overprotective, from across town. Thank you technology for being an enabler of my nervous-mother syndrome
This evening as I walked the half-mile from my office building to the train station, I was nearly blown away by the wind. It was the kind of wind that turned umbrellas inside out, and forced people to walk head-first into the wind in an attempt to remain upright. I was one of these people, forcing my steps against the wind, cursing the trek I was forced to make. And then, I stopped. I can’t explain why, and I’m sure to a passerby I must have appeared insane. I folded up my umbrella, and stood upright in the middle of the sidewalk.
The wind tore through me. I felt the chill of the air in my bones. My hair flew furiously around my face, landing in my eyes and mouth. Then the most out of character thing happened. I smiled. In the midst of the cold, and forces of nature making life difficult, I stood upright and smiled in its face.
It reminded me of a quote that I love; ‘Not all those who wander are lost’. My daughter and I, we’re cut from a very similar cloth. We’re worriers, we’re adapters, we’re wanderers, and depending on the day—we’re a mix of introvert and extrovert. We love deeply, and we get hurt often because of that love.
While we can’t control the outcome of the day, we can decide how we react when we get lost, and we can choose to stand up to the wind, and smile in nature’s face.
Tomorrow is another day, a new day. A day to find the classroom. A day to find the joy. A day to let go of the anger and fear and Suburban Mom rage. However, I will still be that Mom who emails GIFs and heart emojis.