You were about four and we were giving thanks before dinner. When the adults finished, I asked if you would like to say a prayer. You got a proud grin on your face, sat up in your booster seat, and shouted at the top of your lungs, “Dear Lord Jesus, no more diapers!”
You’d finally graduated to your very first pair of big-girl panties. I’ll say that again with more emphasis: your very first pair of big-girl panties. One day in the future, you’ll read this and understand one thing very simply: this rite of passage is not just for toddlers.
My mother has a snarky reply anytime she hears her children complain about life. Whether we are complaining about work, a coworker, another sibling, or anything else, her response is always, “Well, get over it because I am not going to therapy with you. I don’t have time.”
She says this in jest because, of course, she would do anything for her children. However, she would rather we put on our big-people panties, own our issues, and enjoy life.
Here’s why: the moment we stop blaming co-workers, siblings, significant others, and, yes, our parents for the baggage we’ve collected over the years, we put ourselves in the driver’s seat. Until then, we are passengers, or worse, backseat drivers riding in a car driven by someone else. For control freaks like my mom and all four of her children, we know there’s nothing worse.
When my father died suddenly, my mother was 43 years old. She had four kids ages 12 to 20 that she had to put through college. A stay-at-home mom for 24 years, she had nothing to put on a resume that would put hers at the top of the stack.
By the time this tragedy hit her, she’d already had gone through multiple pairs of big-girl panties. She had tough times and would put on a new pair with each of them, but when the love of her life died, this required titanium-made super-Spanx panties, reminiscent of a chastity belt and not available at retail.
So she put on her toughest pair, started a business at her kitchen table, and worked 14 hour days to ensure that when we were grieving the loss of our dad, our lives would not be disrupted with a financial loss as well. I believe she put her grief on the back burner so we could heal.
Over the years, my mom and my sister built a thriving business together. Their willingness to put on their big-girl panties and do what it takes despite the obstacles is nothing short of amazing. I saw my mom wearing a T-shirt a few years ago that really describes her warrior spirit. It read: “Stop Bitching. Start a Revolution.”
Did she make mistakes with us? Absolutely. All parents do. We make mistakes because we don’t know that they’re mistakes until we look in the rear-view mirror with that 20/20 vision that retrospect gives us.
I know that my mom harbors guilt about some of the things she did and said as a parent because I harbor the same guilt with Annabelle. We’re all a little dysfunctional and we each have our issues, but those issues are ours to own and ours alone.
My mother did the best she could with what she had at the time. I had awesome parents. At some point, it just becomes embarrassing to harbor resentment from the past. If you have ever heard a 50-year-old man blame his mother for the path his life took because she didn’t make him stay on the basketball team, then you know how unattractive it is.
If I asked my mom to go to therapy with me, she would go. Of course, she would go. I would have the opportunity to tell her about the Drill Sargent that has taken permanent residence inside my head. I could tell her about my OCD, my ADHD, and my inability to think before I speak. I could go on and on about mistakes she and my dad made that are as old and irrelevant as the chain letter. We both might agree that it was time well spent.
Here’s the thing: those aren’t my mother’s issues, they are mine. Frankly, if we’re going to spend time together, I would rather put on a fresh pair of big-girl panties and meet her for happy hour.
Annabelle, I am going to make mistakes. I am going to do things and say things that I will regret. If being a perfect parent was an option, I would choose it every time, but it doesn’t exist in the world. Perfect parents didn’t walk this earth in my parents’ lifetimes, my lifetime, and I’ll bet the farm that they won’t in yours either.
Yes, Annabelle, I will go to therapy with you, but I will strive to raise a determined, responsible, ninja warrior who knows who she is, owns her issues, and who would rather go shopping.