As we (you) celebrate this stupid Hallmark holiday I’d like to take a moment and reflect on the wisest advice my mother ever gave me. (To be fair, it was about the only advice she ever gave me, aside from “just ignore them” which I have managed to apply to SO many different areas of my life, and not just when people are being shitty to me.) I was 5 or 6 years old, having a mental breakdown over something that would make sense to a 5 or 6 year old me – a toy she refused to buy? Picked me up from a friend’s house even though I’d clearly stated I wanted to stay longer? No ice cream even though we were eating in an hour? Whatever the grave injustice this woman was imparting to me, we were walking briskly (she was dragging me, whinging and whining) across the street in our small New Jersey town and I was screaming (I’m sure of it) every child’s refrain: IT’S! NOT! FAAAIIIR!
And while my mother marched ahead, ignoring my shrill cries and pleas for…whatever it was that I wanted, she said to me, without even casting so much as a glance at my freckled, red, tear-stained face, “Well, life’s a bitch and then you die.”
My mother, I must explain, is not a monster. She was no Joan Crawford, railing about wire hangers; she wasn’t even as brash as Sophia Petrillo telling Dorothy what a loser she was. She just doesn’t have time for your shit. If I came home crying because kids were mean to me in school, she’d roll her eyes and tell me to ignore it. At 11, I got my period at the most inopportune time, while we were on vacation in Mexico, and my mom didn’t make a DEAL out it, she just went to the store and got me some tampons and assumed (somewhat incorrectly) that I’d figure them out (that’s another story for another time and I did figure the tampons out but like a year later.) When I told her I was pregnant at the age of 24 by a…less than stellar man, she asked, several times, if I was sure I wanted to keep it and made no bones about her disappointment in me. Mom never made me feel unloved – I got hugs and kisses and “we’re so proud!” when I did something to make them proud (fewer and fewer things as I got older BUT I DIGRESS) (and she loves her grandson!! A lot!) But she’s pragmatic and you have to respect that about a person.
While I do think there’s something to be said about parenting with kindness, I think there’s a lot more to be said about teaching kids that shit’s not gonna go their way all the time. You can’t always have that toy, everyone isn’t always going to like you, 3 million more people voted for a viable candidate and we wind up with a bloated circus peanut as the leader of the free world instead, you can’t run around a restaurant because it’s dangerous AND rude…I could go on. We aren’t saints and we’re going to lose our tempers sometimes and when you’re up to your ass in unpaid bills with burnt dinner and on the verge of getting fired, maybe it’s now that your kid learns that he or she throwing a tantrum again because you refuse to buy them a new tablet is a BAD MOVE. Yes, your child matters, but SO DO YOU and it’s not the end of the world if you can’t or simply won’t provide for their WANTS.
Recently, my child (now 11 and how in the HELL has that happened) decided to try to pull a fast one on us. He failed, spectacularly and almost hilariously, but we found out and we doled out an nearly unthinkable punishment of one month sans screen time (which, he only gets to watch tv and play video games on weekends so…) in addition to your regular, run-of-the-mill grounding. He screamed, cried, slammed doors, the whole 9 yards. We explained it was his own fault, and we ALWAYS find out the truth in the end and while he stood there blubbering, trying to extract sympathy from this stone of a heart, I continued washing the dishes and said without glancing at his red, tear-stained face, “Well, life’s a bitch and then you die.”