“Tell me a fun fact about your mom.”
Adrienne’s friend Anna asks her this as I’m driving them to practice – not out of interest, I know, but as part of an online game. Still, I listen. What’s my fun fact – my work? Baking kick ass cupcakes? Swearing too much? That I totally fell for the ‘frozen shark’ internet hoax?
Adri: Uhhhhmmmm….I think her favorite color…is…blue.
Me: … … (keeps driving while the remains of my shriveled, desiccated heart blow out the window)
Anyone who has parented an adolescent (or even been in a room with one) knows it’s not an easy gig. The same eyes that once looked at you like you were the moon and stars now look at you like you’re obsolete. Adolescence is so all-consuming that even the most self-aware teens start to treat their parents with an utter lack of interest, as though you couldn’t possibly have any other dimensions than the one that drives them to games and cooks their dinner.
This is not easy on anyone’s self-regard. It’s especially painful for many women because it happens at roughly the same time we start aging into literal and figurative invisibility in the public eye. Aging out of, to credit the legendary Amy Schumer, our fuckability – the point being that once women can no longer be seen as sexual objects, we can no longer be seen at all. The wounds are slight, but they are many. The deli server ‘didn’t see me’ standing right in front of her while she waits on people behind me in line, one after the other until I say something. College-boy bartenders start calling me “hon” and “sweetie” like they’re doing me some kind of favor. Colleagues seem more free to talk over me in meetings than they did just a few years ago.
The weapons with which I fight the disappearance of my personhood continue to evolve, but for now these are my favorites:
At home, I am letting my family see more of me as a person. I am starting to talk about the things I do and think and see and read and feel, even when they have no direct bearing on our home life, like I have every right to do so. Because I do. This is surprisingly difficult. I found I had developed a pattern of mostly talking about things that have some bearing on our family or something I do for Adri, while they talk about their own interests and activities. It’s not a healthy dynamic for Adri to witness or be part of, and certainly not one I’d want for her if she has children. I don’t want HER to disappear when she hits middle age. So I’m talking more about nonessentials, revealing more things she might not know about me or my past, trying to be sure to do it for its own sake, and not because I seek her interest or approval. I balance that by just accepting her lack of interest when it arises – allowing it, allowing any feeling that results, and being mindful. She is not here to provide me with adoration or feels; in fact, I am here to be the rock she pushes off of as she enters life’s current.
Out socially, I intentionally ask other women about their work. Several years ago I noticed how often, when in groups, only the men talked about or were asked about their work – even in the presence of women who had jobs with equal or higher authority, interest, and importance. This isn’t recent, but given the encroaching invisibility, it seems more important now.
In my personal life, I try to…well, be a person. Learn new things, take time to myself, give time to activities and causes of my own, and cultivate my relationship with Anthony separate from our roles as parents. This has been the hardest part. School and work requirements and extracurriculars tend to encroach on any regular, scheduled ‘me time’ I might try to establish; and the presence of a teen in a small house means Anthony and I are almost never alone. (For anyone who might not know, that’s the one exception to a teen’s lack of interest in parents: if they try to have a private conversation.)
I have been at the point of exhaustion on this, of giving up on creating space for myself, many, many times. It would be so easy. Because it’s not terrible, soul-sucking things that are absorbing the time I might have for myself. It’s things I LOVE – being with my family, and being involved in their lives. But when I don’t have regular, consistent time away, I am not the parent or partner I want to be. When I ask myself the two questions I often ask (Is this the person you always wanted to be? Would you want this life for Adri when she’s grown?), the answer is more often ‘no’ if I haven’t taken care of myself.
So I keep trying.
I like to think my efforts now will pay dividends later. The more meaningful things I have in my life as Adri gets older, the less likely I am to be unbalanced by the absence I’ll feel when she is grown, which will make life easier on us both. And if some day she faces a similar challenge, I will want her to keep trying to be herself. Maybe having seen me keep at it will help her do the same. She has too much to give to the world to give up.
And so do I.