Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Oh, the drama . . .

There was much drama in my house this morning. I have a 12 year old daughter so drama is par for the course. But today's drama was particularly dramatic with lots of tears and screaming on both our parts. I could just dismiss it as typical mother/pre-teen daughter crap and go on about my business but then I would miss whatever lesson is in this for me. For both of us.

If you've been reading this blog for awhile, you know that I have ADD. It's not too severe - I managed to get along pretty well for over 40 years of my life before my diagnosis - but it does affect me. Mainly I'm not very detail-oriented. I tend to be a bit flaky, disorganized and somewhat forgetful. I was taking Adderall but recently stopped as part of my physical "spring cleaning." I didn't think the Adderall helped all that much and I don't love the idea of taking amphetamines regularly. (I also don't love spending thousands of dollars a year on a psychiatrist who does nothing but prescribe said amphetamines. Literally. It's a racket.) This morning's drama has me rethinking that decision.

To fully understand this morning's events, you need a little background on my soon-to-be-ended marriage. As I've written about before, my ex was abusive emotionally and physically. He has very high expectations of those around him (and, to be fair, of himself as well). It is his strongly held belief that when people make mistakes, they should apologize. That is reasonable and I'm all for that - the world would be a better place if people were better able to give a good apology. However, in our house I think it was taken too far. Every little mistake was pointed out - not always nicely - and apologies were demanded. And if the apology wasn't up to snuff, there was much yelling and screaming and then demands for apologies for the mistake of not giving a good apology. I now apologize so much that near strangers tell me to stop it. (Seriously - I was in Vegas for a wedding last weekend and a friend of the groom who had known me for one day gave me a - very nice - lecture about how I need to stop apologizing so much.) Of course my girls grew up in this house so they learned - very early - about the "need" for apologies.

Now that my ex is out of the picture, I guess I hoped that my girls and I could become a kinder, gentler family. But my kids - especially the 12 year old - learned a lot from their dad. The 12 year old thinks that every mistake should be pointed out and accounted for. She gets upset when I let her little sister get away with things she thinks are wrong. She begs me to call her on things she does even though I tell her that I think it's healthier to learn to let certain things go. Pick your battles and all that. Her response is to tell me that I'm coddling her (because I let her "get away" with stuff) or that I'm requiring her to "eat her anger" (because I tell her that it isn't worth it to fight over stupid stuff).

So this all collided this morning when I tried to help her make their school lunches. The oldest usually makes the lunches (because the youngest has a hard time getting out of bed). Every day they bring baggies of snap peas and carrots for lunch. She's told me in the past how many peas and carrots to put in the baggies. But she never gave me specifics, she just showed me the baggies and said "about this much." So this morning I put what I thought was a reasonable amount of peas and carrots in the strainer and rinsed them. When she came into the kitchen, she looked at it and said (in that snotty way that only 12 year old girls can do) "Mom, there's too many carrots and not enough snap peas!" I snapped back at her with some totally immature retort about not being perfect. Somehow - and I really wish I understood how - this exchange turned into a huge blowout that had nothing to do with peas and carrots.

She was angry because I didn't immediately apologize for making the mistake of not rinsing the "right" amount of vegetables. (I use the quotes because it's a subjective thing, there really isn't a right or wrong here.) She felt that it was a mistake because she had told me before how much to use and I still got it wrong. She made it clear that she wasn't angry that I made the mistake, she was angry that I didn't apologize for making the mistake.

I was angry because she was rude to me in the way she pointed out the mistake. I was angry because it's such a small thing that it didn't even need to be pointed out. I was angry because she expected me to be able to remember a detail like that. And I feel guilty that I can't remember stupid details like that. Because if I was a good mom, wouldn't I know exactly how many fucking peas and carrots my kids like to bring to school? Especially if they've told me how many they like? (If I took the Adderall, would I remember? Maybe. Should I take expensive and possibly toxic pharmaceuticals to fix something that I kind of think isn't that big a problem but is apparently a problem for my kids? Maybe. I honestly don't know.)

Part of my anger comes from the fact that she won't even consider the possibility that my view on the issue of apologies is as valid as her father's. She insists that I expect her to "eat" her anger which couldn't be farther from the truth. I am trying to teach her that she doesn't need to be so angry. And that's a really hard lesson to teach. Especially to a child who grew up in an angry home. I see this as an issue of tolerance and inner peace. She sees it as an issue of standing up for yourself and making people accountable for their actions.

I was hoping that by writing this I would come to some sort of conclusion about how to handle the situation. I often have epiphanies by the end of a blog post. But this time, I'm not so lucky. I have no idea what the right answer is. Actually, I do - the right answer is that there is no right answer. We're both right. We're both wrong. Pretty zen, huh? But how the hell am I going to fix an argument with a 12 year old without some sort of bottom line? I guess that's the lesson for us both - we need to learn to live together and be tolerant of our differences. I have to let her be angry when I make mistakes but I don't have to let her be rude. And she'll need to accept that she and I have a different world view here. Maybe if I practice, a little more often, the tolerance and inner peace that I preach, she'll learn by example. And even if she doesn't, at least I'll be a little more peaceful about it.
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