- My mom died in a plane crash when I was 10.
- After I became a mom to a daughter, I started noticing how much I wanted my mom around.
- I learned as a parent to let go of what I wanted and to focus on what my child needed.
A plane crash is not cancer. It does not come with a life expectancy. It is life, unexpected.
At 10 years old, I struggled to understand what happened to my mother, that her plane never landed. As a result, I was raised by a traumatized absent father. Now I hold on to memories of a ghost rather than of proper parenting.
When I gave birth to my daughter, I could not ask my mom what her pregnancy was like, or what childbirth was like. There was no one to warn me that babies were nocturnal, no one I could call because I was struggling to breastfeed or to reassure me that it was perfectly normal to cry. I wondered if my mom had looked at me and thought I was perfect but could not stop crying either.
Mostly I realized she was not there when I needed her the most. I struggled to live in the present and not panic about my daughter’s adolescence, which was more than a decade in the future. I worried that my own lack of experience as a daughter made me unqualified to parent a daughter after the age of 10.
At first it was easy, and then it was not
The first 10 years were easy. I had enough institutional memory of being a daughter and having an emotionally stable mother to draw from.
The second decade arrived with a dreaded question mark. It was not marred in the way I hear my friends complaining about their moms. I lacked a foundation to stand on, but I knew what I did not want for my daughter.
So instead I embraced every parenting decision as an opportunity to materialize my childhood wishes. But in my desperation to break the cycle, I held myself to an impossible standard.
The anxiety began with the nail-biting; I started seeing nails chewed down to nothing. It was a new behavior, except I never caught her doing it.
Homework was getting more and more laborious. Most of it seemed superfluous. A lot of it seemed like projects disguised as make-work for the parents. The spelling lists were like prep for the National Spelling Bee; the math homework was maddening.
I had to focus on my daughter’s needs
I discovered the school I had so carefully chosen for my daughter was what I wanted for myself and not what was best for her style of learning.
The problem was that she had tons of friends and weekends were booked with birthday parties – I did not know how to pull a kid out of a school where she was socially thriving but creatively losing her soul, where everything was being taught to pass some standardized test. Where the amount of homework exceeded what I had in college.
I did not even know how to bring the subject up. I anticipated tears. I thought she would hate me for taking her away from her friends. I worried about her being worried about starting over.
I took the coward’s way out – I brought it up in the car with Zoë in the back seat. I told her that I thought there was a better school for her and that she was going to spend a few days checking out different schools.
No crying. No screaming. To my shock, she responded, “OK.” My daughter’s agreeable attitude stunned me. I had forgotten how children view their parents as omnipotent beings who can do no wrong. My daughter blindly trusted me, and that taught me to trust my gut.
After two different school visits, it was clear the perfect school did not exist. But the one that allowed children to play outside even in the rain, the one that did not assign argument-inducing amounts of homework, the one that shunned standardized tests in favor of painting and music was the right school for my daughter.
She made the switch, is now a college graduate, and never bit her nails again.