Written for the 2012 Philly "Listen To Your Mother" Mother's Day event
The last time I wrote publicly about my kids, they were young.
They’re still young, of course, but if you were to ask them, they would tell you they are old. And that, of course, makes me worse than old. That makes me irrelevant.
Sometime last year, I was informed that I was too old to use the word “dude” in public. Even ironically. Never mind that this only made me more likely to show up at school pick-up saying things like, “Dude! How was your day?” The point had been made: I was officially becoming embarrassing.
I remember my mom being embarrassing. Of course my mom was embarrassing. But she was crazy! She would dig around in her purse for something and spare underwear would fall out! She would stalk neighborhood garage sales and walk right into people’s houses asking if stuff was for sale! She wore bell-bottoms in 1984, for crying out loud. THAT was embarrassing. But me? I’m cool! Right? Right???
There was a time when I was cool to them, when things I said actually mattered—when the kids not only thought of me as somebody worthy of their admiration, but weren’t even embarrassed to admit to that in public. But now it’s increasingly apparent that I am super incompetent, totally embarrassing, and totally out of it. (Does anyone even say “out of it” anymore?)
When someone asks them what I do, they do not say, “Oh, she’s a bestselling writer.” They don’t even say, “She’s a writer.” They say—and I’m not making this up—“Oh, she just reads stuff on the Internet all day.”
Which—okay, that’s partially true. It’s called research! And I don’t do it all day. At least, not every day.
They have become skeptical of my expertise, writing entire research papers without once asking me for advice about footnotes or bibliography or grammar, hand-waving me through a story about PE saying, “It’s football, Mommy, you wouldn’t understand.” Hearing me chuckle at her use of the word LOL (pronounced as “loll”) to express dry amusement, my daughter, glancing up momentarily from simultaneously playing Minecraft, texting, and having a group chat on Skype, asks me suspiciously, “Ugh, do you even know what L-O-L means?”
And when I explain that not only do I know what it means, but I in fact have been having conversations online involving acronyms since I was her age, when going online meant a DOS prompt and a modem slower than the slowest response time of a nearly 13-year-old person who is asked for the millionth time to please stop playing Minecraft and come to dinner. But this does nothing to convince her of my relevance, and even her nine-year-old brother responds with a pitying, affectionate oh-mom eye roll.
But, I get it.
Growing up is daunting. Becoming competent is daunting. It makes sense that they might—at this vulnerable time when they are nearly old enough to be in the grown-up world without my hand to hold—necessarily play down my competence in order to convince themselves that their competence is possible, that yes, of course they can do this. Of course they can master this scary, fast-changing world. I mean, come on, if their mom can do it, how hard can it be?
In lots of ways, my job now is the same as it was when they were young. To watch and wait, to offer my hand knowing they may very well not take it, to help them pack for a trip they’ll ultimately be taking on their own.
To be there to help without judgment when eventually they realize that writing “I looked on Google” does not pass for a bibliography in a 7th grade research paper.
To say (without laughing even lovingly), “Oh, I think you mean interception, that’s the football word; intersection is what happens to a line in math, or to streets that cross each other.”
To not take it personally as they take steps towards real independence.
Because they are at a crossroads, finally beginning to intersect with their own emerging versions of their grown-up selves. And I remember all too clearly what that was like—the yearning to be some already-formed version of who I was supposed to be, past any terrifying questions of how I was supposed to get there or what might happen if it all turned out differently than I hoped.
So at dinner time, when my attempt at a joke is met with a stony glare from the twelve-year-old and the nine-year-old’s deadpan sigh of “ROFL,” I just have to smile. Partly because I know that this is important. And mostly because their dad is there, asking quite genuinely, “What the heck is Roffle?” and we all, all four of us, get to laugh together at his ignorance.
He’s really old.