I was sweeping crap off our library floor (Yes, we have a little-bitty library. No, I don’t sweep often) when my thirteen-year-old, Zoë, walked in and said, “Mom, something happened that I need to tell you about, but you’re gonna need a little background first.”
Ass up in the air, dustpan in one hand, is no position to be in when your teenager starts a conversation this way.
I had no idea what was coming. Still, I could tell by her tone that it was a talk I’d imagined having while sitting on the side of her bed, perhaps while holding her hand over a coffee shop table, NOT while thumbing a loose bra strap back onto my shoulder and holding a plastic pan of broken crayons and dust bunnies.
Score another point for parenthood being nothing like I’d imagined.
I dumped my debris and settled into the armchair with my most You-can-tell-me-anything-I’m-really-listening-and-I can-fix-it face on. Zoë stood in front of me, lightly wringing her hands, wearing her Oh-god-I-may-be-making-a-terrible-mistake-but-I-don’t-know-what-else-to-do expression.
And then she told me THE STORY.
I’m not going into the details of the story. It isn’t mine to tell. Suffice it to say, it was shocking and resulted in an hour-and-a-half long flurry of texts to another parent. So, basically, not the kind of story you want to hear from your thirteen-year-old.
But even while she was telling me I was fighting off the urge to do a little I’ve-nailed-this-parenting-thing dance.
Because here’s the deal: My kid came to me with a big ol’ scary issue even though she didn’t have to.
If she hadn’t told me, chances are I would have never found out. And though the problem was not hers directly, telling me about it could have resulted in some nasty consequences. She had no way to know how it was going to play out when she walked into that dirty library; we have no experience with anything more serious than a bad grade or a broken dish. But she did it anyway.
She TRUSTED me.
On the parenting report card that’s like getting an A+ on an exam that suddenly brings your failing grade up to a solid B.
I’ve never needed that more. Lately, it seems like every time I turn around I’m failing my kids in some way. Not just in the-wrong-sandwich-for-lunch way either, though that happens often enough. No, I mean the if-we-don’t-deal-with-this-now-it-will-only-ruin-their-life way. It’s difficult to manage five little-bitty kids/babies. Turns out, it doesn’t get easier as they get older.
And the truth is, Zoë’s isn’t a problem I can solve, no matter how I hold my face. I did what I could. I’ll continue to do what I can.
I’m comforted by the fact that somewhere along the line I must have done something right enough that my kid would trust me with her problems, think of me as a resource, not an opponent. Be at least willing to take the chance.
I’m going to do everything I can to make sure she, and her siblings, continue to think of me that way.
I screw up. A LOT. But I have the advantage of having screwed up for at least twenty-six years longer than they have. Which means I have twenty-six years worth of failures that they can learn from (and hopefully not repeat in their entirety) if they only feel comfortable enough to come to me.
So, I figure my job is to make sure they WILL come. And perhaps sweep more often.