Last night, my oldest daughter and I had a fight. Fight might be too understated a word for what we initiated at 9:30 PM. A mini-war, maybe. Of epic proportions. A knock-down, drag-out, tear-stained-cheeks, screaming-at-the-top-of-our-lungs, sparing-no-feelings, scaring-the-dogs-into-hiding fight. Seriously, we didn’t see the dogs for hours after the smoke had cleared. For all I know, they’re still in hiding.
I can’t even really tell you what the fight was about. Not because it’s some dark family secret, but because I honestly don’t know what escalated it to record-book status. I think a sweater was involved. And maybe a pair of boots. But it degenerated into words of anger and disrespect of which we’re both ashamed. But we come by our tempers honestly, mine by my father, and Hannah’s by, well, by me. I guess we can blame genes. But only so far. We both need to work on not adding to the fire.
Language, something I love to manipulate and massage as a writer, to create characters, express emotions, concoct stories, comment on the world at home and at large, decayed into a crude weapon last evening. Daggers tossed back and forth between mother and daughter. And today I’m left wondering what wounds I have inflicted, even as I lick my own. Regret has the highest density of any emotion. Just a little bit feels so heavy as time passes. It’s exhausting to carry around, but so hard to leave behind.
Hannah and I are too much alike, my husband, arbiter of the peace, says. When we get into it, we leave the gloves off, intent on landing bone-cracking blows where we know our opponent is weakest. We never miss a chance to expose an old wound, and we rarely shut our mouths long enough to hear the other’s point, no matter how valid it may be. Our intent is to prove we are right, no matter what the cost, no matter what injuries might result.
But we are also the same in that we feel awful, absolutely devastated, at the fight’s conclusion. Thankfully, we made up, tearfully, as the 11 o’clock news launched it’s opening teasers. And this morning, I woke to a love letter on my bedside table from my daughter, and we exchanged texts of mutual devotion and admiration. We’re closer than ever. We understand each other now.
Until the next fight. And there will be one, I’m sure.
What causes the strife that plagues most mother-daughter relationships once the teenage years strike? Lord knows (and probably the whole neighborhood) that my mom and I had some epic battles. I’ll call her tonight and thank her for not smothering me in my sleep when I was seventeen. I’m sure I would have deserved it. So I know Hannah and I are not unique. I fought dirty with my mother, and likely, Hannah will continue the tradition with her daughter, if she is lucky enough to have one. (And yes, I do mean that; I’m not being facetious)
My husband’s hypothesis is that these clashes prepare us for the ultimate separation that adulthood brings. It lessens the sting of Hannah’s ultimate goal of freedom. She asserts her independence, striving to become her own woman, and I clutch onto her, trying to tether her to the nest. I’m just not ready to watch her fly away, and yet it has been my life’s work for the past 14 years to prepare her for just that. Even during times of peace, parenthood is a struggle, a battle of maintaining a safe distance, of guiding and protecting without bossing and smothering. It’s hard.
One of my best friends wrote to me today, “Always remember: It’s a parent’s job to screw up their kids, and their kid’s job to disappoint them.” It made me laugh. He’s a wise man. And funny. And he doesn’t live with a teenage daughter.
So I prefer Hannah’s last text to me this afternoon:
“You worry about me, but you forget that I know I’m beautiful, amazing, and all-around perfect. I’m technically a princess. Raised by a queen.”
Oh Princess Hannah, even though you grow more into a woman every day, a woman of whom I am so fiercely proud and who impresses me daily, I’ll never forget holding you for the first time, protecting you through the trials of childhood, putting you on the bus that first day of school, watching you ride a horse for the first time. No matter how tall and mature and wise and amazing you become, you will always be my little girl. But I promise to weather the storm of adolescence with you all the way, and I hope to be your friend even as you fly ever farther from this nest I’ve built for you. Sometimes I’ll struggle, because I love you so, and I want you to snuggle down in the nest with me, safe under my watchful eye. But I know you were made to fly. Just don’t go too high just yet. Momma needs to catch her breath. But I’m with you always. Seriously.