Skye has lowered my status to a level that fluctuates between inconsequential and scum of the earth. For the past few days, I have heard nothing but NO. NO – I won’t do my schoolwork. NO – I won’t clean my room. NO – I won’t apologize for hitting my brother. NO – I won’t clean up the mess I made in the kitchen. NO – I won’t and don’t respect you. I finally exploded yesterday with: “I hate the way you treat me! I quit!” Skye calmly responded, “You can’t quit your daughter.”
She was right, of course. And I later apologized for my outburst. She didn’t want to hear an explanation. She never does these days. She just wants me to fulfill her desires of the moment.
After my outburst yesterday, I sunk into a deep despair. I was nothing and nobody. I would never amount to anything. I had sacrificed all my personal dreams for this – for THIS! Even the time I had to exercise, to volunteer at the other kids’ schools, to prepare for future employment, to take care of ME – was gone. I had given it all up to homeschool this ungrateful, hurtful girl. And my afternoons, once Sherry arrives to relieve me of Skye-duty, are no better. I am an unpaid taxi service, commuting to distant private schools that are the “best places” for my unique children. More sacrifice of time and money. And speaking of money – I make very little. I spend the money that John makes. Hadn’t I been the one with the more lucrative employment when John and I married? That was gone too. And just in case I wasn’t already aware of this failure, Skye was quick to point it out. As we drove along in the van, listening to one of her radio stations, the DJ received calls from women who were complaining about stereotypes they most disliked pertaining to their gender. One woman complained, “I hate it when they assume a mom is nothing more than a mom. I’m a single parent, raising three kids, and going to law school.” Skye turned to me, “You’ll never be anything but a mom.” Though I was aware she said this to hurt me, the truth is that she’s never seen me pursue the work for which I have been educated. She never knew me as a teacher, youth minister, sexual assault prevention coordinator, adoption agency administrator, writer, or attorney. The lawyer suits collected dust and were then donated to other women in pursuit of professional careers years ago.
My fantasy about what parenthood would be like is nothing like what I am experiencing now. I think about my own mother who tried to support me even when she did not completely understand my particular “rebellion.” I was a young teenager becoming educated about the women’s rights movement. There was an end-of-the-season basketball banquet coming up. All the young men would wear suits. All the young women would wear pretty dresses. I told my mother I wanted to wear a man’s suit to “prove” that girls could do anything boys could do. She went out, found a pattern and material, and sewed a three-piece suit for me to wear to the banquet. My mother didn’t try to change me. She just tried to keep up with my development and let me know, in her own way, that I could count on her.
I also thought about my father’s way of parenting me. We lived in an old house, built in the early 1900s. We did not have air-conditioning. Instead, we had an attic fan that was turned on at night to drag the cooler air outside into our hot house. One summer, we had a cat who gave birth to a litter of four kittens. Knowing we would not be able to keep them, we four children gave the kittens our names as temporary ones: Becky, Marc, Joanna, and Tim. On a hot summer night, unbeknownst to me, my dad set up a folded card table in the doorway to our screen porch – the porch where the kittens were located – so that the door could be opened and the attic fan could pull cool air into the house. In the morning, I rushed downstairs to play with the kittens and discovered, to my horror, that the kittens had pulled down the table. Becky had been crushed and had died. My father was teaching a class at the university that morning. I grabbed my bicycle and pedaled furiously to the school to find him. I stood in the doorway of his classroom, tears streaming down my face, until he saw him. He excused himself from the class and ushered me into the stairwell where I proceeded to tell the tragic story, screaming at him, blaming him, and beating his chest with my fists. He stood and took my abuse, not responding with excuse or explanation, until all the anger had drained from my body. As I began to cry — huge, ugly sobs, he wrapped his arms around me and held me until I was recovered enough to get back on my bike and go home.
As I often think in theological terms, I have revisited this memory many times to remind myself about God’s parental love. God allows us to rage at injustice without making excuses, but holds us in our grief until we are ready to go on.
I concluded: My parents were just plain better at parenting than I am. Why doesn’t Skye see my presence as her “learning coach” in this online school as the equivalent of the three-piece suit my mom made for me? Why doesn’t she fall into my arms for comfort when things go badly or she experiences “injustice”? What am I doing wrong?
Is there a lesson in all this? Yes. But it doesn’t come from me. It comes from Skye: “You can’t quit your daughter.”… or your other children. No matter how badly I perform on a given day, I can’t quit. I can ask for help. I can rage. I can cry and whine. But, no matter what they throw at me, I won’t quit.