I remember the day my eldest was born. The doctor put her pink, tiny body on my chest and said “This one won’t give you any trouble, she’s sweet!” He then went on to tell me about his own parenting woes with his teenagers and that a baby’s temperament is revealed at birth. “My firstborn still hasn’t stopped screaming crying, and she’s 17!” I remember locking eyes with my future ex-husband and giving a look like “Is he for real?” Listening to him go on, I wondered what could be done differently to have kids that were better adjusted? Certainly, our child was destined for greatness. She would be raised by two loving parents who were Grateful Dead loving, entrepreneurial hippies—surrounded by an extended family that adores her. What could go wrong?
Flash-forward 13 years and I laugh at my “new mother” naïveté.
John Lennon composed and performed the ballad ” Beautiful Boy” about his son, Sean. There is the perfect line “Life is what happens while your busy making other plans.” How poignant that one line is for everyone who is a parent.
Being the mother of three, headstrong young ladies is a crash course in how to deal with your own existential crisis. There is no room for reflecting on your own woes when you have a child that isn’t happy.
My eldest daughter was an only child for the first eight years of her life, which made her develop an early sense of responsibility and maturity. She handled the divorce from her father rather stoically, and transitioned well when I had to pull her from the cushiness of a private school and thrust her into the messiness of public school. There were a few bumpy-bumps along the way; new step-father and two new baby sisters, but she gracefully moved over her issues and settled in as a wonderful big sister.
Then her grandmother passed away and a year later—-her twenty year old cousin.
My sweet girl became a dark, gothic, moody figure that I didn’t recognize. Her baby voice was replaced by the jaded inflection of a bitter 40 year old who had lost everything in a fixed poker game.
Literally overnight, her grades dropped from straight A’s to F’s, she stopped hanging out with her friends, and getting her to go to rowing and fencing classes became a battle of wills– ending in her screaming that she hated me! (Ouch!)
[one glass of wine]
Classical guitar, art, her cute little sisters that worshipped her, a box of chocolate— nothing could get her to leave her tomb of a bed. When I tried to coax her out of her room, she accused me of secretly wanting her to have the happy childhood I never had. (Ouch, ouch!)
[two glasses of wine]
Grief counseling didn’t help. She said she didn’t feel anything and that there was nothing wrong with her. Psychotherapy didn’t help; the therapist put her on antidepressants that didn’t do anything but make her more tired and out of it. I tried smudging her room with sage to get rid of the bad energy —she screamed at me for making it smell like her friend Dory’s mother’s clothing. (Ouch, ouch, ouch!)
[three glasses of wine]
Note to self: Never let her go over to Dory’s again.
I was at my wit’s end (and the end of my wine stash) by the time my ex-sister in law called to suggest a psychiatrist who specialized in teens with mood disorders.
After a year of talk therapy, dietary adjustments, mineral supplements, lots of breath holding (and glasses of wine)—a sweet, healthy, stronger teenager has emerged. She has recently applied, and was accepted, into a competitive art high school, and she has picked up playing guitar, again!
For now, she seems HAPPY!
So, for now, I’m happy!
Now, better restock my wine.