Photo by Alio Viera
The other night at dinner, I sat at the kitchen table with my teenage daughter. Some nights, "family dinner" means just us two. I've been getting used to making dinners that are easy to scoop out and reheat in a flash. Teenagers are here one minute, gone the next. And I'm just referring to the dinner hour.
My daughter has always loved to ask the hypothetical questions. The "what-ifs" and the "what would you dos." And as philosophical as they may be, she likes her hypotheticals quantifiable. She likes answers that are in percentages, or on her famous "scale of 1 to 10."
Between forkfuls of asparagus risotto, she asked, "What if someone asked you to rate yourself as a mother? What would you say, on a scale of 1 to 10?"
It's a waste of time to skirt my daughter's hypotheticals. "Umm, I don't know. An 8?" A little high, I know, but I was rounding up (from a 6.7).
"What? Why an 8? Who's better than you?" She asked, seriously.
Insert shock and confusion.
Huh? Wait. What did she just say? I was tempted to clean out my ears with the other end of my fork. I'll admit that her 'rate yourself' question was a potential minefield, in the wink of an eye, egos and pride -- even wistful memories -- could be obliterated. In my head, I was working my own percentages, as in how much of me would end up on the kitchen floor by the end of this. So, her response came as a surprise, to say the least.
I tried not to let on that I might've caught her complimenting me. Perhaps I should've quickly gone to the bathroom. Or started to fake choke or something. End it on a positive note.
Instead, I walked to the stove for a second helping. "Lots of people," I said, ignoring her praise, just in case I misinterpreted it. "Tons of moms are better."
"Yeah? Like who? What would you do differently, anyway, to be a better mom?"
I sat back down at the table. "Well, I've made mistakes, you know. A lot of them. It's not like you get an owner's manual when you're handed a newborn."
"Okay, this oughta be good. What do you wish you had done differently?"
It didn't take me long to come up with a few things. Thankfully, I had just read an article that made me feel badly about myself as a parent, so my ineptness was fresh in mind.
Referring to this article, "The Case for Free-Range Parenting," about how over-protective we've become as parents and how giving a child more independence actually helps them to acquire confidence, self-reliance and invaluable skills on "how to control strong emotions like anger and fear," I said, "I guess I should've let you and your brother out of the house a little more when you were kids."
"Um, that sounds psycho..."
"You know what I mean, I should've let you roam a little, be more adventurous. Maybe I shouldn't have freaked out every time you chased a goose, or let go of my hand when a wave crashed at the shore or when you wanted to climb the steep slippery rocks in Central Park."
I put my fork down. There was more. "Daddy and I probably should've gone out more than we did when you were small -- like weekends away or short vacations just the two of us. And I should've worked more. And gone on business trips. Like that one to Singapore when I was pregnant with your brother. I should've let you fend for yourself a little more. Stop driving you all over creation. Let you walk instead. Or, go to the store to buy milk when we were low."
"But then I would've had to cross the 'Big Street,'" she laughed.
"It's hard to know when to hang on, when to let go." I said, more to myself.
"Seriously, Mom, all these things sound like they would've benefitted you. How would they have helped me?"
"I don't really know." I looked at my daughter. "Could've helped. Maybe not." I shrugged. "Who knows, really? The fact is there's always stuff you could do differently. Even if you did, it doesn't mean you'd end up better. Or worse. You'd just end up differen... But, it's an excellent question."