By Beck

It would be really great if I could learn to enjoy that foot-in-mouth feeling that comes with saying something unintentionally really boneheaded. I feel it often enough that learning to enjoy the sinking self-loathing and embarrasment would be a big plus.

Even worse, of course, is when I drop the ball with my kids. Which I do, frequently. And while a tendancy towards gruesome verbal faux pas may be MY particular troublespot (you can’t talk as much as I do and maintain a sense of tact), I think every parent has SOMEthing that they do that leaves them feeling grim and sorry. I’ve known some mothers who didn’t think that they had any failings as parents, but their children were awfully young or the mothers had the sort of blithe, unmoving self-confidence that comes with having no self-knowledge AT ALL. As for the rest of us, we’re stuck with the sometimes-heavy knowledge that the flawed, failable people raising our children are ourselves.

I’m finding raising an eleven year old to be one of the more challenging things I’ve done as a parent, honestly. It’s not bad, certainly -she’s always been a great kid and remains a great kid – but it’s hard on me as a person, this sudden sharp awareness of my own flaws and this sudden new way that I can unintentionally hurt my child’s newly shorn feelings.

The world seemed freshly dangerous when my kids were very small, this place suddenly filled with lurking poison and steep stairs and unbabyproofed electrical outlets, but as they get older, it becomes grimly dangerous in other ways – the cruelty of other children becomes sharper, the cruelty of nature as some girls whisk up into womanly fullness while others stay bitter slim children, the cruelty of time that takes away my beautiful tender-faced children and replaces them with lanky adolescents and their tender feelings. And let’s not forget the cruelty of me, however unintentionally.

I am really good at hanging out with preschool children. I am fun and crafty and full of goofy games and I also really enjoy children’s television, so if you are a four year old, we are probably going to be best friends. I am pretty good at hanging out with young gradeschool kids. I like science experiments and the ouvre of Beverly Cleary and kicking a ball around the yard and I am also able to set kid-appropriate limits.

But it turns out that I am not quite as good with young adolescents. They like goony tweeny pop and that makes my ears fall off. They have soft, easily bruised feelings and I say anything that pops into my head. The same goofy playfulness that makes me such a hit with the under-10 set suddenly works against me as a big embarrassing liability. And we’ll make our way through this, of course, but right now I’m feeling sorry and sad and regretting the days when I was better at this.

11 Responses to Feet
  1. Omaha Mama
    May 13, 2010 | 8:01 pm

    Is it bad that I’m GLAD to read about you going through this…socking it away for five years from now when I have a lanky TWEEN. The great thing is that you are supposed to be all of those horrible things to your kid and then when it’s all through, she’ll realize how fantastic you are, even if you did turn out to be human.

  2. John Ross
    May 13, 2010 | 10:32 pm

    Yup, have been somewhere near there…When she’s twenty eight she may look at you as though you’re a poor over-the-hill favorite, who, it turns out, never really got what was going on around you or what it meant.

    The cool part is that same look can also say “It’s ok, you’re still and always my Daddy(Mommy), and I will always love you the best”.

    just sayin’

  3. Joyinchaos
    May 14, 2010 | 12:08 am

    I’m going through something similar with my eldest girl…she has passed tween to full-on teen and until about 6 months ago I prided myself on what a non-annoying, still-wanting-to-hang-out-with-her-mother, kid I had. She’s still those things…sort of. But now she’s taken to making not-so-subtle comments on the parenting flaws I posses. “Mom…why are you always so NEGATIVE?” It’s hard, especially when she’s right. Darn these children, turning into people. I much preferred it when they were my really short groupies

  4. heidiannie
    May 14, 2010 | 9:28 am

    Yes, it does get harder to negotiate the difficult channels of tweens and upward. I always thought that my sons were sweet and cool and forgiving- not that I did stuff right- just that they chose to love in spite of the faux pas and foolishness of my age.
    And we made it through- still love each other- still argue our own points of view- still keep our feelings under check so that no one is wounded beyond chance of recovery.
    I really think it is a lot like a dance- watch your feet, watch your mouth and don’t bump into too many others on the floor.
    Just let love be your guide.

  5. Nicole
    May 14, 2010 | 4:39 pm

    I have been a sensitive, HIGHLY emotional person my whole life and I remember just being FRAUGHT all the time after I turned 11. Something about that age. I swear, I was constantly on the verge of tears. It is a difficult age, that is for sure. I am going out on a limb here, and I think it’s harder for mothers of girls because it brings up all those emotions from when we were that age…I only have boys though and they are 6 and 4.5, so what do I know.

  6. edj
    May 15, 2010 | 8:40 am

    Beck, don’t panic. The year that Elliot was 11, I thought I would go insane. He was suddenly hyper-sensitive and fragile and emotional, and we are a sarcastic family. We stomped all over him, unintentionally, that year. I also didn’t recognize it as a stage, especially as I would have expected that with a girl but not with a boy. And by 12, he was back to his old self, and is now an extremely sarcastic 14 year old and mostly pretty delightful to have around. Also great at cleaning up the kitchen, if in the right mood. Also already shaving, which is weird for me.

  7. Jenifer
    May 15, 2010 | 11:06 pm

    I could so relate to this! I never thought it would start at 9 though, but it is exactly as you describe. I am trying to watch what I say and hold my tongue, but really it is just not how I operate. I am making an effort though because words have so much of an impact now, so many ways to hurt.

  8. Kelly
    May 15, 2010 | 11:58 pm

    Maybe it’s the post-childbirth hormones, but this made me want to bawl my eyes out. The growing up of my children, right in front of me, is leaving me all raw and exposed right now. We love them at every stage. How can we bear the pulling away? But of course, that’s the whole point.

    Beautifully written, Beck. You have such a gift.

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