“All women become like their mothers. That is their tragedy. No man does. That is his.” –Oscar Wilde
Greetings Dear Ones!
February is slipping by as if it was greased. March looms and with it one of Prudence Thimbleton’s least favorite seasons of the Shop. No, it’s not Prom Season—this is just the nasty little hors d’ oeuvres (or horse’s duvet, as some like to call it) preceding that banquet of insanity: Solo Dance Costume season. Now, for those of you without teenage daughters, let me try to describe what is happening in innocuous-looking sidewalk studios around the countryside: Essentially, grown people are losing their minds and deciding that fragile, young female psyches should be performing as near to naked as possible in bodies they don’t fully recognize yet, trailing glitter, glory, and grief on their way to their crash landing on a psychotherapist’s couch. A mother, inquiring after the status of her daughter’s custom-made outfit, turns to me and says in utter seriousness, “Is this material stretchy enough for my daughter to lie on her back and spread her legs as far as possible?” (Prudence, wondering if the child was destined for a dance recital or a brothel, nearly had apoplexy.) Another mother explains that she will be taking her daughter out of school for her fitting, since she cannot change the girl’s hair appointment after school. School is the thing that is expendable in their frenzied schedule.
Preschoolers and High Schoolers alike are being swathed in bling-ed-out spandex outfits that resemble a unique blend of circus performer and street walker. They will be spray-tanning youngsters fifty shades of beige and gluing fabric to their bare skin—all in the name of charging their grandparents five bucks a piece to watch them on stage. There is a lot of pressure on these girls and even more on their fraught mothers who have a series of maneuvers they must perform themselves: they must keep the prized daughter happy and practicing (an impossible task), they must appease the demands of the coaches who seem to be suffering the after-effects of total lobotomies, and finally, above all, they must never let the husbands/fathers in question know how much any of this costs.
Needless to say, this does not often bring out the best in the girls themselves. “If there’s one thing sure to rot my garters,” huffs Prudence indignantly, “It’s brats who treat their mothers as if they are ignorant servants—who roll their eyes at us as if dealing with these simpletons is simply insufferable,” as the door slams on yet another angry-yet-entitled teen, trailed by her bewildered and beseeching mother.
The mothers are barely holding it together. Last week, a mother of four came in and set three live squirrels loose in the shop. I’m just kidding, they were little girls. She held the baby on one hip while she tried to negotiate the fitting of a dance costume for the eldest and the two middle squirrels made laps of the shop and pushed all the pins from one pin cushion into the upholstery of a waiting room chair in the shape of their initials. Among the rubble left when they all departed was the woman’s wallet and handbag. We tried to ring her cell phone to tell her but she could not answer because the three-year-old was using it to play video games in the back seat of the car.
Wednesday night, on my way home from Brattleboro, I encounter a completely different sort of mother. It is snowing lightly and I leave fiddle practice early in the hopes of beating the worst of the weather. I am a few miles from home when I notice a minivan off the side of the road with its hazard lights flashing. I slow down. As I pass, I notice a small child, crouching behind the van, looking at one of the rear tires. I drive on. I start feeling a strong pull in the center of my gut to go back. We are all each other’s angels here on earth. Maybe this family needs “an angel” who can change a tire quickly in the falling snow, rather than having to wait for triple A to show up. Out here, that could take a while and the roads are already getting bad. I can almost hear the music they play in Old Westerns when the cavalry shows up as I turn my car around and head back to the van. Oh, how my ego makes me laugh sometimes!
I leave my hazards blinking and cross the road to the driver’s window. A woman is sitting there with her hands in her lap. “Are you guys alright?” I ask as she rolls the window down, “How can I help? Is it a tire?” She looks in her rearview mirror and sighs.
“No,” she says with beatific serenity, “We are just sitting here until we calm down enough for me to drive safely again. I cannot drive when she is in a rage because it is too dangerous.” With that, the child in the back seat, the one I had seen earlier behind the vehicle, gives a savage kick to the back of the seat in front of her, jumps out the door, and starts running up the road, screaming. “Is she ok? Will she run into traffic? Shall I chase her and bring her down? What do you want me to do???” My questions are a torrent that she meets with a bleak and weary smile as she heaves herself out of the car and tries to reassure me. “She’s ok. She won’t run into traffic. She’s on the spectrum. She’s just having a really hard moment because she is angry and not getting her way. It doesn’t mean she’s going to get her way. I’m just giving her the space she needs around her disappointment. I’ll wait as long as it takes.” “Oh,” I say, really wishing I could change a tire instead.
We watch her run up the shoulder of the road, almost out of sight, as the snow begins to collect on our hair and faces. “You have no idea how much I want to be home right now,” the mother says, her face suddenly dissolving in weary sorrow. “Wow!” I breathe out slowly, taking in the whole scene. I realize I have not been breathing until now.
She lifts her chin as some headlights flash by in the darkness and I can see that her eyes are the color of a deep, untroubled sea. She radiates Resolve and Character and Strength. This is no cringing, placating, vacillating dance Mom I am dealing with here. I realized how arrogant I have been, thinking I might stop and “help” her. She has this all well in hand. She is forcing nothing. She is threatening nothing. She is just waiting, pausing, holding the space—as she has clearly done so many times, through so many dark and lonely hours already. Divine Feminine Grace. There are no trophies to be won with this kind of mothering but there Should be!
“I’ll go if you want me to,” I offer. “But I would like to keep you company for as long as you like, if it’s ok. This is one time you really don’t have to do this alone. I know how awful this kind of stuff can be. Sometimes being the only gown-up is just utterly wretched.” She nods. We stand together in the falling snow. She tells me about her other children. This one is the youngest of six. “The others are normal,” she says, then laughs hysterically, “whatever the hell that means…” We both laugh. “Normal” is just a setting on washing machines, I say. She talks about how people have judged her harshly based on this one’s behavior—as if having five other children hasn’t given her a single clue about parenting. She has been told by well-meaning and concerned strangers to spank or hit this child to straighten her out. “I used to be a preschool teacher,” she says. “I’m actually trained to deal with children! But I had to give it up to stay home and advocate for her. It’s a fulltime job.”
“Being a mother is a full-time job,” I say, “no matter how ‘Normal’ your kids might be.” She laughs. She doesn’t remember what it is like not to be a mother. We talk about how mothers are on the front line for a significant amount of sibling sadism and general chaos that seems medieval by modern corporate standards. I think about all the anguished dance mothers coming into the shop and a pregnant friend of mine who is awaiting the birth of her first child. “You don’t know what you are going to get when you become a mother, do you?” “No,” she agrees. “It’s a total hijacking.” By then, the little nine-year-old is back and begins raging and beating on the car. She opens the side door, climbs in, stamps with snowy boots on seats and begins screeching for me to leave. “Go Away!” she screams. “Go away! This is none of your business!” “Honey, you are SO right,” I say, smiling. “This is totally none of my business, except that I care very much about your safety and I’m going to stay here with your mama so she doesn’t have to be alone until you calm down. Take all the time you want. Everything is ok. You know what to do.” Lest anyone have any delusions about me being a wanna-be child psychologist, let me just say that my kindly words have the effect of making her roar and catapult herself to the front seat and trash the front of the car. She rips the rosary hanging from the rearview mirror and uses it as a whip to flail against papers and debris around the car. Deftly, the mother slips her hand to the ignition and rescues the keys before she can be locked out. Then she leans against the car and sighs again. I think guiltily of the Peace awaiting me by my fireside less than four miles away—my fiddle and spinning wheel, little snoring dogs, happy son playing music… This woman’s night will not end for many, many years, if ever...
“God Bless You,” I blurt out, “You are so amazing!” She laughs. “Children are such irrational beings! Love isn’t rational either, is it? Love isn’t about being rational or reasonable. It’s about Inclusion. It’s about making space for this…” she gestures towards her daughter rocking the whole car with her drumming heels. “You can’t tell me any child wants to be like this or feel like this… they are at their own mercy as much as we are.”
Her words echo in my heart after they eventually drive away. LOVE is INCLUSION. I realize that I didn’t stop to help. I was stopped to Learn. She was the angel by the side of the road, not I. I need this message. I need to appreciate the tremendous gifts we give one another simply by INCLUDING what is unexpected.
When all the craziness of mothering passes, when it’s over and our children are gone and we can finally get some good sleep… When they’ve taken our wisdom and our tools and the last of our best shampoo—that organic stuff that’s twenty bucks a bottle—and they are off to reject everything we ever taught them and find out for themselves… When all the dance recitals are just photos in scrapbooks we never look at… We turn and see that we haven’t raised our children at all. They’ve raised us. Now we know how tough we are. Now we know what is truly important to us. Now we know what cannot break us in the fiercest storm and what can melt us without even a word. Now we know what Love is… And that’s pretty much all we ever need to know.
Be well, my Dearies! And do Good Work!