(with apologies to Robert M. Pirsig)
Teen daughter calls me not too long ago.
"I got a new piercing!" She says.
"Where?" I ask, more than a little afraid of the answer.
"I got an 'Industrial.'" She says, skirting the answer.
I sigh. "WHAT part of your body is that in?"
"My ear." I sigh again, this time with relief. "Your ear is fine. Be home before midnight."
Seventeen years ago I thought that parenting just entailed a good manual and a lot of love. My older sister gave me her copy of "Your Baby and Child: from birth to age 5" by Penelope Leach. I figured I was set. And believe me, Penelope didn't steer me wrong. It's just that over the years circumstances came up that weren't easily solved by a book. What to do when your choice is between working nights or working a day job but taking a $15,000 a year pay cut? And how do you find a baby sitter when you're working the overnight shift, anyway? How do you date with a small child? And most important: how to explain to small child why the guy she calls "Daddy" isn't really available when she needs him most.
I'm sure someone, somewhere has covered these problems in a book, but that's not really the point. The point is that no matter how prepared you think you are, mistakes are going to be made, stuff's going to happen. I look back on my 20's and wonder how someone (me) could be so clueless and still be entrusted with the care of a child. I compare with how I'm raising a child in my 40's. I have more patience, less energy. I can stick to a routine better. I certainly have more money, although outside of dire poverty or extravagant wealth, children don't really notice, I think.
I had a coworker once tell me that she wasn't going to breastfeed her second child because she couldn't breastfeed the first and she didn't want to give one an advantage the other didn't get. As bizarre as I found her reasoning, I can empathize. I worry that teen daughter will be scarred for life if the toddler has something she didn't have: listening to classical music, trips to the Met, an appreciation of sushi at an early age. I don't know what all, just that Mommy Guilt is alive and well and a terrible thing. Coupled with it is the strong suspicion that anything bad she does is the result of the time I came to pick her up from daycare late. She was the last kid there and every emergency contact had already been called and my daughter cried when anyone was late picking her up ever again.
This past year, said daughter(now the teen with the piercings) worked on an independent project for school. On her own she found a mentor, kept a journal, worked for a year on her chosen subject and then presented her project to a group of invited friends and relatives. She even made her own programs for the presentation. Her subject-Fiber Arts-spinning, weaving, knitting and felting. Her mentor owns a Saori weaving business on the Upper East Side. Saori embodies the principles of Zen, there are no teachers, only practitioners. Every Saturday, she ventured forth to the Isle of Manhattan and learned how to set up and work a loom. In exchange for free lessons, she helped around the shop, including helping the students who came in for lessons. One Saturday, I came in to film her on the loom for her presentation. Yukako, her mentor told me how helpful she was, how good she was at spinning and weaving. Jen even had a piece she made exhibited at an art show. It was amazing to hear someone else describe my daughter to me. I know she's helpful and kind and talented, but too often that gets lost in the worry that my teenager is too obnoxious, too moody, too unmotivated. I worry that her inability to keep her room clean with translate into a later inability to find and keep gainful employment. Her mentor told me that Jen had helped teach a class of disabled children and was very good at it. Several worries popped all at once, like the soap bubbles we used to blow when she was little.
Later on, I let her direct me on the subway. "No, Mom, we go THIS way." She made her way through Manhattan like a native. I let her guide me, proud that she was coming into her own and I was just "Mom". Earlier in the day my taxi driver had asked why I was in the city and I said, "I'm visiting my daughter." The words seemed grand coming out of my mouth, but very right. The feeling won't last forever, but for right now I'm sure she'll make her way in the world just fine.
That night I left her in the city to shop for a prom dress. A few hours later I get a text from her. With a picture. "Is that ANOTHER PIERCING!" I yell to my husband. "IN HER MOUTH!" Sigh.