I cry at the drop of a hat. It’s true. Anyone who knows me can vouch for this. Puppies, families enjoying a sunny day at the park, a toddler’s first skinned knee, a failed fledgling on the sidewalk, impromptu acoustic jams, a tiny tomato trying desperately to reach its full potential under the gray northwest skies – any unfiltered acts of nature tend to make me cry. And these days, my tear ducts are more weepy than ever.
We are in the midst of a global pandemic, which has rendered circumstances none of us have experienced in our lifetimes except through the lens of Hollywood. Some will lose loved ones, gone too soon, while others lose their livelihoods, their businesses, their life savings, and their back-up plans. Conversely, the planet’s pollution is clearing at an unprecedented rate as factories shut down, airplanes remain grounded, and vehicles stay parked for weeks on end. Night skies in Delhi are revealing stars to locals who have never seen them. Aquatic mammals are finding their way into waters once too toxic to enter. Residents of Burbank, California, are noticing mountains usually shrouded in a smoggy haze. We Earthlings have been through a lot together, and we all continue to go through our own personal triumphs and struggles as we adjust to the ever-shifting “new norms”. As my daily habits change and my family’s summer vacation plans remain uncertain, one part of my identity shall persist: I am and will always be a mother.
My daughter, Em, turned quarantine, excuse me, seventeen, on April 17th. Every year on her birthday, I cry sentimental tears (surprise!), but this year the wave of emotions shocked even me. The limitations of the Stay At Home order wasn’t the culprit, but rather the fact that my daughter decided to break up with her boyfriend, her first love, together for a year and a half! He is a good good boy who cherished her. The kind who raced-on-foot to get garlic from the store because I needed it for the meal I was making (my husband never offered to do that!). When Em came to me, sobbing, explaining that she was about to break this dear boy’s heart, I offered, “Maybe this can wait until after quarantine?” I assumed this was all a product of their absence from each other and a culmination of their anxieties about Coronavirus and missing their friends at school. She quickly dismissed that suggestion, convinced their relationship was over.
The break-up devastated the boy, and my daughter too lost several nights of sleep. The boy’s mom and I were baffled and frankly, maybe the most upset. We consoled each other over the phone trying to understand what went wrong. We had imagined our lives as in-laws and the kids living happily ever after once they soared through college together. I carried around a Disney fantasy and secretly projected it onto my daughter…ick! Or not ick, I don’t know really. What’s so icky about wanting my daughter to be happy and in love, though I can actually feel her eye-roll as I type this.
If you’re a parent, I’m sure you’ve heard the quote, “Children are the greatest teachers!” If you’ve raised a teenager, you’ve probably preached it. I hereby am amending that quote to, “Children are greatest healers”. As the Covid-19 clock ticks away each day, allowing me more and more time for self-reflection, I recognize that my most poignant parental growing pains are linked to my own untended childhood hurts. Sure, I discovered some genuine grief from losing Em’s beau as part of our lives – my whole family loved having him around for game nights, dinners, and just enjoying his goofy personality. However, the deep soul-shaking disappointment I struggled with was tied to my unrequited teenage hopes and dreams. Symbolically, my daughter’s successful and loving high school relationship made up for what I could never obtain as a young woman. I chose relationships that perpetuated my feelings of worthlessness created by the void my narcissistic father left in his wake on the rare occasions he came to visit my sister and I. With this particular boy, I knew Em would be safe from “bad boys” who might mistreat her the way I was mistreated.
As old wounds resurface, my tears wash them away with a panacea of forgiveness, both of self and another. And then my parent brain reminds me this is another lesson in letting go. I must let my daughter be her own person. Her life belongs to her. It is not a repeat of the mistakes I made and traumas I endured. She has grown up in a world where boys and men show up and consider her best interests equal to their own. She is focused on her path-exploring colleges, career options, her passions. She is writing her own story and I must remember to keep my hand off her pen. I shall stand close by with open arms ready to witness her unique joys and disappointments, and of course, will always have a box of tissues in hand.
GINA CANTARA is a Seattle real-estate tycoon, mom, and step-mom who enjoys (during her rare free moments) writing, running, hiking, trivia games, and is always seeking that “better” cup of coffee.