Riding cross country with my two baby girls- daughter and grand- we popped in Sarah Bird's supposedly hilarious novel "The Gap Year" read by Christina Moore and Jennifer Ikeda. What unfolded was a heartbreaking, yet thoughtful exploration of the mother/daughter experience.
While Bird's ridiculously quirky scenes may cause some to laugh out loud, what resonated for me was the truth of Bird's premise. Mother/daughter relations are complicated in the best of times. In fact, the mother/daughter relationship ends in heartache whenever a mother accomplishes the ultimate goal of parenting: independent action.
Moms and their girls experience conflict based on the intersection of overwhelming love, a mother's desire to control outcomes and a daughter's desire to create her own reality, separate from all things Mom.
This conflict begins early. It has been said that the terrible twos are the most important months of a child's life; the word "NO!" helps a child shape who they become outside the womb. Senior Year in high school-- as in "The Gap Years"-- offers a second major step toward creating that distinct world where Mom no longer reigns supreme.
Most children achieve 18 during their senior year in high school, offering them legal immunity from parental demands. Their medical records are closed to parents, as well as their grades. They can vote, have legal sex, enlist. This gives them the impression that they rule their own roost.
Certainly daughter Aubrey acts on this assumption in "The Gap Years". She becomes protective of her space; she does not open her mother to her transformation. One day they are confidants and the next, estranged.
Working overtime doesn't help Cam perceive what is happening to her daughter. She doesn't know that her daughter is secretly communicating with the father that left her at age two. Or that Aubrey is shaping her future around a high school quarterback who returns the commitment. Agreements Cam once considered "set in stone" dissipate without the distracted mother even knowing they were in jeopardy.
A conscious parent can sometimes pull financial strings, refusing to pay for what were former discretions. But Aubrey is a smart girl and finds her way around that one. She severs relations from her mother as cooly as Henry the Eighth cut off his spouse's heads-- unemotionally, with an eye toward her personal future, as in, "If you need to leave, go for it."
What hurts from a mother's point of view is this; Aubrey's mother Cam was a good mother. She struggled to do everything right for her once cooperative daughter. They got along. They enjoyed each other's company. Despite all this, Cam's pain was inevitable. Aliens of necessity have taken over her daughter's brain; she is again a two year old in tantrum.
A loving mother raises her daughter to assert herself, but that does not make the moment a child moves away from Mom any easier.
Knowing her child must move from infancy toward desired achievements of physical, mental, emotional, social and financial freedom and a mother will do whatever it takes to make this happen. Dr. Lucy Fields from Grey's Anatomy once said, "That's how you get a woman to tear her own body apart. You promise her a baby." She was referring to a mother pushing and pushing and pushing despite a delivery gone wrong.
Pushing out is what it means to succeed as a mother. We do the best we can to achieve this, even as our hearts break. We do it because we love beyond the possible.
As Aubrey and Cam's relationship ebbed and flowed, the road before me blurred with tears. It comforted me to know my daughter was wiping her own eyes.