For Christmas this year, my mom took me and my oldest daughter on a cruise to Mexico. She did not invite my husband or my other kids, which might seem cruel, but really she was attempting to have a special mother-daughter, mother-daughter trip. And indeed it was. We had a marvelous time, but it was not without frustrations or confusions as you can imagine with a trip of this nature.
For one thing, being in such close perimeters for an entire week forced me to see how very different we all are. Often, I thought,’ how can this be my mother?’ and ‘how can this be my daughter?’ I’m sure they felt similar confusion at times. We are very different. Yet, we had a wonderful time together laughing, exploring, eating copious amounts of food (especially shrimp and desserts), and visiting with any number of the 5,000 guests aboard the ship.
We ported in three locations, and I only half-joked when I said I had to keep a closer eye on my mom than on my daughter. Ever the worrier, my mom’s brow furrowed repeatedly with panic that we were separated from our group and all was lost. Each time, I explained that I still had my eye on the next person in our group, and we would be fine. When my mom and I grew tired of the educational tours and wanted to deviate from our original plans, my daughter mimicked my mom’s furrowed brow, extremely concerned about leaving our group and going somewhere alone. I couldn’t emphasize enough that we were going to the beach… to one of the most beautiful beaches in the world. We would be fine!! Her rule-following ways were foreign to my overly-liberated ways. I was baffled that my daughter would not immediately jump at this opportunity! Instead, she cried and resisted.
Finally, after talking with her for a long time, I discovered that she was terrified that if we split up from our group, we would get kidnapped, lost, or left behind when they boat set sail. I was able to calm her fears and reassure her that I was perfectly capable of taking care of her. She was also comforted by the knowledge that we were still going on a guided tour and that many people in our group were going on different tours that day. A shift in both of our perspectives helped us to resolve our different expectations.
This was not my only shift in perspective; I learned things about my 10-year-old that I fail to see when I spend my days mediating between fighting kids, barking orders for chores, and busy, busy, busy. It was wonderful to be able to say “yes” to virtually everything she asked. We ate cookies at midnight, went swimming under the stars, stayed up late, and went wherever she wanted, whenever she wanted. We talked about her, and me, and my mom, and all of our different character traits. We also analyzed the ways we are the same and the things that help to bond us. It was delightful and also quite revealing. There we were, three women from three generations with 60 years between us, all speaking languages indecipherable to the others. And yet, this one-on-one trip helped me to understand my mom and my daughter more clearly.
Between sea legs, a new knee, constant motion, medication, and a cold, my mom was not the most stable footed I’ve ever seen her on this trip. In fact, she kept dropping and spilling things. It became the running joke that she couldn’t be trusted with a soda because she’d pour it on a guest (which she in fact did).
While boarding a transfer boat at one of the ports, we got snow cones. My daughter wanted to ride on the top of the charter boat, so she and I began the climb. Once there, we found a seat and waited for my mom to join us. Suddenly, I looked up and saw a puddle of snow cone pooling on the floor at the top of the stairs. I couldn’t help but laugh at my mom’s klutziness and the reality of our running joke. Next, I saw my mom ambling up the stairs, her bag in one hand, a dress she bought in another, with sticky hands and her water bottle, receipt, and empty cup balanced precariously between her two arms. I couldn’t understand why all of her stuff was not in the bag she had purchased only yesterday specifically because she was having such a hard time holding on to her things. She walked over to us, sat down, and it was like an explosion: her water bottle flew in one direction, her empty cup another, the napkins she held stuck to her syrupy hands, her bag fell to the floor in another direction, and I was in hysterics. We laughed so hard we cried! Onlookers thought we were either drunk or crazy… or both. The crew member said, “You’re cut off,” which opened a new round of hysterical laughing. I couldn’t even speak I was laughing so hard. My mom searched for cash to tip the poor guy who now had to clean up green apple syrup from the deck.
I made sure to hold my mom’s arms as we exited the boat, no longer trusting her to walk on her own. Sitting around the dinner table that night, I was retelling the hilarious events from the day, again laughing so hard it was difficult to speak. My mom indignantly interrupted and said, “You wanna see how funny it was? Here are all my bruises from falling,” as she showed some gnarly blue circles on her arms and legs.
“Wait, what? You fell?”
“Yes, coming up the stairs… that’s how I spilled my snow cone.”
Suddenly, the event was not quite so funny. I explained that I had no idea she fell. The captain room blocked my view so that all I could see was the puddle of snow cone slowly creeping along the cement deck. So much of parenting (and relationships in general) is like that snow cone. All you can see is the leaky sticky spillage from your perspective. I never saw her fall. I only saw the green liquid and was embarrassed that she had spilled yet another drink. I didn’t have compassion or empathy for her because I didn’t witness the whole experience. From my limited view, I could only see the spillage and laugh at her clumsiness never worrying about her fall or pain.
How often have I done that in my parenting? Going on this trip showed me a myriad of ways I was not seeing my daughter. It also illustrated the many characteristics of my mom that have been invisible to me my entire life. My perspective was limited, but I assumed I had a complete picture. I have been guilty of this all too often in motherhood. I remember being enraged about the mess of tiny little pieces of paper all over the floor, failing to see the beautiful snowflake my son made. It was days later that I found his creations and felt sick that I had hastily jumped to a conclusion rather than seeking a fuller picture.
Once, I remember reprimanding my daughter (ironically I can’t recall what it was about), and my husband asked, “Did you even ask her why she did it?” I remember thinking that I didn’t care why she did it, she was not allowed. Later, I recall that sinking feeling of guilt as her explanation changed my perspective.
In parenthood, indeed in life, we have to pay more attention. Stressed at work, do we fail to see the drawing from our child? In a hurry to complete our tasks, do we forget to notice when our little gets her feelings hurt? Resentful of the noise and wrapped up in our phones, can we see our children begging for attention?
I am confident that if we take the time to know our children, listen to them, and seek a fuller perspective, we will be better parents. We will be better people. If we seek understanding before judgment, compassion before blame, we will make family, society, and life more complete for everyone. And if you can’t go on a sweet one-on-one vacation, listening and paying attention will certainly suffice. The payoff can be immense… for me, it meant helping my daughter to be more free while also understanding her careful ways more clearly.