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8.28.2009

Better

This is just going to be one of those stream of consciousness posts because I'm typing through tears and don't want to stop and try to figure out how to make a cohesive thought.

Today is effectively my last day of summer with my daughter. My mother is coming to take her until next week when we all get together and do our big anniversary celebration. I realized this as I lay in bed last night. Last Day of Summer. And I felt so sick I got up out of bed and went to look at Savannah while she slept and I started to cry because I'm just like my father.

And that makes me so sick I could throw up just typing it.

Until the day he died my father was filled with regret. Regret that he didn't play with me. Regret that he was selfish. Regret that he was so angry all the time. Regret that he shooed me away. Regret that he drank too much. Regret that he watched too much TV. Regret that he never talked to me about boys. Regret that me broke his promises again and again. Regret that he chose himself. Every moment. Of every day.

As he lay dying he sobbed with regret.

And I said all the right things. I told him he was a good father. I told him I had a happy childhood. I told him I didn't carry any emotional scars from my protector being my tormentor. I told him he was forgiven.

He and I both knew that was a lie.

As I lay there with my broken father, I had just started my journey as a parent with a cherubic three year old at home. I lay there next to him in the home where I grew up and I promised myself this wouldn't be me.

I promised.


I may not lay a hand on my daughter. I may not scream at her. I may not call her names.

But at what point am I going to realize that just being better than him is not enough?

Last night we sat in some friends' backyard. My wine glass miraculously refilled itself again and again. The laughter got louder, the jokes funnier. Savannah wanted to be involved. I kept dismissing her to go back in the house and watch a movie. Over and over she told me she was tired. She was bored. I tried to tease her and accidentally hurt her feelings. I embarrassed her in front of everybody and she started to cry. I apologized but the damage was done.

Eventually she went inside and fell asleep.

Hours later I woke up in the middle of the night gripped with regret.

It was sobering how familiar that situation felt.

The adults, the alcohol, the laughter. Being dismissed. Being a nuisance. Being humiliated.

Only now I was on the other side of the wine glass.

It occurred to me that I never did half of the things I promised I'd do with her this summer. A day spent playing board games in our pajamas, doing a picnic at the park, going on a scavenger hunt walk, redoing her bedroom.

And what good reason did I have? None. I was too busy doing what I wanted to do, smug with the satisfaction that at least I was home. Passively parenting.

How much time do I have left? How many more chances will I have to make it right? How much longer will my daughter keep looking for my attention before she writes me off until I call her one day and tell her I have four months left to live?

I've felt this sense of urgency to be a better parent before. But this time my heart is shaking me awake. To put down the laptop. To put down the phone. To put down the book. To step up my goal from being better than him and start being better than I've been.

I choose you, Savannah. I choose you. And starting today, I'm going to do a much better job showing you that I choose you.

***********************
Update: Ugh. This is one of those posts that you immediately wish you hadn't written once you hit publish because you feel better now. But then you realize that you only feel better because you wrote it.

Updated Update: Savannah just woke up and when I asked her if she wanted to stay in our pajamas and play board games today she responded with a fist pump and a "yes!". God, I love that girl. She just makes this parenting thing so easy sometimes.

27 comments:

cindy w said...

Wow, that's powerful. And I totally get it - especially the part about the absent father. (Mine wasn't abusive or an alcoholic, but he was dismissive and never very interested in his kids. I honestly don't know if he regrets that or not.) And I worry about being home but not *here* enough for my daughter. Sure, we're in the same house all day, but I'm mentally checked out half the time - on the computer, on the phone, whatever. So I totally get it. It sucks that I have to remind myself to sit on the floor and do a damn puzzle sometimes. Sigh.

But, I think sometimes that just the awareness that we need to do better than our parents is probably a sign that we already ARE doing better than them. Maybe?

Ann said...

That was a powerful and sad post. I am sorry things were so hard with your dad. Your insight into your own parenting is amazing and that's the seed of potential to really make a permanent change. Unfortunately many people find it well nigh impossible to break these kinds of cycles - despite the best intentions and all the love in the world, we find ourselves repeating the pattern when we least expect it. One way to make the change is to search out a skilled therapist - maybe that would help you?

I wish you and your family well. It takes a lot of guts to admit it when things like this are going on, and even more to make the change. I would say good luck but it won't be luck that makes the difference here - it will be work - hard work! - , but you can do it. :)

Kari said...

Wow, this post made me cry. I can totally relate, I feel like a 'passive parent' a lot, and I know I should change and then I somehow end up in the same situation again and again. Thanks for the kick in the butt to try to change it for good this time.

DianaCLT said...

Beautiful, Lena. And with that...I'm going to go play some Wii Sports with my son, before hauling both kids to the store, in preparation for our camping trip. :)

Enjoy your last day of summer with your daughter. Though school is starting soon, a few precious minutes every day can show your daughter how much you love and adore her.

Julie @ The Mom Slant said...

Oh god.

That hurt, but I needed it. Thanks Lena.

lynn @ human, being said...

I take my daughter for granted because she is so independent. She has always played quietly on her own, and of her own accord, even as a toddler. She's more introverted than I am. She tries to solve her own problems before "bothering" me with them.

Because she's so not a boat rocker, house wrecker, spoil sport, I sometimes forget about her. She is only with me 50% of the time, and I get used to her not being around, to being able to do my own thing, to staying in my own head. And then last night happens, when she called to me to tell me she was ready to be tucked in, and I said I'd be up in a minute, but I was commenting on blogs and got sucked into a wormhole, and all of a sudden it was 10 and she was asleep in her bed with the light on, Nancy Drew on her chest waiting for me to read it with her, as I had promised. This morning, she didn't want to talk to me on the way to school. I feel like a shmuck. A bad mommy.

I think we all do what you do. Because we are human, and we live in our own bodies and minds. Once our children no longer need us to physically do things to keep them alive (my kid? age 8, has cooked her own scrambled eggs and last week ordered pizza to be delivered online using my credit card. What does she need me for?) we can go back to thinking about ourselves more than we think about them in any given moment.

Like everyone else does.

Kerry said...

wow. just wow. thank you so much for this.

turning off the computer now.... :)

Beth (A Mom's Life) said...

Passive parenting. That is a perfect description for me this summer. Thanks for the slap in the rear - I need to be an active parent before it's too late.

mary said...

how did you get into my brain?

mhutchinson said...

It IS a powerful post. I feel this way often. I have two toddlers at home, but an 18 year old daughter out on her own! It's the older one that I have such regrets over. Such. Regrets. Thankfully, and wonderfully, she is still close and I can show her often how much I DO choose her now. I am sorry I didn't then. I didn't. I know it. She knows it. I think she has forgiven me. I think.

What I HAVE to say to you and all of us is this...it really does go before you know it. I always intended on sending her to camp (never happened), always wanted a huge birthday bash for her (never happened), always wanted a day spent doing whatever SHE wanted to do (never happened)..and so many more let downs. So many 'maybe(s)' and 'we'll see(s)' have gone by undone and neglected.

We have to make ourselves realize how quickly it could all disappear. We are so so so so so so blessed RIGHT now. Let us stop and FEEL it RIGHT now.

The good news for me is I have two more now and I CAN be different. I WILL be different. I AM different. My priorities are so different now. I KNOW how fast it goes. Before long, they too will be starting school. But for now, I am blessed to be home with them each and every day. Nothing makes them happier than when I sit on the floor and let them crawl all over me. Simple things. Giving of myself things.

Make the change, you'll never regret it. If we don't, we always will.

SLynnRo said...

I know you may not being doing all that you hope, but one day she will read this and know how much you thought about it and her. My mother's primary goal in parenting was to just not be as bad as her parents, who were horrific. It showed. And she all but articulated it. You are already doing better than your dad.

SuzyB said...

Totally relate to this post and going to try much harder to move from passive parenting to proactive parenting myself x

mpotter said...

so fantastic, your insights.
you make us all stop and think.
great!

"jams days" are always so much fun!
one day savannah will have this blog to read, and she will remember your love was always there.

and she'll remember some of the really fun/cool things y'all have done together.

and you will remember that you have done VERY well!

kudos.

mouthy_broad said...

this is an amazing post. and not everyone can look at their actions with perspective. you are trying. all you can do is get up every day and try harder.

this is a post every single person can learn from. every single person.

Anonymous said...

There is so much pressure on this generation to be better parents than our own. I see many parents attempt this by providing more material things than we had. I believe that what our children crave is some unstructured time with family, like staying in pajamas and playing board games.

Your post today is raw, truthful and powerful. Thank you for your candor, it will make many of us think about what parenting really means to us and to our children.

b said...

I think we are the same person. You just write it for me. Thanks.

Eudaimonia said...

I think we all feel like that at times. It's just important that we see what we're doing and try to make it better.

Never That Easy said...

What a compelling post. I'm not a mom, but share in the caregiving of my niece and nephew, and often times, at the end of an exhausting day, wonder why I couldn't make it better. Why I had to step away instead of stepping closer.

Which is just to say, that I'm glad we both have the chance to try again.

Christy said...

Amazing.

You and the post.

Meredith said...

Thanks Lena, I really needed this reminder. As my baby girl turns 1, she is needing more and more attention and I am having a hard time transitioning from me to her. Tomorrow we are going to the park to picnic in the grass and swing in the swings. I hope you both enjoyed your jammies day.

Cory said...

wow...I really needed to read this today. I have been feeling like lately all I do is yell back and forth with my 6 year old daughter who talks to me like she's 16. I wonder why I fight every single battle when I can just let some of it go and let her be a kid (to a reasonable extent of course). Thank you for this post, i've been having so many thoughts about this lately. I don't want to leave this world with any regrets when it comes to my kids.

Janice Ellen Wright (janny226 on Twitter) said...

Aww, you rock for your honesty. **Hug.**

I have days like that too, even without the childhood torment behind me. I feel guilty every time my child cries for my attention, even though he gets a LOT of it. This modern parent stuff isn't easy.

Anonymous said...

I agree with everyone, good post - very raw and honest, I totally get where you're coming from. But maybe it's time to put down the wineglass too?

Serious Replies Only said...

I read your post and spent the rest of the evening playing Guitar Hero with my two boys. We had a blast! Thanks.

Schmutzie said...

She's a lucky girl to have such a thoughtful mother.

Serenity Now! said...

That is awesome, just awesome. I totally get it. that's me.

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