Friday, September 11, 2009

I'm A Mom. I Can't "Just Chill."

This post ran as a guest column in the Moxie section of The Post & Courier (Charleston, SC), Friday, September 11, 2009.  (Click here for the column.)

When we were growing up on James Island, one of our great summertime thrills was when somebody's exhausted and pestered parent would cave in and drive us across the old Cooper River bridge (an adventure in itself) to the Super Slide in Mount Pleasant.

The Super Slide was, in fact, just that: A "souped-up" old-fashioned metal slide -- on steroids.

To my 9-year-old eyes, it looked to be about 10 stories tall, but more likely came in at two or three, with what seemed like about 20 lanes, but again, was more likely five or six. After paying the attendant, we'd traipse up the stairs, each clutching a square of carpet to sit on, Aladdin-style, for the all-too-quick ride down.

The carpet square served several purposes. One, it maximized the glide. Two, keeping our feet and hands on the carpet helped us avoid friction burns with the slide, which even the littlest kids knew would be far more painful than the "Indian burns" we inflicted on each other's arms at home. And three, well, for the love of St. Philip's, we were in Charleston. In the summer. With no shade. And the slide wasn't that high-tech, stay-cool, molded plastic that's used today. It was metal. You know. Like the bottom of an electric iron.

The metal slides in our own backyards were blistering hot and unusable.  What made anyone, particularly an adult, think an even higher, longer slide would be preferable?  With a little bit of Pam, every single egg at the Piggly Wiggly could've been fried on that scorching piece of sheet metal. Bacon, too.

I sometimes think of that slide when my kids demand explanations for my parenting decisions. Plainly, it would be safer, and usually smarter, not to even begin the descent. The rule is the rule. Make your bed. Put away your clothes. Walk the dog. Because I said so. Now.

But the kids are 12 and 14 now, so I can't always get away with that.

Older Child (OC) recently laid into me: What can't you just relax? Why can't you let things slide? What difference does it make if I put away my clothes? Why can't I eat in my room? Why do you care how late I'm on the phone? Why do you get to tell me when to go to bed?

And finally: Why can't you just chill?

Are you kidding? I can chill! I'm the chillest mom around! I'm so cool ...

Um. Did I say that out loud? 'Cause there's no way I can win the "cool" point.

In fact, I am decidedly not cool -- in any sense of the word. But I am an adult. I pause. I take what feels like a lung-bursting breath. I know that once I get on this slide, there's no stopping -- at least not without incurring serious injury, either to our relationship or my own ego.

It'd be so easy to get burned.

I consider walking away, giving both of us a chance to cool down and avoid the possibility of medical intervention. But oddly, OC seems to be expecting a response.

I dig deep, trying to think of an answer I can give that's honest, worth giving, worth hearing and, most importantly, won't sear the skin off of either of us.

"Because," I offer hesitantly, "you're in training.

"I don't expect perfection. You're a kid. But you're a work in progress. The point isn't for you to get everything right. The point is for you to eventually emerge from training as a thoughtful, contributing, informed, decent human being.

"But that won't happen automatically. That's why I can't just chill."

I stop talking. I wait. I try to read OC's face, but I can't tell. Did one of us just get burned?

"OK, Mom. Whatever. Can I finish watching this show now?"

Phew. I deflate my lungs. That wasn't so scary. Looks like we both made it to the bottom of the slide with hands, feet and egos intact.

I suspect I'll be traipsing back up those steps again in no time, though. He's 14, and his training's only begun.

What a ride.
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