Meet Me at Emotional Baggage Claim
I was just talking with a friend of mine, who says she has to nag her kids every time they leave for a trip. She nags them to pack their bags, to get ready on time, and to not forget their sneakers. She feels bad for nagging them, and all of it takes me back to when Daughter Francesca was ten years old and we had one of the best fights of our life.
And yes, you can have a good fight with your daughter.
If you’ve read me before, you know that I think fighting is healthy and normal, and a good fight is when you learn something from your kid. Not when you win.
If you win, ten years later, your daughter will turn up pregnant.
Don’t try to win. Try to learn.
But I’m getting ahead of myself.
I’ll never forget the day of our fight, because it’s when I started traveling light.
Now I have it all figured out, especially with respect to nagging. We either do what our mothers did, or we do the exact opposite.
And hopefully, this is a conscious choice, since in due time, if we have any self-awareness at all, we catch on and live the examined life. We figure out our own way to parent, and even to live. We don’t have to become our mothers unless we want to.
We have free will, and better shoes.
Most of the time, I want to become Mother Mary. I parent the same way Mother Mary did, in many ways, mainly in loving my kid more than words can say and saying so, complete with hugging, kissing, praising, and celebrating in general.
Mother Mary thinks it’s cute when I fart, and that’s what we call unconditional love.
Love is such a positive emotion, and kids need to hear it all the time, even grown-up kids. It makes everybody happier, like a hearty plate of spaghetti.
I’m Italian, remember?
But one thing that Mother Mary did not do is nag.
And there’s a reason for that.
Let me remind you that Mother Mary grew up as the youngest of nineteen children. This is not a joke. Well, at least, I’m not kidding.
The Flying Scottolines were excellent Catholics, way back when.
Her mother, my grandmother, was married twice because her first husband died, probably from the exertion.
Even Italians have limits.
Anyway, I grew up with Mother Mary telling me stories from her childhood, all of which rival Angela’s Ashes for their cheeriness. There were siblings who died in infancy. The family was so poor they ate her pet rabbit. There was no money to send anybody to college, and though my mother did well in school, her mother wanted her to drop out and get a job.
Nobody puts Mother Mary in a corner.
She defied her mother, worked while she went to high school, and graduated at the top of her class.
God bless her.
But even her funnier stories from her childhood make it sound like she was raised by wolves. Half the time, her parents didn’t know she was around. Once she got pneumonia, and nobody noticed. No one helped her with her homework, got her to a dentist or doctor, or made sure that she had books or clothes, much less that she was dressed and ready for anything on time. In fact, she walked half the city to go to her high school, through some very rough neighborhoods, all by herself.
Needless to say, nobody nagged Mother Mary.
So when she raised me, she didn’t know she was supposed to nag me. She didn’t get the memo.
She made a decision to be more loving than her mother, and love came naturally to her. But although she loved us, and was there when she needed us, she just wasn’t in our business. She always worked as a secretary, and we let ourselves in after school and were generally responsible for ourselves.
Not that I’m complaining. Brother Frank and I had a great childhood. We grew up happy, healthy, and pretty much in charge of our own fates. And when we got burned, we felt the consequences.
So we never did it again.
For example, Brother Frank started to ditch English classes in high school, and my parents didn’t catch on until a notice came home saying he wouldn’t be able to graduate.
My parents went hysterically to the school, which agreed to let him graduate if he went to summer school to make up the classes, but also required him to walk at the end of the processional line at graduation.
This was worse than it sounds.
The processional line was in order of height, and the guy at the end of the line was so tall he went on to play for the NBA.
Brother Frank was five feet, six inches.
At graduation, he looked like a sheepish caboose, or a punctuation mark at the end of capital letters, LIKE THIS.
And everybody laughed, eventually even Frank.
Fast forward to when I become a mother, with a daughter, and in the meantime, the world has changed. Walking at the end of the procession isn’t the worst that can happen anymore. There’s meth addiction, psycho killers, and reality television.
So you know where this is going.
I started nagging.
When Francesca was little, I nagged her to do her homework, take a bath, clean her room, and wear a heavier coat, and she always told me to stop nagging. Then one day, I remember the morning, she was in fifth grade, and I was rushing her out the door, nagging that we’d be late to school, and she simply burst into tears.
She said, “Mom, you’re ignoring me. I’m asking you not to nag me, and you’re ignoring what I say.”
And I looked at my child, whom I had made cry, her round blue eyes brimming with tears. And finally, I heard her. I realized she was right. She has never been late for anything. She was even born on her due date.
I was nagging her because I needed to nag her, not because she needed to be nagged.
And that’s why they call it emotional baggage.
I’m learning to check it, in all senses of the word.
Because I still carry it around, whether it’s the way I parent or the way I deal with my daughter, my friends, men, the people I work with, and even my dogs.
Dogs don’t have emotional baggage.
And if they did, they’d forget it at the airport.
They know they don’t need it.
So I look for when it gets in the way of my relationships, especially mine to Francesca, as she grows older. We are best friends, but we’re still smoothing out the wrinkles between us. It’s a lifelong process, because we both keep growing, and those wrinkles have made for some of the best, worst, saddest, and funniest moments of my life.
This is a book that chronicles those moments. It’s about our lives, my daughter’s and mine, living both together and apart, as we both grow older. Precious few books are devoted to a mother’s relationship with her adult child, which is crazy, because these bonds become more important, not less, as time goes on.
Family is forever.
So read on.
I bet that these stories will resonate with you, because you’ve had moments like these, too. The only difference between us is that Francesca and I wrote them down.
And, as you may have guessed, I haven’t stopped nagging, not completely, especially not since she moved to New York, where the meth addicts and psycho killers form a processional of their own.
Though you’ll read in the following pages about Francesca’s adventures in the big city, complete with her own personal flasher.
The truth is, sometimes nagging is required, and sometimes it isn’t, and the most anybody can ask of a mother is that we pause, examine what we’re doing and why, then nag if it’s in order. Then it’s a conscious choice, and we reserve the right to nag.
Because we’ve lived longer, and we know more. Even if you’re an adult child, we’re still more adult.
And you have to listen to us. Not because we’re your mothers, but because we listen to you.
And that’s love.
Copyright © 2012 by Smart Blonde, LLC, and Francesca Scottoline Serritella