By Robin Lentz Worgan
I pick up my 14-year-old daughter, Winnie, at school after her play rehearsal. She slides into the car crumpling empty granola bar wrappers with her foot. I begin my daily mantra of questions: “How was play rehearsal? …Did you meet with your math teacher? …Is Sarah feeling better? Win…Winnie, stop texting and answer me, please.” With her neck bent forward and long blond hair hanging down, a natural tent is formed around her virtual world. This is our usual routine for our 25 minute ride home every day, unless of course she has something to ask me about her upcoming social plans, and then there is an immediate conversation to make sure they happen.
After my final pleading: “Damn it, Winnie! Put down the phone so we can talk,” she looks up at me. Her lips, pursed one over the other like Lincoln logs, slowly unfold into a slight smile. “Mom, I’m going to Allen’s house on Friday, OK?” I take a deep breath knowing that Allen may be a boy she likes and that she often wants to go to different boys’ houses instead of her girlfriends’ and also knowing that I prefer her to hang out in a co-ed group. I respond, “Oh, we might go out to dinner Friday.” Out of nowhere, Winnie, usually light and dreamy by nature, glares at me with her crystal blue eyes and barks, “You always try to control my life. You would let me go if it was a group. “
We continue to talk in a strained manner. I am not ready for her instant anger and I am trying to calm her down by telling her that I know right now she does not understand all the things I do to protect her, but before I finish she bursts in and says, “You know I hate you and I have hated you since I was… about 8-years-old.” Winnie then turns her head straight as we slow to a stop light. Before I know what is happening I hear her open the car door and say “Let me out. I’m outta here.” My heart is beating fast as we are on a main road. A car slides up next to us and I convince her to close the door for a moment. I immediately lock all the doors. We are on our way to a doctor’s check- up. She turns to me and says, “I’m not going in to the doctor. I’m leaving.” Dazed, I call my husband and ask him to meet us at her appointment. As we drive along and circle the doctor’s office parking lot twice, I feel my heart dangling from my chest, her words radiating throughout my body.
My husband comes and calms her and says he will take her to the doctor. I drive home gripping the steering wheel tighter and tighter needing to control something. As I walk in my older son sees I am upset. He is the one who used to say, “I hate you!” and then storm out of the house. He hugs me close and says, “You are a good mom. She’s just going through a phase.” That night I sit in the bathroom and cry. I cry because my little blonde haired, zany Winnie who used to wear a blue hat every day is growing up; I cry because I feel disconnected from her thoughts and feelings; I cry because I think about a game Winnie and I used to play every day after preschool. She had named it Danny and Tommy. We used two wooden figures and a bunch of wooden animals. We would set up all the animals within other blocks like they were in a zoo and then she would be Danny and I would be Tommy and we would visit the zoo and have adventures. We played it every day. I cry because her needs were so simple then: Lunch and a game with mom and then a nap, but now I am not so sure what she needs. I cry because I gave up my career to be home with my children. “Mom” has been my main identity yet I don’t feel like a good mom right now.
The next afternoon I invite Winnie to sit by the fire and talk with me. We sit cross-legged across from each other. I am hoping for a peaceful conversation, but she still has streaks of loathing in her voice when she says, “I just want to leave here. I am ready to be on my own and I want to travel.” I explain to her that travel is a great goal and that many people want to travel and that she will have plenty of time to travel later after school and college. I even bring up the idea of a gap year to fulfill her wanderlust, but we are just not connecting in our communication. She skips to her next argument and points out that I make her hang up her cell phone every night before bed and do her computer homework at the bar in the kitchen and that none of her friends’ parents make them do that, and, that when she does something wrong in her social life, I get too involved. She sits up straight and looks at me, no through me, and says, “I just want to make my own mistakes and make my own life choices. I don’t need you.”
Winnie repeats again that she does not like me. I can tell our conversation is not going anywhere and I want to end it. I decide to tell her the story I told her every night until she was about 10-years-old and stopped asking for it. “Win, when you were born, I had lost your older sister, Margaret; she was stillborn, and so when the doctor put you on my chest and I felt you breathing and saw your pink cheeks, I burst into tears and clasped my hands in prayer and said, ‘Thank you God ‘over and over again because I felt so, so lucky to have you. So you may hate me right now, but I will always love you because I am your mother and mothers always love their children, no matter what. “
I leave her and go in to my room to take a break from this mess. I know I will react and yell at my other children for anything they do because I feel vulnerable after my conversation with Winnie, so I shut myself up in my bedroom and open up my book, Valley of Amazement by Amy Tan and begin to read. I read to calm down. It takes me somewhere else away from my problems. As I read, tears drip onto my page, but I keep reading for a while. I know I should make dinner but I am not ready to resurface into my life. After about 45 minutes, Winnie comes in red eyed, hands me a note written on notebook paper, hugs me and leaves. She has never been one to talk about her feelings or tell me about her day at school. She did not cry at her beloved grandfather’s funeral a few months ago though all her siblings did. I read her note, “I have so many emotions inside of me. I don’t know how to communicate them. I don’t hate you. I love my family. I don’t really want to leave. “
The next night I decide to ask Winnie for an art lesson. She has just spent several nights sketching amazing pictures of Adam Levine and Kurt Cobain. I cannot draw at all. We decide I will draw a mermaid. I expect her to give me simple directions for drawing a mermaid. I am waiting for concrete directions like “First draw this line,” instead Winnie begins by telling me about light and how the act of drawing all has to do with finding the point of light. She shows me the point of light on my page. She also says, “Mom you always draw what you think you see, but you are supposed to draw what you really see. Don’t guess what the side of the chair looks like, draw where it curves on the one side. Don’t guess the shape between your eyes and your pencil. Draw what you see.”
After the lesson, my picture is ready for the trash. I do not understand the light and I cannot see the way Winnie sees. I lie in bed that night and begin to think that maybe I see Winnie the way I want to see her instead of how she is. I put on a fresh set of lenses and drive her to Allen’s house the next night. Winnie texts the whole way there, not talking, except when she gets out to turn and say, “Thanks for the ride, mom.” (She smiles). I think I see a 14-year-old that needs lots of protection and is going to a boy’s house by herself and is impulsive because she has ADHD, but what I really see at that moment is a happy, artistic teen girl who loves her mom and is trying to figure out her path. I wave to Allen’s mom and drive away.
Robin Lentz Worgan is a second grade resource teacher and freelance writer. Her work has appeared in ADDitude Magazine and The Philadelphia Inquirer. She is also the author of Journaling Away Mommy’s Grief, 2010. She blogs about loss on her book website at www.robinlentzworgan.com
Art by Linda Willis