Parenting magazine used to come to my house. A monthly edition – right to my mailbox! Any downtime I had was spent reading tidbits that applied to my new role as momma. From that magazine I got the idea to stow away a small disposable camera in different areas of the house – so that I would always be ready to snap a photo of my boys milestones. No missing Jackson’s first steps because I couldn’t find my camera! Can you imagine! It seems archaic now – with a smart phone in every pocket of jeans walking around this house – that I would have ever feared missing a first word, a first step, a cute pose.
If social media had been around when the boys were little I would have been the first to post the photo I took of them out in the front yard – naked except for cowboy boots – covered in mud after an excursion of frog hunting … “Look at my crazy boys!” I would have posted. “I wouldn’t trade them for the world …” I would have added. I would have posted videos of Aiden’s first word … “Hi!” … with his platinum blond curls framing his face covered in blueberries. A photo of Jackson’s head with blood streaming between his eyes and down his nose from a cut in the middle of his forehead would have drawn lots of sympathy as the post retold the story of the game of “Rocks” that the boys made up … you know the one where one brother stands in the August corn and the other brother throws rocks at him – receiving hints from the target brother about how far off his rocks were landing. You win when you peg your brother between the eyes! Their own version of battleship. I would have lamented my lack of sleep, posted pictures of them nursing (yep, I would have done that and I might not have been all the way covered up either)/ Their newborn announcements would have come via the social media highway instead of snail mail. I would have told you about how broken hearted I was when I kissed a four year old Cooper on the cheek and he turned around and wiped it off — only to say, “I’m not wiping it off, Momma! I’m spreading it all around!”. I would have built a community for myself, I would have garnered support (and sometimes ill placed jealousy of a momma who posted pictures of her sweet baby girl sleeping like an angel …) from the women around me who weren’t geographically near me. I would have built a tribe of women who would support me, tell me I’m not alone, who would shore me up when I most needed it. I had those women – a few – in my day to day life (and I wouldn’t trade them for the world ;)), but there are times I think a virtual support group built from late night posts and early morning comments would have helped.
I do post about my boys now – not a lot, not as much as I’d like honestly – but it’s different. The trials of babyhood, the toddler years and even early elementary are largely built by honest and funny mistakes. They are constructed by spilled sippy cups, biting two year olds, lost library books, difficult dances with teachers and discussions about fireworks safety, sling shot rules, broken bones, time outs for squabbles with their siblings, potty training accidents and bribes, nursing strikes and dirty diapers … stuff that isn’t fun, but it’s not ugly. It’s not awful.
Fast forward to the teenage years … and things aren’t so … pretty. Teenage boys (and girls) make bigger mistakes. Our conversations no longer revolve around mostly easily fixable taboos. We talk about sex, drinking, pot, parties. We talk about driving – and texting – about driving – and drinking. We talk about girls – about willing participants and lines in the sand. We talk about racism and sexism. We talk about shootings and cops. We talk about effort and willingness to work. We talk about respect and courtesy, about death and dying. We talk about social media … and then we talk about it again … and then again. Their time as rock throwin’, frog huntin’, cowboy boot wearin’ little boys is gone. Usher in lessons on responsibility, accountability, difficult decisions and honesty. Usher in lessons that they will learn the hard way, and then learn again, an even harder way.
My vision of a tribe of virtual women who supported me as I piloted these three souls into adulthood vanishes. I can not post “Saw pictures last night of a party the boys went to! Wow! Did you know (insert tag of friendly parent here) Johnny was out wasted last night?!” Have you ever seen anyone post: “This boy is driving me crazy. If he doesn’t get his shit together and stop cheating on his girlfriend I’m gonna kill him!” Or how about, “When you catch your daughter having sex with her boyfriend when you think she’s watching a movie …” Nope me either. I don’t see posts about kids getting pulled over for DUI’s, or posts spinning stories of kids getting caught smoking dope, or getting suspended from school for forwarding the naked picture a girl in their class forwarded to them? Parenting teenagers is lonely. The large tribe of young mommas vanishes because too much of what would be shared is ugly, hard, frightening.
And it’s also private. My boys have their own lives. They have girlfriends and friends, they have decisions to make and mistakes to atone for. It’s not my job to broadcast those for the world to see – for the world to comment and opinionate about (yes I made that word up). It’s not my right to expose their flaws and their indecencies — it’s my (Eric and my’s) job to work with them, talk to them, teach them, stick by them, discipline them. Often their mistakes involve other kids — and it’s certainly not my job to post those mistakes.
So, I usually reserve my posts. I don’t share as many attaboys as I’d like to – or would have when they were younger – because I can’t also share the ugly. I don’t reach out as much to other moms … expressing my frustration with this new phase we are in. Instead my complaints are veiled as common, basic jokes lamenting the teenage condition: he’s driving me crazy! he won’t pick up his laundry (which does in fact, drive me bat shit crazy)! he’s driving now – how will I stand it. I choose my confidants – hand picking a few women who can be transparent themselves, authentic and honest. Who will help me navigate these rough (but also beautiful) seas. I choose women who aren’t afraid to tell me – as much as it stings – that my son, the love of my life, is being an asshole. I choose friends who aren’t afraid to also share with me their own ugliness. Because vulnerability works best when it’s shared. We sometimes speak in vague terms – choosing privacy for our children when we feel it is important (or it has been asked for) – but always in an honest way. This is hard. It’s really hard. Sometimes, a lot of times, it’s ugly. We help each other, look out for each other – and each other’s children, in subtle and private ways.
The tribe I have now isn’t the wide, expansive, inclusive tribe of a social media driven circle – although I do enjoy and use that circle as well – it is a small, tight, strong circle. It is a circle where my children are seen as humans, as beings who fuck things up, who try to make them right. It’s a circle where I hope I am seen as a mother and woman who is trying, working every day to see her children for who they truly are – their ugliness included. There are times when that circle shrinks to two. Me and E. There are times that he is the only one to know the ugly – and he fights it with me, learning, feeling, trudging through, guiding the boys together toward a straighter path. And that … that is not ugly at all.
Nineteen years ago on the day I got married, I spent my last few hours with my daddy. We had spent the afternoon running errands, getting my hair done, eating a grilled cheese and chocolate milk for lunch, he chauffered me everywhere, waiting on my every need. I was stressed – and annoyed that on my wedding day I was stressed at all. I wanted to enjoy it – I wanted to soak every ounce of joy out of it! He said, “Sweet pea, soak it all in. The good and the bad. It’s all part of the day. Enjoy it all.” Raising teenagers is often ugly. Sharing that ugly with my small tribe, validating and acknowledging it – for me – tames the ugly, adds color to the beautiful. Reminds me that everyone has it – that no matter how many Facebook posts I see about people’s amazing kids (and they are amazing!) they are also ugly. I’m not any different. Soak it all in. The beautiful and the ugly.