People rarely rave about their childhoods and it’s no
wonder. So many mistakes are made.
I see how that happens now, how we all create future work for
our kids by checking our cell phones while you are mid-story or
sticking you in the basement to watch a movie because we love you
but we don’t really want to be with you anymore that day, or
coming unhinged over all manner of spilt milk --- wet towels,
unflushed toilets, lost brand-new! whatevers.
Almost every day I yell at one of you so loudly that my throat
hurts afterward. That’s why I keep loz-enges in practically
every drawer in the house. I hold it together and hold it together
and then, when the bickering picks up again, I just detonate. Like
yesterday, Claire, when I listened to you whine through two rounds
of some card game called Egyptian War. Finally, it was
Georgia’s turn to go first, and you said you couldn’t
play anymore because your armpits were sore. “That’s
stupid,” Georgia said, and you cried, “Stupid is a mean
word!” and smacked Georgia with your open palm as I watched.
“GO TO YOUR ROOM RIGHT NOW, MISSY!” I hollered.
“It was an accident; I fell into her on accident!” You
both froze and I got to my feet and I leaned down into your faces
and ranted at you through set teeth, like the heartless tyrannical
caretakers in movies about orphans. I was so disgusted with both of
you, your impatient overreactions, your loss of self-control ---
then I turned right around and disgusted myself.
If John Lennon was right that life is what happens when
you’re making other plans, parenthood is what happens when
everything is flipped over and spilling everywhere and you
can’t find a towel or a sponge or your “inside”
voice. But if my temper has made you hesitant or tentative, is
there any atoning for that?
In a parent-teacher conference last year, Ms. Tunney said, with
obvious hesitation, “Sometimes --- sometimes, your daughter
has a bit of an edge, a way of snapping that makes the other kids
pull back.” I cried when I left the classroom. I knew.
There are other mistakes, less obvious. I don’t mirror
your emotions enough, though I can’t say why because when I
do, it seems to calm you down. I forget to praise your effort
instead of your achievement, I discipline by carrot and stick
instead of reason, and I ignore the indisputable research about the
benefits of family dinner. I’m a zero when it comes to the
culinary arts --- everything tastes like ground shoelaces, except
my salads, which you are years away from appreciating. Until then,
we go over to Beth’s house and trade wine for dinner.
It’s a brilliant solution but sometimes, on the way home,
when you go on and on about how Beth is such a good cook and then
Dad adds his accolades about Beth’s homemade red sauce and
roasted broccolini and how you ate every bite, my mom-ego twitches
and cramps, and by the time we get home I’m practically
convulsing with animus.
I used to be “pretty chill,” as I once heard Dad say
to his friend Graham when I turned down a Corona at a
two-year-old’s birthday party. For instance, before I was
your mom, I didn’t have one of those plastic dividers for my
silverware. I’d just take the basket out of the dishwasher
and dump all the knives, forks, and spoons right into the drawer.
My friends Mike and Andy, who coached me through the last of my
single years, still talk about it. I went around the world without
a credit card or a cell phone or a plan of any sort, I hitchhiked a
thousand miles, I went to Dead shows with people whose last names I
didn’t know, I wore green Birkenstocks to the office. I
thought I’d be cooler as a mom. But then I leaned back on the
delivery table and Dr. Laura Statchel pulled out a baby, and
somewhere between the precious bundle that was Georgia and the
placenta, all that it’s cool, no worries, sure why not? stuff
came out too.
My default answer to everything is no. As soon as I hear the
inflection of inquiry in your voice, the word no forms in my mind,
sometimes accompanied by a reason, often not. Can I open the mail?
No. Can I wear your necklace? No. When is dinner? No. What you
probably wouldn’t believe is how much I want to say yes. Yes,
you can take two dozen books home from the library. Yes, you can
eat the whole roll of SweeTarts. Yes, you can camp out on the deck.
But the books will get lost, and SweeTarts will eventually make
your tongue bleed, and if you sleep on the deck, the neighborhood
raccoons will nibble on you. I often wish I could come back to life
as your uncle, so I could give you more. But when you’re the
mom, your whole life is holding the rope against these wily secret
agents who never, ever stop trying to get you to drop your end.
This tug-of-war often obscures what’s also happening
between us. I am your mother, the first mile of your road. Me and
all my obvious and hidden limitations. That means that in addition
to possibly wrecking you, I have the chance to give to you what was
given to me: a decent childhood, more good memories than bad, some
values, a sense of a tribe, a run at happiness. You can’t
imagine how seriously I take that --- even as I fail you. Mothering
you is the first thing of consequence that I have ever done.
Excerpted from LIFT © Copyright 2010 by Kelly Corrigan.
Reprinted with permission by Voice, an imprint of Hyperion. All