Thrice the brinded cat hath mew’d.
Thrice and once, the hedge-pig whin’d.
Harpier cries:—’tis time! ’tis time!
Well, last week we were not quite reduced to Shakespearean tragedy but still, I was ready to fillet that fenny
snake Snarl and there was no doubt her mother was Witch One. And so, good friends, you make the call.
You know she is the apple of my eye and after taking a year off, give or take (say two) to play truant, bon vivant (read into that most, but not all, of anything and it applies), paint houses and work on her bowling score, she is now the one of four who shows promise of being able to care for her dear mum in old age. (Dear Lord, please smile on us when parent becomes child and vice versa. Between the two of us, that would be double, double grim and trouble.)
The Snarl is the very picture of health and happiness, at least most of the time. She is doing as well in college as she did her first ten years of schooling, before she decided to hell with exceptional performance; a day bowling, loitering and eating hot wings at The Colonial Lanes snack bar was more interesting. She has now chosen a clear path for herself and declared a dual major in environmental science/policy and linguistics. She has been a Latin scholar for years and added Greek, modern and ancient, Spanish and Russian. Her environmental studies are providing her with a philosophy for life and now I can’t eat a good steak without thinking about the deplorable inefficiency and waste involved in the cattle industry but hey! I survived the children’s years in DARE; I can survive this. Seriously, the child has me rethinking many aspects of my wasteful and ignorant lifestyle.
She also works like a whirling dervish, by choice. Because I was totally self-supporting and out in the world alone at 17, I vowed, naturally, to go overboard and provide an undergraduate education, free and clear, for each of my children. Dan stayed in-state to attend music school at my alma mater (where they are not such great hockey players) and I was still a single mom and he was helped by grants and scholarships. The Snarl said she needed to get out of Dodge in order to get out of The Colonial Lanes lifestyle and we went along with that, with certain provisos around demonstrating an earnest commitment.
She has always been fiercely independent, less than cautious, full of adventuresome spirit. She was the baby who tried to figure out how to nurse while sliding away to cruise across the living room and visit the cat at the same time. When that failed, she weaned herself, popped a binky in her mouth and one in each hand and hit the hardwood floors running. She is the deep sea diver, the mountain climber, the jungle explorer.
And God help the mother who makes a helpful suggestion.
I’ve mentioned before that she is virtually self-supporting. We don’t require this of her and often I am trying to convince her to please cut back on work, please take money, please let me help but mostly, she prefers to go it alone. In her mind, it is clear that, as an independent she is a free agent. And this frees her up to, among other things, pop in, happy as a clam at high tide, chattering and laughing, about once a day. Yesterday she came by a second time, in her pajamas, for a second helping of creamed potatoes. I was reading myself to sleep and then I heard her singing in the kitchen. She came into our room, snuggled down long enough to eat her bedtime snack and then hurried back to the dorm for a short night’s sleep before starting up early this morning. You see? A mother’s joy.
So get to the problem already. Do you remember last year when it came to my attention that she and her girlfriend were saving money and maintaining their independence by living in the ‘hood, rather than the shiny new on campus dorm as planned? The dorm deposit had been paid and at the last moment they decided they could do better in "this nice house, a whole house!, with a yard!" It backed onto an alley that housed the largest southside crack house in the city. It took those neighbors about three minutes to figure out that there were young women with laptop computers and iPods in that house and they were robbed twice in short order, with just enough time between for them to replace their computers. The second time, Snarl cut her hand badly trying to pull broken glass from the busted in door and then, to compound her damned "independence" she decided to do a masterful job of butterflying her own wound rather than go to the ER for stitches. She now sports a rather handsome scar for life near the top of her third knuckle.
I came flying down and bullied her into the dorm. Literally. I started packing her stuff, filled out her paperwork, paid the deposit and insisted that I was not leaving the doorstep until she was moved into the safety of University housing, where she has lived since, after her initial righteous indignation, in reasonable contentment.
Ten days ago, Snarl approached us and said that she was going to get jammed the last week of this semester. In one week she would have to take all her finals, be moved out of her dorm because the contract ends and be packed and heading off to Botswana. She thought it would be helpful to rent a place now, in April, so she would be able to transition as time allows over this next month and she wondered if we would help her with the damage deposit since she just paid down all of her savings for the Africa trip (which we offered to pay for and got turned down. She’s "allowing" us to buy her a small pair of binoculars.). This made me happy happy- both her foresight and good planning and an opportunity to help her.
The next day- this would be last Tuesday- she stopped by and announced that she had found a place, "it’s pretty nice, just an efficiency, one big room, but there’s a nice swimming pool, on our side of town, I can walk to school and work and it has a locked entry gate." She told me the intersection and I thought, well, that sounds on the edge of a just okay area but I had some hesitation about the efficiency size. That
girl young woman in a small space equals chaos between her books, clothes, diving gear, etc. She was pleased that it was affordable for her at 500.00/mo and bounced out the door, saying she had put 250.00 down and would pay the rest and get the key on Friday. We were leaving on Thursday for Michigan.
On Wednesday, the chromosome that turns me into a meddling mother reared it’s ugly head and I drove by the new place. At first I couldn’t figure out where it was because the only thing at that intersection was La Fiesta Winds Motor Court. (Long pause) Yes, that’s correct. The Snarl had signed a seven month lease to live in a motel room at La Fiesta Winds. Where there is indeed a security gate, it is owner occupied by Ma and Pa Kettle and there’s a lovely swimming pool where all the resident migrant workers gather for friendly barbecues in the evening. There was, in fact, a sort of south-of-the-border cheerfulness about the place with blooming hibiscus and rusted outdoor tables with tattered umbrellas. The owners assured us that they had put her "up near them, where it’s safely off that street" (the one where things go south fast…). One big selling point was that the previous occupant, a single dad who got his three small children on weekends, had left Abby the original king sized sagging bed which took up the entire room and sported unspeakable stains.
And my imaginations are as foul
As Vulcan’s stithy.
I left, sat in the car with the doors locked against the activity in the park across the street that she would walk past in the dark every night and rested my head on the steering wheel. At first I just sighed, then I wept a bit, then I reminded myself that she is 21, self-supporting, extremely competent, smart and sturdy. She has quite successfully made it this far with only a few small battle scars and she is rightfully proud and happy with her ability to navigate the world. She mostly knows what she is doing.
Eye of newt, and toe of frog,
Wool of bat, and tongue of dog,
Adder’s fork, and blind-worm’s sting,
Lizard’s leg, and owlet’s wing,—
Then, while she was busy at her linguistics seminar and I should
have been sorting and packing business tax forms, I went out and rented
her another apartment.
I shamelessly called around every new acquaintance, cruised the streets, took down numbers off signs, accosted people coming in and out of reasonable looking apartments. I found her a large one bedroom, within sight of the bay, safe blocks from work and school, with new carpet, fresh paint and new kitchen cabinets and appliances. The building itself is sort of shabby Southern chic, with a full second story veranda, filled with plants and students bicycles shared by eight apartments. The apartment wasn’t even listed yet and the owner had two interested parties but no deposit. I paid the deposit.
For a charm of powerful trouble,
Like a hell-broth boil and bubble.
I left a message for her to call me after her classes were finished for the day, I had something to show her. She called at 530 pm and screamed, "NO!" I didn’t even say a word and she screamed, "NO! It’s my fucking life and you have no right and you need to stay the fuck out of it! I’m going running! NO!"
The lady doth protest too much, methinks.
Now, I ask you, is that anyway to talk to your mother? And is she psychic? How did she know I went and rented her a different apartment in less than four hours? I mean, who would figure that out? Anyway, I went weeping to Rich and said he needed to talk to her and he said, "NO!" With a lot of snot and gnashing of teeth I got him to go look at the before and after and he agreed to try and call her one time and see if she would at least go look at the new place with the reassurance that we would be more than happy to pick up the 150./mo difference.
So, he wandered outside where I couldn’t eavesdrop as he both took her side and tried to subtly convince her to drive over and look at it briefly with just him. She steadfastly refused, reiterated that it was her life and she was hurt and angry that I didn’t trust her to make her own decisions. And so, Rich told her we had paid the deposit, we would leave the landlord’s number on the counter so she could get it and fill out an application if she changed her mind while we were gone, that we loved her and we would see her on Easter.
There’s an ending to this story, of course. But first, weigh in and tell me what you would do.
UPDATE: So, off we went to Michigan and then Saturday, right while I was lunching with friends, she called to apologize and say she loved the apartment I found for her. She was very excited to be so close to the bayou and have a real place with a bedroom and kitchen and living room. She had gone to fill out the application and it made her feel good that she passed a credit check so she doesn’t need a co-signer. I heard rumblings about a cat in her future that I just breezed over.
Robin wondered what stirred her fiery response and I said I thought that, in large part, it’s her basic temperament. I believe her first sentence was, "I do it MYSELF!" She has also always been a happy natured child, now woman, who can pull a Linda Blair in the blink of an eye. In recent years that has toned down a lot and it’s very rare that she flares like that.
I would add this: I think children of divorce don’t have the same opportunities to see cooperative decision making and problem solving between adults. She was raised by two parents who lived independently for most of her growing up years. Another thing that happens when there is a divorce is that there’s no backup in your parenting. When there’s a minor insurrection- or a major one- it’s just you and your child going toe to toe. When you are the mom, you’re less likely to have the simple authority tied to "because I said so" and there’s no one to say, "listen to your mother!" You lose the strength of authority in number so you have to hope that you can establish a relationship of mutual respect and good communication.
Fortunately, in most all areas, my kids are open with their dad and with me and they usually listen to our opinions. When they don’t want the sticky feel of interference, they will turn to Rich- he has a nice way of talking through an issue with them without actually giving them advice.
FC raised another issue and this one I find trickier. While I have one grown child who is both cautious enough and old enough to recognize that the world is not always a safe place, this one tends to think she is invincible and because she is so competent she has developed a sense that she can handle just about anything. She grew up in a sheltered and essentially crime-free environment. Here, she seems very comfortable with the rough and tumble aspects of city life but I worry constantly that she underestimates the risks for an attractive young woman with a macbook in her backpack.
I would have gone to the mat with her on the apartment and stayed on her case persistently. As we’ve talked about it, she knows our concerns are for her safety. Still, it’s a matter of me needing to rely on her ultimately being sensible and/or willing to listen because she has positioned herself to make her own decisions. And for better or worse, this one wants to learn by doing.