Today has been a roller coaster. My son and daughter are volunteering this week as camp counselors at the Norfolk Botanical Garden, and it’s my job to drive them to the Garden in the morning and back home in the afternoon. So I was up at 6am, my normal time, showered and dressed and at my laptop working by 6:45, and then out the door with my daughter at 7:45am. We picked up her brother and drove to the Garden, stopped at every traffic light along the way. When we got there, we were directed to a place other than where the kids had been told in their orientation session, so my daughter started to argue with us about it until my son said it was time for them to get out of the car. He said good-bye and patted my shoulder and smiled when I said I love you, but his sister wouldn’t meet my eye. Well, okay, she’s thirteen.
So I made it to the office right at 9am – the beginning of core business hours, when we are required to be at our desks working – and actually had a pretty good day at work. At 4:00, I packed up to head to the Garden again to pick up the kids. My daughter called shortly after I got onto the road and let me know where I should pick them up. I told her I’d be there soon, when I’d said I’d meet them. I got onto the highway and made my way there. I saw the two kids walking toward me as I pulled in. My son looked tired but reasonably happy, and his sister looked very angry. She swung open her door and said, “I guess your definition of ‘soon’ and mine are very different!” She continued, as we got onto the interstate where we spent more time going less than 30mph than we did going 55mph or more, to tell me how I don’t treat her with any kind of respect, so she doesn’t see the need to respect me. Respect has always been the foundation of our family and our rules, so this is a very fundamental thing for us.
We got things more or less settled, and then I started to tell a funny story about maplestar from earlier today, and she interrupted me to say, “Nobody cares about maplestar!” Well, that punched my last button, so I responded with “I care about maplestar, and a lot of other people do. Can you please be honest and just say that you don’t care about him?” She kept pushing at me, so I pushed back. She’s been using maplestar as a weapon to punish me with since January, and she’s also been manipulating me and using me as her escape hatch when something difficult happens that she is afraid to handle. She has told me any number of times that she wants to live with me full-time, and she tells me all kinds of awful things about life in her dad’s house. So I let her move back in with me before the time she’s supposed to, and then when she spends one day with him, she decides to go back to the way things have been, where she lives alternating months with each of us. I also observed that when she’s been with me a week or two, she seems happy and content, and she tells me she’s willing to give maplestar a chance and be pleasant and respectful to us both, but when she’s spent a couple weeks away from me, she tells me she doesn’t want to live with me any more when maplestar moves down because she hates him.
I know she feels like her loyalties are torn. I know she’s afraid that if she likes maplestar even a little bit, she is betraying her father, her daddy. I can understand that. We’ve talked about that, and she knows that this stuff is inside her – that she feels angry toward maplestar not because of him but because of herself – but I know it’s still hard for her to deal with. It would be hard for someone my age, so I can only imagine how awful it must be for a thirteen-year-old to work through.
So we stopped at their father’s house to tend to their dog while he’s out of town, and then we came to my house to settle in for the evening. My daughter was happy and bubbly again, but I was still frustrated and not ready to joke around just yet. She didn’t understand this. With gentleness and sincerity, I told her that her behavior does not show that she realizes that all the others around her are people, who have thoughts and feelings just like she does, that she doesn’t recognize and respect us. She tried to joke, but her brother told her she should listen to this. I let it drop shortly after, so that she could go back to complaining about the supper I had planned to fix, the one she had requested. When we got home, I ordered pizza delivery.
I’m still unsettled. I asked her point blank if she’d prefer to live full-time with her father than half-and-half with me. She didn’t have an answer. She still doesn’t. The thing is, she knows that I will ask her to back up her decision, but I won’t fight it. I was unhappy when her brother decided he wanted to live full-time with his dad last year, before I moved out, but I didn’t fight it. Sometimes it tears my heart up, but I’m not going to cause that kind of strife in their lives by fighting. I don’t have the personal resources for it, and I don’t want to do that to them, either.
So I’m going to try to leave things as they are right now. Tomorrow, their dad is supposed to be back home from his travel for work, and my son will go back to his house. My daughter and I will have the rest of the week to live here together, until she goes to her dad this weekend. I don’t know whether she’ll be willing to talk with me again or not, but I know I’m not going to tolerate nastiness, rudeness, or disrespect to myself or to any other person.
Of course, I think to myself, aren’t nastiness, rudeness, and disrespect what being a teenager is all about?