“In some sense every parent does love their children.
But some parents are too broken to love them well.”
——William Paul Young
My mom gene is at DEFCON 1. Over the past weekend, my daughter learned that her father and second stepmother believe that my kind, intelligent, accomplished, responsible, driven child is afflicted with “arrested development.” Kate learned this from one of her sisters (through her dad’s two subsequent marriages, she has inherited a passel of siblings). The very fact that her dad and stepmom2 even think this has me PISSED off.
One of the myriad reasons they have arrived at this uneducated and maligning diagnosis: because Kate, at 26, just recently got her driver’s license. They attribute this “arrested development” to me, and think that I’ve “held Kate back.” (For the record: I gave her professional driving lessons when she was 14-1/2—which is allowable in the state of Idaho. She got her driver’s permit ON her 15th birthday. The varied reasons she is just now driving are long and complicated, but have precious little to do with me).
First of all, her father, who has left TWO fractured families in his wake to scratch his various itches, has an intimate relationship with arrested development, thanks to his own broken childhood. That has continued in adulthood and manifests in his inability to truly bond with anyone through any method that doesn’t involve his penis. At best, he has tumultuous relationships with at least three of the five children he has sired and BOTH of his step-children, who merely tolerate him. The two youngest children just aren’t old enough to be pissed off by his myopic narcissism yet, nor the myopic adoration of his third wife who thinks he is Prince Charming, Don Juan and Father of the Year rolled into one.
Nevertheless, his third wife, who writes a well-regarded blog wherein she portrays herself as a paragon of motherhood and socially conscious sage, “claims” that she is the mother of seven children (three of whom were birthed by two other women, and the four she bore, were sired by three different men—hmmm… perhaps I should include a score card). Her pithy writing has been picked up by the Huffington Post and Upworthy. There is, however, always irony between what she writes and what I know about her, as evidenced by this post from Upworthy wherein she offers an enlightened approach on how to talk with your kids about gender identity. At the end of the post are these wise words:
“Because ultimately, there is one very important message to send:
You don’t have to understand another person’s heart to honor and respect them. That is what we need more of in this world.”
Hey Karen: don’t you think it’s about time you started treating MY child that way, even if her gender identity isn’t in question? Better yet, since ALL of your bios claim my child as one of YOUR seven, even though she was eighteen and a month away from starting college when you first met—and you had ZIPPITY-DO-DAH to do with raising her, let’s try a little of that magnanimous wisdom and social consciousness when speaking of my daughter, okay? (BTW: Kate says stepmom2 speaks to her respectfully, even if what she says about her in her absence is another matter).
Here is another “insightful” post lambasting the police for an altercation with a neighbor that got stepmother2 arrested—for real. As is typical of those who have their development arrested, if not their person, she took a militant stance and blamed the police and the neighbor—with nary an acknowledgement that perhaps her own behavior escalated the situation and had her handcuffed (without benefit of an orgasm).
To my ex-husband who has yet to raise a single one of his children from infancy to college: until you have managed the entire spectrum of parenthood (and, for that matter, done it on your own), I suggest you stop dispensing your self-anointed and perverse parenting “wisdom.” Stop trying to mandate the affection of your children through court order and earn their affection through actually listening to and respecting them.
My daughter is disappointed in her dad, mostly because she thought their relationship had improved over the past year. She was under the delusion that he had even started respecting her (long overdue).
Kate has been ahead of the game since she came out of the womb. The doctor’s gave her an Apgar score of “Nine,” citing that they were like the Olympic committee and didn’t give out 10s. In preschool, her teacher told me that my tall daughter was academically ahead of everyone else in the class of 34 kids, but noted that her motor-skills were slightly lagging for a five-year old. I told her that Kate was a month away from turning four. Stunned, she said, “Oh. Nevermind. She’s fine then.”
In kindergarten, her teacher told me that my sweet girl would be designated as a “GATE” student (Gifted and Talented Education). The school district did not test until third grade, but her keen intellect and problem-solving skills were already apparent. Since infancy, I bought her books and puzzles and read to her every night. I sang throughout my pregnancy and every night of her childhood until she was about 10. We were making up songs and stories and singing loud and proud during every car ride.
I took her to the Getty Museum before she could crawl. I gave her art materials and taught her how to use them. After her dad and I separated when she was 22 months old, I traveled with her for five months. By the time she was two, I was taking her to plays and concerts. We lived near Griffith Park and took weekly visits to the zoo and Travel Town. We had an engaged relationship. We still do.
Once Katie was in elementary school, I bought materials that furthered her academic growth. When I learned about the Cuisenaire rods and pattern blocks being used in her math program, I bought a set of each for home. I was teaching her something very basic with the rods and realized she innately understood fractions as a first grader—and, as I would learn after a homework assignment, cost-estimating (!).
She played the clarinet and sang in the choir. She took ice skating lessons for nearly two years. She took tennis lessons and ballet lessons; went to art and sewing classes.
Once she had been officially designated as “GATE,” she took enrichment classes at 7:15 in the morning before the school day even began. She was part of drill team and marched in parades. She was a Brownie and then a Junior Girl Scout. When her leader suddenly moved, I took over the troop when no one else stepped up to the plate, even though I was a single mom working as an art specialist at two schools and already heavily involved in the PTA and the parent foundation.
One day she looked up at a sign in a strip mall that read “BEADS.” “Can we go to the bead store, Mommy?”
“Sure,” I said.
Kate wandered around the beads, crystals, wires and tools, wide-eyed. She fixated on a small loom and asked if she could have one. Within two days of following the directions for a loomed bookmark, she had abandoned the dull pattern and had created a bookmark of her own design with purple butterflies on a yellow background. It was stunning. She was 10.
For her 11th birthday, I bought her quality jewelry tools, sterling and beading wire, got permission for her to attend an adult class for a necklace, and, with my mom, bought her a $200 gift certificate so Kate could choose her own beads.
Her first teacher, Leigh, who also taught jewelry at a local college, allowed Kate to take a glass fusion class (no one under 18 had ever been permitted before Kate) because she recognized Kate’s skills and was impressed by her maturity. She would go on to take lampwork and soldering classes, also “adult only” since they involved chemicals and torch guns.
Within months, Leigh had suggested to the owner that Kate participate in the annual inventory with the adult staff and teachers. They paid her and gave her the standard 10% employee discount ever after. When they were struggling with some numbers not adding up, I, who had just arrived to pick Kate up after an 8-hour shift, suggested they have my 11-year old help them. Fifteen minutes later she emerged from the office and had discovered the error. The numbers now added up. Kate had done in fifteen minutes what the adults had unsuccessfully struggled with for over an hour. They were even more impressed than before. I was proud, but hardly surprised. She would do inventory every year until we moved to Idaho.
One of the many books in Kate’s personal library was a fabulous book entitled “Math Curse,” a children’s picture book written by Jon Scieszka and brilliantly illustrated by Lane Smith. It is a wild and fanciful romp through mathematics wherein the Fibonacci sequence is playfully described as part of a math nightmare. At Kate’s school, all of the six grade classes went to science camp for a few days. The facilitator wrote “1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13” on the board and asked a room filled with over 200 students if anyone knew what the sequence of numbers was called, and what the next number would be. Kate’s face beamed while telling me the story: “Mommy, my hand shot up—and I was the only one—and I said, ‘the next number is 21 and it is called the Fibonacci sequence.’ Mr. Sam (her teacher) was so proud.” I was delighted, particularly over her blossoming confidence as she moved in the world far away from me.
Following her sixth-grade promotion (where Kate was honored as a Presidential Scholar) she joined a small group of her classmates for a trip to Washington D.C., Williamsburg, and other historic sites for a 10-day trip that the principal chaperoned each year. During the summer preceding her junior year in high school, I sent her for a return trip to D.C. as part of the Junior Statesman program where she studied foreign policy at Georgetown University for three weeks and had her world-view opened and expanded as she met kids from across the globe.
In seventh grade, she won the classroom spelling bee and came home with 22 pages of words that would be used in the school-wide spelling bee at the end of the week. She missed nearly every word on the first page. I was flummoxed that my brilliant, well-read daughter couldn’t spell. “Katie: ‘I before e, except after c, and in words that say ‘a’ like in neighbor and weigh.’” Crickets.
“What?” she asked, as if I was speaking German, instead of reciting what the nuns had pounded into my brain forty years earlier.
I rattled off a few more rules of spelling and phonics. Again, I was met with a blank stare. “No one has ever taught you these things?” I asked, outrage escalating as I realized my top-honors seventh-grader couldn’t spell.
I took a deep breath, knowing that she couldn’t possibly memorize the spelling of 22 pages worth of words in four days. I taught her phonics instead.
For some bizarre reason, I had paid special attention to two words: feign and dearth. I told her that I had a gut feeling she would need to know how to spell those two words, in particular. She did, indeed, have to spell dearth (which I had told her to remember mneumonically as d’earth). In the final moments, against her academic nemesis, Denise Le, Denise was asked to spell “feign.” She misspelled it. Kate’s excitement rose as the panel turned to her and repeated the word. Of course, she spelled it correctly and headed to the regional finals of the Scripps Spelling Bee a few weeks later. She met her Waterloo in the first round by misspelling ”Napoleon.”
In high school, she was on the debate team and won many awards throughout her four years in both individual events and participation in Student Congress (part of competitive forensics).
Kate was a member of the Human Rights Club and, as a freshman, helped spearhead a fundraiser that would benefit several global agencies. After Kate and a few other members of the club made a presentation to the school board, one of the members approached me and told me that she couldn’t believe Kate was only a freshman. “You should be very proud of that young lady,” she said. “She is going to go far.”
Throughout her high school career, and the other myriad activities in which she was involved (Business Professionals of America, The Africa Club, an unsuccessful run for class president, AP classes, IB classes), she excelled academically. She was part of the pilot class of the International Baccalaureate (IB) program—which she called “AP on steroids.” She would be one of six students (out of over 20 when the two-year program began) in that inaugural graduating class who successfully received the IB diploma, graduating sixth in her class of over 300 students, a National Honor Student, an Idaho Top Scholar, and the recipient of other awards, accolades and college scholarships, including a full-ride to Seton Hall, a substantial scholarship to Georgetown, and a President’s Scholarship to her chosen alma mater, Pacific Lutheran University where she continued to excel as both a student and human being, graduating with more honors and the esteem of the school’s president and his wife.
Four days after that graduation, she left for a return to D.C. for the first of three successive post-grad internships (no resting of laurels for my girl). The third one hired her after six weeks when they learned that she had third-round interviews with two prospective employers. She has been working ever since in the heart of D.C. for that same public affairs firm, handling global clients, being promoted every year as she hones and expands her skills and proves her worth over and over.
Kate is active in her church community and has loyal and supportive friends. A year and a half ago she rented a floor sander and stripped, sanded and refinished the floors in her apartment, after painting the walls and stripping and painting the trim. Presently, she is in the middle of expertly reupholstering a sofa. This is a girl who embraces challenges and always finds a way.
She finally did get her license last year so she could drive the 1997 Geo Prism she bought from a friend for $75. When she discovered all the expense and effort she would have to put into the Geo to get it operational, she considered waiting to buy a better car, but ultimately decided to get her driving chops in this little car held together with duct tape and prayer. Kate is also working hard to pay off her student loans and wanted to direct her finances toward that goal instead. In those first weeks she was finally on the road, she was as gleeful as if she was cruising around in a 2017 BMW.
And all of that is secondary to the quality of Kate’s person. Her heart is even bigger than her intellect. How can her father not see his child with the pride and clear-eyed wonder of the rest of the world? Every time I think he is becoming the father she deserves, I am proven wrong.
Arrested development? Who the HELL are they talking about? Kate thinks I need to be “Zen” over this issue. I told her to talk to me when she becomes a mother and someone (certainly NOT a father and/or stepmother) makes outrageous and fallacious statements about her child. How can a parent not love and sing the praises of any child, let alone one who is such a bright light to anyone who spends ten minutes in her presence?
I know about parental disparagement. So does my ex-husband. In the early days of our courtship, we connected over our shared experiences of being the children of really bad parenting and vowed how we would be different. We had both been adversely affected by the festering acrimony of our respective parents and how they let it inform their parenting—or lack thereof.
I have always encouraged Kate to have a relationship with her dad, even when it was tenuous. When she was young, complaining about not feeling loved by him, I would say, “Let’s talk about what he does right.” Even though my intentions were good—to be different than my own mother in how I spoke of her dad—I would learn years later how much my “spin” infuriated her. My largest failing as Kate’s mother was in attempting to convince her that her dad was a better father than she knew him to be at her core.
Shortly after our separation 24 years ago, the therapist I was seeing (who had first counseled my ex, then he and I as a couple, and ultimately, me alone for several years), once said, “A child only needs one stable parent to thrive. You’re it.”
Apparently (and sadly), I still am.
“As your kids grow they may forget what you said,
but won’t forget how you made them feel.”