Best Valentine Ever

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My kids’ Valentine’s Day cards and candy were waiting for them on the kitchen counter when they came downstairs for breakfast this morning. They were not surprised, especially my daughter who helped me choose which chocolates to buy for her and her brother. I have always given them presents on Valentine’s Day. Although I consider it a silly, Hallmark-engineered holiday, it’s a good excuse to remind them I love them (see yesterday’s post). I did not expect anything in return because I honestly can’t remember the last time one of them gave me a Valentine. It was probably a Strawberry Shortcake or Sponge Bob card left over from one of those multipacks parents buy for little kids to distribute to their classmates.

This year, my almost 13-year-old bowled me over with a book called “52 Reasons I Love You,” which she made from a deck of playing cards. I was not surprised by the thoughtfulness or creativity behind the gesture. She is a kind, caring person and an excellent gift giver because she truly listens to people and wants to know who they are. What blew me away about the book were the sentiments she expressed.

If you follow this blog, you know that, as most mothers and daughters do, we have our ups and downs in the getting along department (here’s a letter I wrote to her about just that). Cards in the book like “You watch ‘Pretty Little Liars’ to make me happy,” “You give amazing fashion advice” and “You always let me borrow your stuff,” while they sound trivial, meant something to me because I did not have that kind of relationship as a teenager growing up with a stepmother. My stepmom and I rarely watched TV together. She did not help me decide which shoes or jewelry to wear. She never knowingly let me borrow her clothes, although I did sneak items out of her extensive wardrobe occasionally. My stepmother and I had a cold, distant relationship. There was no communication, trust or support. One of my biggest fears as a parent is that things will be the same for my daughter and me.

The book she made gives me hope. When I read reasons like “I can trust you with anything,” “You never let me down,” “You never doubt me” and “You always make sure I am happy,” I think that maybe, just maybe, I am doing some things right. Maybe, just maybe, our relationship will survive her teenage years, and the two of us will stay close. That would be the greatest gift of all.

There were funny cards in the book too, which is fitting because my daughter is a silly, lighthearted kid. “You scream every time we watch a horror movie” cracked me up because it’s true. She and my son argue about who has to face the embarrassment and shame of sitting next to me when we see scary films in the theater. “You taught me to embrace my inner nerd” made me laugh too, but it also made me proud. I want my daughter to be confident of her intelligence, to never play dumb or downplay it. As her mother, and as a woman, that is one of the most important things I can teach her.

There were many cards in the book that described how she views me as a person, not just her mother, and they gave me the impression she might admire, respect and even like me a little. She obviously knows me well: The second to the last card read “You’ll probably be crying by now.” I was.

The final card said “You’re my mom, and you couldn’t have done a better job.” Well, I have my doubts about that sometimes, but I try to do my best. Apparently, my daughter thinks my best is good enough. Happy Valentine’s Day to me.

When Mom Is the Problem

Dear Daughter,

The other day I realized something I guess I had been trying to ignore. As we drove to school, you were more withdrawn and serious than usual. We had argued about you not wearing a coat that morning, but I thought you were quiet because you were tired and dreading another long day at school. When you stepped out of the car, however, your entire demeanor changed. You smiled, you chatted with your best friend, you were happy. It was then that I knew exactly what the problem was: me.

It’s OK and normal for you to feel that way. When you are 12 years old, everything your mother does is a) annoying, b) embarrassing or c) both. I felt the same way at your age. Whatever my stepmother said or did made me cringe, and I did my best to keep my distance from her. I spent my free time alone in my room or with my friends, and always as far away from her as possible.

Intellectually, as a woman, I understand and empathize with you. Emotionally, as your mother, it breaks my heart. I hated my stepmother at your age, and my girlfriends all had issues with their moms. Somehow, though, I was under the impression things would be different with my own daughter. It turns out I was wrong. The little girl who clung to my leg for dear life as a toddler now can’t seem to wait to get away from me. It kills me to admit this, but I know it’s true.

We’ve been arguing more and more lately, and I know some of it is my fault. Your attitude toward me makes me angry and tense. I’m on edge whenever I ask you to do something because I’m not sure what your reaction will be. I know that sometimes I lash out too quickly and respond more severely than I should. For that I am sorry. But I am not sorry about calling you out when you treat me with disrespect. I want to be your friend, but I am your mother first. As I have told you many times before, you can think whatever you want about me. How you treat me, however, is not negotiable.

These next few years are going to be challenging for us. I am feeling the full weight of that after watching you walk into school with your friend the other day. I know you are growing up and that part of the process is to separate from your parents and form your own identity. But please don’t think I’m going to let you pull away completely. I’m not ready to give up my position in your world even though I do accept that I am no longer the center of it. I’m still going to ask about your day. I’m still going to coax you out of your room to watch TV or go for a run with me. I’m still going to take you to lunch or the mall once in a while, even though I know you’d prefer to go with your friends. When we’re out I’m going to put down my phone and talk to you and tell you to do the same. I’m going to ask questions, I’m going to embarrass you, I’m going to annoy you.

I’m going to do all those things because I am your mother, and you will always be the center of my world. Get used to it, kiddo. I’m not going anywhere. And someday, I hope, you’ll be happy about that.



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I Got a Rock

I’ve always been a Halloween girl. My birthday is Oct. 28, so I guess that’s not a surprise. I couldn’t wait to dress up and trick or treat as a kid. I never missed “It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown” and could even recite more than a few of the lines. Now, as a 45-year-old mom, I love to experience all the ghoulish glories of my favorite holiday vicariously through my children.

Or at least I used to.

I made their costumes by hand (well, I did one year anyway). I covered my shrubs in cobwebs and planted tombstones and skulls in my flowerbeds. Mummies, skeletons and giant spiders welcomed visitors on our porch. The living room looked as if Frankenstein had vomited pumpkins, ghosts and witches all over it. Not a spot in the house went undecorated. Halloween was everywhere.

My little Indian chief, age 3, in his handmade (by Mom) costume

My little princess, age 2 (did I mention I made her costume?)

But this year was different.

I only dug out one bin of decorations from the basement (I have at least five). The porch featured three Pottery Barn-esque clay jack-o’-lanterns and a tasteful copper skeleton. I left the cobwebs to nature, and Frankenstein never even made it out of the crawlspace.

It’s hard to feel, well, Halloween-y when your kids reach the tween and teen years. They want to trick or treat alone or at least at a distance. First you are relegated to the end of the block; eventually you aren’t even asked to tag along.

This year my 13-year-old wandered the neighborhood with his horde of fellow hoodlums, I mean, teenagers. My 11-year-old trick-or-treated and partied with her best friend’s family. And my husband and I stayed at home to hand out candy.

I have to admit that I was more than a little bummed to be left out of the holiday revelry. I wore my hot pink skull T-shirt. I stocked my cauldron with fun-size chocolate bars. But I just wasn’t feeling it.

Until 15 teenage girls and boys descended upon our house.

Don’t worry. They were invited. My husband and I skipped the Halloween fun this year so our son could host an after-party. Chaperoning is far less exciting than partying, but it was a great group of kids and we didn’t have any problems. The kids exchanged candy and ate pizza. I think there may even have been a game of Truth or Dare in the basement. But of course I can’t be certain because I never, ever spied on them.

Who am I kidding? Of course I did a little spying. I was thrilled to overhear more than one of the kids say they had a great time, and someone actually told my son his parents were cool.

It was a very different Halloween this year. It wasn’t all about me. In fact, it wasn’t at all about me. But my teenager and his friends had an awesome night.

You know what, Charlie Brown? I’ll take that rock.