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When We're In Public Pretend You Don't Know MeSurviving Your Daughter's Adolescence so You Don't Look Like an Idiot and She Still Talks to You
By Susan Borowitz and Ava Siegler
Warner BooksCopyright © 2003 Susan Borowitz
All right reserved.
You know, Mom, you're hardly a perfect mother.
It all starts when we read our baby daughters the childhood classic, The Runaway Bunny. The fantasy of that ubiquitous mommy, who transforms into everything from a gardener to a weather condition just so she can always be with her little bunny, is so seductive and heartwarming that we quickly adopt as our own dream the notion of being forever close to our little girls. There's only one problem: They grow up. There comes a time in your daughter's life when hanging out with Mom is as appealing to her as discussing gastric problems with your own elderly mother is to you.
The question is: "When is that time?" Just a good look around any shopping mall with a Gap, and you will come to a disturbing conclusion. Not only do few women know the answer to that question, an appallingly small number even know that the question exists.
This book not only poses the question, but also attempts to give the answer, as well as describing the pitfalls that emerge when a woman tries to be her daughter's "best bud." The worst of these is the middle-aged compulsion to become as hip or cool as a teen at a time when it is most important for us to be uncool. In fact, it is our responsibility to be uncool in the eyes of our daughters, whose fledgling identities do not need the threat of a premenopausal mother in a belly shirt lip-synching Britney Spears.
"The two worst times in a woman's life are when she is thirteen and when her daughter is thirteen" is a maxim well known in psychology circles (to be completely accurate, add ages nine, ten, eleven, twelve, fourteen, fifteen ... you get the point). During those years of being a mother of an adolescent-the bewilderness years-women are often at a loss as to how to handle their kids, as well as how they should handle themselves vis-?-vis their kids.
If anyone cornered the bright-eyed young women who dream of the day when a sweet little soul calls them Mommy and told them the realities of parenting a teenager, the species would abruptly come to an end.
None of us went into this with our eyes open. We were intoxicated by the sweet smell of an infant's head, as well as inundated with all the nuts and bolts of baby-rearing, which, although difficult and time-consuming, was still a task we knew we could master. After all, we hear of very few cases in which babies need to go to a doctor simply because of a loving parent's sheer lack of diapering technique; however, psychiatrists' couches are filled with people whose loving parents just screwed up during their children's adolescence because they subconsciously didn't want them to grow up and leave them.
Feeding her, changing her, burping her, even pacing the floor to calm her colicky tummy is, well, child's play compared to sending her to sleep-away camp, letting her go on her first date, dealing with the subsequent breakup, and especially pacing the floor after handing her the keys to the car. The challenges of teen-rearing are so much more exhausting and enervating than anyone ever told you they would be. Or maybe they did tell you, and you just weren't listening because you had your nose pressed onto your baby's head.
How do we manage to survive the anxieties, the heartache, the worry, and the exasperation? Well, I've repeatedly asked my husband to knock me out with a blunt, heavy object and then wake me when it's all over, but he refuses. And I've surfed the Internet trying to find a cost-effective portable Percodan drip, but I've come up empty there too. So I guess, like all of us, I'm stuck living it.
The comment that opens this chapter ("You know, Mom, you're hardly a perfect mother") was hurled at me when I told my daughter that I was writing this book. Beyond being an example of the continual job assessment she considers her duty to perform, first and foremost it expresses the truth. I'm not. But none of us are. We're learning as we're going, and we're going to goof.
It's easy to think you're the only one goofing if you're parenting in a vacuum, so it is extremely important to get together and talk (and talk honestly-don't take it as an opportunity to brag) to other women who are going through the same daily crises as you are. It's nice to know that your daughter isn't the only one who wants to dye her hair a color found only on exotic butterflies, and it's comforting to find out that your kid isn't the only one who seems to have paranoid fantasies about the popular kids, and even more comforting to find out that they're neither paranoid nor fantasies.
Sharing the troubles that she is having with her teen helps Shelley N. deal with the situation, which sometimes can be pretty harrowing. "I am very open with people. There are a few women where I work who also have teenagers, and I tell them everything, and it's interesting because the minute you open up, you hear all the things that are going on with their kids. And you know what? Nobody's kids are perfect and easy."
This book is a way of discussing this stage of life through my experiences, those of the many women I talked to, and the insightful comments of our "resident" psychologist, Dr. Ava L. Siegler (a leading expert in the field of adolescent and family issues). Think of us as your friends whom you can talk to about all your teenager woes. Hopefully we can help you avoid the traps that lie in wait for those moms our age who, like all of us, haven't much of a clue as to how to handle this thing called a teenage girl.
Excerpted from When We're In Public Pretend You Don't Know Me by Susan Borowitz and Ava Siegler Copyright © 2003 by Susan Borowitz
Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.