Tuesday, January 27, 2009

she hates me, in black and white

So Q got mad at me the other night, because...ahem...I, uh...was like, totally completely hooked on this blogging stuff and could NOT tear myself away from the computer. It was bedtime and she was wanting me to follow her into her room and listen to something SHE had written in her journal, the shiny metallic blue one with the "I heart My Friends" tattooed on the upholstered cover below a little heart-shaped mirror.

I kept saying, "I'll be there in a minute. Just give me, like, five more minutes."

I could hear her in her room, singing the same little bit of monotonic melody she'd been singing for the past fifteen minutes. She's been writing songs since before Christmas. She wanted me to come in and listen to her latest lyrical updates. But I was working on my own updates, and I was kinda more impressed with my efforts than with hers. Because I'm a mean, selfish, evil woman. I didn't know I was those things, but I'm discovering that comment-crack does this to a person.

Okay, so she finally got so mad at my blowing her off that she got quiet.

There's nothing as effective as silence if you want your parent's attention.

Quiet. It was quiet. Too quiet. I looked up just in time to see her stalking silently to her room, arms crossed in frustrated resignation across her chest, her gaze levelled directly at me, nothing but rage in her eyes. She never took her eyes off me as she turned the corner. It was like her head rotated around like that girl in the Exorcist. Then she disappeared into her room.


I soon hopped up - it took me a minute or two to fully disengage - and went in there and apologized profusely for not keeping my word that it would only be five more minutes. I think it had stretched into twenty minutes by that point. Maybe thirty-five. She was still so angry she wasn't speaking to me at first. Then she said I had lied to her. Which, basically, yeah, I had. I had no defense. There was no excuse. I was ashamed of myself, ashamed of what my addiction to comment-crack had driven me to, how it was tearing my family apart. This had to stop.

I apologized multiple times, she slowly relaxed her body language, softening up to me. Before two more minutes had passed, we had made up, although I could tell some resentment still lingered. She said it was okay. Hugs and kisses were exchanged. I begged for one more chance to listen to her song. She looked me square in the eye and asked with utmost earnestness, "Do you WANT to hear it?"

A quick, deep jolt of mommy guilt shot through me. My child doubting my interest in her. Boy, that moment really sucked. Without getting emotional, without burdening her further by unloading, selfishly, how rotten I felt at that moment, I assured her that I did. I really did want to hear it. I mean, if she still wanted me to.

So she sang her latest version of her latest work. Meh. The problem is, she really thinks she can sing. I don't discourage her, but at the same time, I'm not DVRing episodes of American Idol for her so she can check out the competition, either.

"That's great, honey. I really liked it. Sounds like it's really coming along. Thanks for sharing it with me." That last part I really meant.

I sat down in the rocking chair next to her bed because she always begs me to and because she goes to sleep faster (usually) if I do, as long as we don't talk. If we do talk, this is when I find out that she still has a crush on Joey, and if Beth blew her off at lunch that day or actually waited for her this time. It is at this point in the day when she loves me the most, this ten minutes of letting go, with her head on the pillow, her eyes half-closed. I get a lot of "I love you Mommy" and "You're the best Mommy in the world. I'm lucky to have you as a Mother."

At eight years old, it's a mix between, "Aaawwwwww!" and a bit of, "...uh, yeah, pull the other one."

But she really means it, during those ten minutes of each day. It's kind of like knowing what she'll be like when she's drunk. A little side-window view of my daughter in an altered state.

So, flash forward to the next night. I'm much more diligent about the bedtime routine this time. I don't even lift the laptop's lid; I don't go anywhere near it. I stay on her and with her, making sure she picks up her towel and puts her dirty clothes in the hamper and brushes her teeth. We go into her room together and she hops up onto her bed. She asks for the journal. I hand it to her, although I really should insist on lights out. She looks at me with an expression I've not seen before on her little freckled face.

"I was really mad at you last night," she says.

I knew this, but was still surprised that she was mentioning it a day later. I say I know she was, and she was right to be, and I should have stopped what I was doing when I said I would.

She hesitates, then says, "I wrote about it in here."

I pause. She pauses. I'm not sure what I should do with this information. Then I say, "Well, good. That's what journals are for. You can talk about how you feel about stuff and write about it in there." I'm satisfied with my response, purposely respecting her privacy, helping to erect appropriate boundaries for her, for us. I make a move to start tucking her in but she doesn't accommodate my efforts by snuggling down. Instead, she stays seated on top of the covers and asks, "Do you want to see it?"

There is no guile in her question. She is a little excited, and a little bit scared, to show me what she wrote in the depths of her anger the other night. But the honest desire to share it outweighs all other needs, and this is obvious to me, because I can see the raised eyebrows and the almost-happy expression as she looks up at me, waiting for an answer. And she waits now. She doesn't just plod ahead, thrusting it in my face like she used to. She waits. It'll take time for her to once again assume as a matter of course that I'm interested. Another brief jab of mommy guilt, there.

And here, I struggle for a second. What's the right answer? Yes, of course, I am interested, I love you, I care about you and everything that is important to you, yes, I am here, I am your mother, yes, yes of course I want to see it. Like, duh. Are you kidding me? And also, I AM your mother, I am not your pal, your buddy, your playmate. I am trying to erect healthy and appropriate boundaries, now that you do things like write in journals. You should have a sense of privacy, you should have the strength to listen only to yourself sometimes, to realize there's a line that separates each of us from each other. Except, this line has been blurred quite a bit by me, and probably will be again, and it's a weakness of character that will not serve her well, so the experts say, and I see how she respects her dad more than me because of this blurred line between us, but she doesn't share her journal with him and HE has never even heard of Joey. So I just don't know, and I struggle for a second, and then I cave. I cave in to the fun of sharing, because that is what she most wants in this moment, and because I'm aware of the stain that is still on my record from the previous evening, where I just wasn't interested enough. I need to prove that I really am interested, that I really do care. That is what my mommy guilt is telling me, anyway. Boundaries, shmoundaries. I need this one.

I give the smallest of shrugs, raise my eyebrows and say, "Sure, okay. You can show me if you want." Another brief pause, then I quickly add, " Are you sure you want to?"

She has already opened the book as she answers, "Yeah," then she says, "Look. See? I was really mad."

In letters bigger than half the page are the words, "I HATE HER!" which I do not need any help seeing. But the rest of the page is full of smaller print, and she graciously points out the word "Lyer" [sic] and the phrase, "She lied to me. I've been waiting and she said it would be one more minit and she is not comeing." There was more...including a picture of her hitting me with a baseball bat, while smiling. OK, that part was a bit much.

I gotta say, though, that it really did hurt. I really did wish at that moment that, for MY sake, I had insisted on forging and respecting those new boundaries. I still do not believe she showed me this out of vengeance. But nevertheless, it had the same effect on me. I tried to hide the momentary flash of pain I was feeling, and I think I was successful. I've paid for my callous, self-centered disregard of her needs, and she's had the chance to vent and share, to feel me out as to whether I really do care or not, and to hopefully feel fully avenged. And I hope, for both of us, that it's over and done with now. But I know that I am the "HER" and that those words are written in a journal and they will be there for a very, very long time. Because I still have my journals. And it's one thing when they are YOUR journals. But it's a very different thing when it's someone else's journal and you are the "HER" that is hated on a page that you cannot erase.


Googie Baba said...

For what it's worth, I think you did a really good job helping your daughter process her emotions. We all fail as parents, but you were really present for her when she needed to talk about it.

Cee said...

The simplicity with which she expressed her feelings in the journal are a little funny- but I'm sure that stings a lot. Of course you know she loves you and that she was probably just trying to pay you back for how she felt the other night...children say things they dont really mean all the time!

gudnuff said...

The whole thing - my post, her reaction, my reaction - is melodramatic, I know. And normally I would blow it off. She's a pretty simple kid, and a very young eight-years-old. But to be fair to her, this is not the first time she's had to wait and wait and wait because I was absorbed in something. I don't know if anybody reading this blog has ADD as a parent, but it can introduce some frustrating twists and turns, for both parent and child. Plus, I'm not kidding, it was weird to see it written down. She'll say (quietly to me) she hates Daddy when he lays down the law and I don't go posting pages and pages about it; I tell her of course she doesn't hate him and she's just mad, and he loves her very much, and we just move on. Even if I thought it was 100% manipulation, it was...er...unique...to see the words, in black and white. And the whole boundary thing...I struggle with that, as you can see.

gudnuff said...

One more thing: she's an only child. There is no one else for her to turn to. So that factors in pretty heavily.

Wouldn't it be nice if there were an introvert/extrovert test on embryos, so you would know that this child will need a sibling, but this one will be fine alone with a book?

Bea said...

Even though I'm sorry to hear your daughter is mad about your blog time, you absolutely made my DAY with your comment on my blog. No, actually, you made my week. I'm just starting out and I had no idea if anyone would ever care to read the crap I write, and you have inspired me to keep going. Thank you. I'm sure this doesn't remotely make up for your daughter's diary entry, but perhaps it's a bit more worthwhile knowing that your comments made a positive difference in someone's day. And I look forward to reading your blog too! I am quite humbled that you liked my writing. I read a few of your posts and I have to say, you're a fabulous writer.

gudnuff said...

Ah geez, Bea. Thanks for the compliment, and back at ya (I read a few more of your posts today...and really like them!)

...now we're BOTH hooked on comment-crack.

Patois said...

Ouch. It sure does sound like you handled it really well. Better than I could ever expect to.

My daughter was 8 when she said she hated me. She said it one time. She never said it again. Neither of my sons have (yet) to say it. I even remember the date. Ouch.

Scylla said...

Ouch. This post really punched me in the gut. I had never considered that I might be the "HER" in my kiddo's journal, even though I should have, given how many times I said similar things about my mom in mine.

Thanks for stopping by the blog earlier, I enjoyed tracking you back and am glad to know another mom struggling to make life fit.

Cat said...

Yikes! I swear this had to have cut like a knife - a dull one! But I applaud your efforts at getting her to write this stuff down - anything down writing is good for kids, it was for me, I have old journals that I am scared to even open from my childhood - I think 9 years old up to 17 or so...
My boys never really got this bug, but that spares me from reading that I lied to them or hurt them because the exact thing you described I had done as well!

Thank you for your kind comments on my post. I very much enjoy your blog and will keep coming back.


dgm said...

Yep, OUCH. But I, too, think you handled it well. And I think it's actually a good sign that she wanted to share it with you (but not for purposes of revenge). She feels comfortable saying "you really made me mad and hurt my feelings," and, while that is not a message we like to hear, sometimes we need to hear how our actions impact others. Kids are great because their honesty and innocence serve as mirrors of our behavior. This sounds like an opportunity for change (change we can believe in).

For what it's worth, I don't think an 8 year old understands "hate" to mean the same thing it means to an adult. When I was just about that age I was really pissed at my mom, and when my dad asked me what was wrong, I yelled out "I HATE HER!" so loud so that she could hear. Of course, I didn't really hate her but I was furious with her. I know that it really hurt my mom, and immediately I tried to be nice, but I'll never forget the look on her face. I never said that again (about anyone), but that memory still pains me.

formerly fun said...

That is actually pretty funny, oh and brave.

LEO said...

Every mother-daughter pair has these moments. I still remember a time I said something awful to my mom at a similar age and I regret it. And she saved all the "apology letters" I ever wrote her and brought them to my baby shower, much to my embarassment. We're very close today. Just think of it as a milestone and move on. You both know how much you love each other and you both learned something from the experience.

gudnuff said...

Some final thoughts:

(1) LOVE, love, love the comments about "I never did it again" because it makes me realize that my kid has said it before and probably will say it again...and that's not right, dammit. Great, her feelings were heard and validated, but she should respect her ability to hurt others as well. This is not a trivial thing that is okay to throw out there whenever she's super-pissed, deservedly so or otherwise. Part of growing up and learning about boundaries is how to protect yourself from others and how to protect others from you. In short, as my husband would say, she needs to be mindful of the effect she has on others, just as we are/strive to be mindful of the effect we have on her.

Which leads me to this:

(2) we'll work with her on alternative expressions when she needs to vent

(3) She told me she's going to tear that page out and throw it away. Aaaawwww. I'm not going to check up on this. If she does it, well yeah, I'm human, yes it'll make me feel less of a schmo. If she doesn't, so be it. Obviously this hits a button of mine. It's the closest thing to receiving a grade on your performance as a parent as you can get, right? And I was always one to care too much about grades. I guess that's why this bugged me as much as it did. It was recorded, written down on my permanent record (flashback to Violent Femmes song..."This will go down on your permanent record. Oh yeah? well don't look so distressed...did I happen to mention that I'm impressed?"). Of course, if she finds out I care this much, that this a particular vulnerability of mine...yeah, so...we can delete these entries, right?

newduck said...

Oh, ouch. That hurts. That hurts bad. But when we're kids we all hate and love everything - kids just haven't developed an understanding of the shades of gray in between love and hate. You love your mom, you love ice cream, you love your pink socks. I don't think she hated you at that moment, I just think she had no other way to express what she was feeling.

Hyphen Mama said...

What a GREAT post! I'm not at that stage YET, my daughter is 5, but she is SO LIKE THAT. She'll bring up infractions from the day (or week) before and we have to rehash things over again, like "You hurt my feelings yesterday when you made me cry."

I think you handled it so much better than I would have, so this post gives me food for thought when things like this come up in my house.

When I was a kid, my brother and I cornered my mom in the kitchen one day and hissed at her "WE HATE YOU" she didn't blink an eye and said "Well, I always love you, even when you're naughty." I'm pretty sure that little bit of karma will come back to bite me in the fanny.

Maggie May said...

this is a great honest post. my son wrote 'i hate maggie 'on his BED once! he didn't even call me MOM!! it's kind of funny. now. :)

Trannyhead said...

Yikes ... this moment of Mommy Guilt brought to you by your 8 year old!

It's ok. Really. Don't be too hard on yourself. There will be plenty more to beat yourself up over, later ... might as well buy your self-flagellating device now, right? ;-) I think she'll make a complete emotional recovery.