Thursday, March 7, 2013

In Which the Contents of Both Barrels are Metaphorically Discharged in Twelve's Direction

I let Twelve have it with both barrels tonight; I pointed a spatula at her, spoke sternly in a raised voice, shut the door hard on my way out, and then performed some basic kitchen tasks with more force than was absolutely necessary.

To preface: We do not shout or slam things, especially our vintage dishes or glass cabinet doors, in this house. If someone (say, me) wishes to make a point, all she has to do is to add a bit of extra emphasis to whatever she's doing (say, putting the leftover tomato paste into a plastic container before going downstairs).

To explain: Lately, Twelve has been asking me to hang out in the bathroom while she showers. It started a couple of weeks ago on a day when I was away from home for some reason or another during the period of time after school and before bedtime. The shower curtains are opaque (she is keen on hiding the bits covered by underwear), I sit on the closed toilet seat and file my nails or trim split ends or whatever, and she talks. It's similar to what happens when we're driving somewhere; she talks to me without having to admit that she's talking to me. Today we missed our teatime because I had a plumbing-related situation to deal with at my rental house and a meeting, so I suggested that we have a bedtime tea, and it turned into me drinking a hot toddy in the bathroom. Lovely, right? 

Anyway, she mentions the latest Coach bag that she wants (barf) and says that she's going to mention it to her dad because he might buy it for her. Okay, fine, let's talk some more about how your dad's household has so much money. Twelve brings this up fairly frequently; I appreciate it because I want her to understand that the reason we don't do x or purchase y is not because I don't love her, but because our household income does not allow it. I hate it because it drives me crazy that he pays less than ten percent of his net income in child support and the disparity between our households is stark.

Stark. As in, I'm driving my second mid-nineties Honda in ten years and (according to Twelve) they've had eleven different new cars in five years.

Twelve is asking questions, and I'm answering them as best I can, and trying to help her understand that wealth is relative (we are very rich compared to some and very poor compared to others) and that, once your basic needs are met, the rest is just gravy. In other words, her dad might have four times as much money as we do, but his expenses are not four times as high, which is why his wife has so many Coach bags.

Somehow, this turns into Twelve talking about how she wants to do ROTC ("Well, I wouldn't be a regular private - those are the ones who always die") and advance quickly in the military until she, too, is making heaps of cash.

You've got to be fucking kidding me. First, Twelve in the military? PLEASE. Second, my child in the military? OVER MY DEAD BODY.

But you can't say that to your kid, not one who wants really, really badly to admire her father even though she's fully aware that he didn't bother to stay in touch with her for the first eight years of her life. We talked about that last week in this very same bathroom, for Pete's sake! I get it, she's conflicted and dealing with it as best she can (which she does very well, by the way). But how do you dissuade her from thinking of a military "career" without telling her that the military sucks? Well, you dissemble a bit; you explain that the military recruits most of its members from high schools in working class and poor neighborhoods. You point out that combat service is required for swift advancement and that women are not allowed in combat. You explain, when she mentions patriotism, that that's a very similar propaganda machine to the one that makes her think that a Coach tote bag is beautiful.

Shockingly, this does not get us very far. Twelve thinks that a TOTE BAG that folds into some sort of SMALLER BAG is both functionally and aesthetically pleasing just because it has the Coach imprimatur. OF COURSE she thinks that the military is a noble cause at the same time that she thinks she can just sign up to be one of the people who gets to advance quickly and avoid death.

Then you explain that the military involves a lot of taking orders, and that she's just not cut out for that. I forget what bullshit response she had to that, something about being the one giving the orders and wanting to get a Purple Heart. YOU HAVE TO GET WOUNDED, REALLY BADLY, TO GET A PURPLE HEART, you exclaim. "Well, I wouldn't" she says. "Well, you might!" you reply; "And you might get raped! Many women in the military are sexually assaulted" you add, for good measure. "Have you ever been raped?" she asks. "It depends on how you define rape," you reply, because you have told her a lot, but you haven't told her that story yet and are pretty sure you don't want to. "Well, I won't. Do you know how many machine guns I'll have?" she says.

And then, in the next breath, she exclaims, "Oh, my nails are just ruined!"

Kind of tired of the whole subject by now, and wishing that your hot toddy wasn't all gone, you respond wearily, "Sweetie, I don't think you're quite cut out to be a soldier" and head for the door.

Obviously thinking she's being cleverly mischievous and about to have the last word, Twelve sticks her face out of the curtain and pipes up with, "Well, I don't think that what my dad did to you was rape."

Back story: Since she doesn't know about the postpartum coercion part, she's referring to the part about how he said he 'just hadn't come that time.'

On multiple occasions.

Not knowing any better and being a trusting person, I believed him.

Pregnancy was the result.

Side note: I will be damned, and by damned I mean condemned to an old-fashioned eternity spent in hell, if I will allow my daughter to make mistakes in ignorance. She can be irresponsible, she can follow the dictates of her incompletely developed frontal lobe, she can make the dumbest of all possible dumb choices, but by golly she'll have as much information as I can give her. When Twelve asks questions about things, I answer them. Truthfully.

And before you get all huffy with me about how horrible it is to allow your child to find out that she was unintentional, let's discuss the percentage of pregnancies in the United States that are unintentional.

Forty-nine percent. That's right, almost half of the women who get pregnant each year did not get pregnant on purpose. Of babies born, thirty-seven percent were not conceived on purpose.

We'll skip for the moment the discussion of how horrible it is to pretend to your child that you wanted to get pregnant with her when in fact you did not, and just agree that the thing that matters is for your child to know you love her and that it does not matter one bit whether or not she was planned in advance.

Now, back to the story: I was still digesting the thing she said about rape when Twelve added, "And I don't think you're ever going to finish the thingie you're working on" ... referring, of course, to my dissertation.

Wow, kid, I'm just not sure how to respond to that, so I think I'm just going to leave the room and close the door firmly behind me. 

By the time I got to the kitchen, though, I realized that I probably should make a point of not letting her get away with this. "What on Earth do you think rape IS?" I called to her through the closed door. She mumbled something about how she thought it was when someone forced you to do something you didn't want to do. "Yes, well, how is what he did not that?" I asked rhetorically. She had nothing there (fair enough), so she retreated to, "It was rude of you to say that I wouldn't be a good soldier!" 

At this point, I was looking for things to slam around. Noticing that she had left out the rest of the can of tomato sauce from the pizza she had made earlier, one of those little cans that you need a spatula to do anything with, I selected a spatula from the jar and stormed back into her room. Gesturing emphatically with it, I said angrily, "If you ever got to the point where you have worked for ten years and are a few months away from achieving the highest possible achievement in your field, I would not tell you that you wouldn't be good at whatever it is!" I then went back into the kitchen, yanked a few cabinets and drawers open and closed, found a suitable container, and managed to be good and noisy about scraping the tomato paste into it. Throwing the empty can into the recycle bin made a satisfying clank.

I decided that the grand finale would be to refuse to perform our nightly tucking-in ritual. I went back in her room and sternly said that I'd see her in the morning. By this point she had figured things out, and was eager to explain that she understood the difference between me telling her that she wouldn't be a good soldier and her telling me that I wasn't going to finish my doctorate. I really do think she had got it, but her tone of voice was more smug than contrite, so I stuck to my position and headed downstairs. A few minutes later, when she phoned, as usual, to announce, as usual, that she was ready to be tucked in, I actually pushed the 'ignore call' button and waited to see what she would do. Sure enough, moments later she came bopping down the stairs, acting like nothing's wrong and announcing that she's ready to be tucked in as if I had simply not noticed her call.

Nuh-uh, not gonna happen. I'm making my point with you this time, my dear. You don't get to say something that you know is completely and totally insulting, even experimentally, and then make a perfunctory apology and expect that everything's immediately okay. The price you pay for being a total shit to other people is sometimes that they don't like you very much for awhile. I know I'm your mom and that you get to try things out on me, which is why we tease each other so much and why that's usually just fine, but you crossed an important line tonight and by golly I'm going to let you know about it.

I had already said I'd drive her to school tomorrow, so we'll have a chance to reconnect soon. In my imagination, she's tossing and turning right now, unable to sleep because of overwhelming remorse. In reality, she's probably either dead asleep already or retelling the story with herself as the wronged party. In the morning, she probably won't give me a big hug out of the blue and whisper in my ear that she's so sorry about last night, but we will probably exchange a knowing glance that means we're both willing to let the incident go.

I will probably go upstairs to get a snack or a glass of water pretty soon, and I'll probably have some reason to go into the bathroom. Since the shortest route from the kitchen to the bathroom is through Twelve's room, I might tiptoe through there. You know, just in case someone has something to say to someone about how sorry she is for saying something so mean. Or if someone wants to make sure someone else is properly tucked in.

Goodnight, my sweet girl, have a good sleep.

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