Living vicariously hurts

Sorry it’s been a while. Between shoveling 2,500 inches of snow from the driveway and wiping butts and taking temperatures, I’ve only had time to do laundry and watch late-night reruns of Law & Order.

But I’m back, so down to business.

Here’s what’s going on in my parenting world: I’m living vicariously through my 13-year-old daughter.

It’s something I swore I’d never do, and I can honestly say I’m not doing it the way I dreaded, pushing my little girl to become everything I wanted to be but never could: a ballerina or competitive dancer or soccer star.

Frankly, I gave up hoping I was raising a dancing queen when Maggie was 3. We enrolled her in a combo dance class. I bought her lots of cute tutus and leotards and tights and the sweetest, tiniest ballet shoes. The little blondie was a doll, I tell you.

Only she hated everything but acrobats. She hated plies and first position and, OK, the tutus. She wanted to do flips and handsprings and cartwheels and what have you.

And you know what? I realized pretty quickly that what I wanted for Maggie and what she wanted, even at 3, didn’t jibe. I was projecting my lost dream of dancing the part of Sugar Plum Fairy onto my little blonde sweetie. We enrolled her in an acrobats class, and she’s been flipping and tumbling ever since.

So no, I’m no tiger mother. Just the opposite. I try to be supportive and let my children figure out what they want to do. And that’s the easy part.

But emotionally, I’m living my early teen years all over again. And it hurts just as badly the second time around, even through the lens of 30 years and the knowledge that things do get better.

I sound dramatic, and Maggie’s life is anything but. She doesn’t have time for the drama. And that’s part of her problem in middle school, where many girls thrive on drama and fights and imagined scenarios.

Not Maggie. Raised with two brothers, she’s not accustomed to navigating the badmouthing and backbiting and conniving that mark some girls’ entrance into the teen-age years. She doesn’t think that way. I like that about her. She can’t really “read” girls well, either, because she’s never had to. In her world, people pretty much say what they mean and mean what they say.

So it confuses her and hurts her feelings when someone she considers a friend suddenly does something mean or thoughtless. She can’t anticipate that; she’s not wired that way.

I, on the other hand, know all about middle-school girls and their drama. Sandwiched between two sisters, I witnessed my own share of drama within the confines of my childhood home. It wasn’t horrible, it just was. And I learned from it. Then I saw it at school, got drawn into it, decided it wasn’t my thing and moved on. And I know that middle-school drama princesses often grow up to be adult drama queens.

One day, a friend whose daughter is in school with Maggie called to see if her daughter could wait at our house until time to pick up her brother. The call confused me, because I thought my friend knew her daughter was always welcome in our house, and I said as much.

But she told me her daughter didn’t know if Maggie wanted her there and had asked her mom to call. We worked it out, and I hung up, then told Maggie the other girl would be coming home with her after school.

She looked confused. “I tell her every day she can come over, Mom, but she never does,” she said. “It’s weird.”

A light bulb went off. Years-dormant instinct told me what was going on: The girl didn’t want to pick up her brother from school and was playing her mother. I said as much to Maggie, who looked completely, absolutely befuddled.

“Huh?” she said. “Why would she do that?”

I sighed. How to explain that one before the morning bus came? “We’ll talk about it later,” I said. “You just need to know it’s not you she’s messing with; it’s her mom. She’s just using you to work her mom.”

She nodded, but I knew she didn’t understand. Would she ever?

It reminds me so much of something my sweet grandmother, bless her soul, said 14 years ago while my younger sister was laboring with her first child.

It was the day before Thanksgiving, and my sister had been induced. Grandma had arrived for the holiday, and she insisted on my dad driving her to the hospital so she could see Molly. She sat in a rocking chair for a while, watching Molly breathe and grimace in pain. Pretty soon she decided to go wait in the waiting room.

As we walked past the nurses’ station near the door to the mother-baby unit, I spotted my obstetrician, who was also my sister’s doctor. I introduced my grandmother to the doctor.

“Listen,” Grandma said to the doctor, “I want to ask you something.”

“Sure,” the doctor said. “What can I do for you?”

“Well,” Grandma said, “when I had my first baby 64 years ago, they gave me ether right before the baby was born. With the second baby, I had chloroform.”

The doctor smiled and nodded politely, wondering, like I was, where she was going with this.

“And what I want to know,” Grandma said, “is why medicine hasn’t figured out a way to make childbirth less painful. Why does it have to hurt?”

Before the doctor could spit out an answer, Grandma had moved through the door.

And I guess that’s what I want to know now. In the years since Grandma was a teen, since my mom was a teen, in the 30 years since I was a teen – why hasn’t someone figured out a way to keep the teen-age years from hurting?


2 thoughts on “Living vicariously hurts

  1. Believe me I feel your pain. My daughter is also navigating these waters… it’s painful. She seems to do Ok on a day to day basis, but the stories I hear from other moms… whoa. We just continue to try to focus on the positive and make a priority the relationships which are healthy. Still, I do lay awake at night. I think older moms, like me, gained something in our patience with our children but boy was having a kid in middle school at the same time I’m starting menopause a horrible idea.

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