Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Sorry for 2009: The Things I Never Knew About Parenting

Dear Mom,

Wherever you are out there in the Cosmos, I want you to know something.

I'm sorry.

For twenty odd years or maybe longer, I've been carrying around what amounts to a whole set of deluxe Samsonite, packed tight with my anger and hurt toward you over all the ways I felt that you let me down. I'll spare you the whole inventory, though I suspect in the spirit world, assuming there is one and you are there, that you know all this anyway. And you're probably laughing your ass off.

One of the items that topped my list was the fact that you never let me do anything as a kid. No sports. No dance lessons. No music lessons other than church choir. Not even Girl Scouts. I have been so pissed off at you for years because I felt like you didn't give me a chance to discover any of my gifts or talents. I had always assumed you didn't do these things with me because we were poor and you couldn't afford it. I realize now how expensive these things are.

But now, I also see that the expense lies not just in the actual cost of the activity, but also in the time it takes to do these things. The hours spent sitting at practices waiting for your child, time at games. Time to go buy uniforms. And on top of all that, there is a limit to how much control you have over any of it.

Unless you have volunteered to coach the team, be the den mother, or organize the event in some way – which admittedly, is even more of a time suck – you have zero control over when you'll be there or for how long.

I see now, that working two jobs and making less than $30,000 a year for most of my life, you had little opportunity to give me the kind of childhood I wanted...the one I am now trying to give my boys.

I know now how much it sucks. God. It sucks.

I have been livid for a month now that our stupid Cub Scout meetings are at 6:30 p.m. on Monday nights. Pick the worst day of the week and then plan a meeting for supper time. An hour long meeting that not only interrupts our dinner hour, but runs into our bath and bedtime routine. Thanks, Boy Scouts of America.

The thing is, I remember you serving as den mother for my cousins Troy and Trevor when they lived with us when I was little. It seemed like those meeting were later in the night, but that might be a four-year-old's memory of such things. Who knows? I just remember you did it for them, but not me. And I never understood that.

I think I do now. You were obligated to care for your brother's kids and he wanted them in Scouts. By the time I was old enough to do anything, you were working two jobs to make ends meet. And by the time I was in high school and old enough to get myself around, I was working after school and on weekends. It was too late.

I wonder, I still wonder even today sitting here writing this, how my life would be different if I had taken dance or been in Girl Scouts or played a sport. Would I be more confident? Would I believe in myself more? Would I be athletic and not have to worry about my figure? Would I be a master at sales making six-figures a year because I had learned to sell Girl Scout cookies so well? Who knows?

But I have to stop being angry at you over failing to give me those opportunities. I know now what a sacrifice it is to give your kids those things and I know you had very little to sacrifice, either in time or money or self. I still think you were self-absorbed and selfish and that played a big part in your unwillingness to give me more. But, I also know that to some extent you were just doing the best you could.

And I'm sorry that I've carried this anger – and at times a very strong hatred for you – around this long.

Now I know how hard it is to be a parent and to give of yourself. I know how very little there can be to go around sometimes. I hope I am making better choices than you. I hope my sons never have to even contemplate whether or not I loved them or wanted the best for them. I hope they never look back and think "my mom was so selfish." As much as I hate some of the things I have to do or choose to do for my kids – like dealing with a screaming toddler while his brother is in a Scout meeting – I do them because I hope and pray I am helping my sons become smarter, more confident, happier, and more well-rounded young men who can look back some day and think "Wow! I had a great childhood. My parents really loved us and went out of their way to give us the things we needed to succeed in our lives."

You weren't able to do that in the ways I might have liked. But, I hope and choose now to believe, that you really did do your best and give me all you could in your way.

So, Mom, once again, I'm sorry for being pissed off at you all those years. I love you. And I forgive you.