Middleaged Woman’s Guide to Handling Mixed Emotions

Clearly, they’ve already driven me batshit crazy…

Ever find yourself so mixed up, emotionally, when with your kids that you’d like to unzip your skin and step quietly away rather than feel any more feelings? Of course you have. This type of emotional imbalance is just part of a mother’s world, I guess – and the ability to cause that imbalance is one of the tools our kids employ to drive us nuts while simultaneously filling us with feelings of love. If they didn’t fill us with so much joy, even during their most rotten moments, we would have no reason not to stab them with a gardening fork. So it is actually a survival skill of theirs.

I don’t know if there’s a particularly effective way to deal with the conflicting emotions that cause a churning mess inside. But I have definitely found some things you shouldn’t do when faced with potentially rocky emotional situations. For example:

Situation #1. You’re at your son’s jazz concert where he plays the drums — he’s the only drummer and he’s nailing it. He looks like he owns the stage, he sets the rhythm for the rest of the orchestra, he jams his little 13-year-old heart out, and at the end of the last song, he twirls a drumstick in one hand before delivering a final cymbal crash.

Conflicting emotions: Pride and sadness. You have to restrain yourself from leaning over to the woman next to you and saying, “My kid is the drummer. He sets the tempo. Your kid is thus a follower.” At the same time, you realize this is just one more step of him growing away from you. You didn’t teach him to play drums. You didn’t teach him to twirl a drumstick. That was all him. He’s his own person, and he’s totally confident on a stage without you holding his hand.

What not to do: Don’t openly cry. You may wipe your eyes surreptitiously as though you just yawned, but do not sob. This will embarrass your son and he will give you the stink-eye after the concert and shoulder past you on his way to his room, rather than letting you hug him and tell him you’re proud of him. Don’t stand up and shout, “Rock on, drummer!” Same as above. Finally, don’t tell him how “cute” he looked on the stage. That shit will just bring him down.

 

I’ve written a caption for this 4 times but WordPress keeps erasing it. I give up. This is a pic Michael took. He’s a great photographer. I’m proud… and embarrassed for bragging. But mostly proud.

 
Situation #2. You’re teaching your daughter to drive. Contrary to what you expected, she looks completely natural behind the wheel. You realize that, without being aware of it, you’ve already accepted that she’s a young woman ready to go out and face the world on her own, and that she will leave you one day soon.

Conflicting emotions: Loss and excitement. Your little girl is almost completely obliterated by this clear-eyed, in-control young woman. You think of the baby with the pinkish-blonde hair, and the way you sat on the kitchen floor, day after day, poking her round belly with a wooden spoon just to hear her gurgling laugh. On the other hand, she can now: drive herself to acting class, drive her brother to school, run errands. It will be a game-changer. You can get an extra two hours of things crossed off your list as she drives herself on Tuesday afternoons to singing lessons: you won’t have to sit in the car for an hour snoozing while you wait for her (but crap: I’ve come to rely on those snoozes…).

What not to do: Don’t shout, “Oh my God, you are so beautiful and grown up that it makes my heart hurt!” while she’s attempting her first left-hand turn in traffic. Startling a 15-year-old girl when she’s behind the wheel of a car could potentially lead to heart failure (yours, not hers).

Situation #3. The kids get home from school. You offer a snack, which they get themselves, and they eat side by side at the counter. They hang out for an entire hour, talking with you and each other, impersonating sane human beings, and you marvel at how you’re all enjoying each other’s company. Then they head upstairs and you hear one screaming, “Get out of my room! Get out! Mom!!” And the other one shouts back, “Where did you put my flip-flops? I know you stole my flip-flops! Mom! My flip-flops were in his dresser drawer!”

Conflicting emotions: relief and fury. First, you realize a great weight has been taken off your shoulders. It has been years since you have had to actually make the snack, feed the snack to the child, clean the child and the counter and the floor, serve as a referee during arguments, and deal with fifty emergencies until it’s dinner and you had to do it all again. You now have time to pour yourself some juice and sit at the counter with your chin in your hands, congratulating yourself on what nice kids you’ve raised. When the shouting starts upstairs, the rage that rises within you is completely out of proportion to the situation.

What not to do: Do not storm up the stairs shouting, “Shut the hell up, both of you! I won’t have this anymore! How old are you, anyway? Can’t I ever get a moment of peace and quiet around here? For fuck’s sake!” This won’t work for a couple of reasons: first, the betrayal in the eyes of your teenagers, who have just spent a lovely hour in your presence, will launch more emotions (guilt for going batshit crazy and resentment because you have realized that it is no longer the children who are behaving unreasonably.) They are, after all, still children, with brains overrun by hormones and, yes, they are experiencing conflicting emotions, too. Right now, they’re probably feeling a combination of love and hate – for each other and for their lunatic mother.

Situation #4. You see a Broadway play with your daughter. The singing and acting and dancing lifts you in an ecstasy of delight and excitement. Your daughter turns to you after the show and says, “I’m so stressed out right now,” and you know immediately what she means: she wants to be on that stage, and she wants to go out immediately and get in a show so she can be on that stage, and she needs it all to happen before tomorrow, and it’s causing her head to nearly explode with longing. She’s thrilled and exalted and terrified, and there’s nothing you can do to help beyond offering encouragement.

Mixed emotions: you’re a big tangled ball of excitement and empathy and love and nostalgia. You’re filled with the unnamed yearning that you always feel in theaters. You feel gratitude for, and in awe of, the actors. Passion and beauty was right in front of you. It soared, and now your daughter is soaring, too, and you’re feeling pride and the hope that she’ll continue to pursue her dreams. And you look at her lovingly, knowing that she still has a chance to live that particular dream, which makes you feel nostalgic for youth. And you feel anxious that, if your daughter goes after that particular dream, she might not make it. And if she does, what if you try to live vicariously through her? You don’t want to be like Mama Rose and be a terrifying (and insane) stage mother.

What not to do: Don’t trample the dream. Don’t tell her just yet how hard she’ll have to work. Don’t remind her that dreams of stardom are very difficult to realize. Let her live the dream and let it sustain her for now. And go with her to wait outside the stage door to get autographs and selfies with the stars of the show.

   

Lizzie with the star of Newsies

 
Situation #5. Your husband leaves the driveway on his motorcycle. On the seat behind him, wearing his leathers and heavy boots and a helmet, is your son, with his arms wrapped around his dad’s waist. You start to shout, “Get the fuck off that death machine!” but then remember you already gave your blessing. Why? Because it’s a bonding thing for them and that’s important between dads and sons, especially during the tumultuous teen years. Because your husband is a very safe driver, and since both kids have warned you that they plan to get their own motorcycles the minute they turn 18, you have decided that it will be good for them to learn from their father how to be safe on a bike at an early age. Also, because you did some research online and saw that a lot of adults said that some of their best childhood memories are of going for motorcycle rides with their dads (and of course I always believe everything I read on the Internet).

Mixed emotions: Love and dread. Seeing the two guys together, looking like badasses but with your son holding your husband in such a tender way, confident that he’s safe in his daddy’s care, nearly breaks your heart with love. Then you go inside and shut the door and bite your fingernails and ignore the fear in your heart and pace the floor for hours until they’re home safely. Every. Single. Time.

What not to do: Don’t shriek or have hysterics. This is their time. Let them enjoy it. When they get home, don’t wrap your son in a hug so tight that he can’t breathe and say, “Baby, I was so worried about you. Don’t let me ever catch you doing that again!” Let him be proud of his time with Dad. Let the two of them talk about how many bugs hit their helmets. Listen to their stories about the scenery and the beautiful weather. Share in their joy.

This gets me thinking: can you choose which of your emotions you can let dominate your life? Can you honor all emotions, but focus on the positive ones? And if you do, how do you acknowledge the sadder or angrier feelings without letting them take over?

Humph. I went into this post planning for it to be light, amusing and fluffy, sort of like a frothy little bubble (Broadway reference, anyone?).  Instead, I got all introspective and thoughtful. I feel frustrated. But I also feel enlightened, like I have something interesting to think about when I fall asleep tonight. Get it? Conflicting emotions! Just trying to prove my point. But also I am serious. And very, very tired.

So, g’night, and as always, let me know your thoughts.

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2 thoughts on “Middleaged Woman’s Guide to Handling Mixed Emotions

  1. Deanna

    All true for every parent I think. I’ll get to processing all that mixed emotions crap with driving ect. as soon as I come to terms with them walking on their own. I think I’ll get to accepting this period of time when I’m 60. Check back…k?

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    1. jennifernastu Post author

      Exactly! Sometimes I feel myself being nostalgic for baby food in a jar and diapers. Who would’ve thought?

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