A few months ago, an editor at Redbook brought me an essay by Laura Munson called, "Where Did My Little Girl Go?" In it, she expresses how hurt she feels by her 11-year-old daughter's constant, low-grade rudeness. Her daughter is no more than the usual mean tween, but because she was an exceptionally angelic little girl, her rejection stings all the more. They were bonded almost umbilically, and then, Munson writes, "my girl got swallowed up by somebody else."
I remember thinking as I was reading it, Well, this isn't a very original idea. Every mom goes through it, so what's the big deal? And then I found that I was crying. We bought the essay and ran it in the May issue of Redbook. On the way to publication, I read the essay in revise and in proofs, and every single time, I cried again.
No, I'm not hormonal or depressed; many readers told us they had the same reaction to the piece. I think it was Munson's way of telling this universal story that broke through all of our crusty, "Oh, whatever" defenses. Her tone, in the piece, is one of pure, un-blunted rage. She goes on a bit of a tirade, naming all the perfectly-reasonable things that elicit an eye-roll from her daughter these days -- including a heartfelt "I love you so much." She admits that she lashes back at her daughter sometimes: "When she mocks me for my 'mom jeans,' my first impulse is to jump on every word, match her and raise her one. Needless to say, it doesn't work." Munson was hopping mad when she wrote those lines, and never asked for a pseudonym to hide it. That's brave. A reader, Karen Cattler, says it best in an email to Redbook: "Her honesty was of the refreshing variety that usually comes from good friends, after a few drinks." She goes on to make her own confession about parenting two teens, ages 12 and 16: "I will admit that when people talk about Attachment Parenting, I'm thinking that I believe in Detachment Parenting. Like, get these kids the heck away from me."
Munson gives the rest of us permission to vent, but she takes us further than that. By the end of her essay, she's moved from angry to sorrowful. The last line is the one she's been suppressing: "I just miss her, that's all."
A wise therapist taught me that anger is the emotion we snatch up to avoid less comfortable feelings -- confusion, fear, sadness. I'm especially prone to this, with a temper that flares when I'm overwhelmed. My daughters are 11 and 13 and still bear my "I love you's" with equanimity. They even return my kisses. But I know we're headed into the same class 4 rapids every mom experiences with her teenagers. I only hope I'm able to sometimes drop the anger and let in the sad. Thank you, Laura. I hope you had a great Mother's Day.