Katy's Blog


Katy B.

Katy B.
Seattle, Washington, US
June 06
I am a working jazz vocalist, a writer and the mother of three boys. Basically, I sing, I write and, for better or worse, I parent. I love making noise about the Seattle jazz scene and also writing about other vocalists. I thought I was pretty good at the parenting gig until my son became a teenager. I'm presently getting my ass-kicked. Still, my kids rock, even when they nail me to the emotional wall and remind me, again and again, the meaning of humility. Beyond all this, I’m just a basic goober trying to make her way in the world. I am learning to fly solo after a 22-year marriage. It's pretty weird, but I'll figure it out. The Buddhist philosophy seems to work for me. I’m rabidly pro-choice. I love my president. I don’t eat meat. I love running but get injured a lot. I have the best sister on the planet. Pema Chodron said it best: “One can appreciate and celebrate each moment-there’s nothing more sacred. There’s nothing more vast or absolute. In fact, there’s nothing more.” Thank you for letting me make my paw print on Open Salon with you.


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SEPTEMBER 8, 2010 3:57AM

The Shit of Motherhood

Rate: 14 Flag

There’s no winning here.

It all fell apart again tonight, with my teenage son and me. With Emmett and me.  We had a conflict. It escalated. I asked him to leave my apartment. He did, with both of us screaming on his way out. Twenty minutes later, I called him to apologize. But he wouldn’t let me complete a sentence. I tried to jump over his words, to wedge myself in somehow. He dug in, belligerent. My conciliatory sensibility turned to frustration. Anger barely retracted came roaring out again.  We clawed some more. He hung up on me. The fight spilled over into texting. He finally told me, via text, that he’d  "heard enough" of me. 

 He’s gone again. It will be weeks now, maybe months. He’s off. We're done.

 I’m furious and I’m heartbroken. I could say that the particulars don’t matter, but it’s always the particulars that launch the missiles, isn’t it? So, the particulars: I have a new part-time teaching gig. I am an assistant teacher in a pre-K class at a wonderful new school. I have a folder with “all about me” forms that the parents have filled out about the children in my class. Along with the forms is a bunch of photos. While dinner  is cooking on the stove, I show the photos to Emmett. We discover that one of the children has the same name….same spelling and everything……as one of Emmett’s friends. Emmett whips out his cell phone to take a picture of the picture of the kid with the same name as his friend: Sam.* Emmett tells me he’s going to show it to his friend Sam. I’m not exactly comfortable with this. I tell him so. Emmett is dismissive.

 Here is where I could have done differently. I should have engaged in more dialogue as to exactly how Emmett was going to show this photo to his friend Sam. I wasn't comfortable that he’d taken the photo at all, but I should have delved a little deeper in and clarified his intentions.

 But instead, I was under the impression that Emmett is sending this picture of the kid from my class to his friend from his  cell phone. The rise in me starts. Emmett again waves me off. “There is absolutely nothing to be concerned about,” he declares. I express that it is inappropriate for a photo of a child in my class to be floating around among his friends. I do not trust Emmett’s friend not to post this photo on Facebook. I am mortified at the mere possibility. Emmett tells me to calm down. I bristle at his condescension and dismissive tone. I’m the mom. If I think there is legitimate reason for concern, then there’s a legitimate reason concern. Period. I don’t like the way this feels. I don’t want to risk losing my new job over something so stupid. Emmett is certain that his friend Sam will not post the photo of my student Sam on Facebook or anywhere else. I am not as convinced. I know his friend Sam and don’t trust that he will make good choices.

 Herein lies my second mistake; I probably shouldn’t have assumed the worst about big Sam. But I did. The kid is boorish and loud and has done some  really boneheaded things like, for example, throwing a keg party at his mother’s house. At this keg party, one of  big Sam's inebriated buddies threw a planter at police officers who had come to the house to investigate a complaint about the party. Perhaps it is not Sam's fault that his drunken guest acted like a moron. But he shouldn't have had said drunken moron over in the first place. I maintain my position that Sam is not a Rhodes scholar.

 But I shouldn’t have assumed the worst about big Sam in that moment this evening. And tracking back, I should have gotten clearer as to just exactly what Emmett was doing with the photo he’d taken.  That said,  with any questioning from me, Emmett became angrier. He said there was not a chance the photo would end up on Facebook. I told Emmett I trusted him not to post the photo but that I didn’t trust Sam. He informed me that I didn’t know anything about Sam. This is true. I don’t. I knew him as a kid at Emmett’s elementary school. I knew his parents before their divorce. But it’s true; I  really don’t know big Sam anymore. I only know  stories about some of his less than brilliant shenanigans. I hear about him through other parents. If Emmett brought friends around, maybe I would know Sam better. But Emmett doesn’t bring friends around. He hardly comes around himself. Sometimes I think I hate his little pot- smoking  band of cretin friends. This jealousy does not reflect well on me. I know this. I am not proud of it. I never thought I would see the day when I would feel anything but adoration for my son’s friends. It is because they get from him what I don’t: proximity.

  I responded to Emmett's last text simply letting him know I “got” the message loud and clear. And I wished him luck. I was fed up.

 I sit here now with a sense of utter futility. I fumble every time with this kid. For every fleeting moment of connection and calm, there are a thousand more of head-on collisions, long silences and unhappy estrangements. Parenting this child brings out the worst in me.  I hate who I become sometimes. I keep telling myself that I can do better. I keep thinking I'll arrive at a more enlightened place, that I’m not going to react this time, that I can let go. But I fall. Again and again, I fall. I lose my shit. I drop the F-bomb. I am ill equipped to parent this boy, despite my arrogant delusions in the beginning that I would do it better than my mother had. I am not a drunk or a narcissist. I am not like her. But I am still too flawed for this job. Lest I forget what a bad mother looks like, one glance in the mirror refreshes my memory. I am in over my head and I am crying “uncle.”

 Three years ago, my then 14-year-old son chose to live apart from me. It is a pain I simply cannot reconcile. I feel like a wounded beast that has been left in the desert to die. There is a long, dark pull inside of me, and it never goes away.  It festers just beneath the surface of every disagreement between us. On nights like tonight, I can’t get up. I can’t breathe. And I am quite sure that I deserve every bit of this pain.

 After Emmett left tonight and after the texting stopped….after I put Enzo to bed (Poor Enzo, forever caught in the crossfire during these eruptions)…..I talked to a friend. I told him there was no point anymore. I said there was no winning here. I showed up in earnest 17 years ago and I gave to Emmett and to motherhood everything I had. Now, I watch from the sidelines. Any input from me is ignored. My sway is anemic at best. I am, by and large, invisible. I am also a fuck-up of unequaled magnitude and as a consequence of that, my feelings and concerns are rendered invalid. They are waved off. He simply thinks I’m crazy. Tonight, I told my friend that three years ago, my teenage son decided he didn’t need a mother anymore. I asked my friend what reason there is for me to continue to show up. All Emmett and I have is hurt and futility. Love does not seem to be enough.

 So this is the shit of motherhood. You open yourself as wide as possible. You hand yourself over entirely to another human being, the most precious of human beings, the most wonderful and amazing of human beings. You give him all that you know to give. What you don’t know, you try to learn. By the mere act of being a mother, you render yourself fragile, hopelessly vulnerable and completely at the mercy of this other human being that you would, without question, give your own life for. You love wider and deeper and bigger than you’ve ever loved before. And he spits on you.

 I know that I am bleeding here. I know that this is the raw, undisciplined writing of a woman out of her mind with anguish and regret. These are  naked, trembling words- the crumpling defeat of a mother who has no clue what to do, who wanted so badly for things to be different.


*Named changed for obvious reasons.

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I am a mother, but my children are 6 and 10 so I know I cannot relate on that front, not really. I can only share with you that I was the teenager who kept walking away, who picked fights with my mom, who would come and go. My mom was just trying to do the best she could. There are some similarities too (from the little bit I've gathered from reading a few of your posts and bio). She's a writer, an actress, divorced after 19 years of marriage and is always sincere. I wanted her to be perfect, angry that she let me down. I was pretty messed up, unable to figure out how to proceed to adulthood or what to do once I got there, but I also couldn't hang around where teenagers were supposed to be either, having dropped out of high school at the first possible moment. I'm almost 40 now. My mom and I still butt heads sometimes but we laugh on the way or "check" the other one easily. Now my mom and I communicate regularly and sometimes work on arts projects together, like a children's theater company we co-produced in spring (now in it's second term, though I have stepped back to a lesser role as family obligations require my time). A respect grew out the mire, probably because of my mothers sincerity, humility, love and willingness to learn and grow with every new insight. I only know you from my few days on OS, but I see these kind qualities in you too. No one knows the future, but I hope my story is at least some comfort and hope in this dark hour.
Nobody's perfect and there is no more dense matter than that of which a teenage boy's skull is made. I have no advice for you but to keep hanging in there. Keep up with the love and give yourself a break too.
Katy, I wish I were your neighbor and not Ping. I would come over and make you some coffee and tell you that you ARE a good mother and although the scenarios are different, the outcome is almost always the same between mothers and their teenage children. Push, pull, I need you, leave me alone, I love you, I can't stand you...
There is nothing that could have prepared me for the heavy silences that stood between my daughter and me this summer. The relationship we have with our children keeps changing and sometimes all we can do is let it be. I'm so sorry for the pain you feel right now. ~r
Your writing is so real and raw. The pain screams from the words you let spill out onto the page.
As a mother I have been there too with my daughter. We do the best we can and sometimes it feels deeply inadequate. It's all we can do even when we think we can't do it anymore.
Hang in there, stay strong.
You are a good mother I can tell-you love deeply.
I only had a teenage daughter and I'm convinced that daughters have a little more gray matter than sons. You are a good mom... it's obvious that you care very much about Emmett. It's too easy to second guess... to dwell on the "what ifs." Maybe I'm just an optimist but the day will come when you and Emmett will be fine. Great, heart felt post!
I know that this post is not *really* about the photo, but I do want to give you some perspective here, which is, YOU WERE RIGHT. It is ok for you to be right. It is ok for you to not trust his friend's judgement.

You have a new job. Your son took a photo of a photo of one of the kids in your care. You let him know you were uncomfortable with what he was going to do with that photo. That should have been enough. A more mature person (we'll get to that in a minute) would have said "Ok Ma, I disagree but I can see you are uncomfortable. I will delete the photo." It would have ended there.

He is not a mature person. He is a kid still growing up, and even though you think you screwed up here, maybe you didn't. Maybe you taught him something. Someday he'll look back and say "My Mom could be crazy some times but she knew how to stick to her principles and sometimes I was a real asshole."

Look, I raised two daughters through some very dark times and I have felt eveything you describe here--the futility, the-why- did-I-ever- have-the-arrogance-to-think-I-could-do-this, the constant soul-sucking ache that can come with motherhood. But I've seen enough of your posts and am removed enough from your situation to tell you that you probably are the best mother this young man could have had.

And I don't think he decided he didn't need a mother anymore. He needs you, he knows it, and you two are caught up in the painful dance of young people separating from their parents into adulthood. It can really suck.

In the end, your passion about being the best mom you can be and your love for him are what will hold up and it will be fine. Get some rest, enjoy the young kids in your care, and continue to love the big lug. :-)
if i had a nickle for every time i looked at my teenager and wondered what i did to deserve... where i went wrong...

i have nothin'. no wise advice, no brilliant comment. just this:

yeah, it sucks. you are not alone.
This is a wonderful blog that I am sure everyone can relate to. I'm sure that when your son calms down a bit, he'll realize you love him.
Best Wishes,
Your grief makes me ache. You need a hug. My heart goes out to you.
I just remember your post re Value Village...and yes...I have been thinking about it for a while. My daughter would never shop like that with me and I am a little jealous...my relationship with her is not unlike what you have just posted...she is individuating...get perspective..look at your old post...the relationship is fluid.
I wish you weren't having such a rough time with your teen son. It is hard to know what to say to a mom in your shoes, because no matter what we say, you are going to wonder if you've done something wrong. In all liklihood you have not. Emmett sounds like a typical 17-year-old who is feeling his Cheerios, so to speak. It sucks. Hang in there.
A seventeen year old boy is still a 12 year old who shaves. He is trying to be his own person. My son is 22, that's a 17 year old who can vote. He has tattos--which I advised him against, and recently got a lip ring which, I have long forebade. Pick and chose your battles. It's never about winning anymore--it just being there so you can listen--that's what any boy really needs.