One of our favorite family stories came to mind today during a FaceTime conversation with my eighteen-year-old daughter who is living in Morocco this year studying Arabic: When my son was three, said eighteen-year-old then eleven dropped something in the kitchen and exclaimed, “F**k!!” to which my son replied, “Do NOT say that word.” He paused, took a breath, stared down his sister, and admonished, enunciating each word, “That. . . Is . . . Mommy’s. . .Word!”
Aside from our family’s questionable sense of humor, there is something to be said for the cathartic value of a quick, curse-laden, purge of emotion. It feels good to emote, and to be heard.
When my daughter called today from an ocean away, she was feeling physically vulnerable – Moroccan mosquitoes had gotten the best of her. She moved to Morocco in early September, days before she turned eighteen, to launch into an intensive language and cultural exchange program on a full scholarship, taking a gap year before starting college. To be accepted into this program, and to pick up and go, speaks volumes about her level of confidence, sense of adventure and independence. She is, still, human.
As our children head to college, or gap years, or just away, receding into the inner-sanctum of their laptops and their new, emerging young-adult selves, they require from us something different. It is not clear when they will need what – but if we listen, we may just learn.
For the past month, my daughter has been suffering from a hyper-histamine response to what appear to be killer mosquitoes (if not killer, very hungry). She now has a full-blown virus which I’m quite sure it isn’t Dengue or Yellow Fever so I haven’t yet ordered a Med-Evac. When your child calls from a remote land with hives the size of golf balls, some near the neck, the instinct is to solve the problem, and/or run stark-raving mad to the nearest international airport and catch the next plane.
Showing restraint, and respect for her superior ability to care for herself, I bit my knuckles wondering if she knew how to say “Hydrocortisone two percent” in Arabic.
She has been solving these problems – quite bravely and wisely – without me for years; we parents need to let this happen and remind ourselves that our job to arm them with skills to solve life’s travails.
Exhibit A: She has Arabic and French-speaking friends who have French-speaking pharmacist friends who have helped her find the equivalent of Benadryl, Zyrtec, and Deet. Of course, a real Jewish mother (who has only mastered English) would have packed these things for her daughter in an emergency kit, but I digress into a puddle of guilt.
When she FaceTimes to give me updates, sometimes she asks for my input, sometimes she doesn’t. Rest assured, I ALWAYS have input to give. Don’t we all!?
I started noticing that our mosquito themed conversations were veering toward crash and burn; she went from zero to one hundred percent irritated by the end of each FaceTime. My expert problem-solving didn’t only make her furious, it all but made her itchier. Resentful that her response to my “help” was push back, I was confused and as frustrated with her as she was with me. You’d think that the Atlantic would be far enough away to assuage Mother-Daughter conflict; instead it had an augmenting effect.
Last week she’d had it with me. She simply called to emote. I jumped into micromanagement mode, identifying all symptoms, making a WebMD based clinical diagnosis, and barking out multi-stepped remedies. In response, like the real adult, instead of pushing back she said, “Mom, can you just listen? Just say, ‘Wow, that sucks.’ Or better, ‘that must f**king suck.’” In the wake of my stunned silence (and perhaps feeling she’d made her point) she gently said, “Mom, I can solve the problem. You taught me how to do that. I am calling to let off steam.”
Oh! Right. You are eighteen. You are college aged. You are now living in Rabat, Morocco where you are speaking Arabic, taking public transportation to and from your language institute and soon, your community outreach job, as well as to other neighboring towns to see new Moroccan friends. You can deal with some mosquito bites; you can contend with much worse. You are smart and strong and resilient. And you are human and will sometimes feel vulnerable and exasperated.
Today when she called – needing a place to park frustration – I was a newly minted, better listening, validating, mother of a young adult. I didn’t have to take out the MD I never obtained. Instead, I let her be her, parts of which she learned from me: in describing her condition, she dropped the f-bomb. I incorporated it into my validating reply (it must f**king suck to be so sick so far away from the comfort of home). Her face showed that was what the doctor ordered. F**king validation. She kept talking. Soon she smiled. She felt better.
WebMD.com didn’t recommend THAT fix.
While the bugs keep biting, she keeps biting too – swallowing whole her life abroad: her host family makes her delicious tagine, she travelled to Casablanca this weekend, she fasted for Yom Kippur and instead of synagogue she saw a Finnish film with French subtitles (she speaks neither), and she discovered a “swimming hole” (and now knows how to say “sea urchin” in Arabic). She even dreams in Arabic.
She is solving her own problems, not the least of which was her micro-managing, problem solving, mother.
The only question I have now is — Can she drop the f-bomb in Arabic?