The Anatomy of a Meltdown

It was a dark and sort of stormy night. There were still miles to go and promises to keep. Who knew when anyone in my house would get to sleep? My better half was living it up in some Mid-Atlantic state. Okay, he was away on business and he had dinner alone at the hotel bar. But I was still driving the kids around at 8:30 at night and he wasn’t.

Anna had a tutoring session for an SAT subject test. There is no rest for the college applicant or her mother. Adam was at home with a chicken roasting in the oven. As I was rushing out of the house, I yelled up to his room that he had to turn off the oven as soon as the timer went off. “Don’t fall asleep,” I warned. In hindsight, the reason why I thought that it was sensible to rely on a sleep-deprived teen-ager to turn off the oven eludes me.

Back on the road, Anna asked if we could stop for Starbucks.

“You really didn’t ask me that question,” I snapped at her.
“I’ll run in and I’ll get you something too,” said my seemingly accommodating daughter.
I must have given her such a look at the stop light, that all she said was, “The light’s green.”

I dropped Anna off and planned to nap in the car. Buzz, buzz went my ancient BlackBerry. A text message from my road warrior. Adam left phone off the hook? Call goes straight to voice mail. Not answering his cell either. I was sure that Adam had fallen asleep, that the house was about to go up in flames.

I interrupted Anna’s lesson and said I had to go home right away. I started the car and the orange light came on. I had less than two gallons of gas. I didn’t care. I had to rescue my son, salvage the house. Ten minutes later I was panting and wild-eyed in the kitchen. The oven was off. Adam was working on his math homework on the dining room table. “You’ve got to be more trusting, Mom,” he said without looking up.

I ran out again to pick up Anna and what do you know—there was that darn orange light again. It was even brighter. I stopped to fill up, which put me back about ten minutes. My cell rang. “Everything okay? Ken asked oh so gently. “Don’t call me, I’ll call you,” I said. I think I was sputtering.

Only fifteen minutes late for Anna. I can multi-task without breaking a sweat, I said to myself. Anna didn’t quite see it my way. She got in the car and fiddled with the heat until her arm got in the way of the gearshift. “Stop it,” I yelled.

“I’m cold,” she yelled back.

That’s what we said to each other, but if there were thought balloons floating over our heads, the subtext would go something like this:

Me: Why don’t you know how to drive yet? I’m so tired of hauling you around.

Anna: Don’t you understand I’ve been up since six in the morning and played a soccer game where I scored a goal? But how would you know that? You were late for the game too.

I told her that she had broken one of my father’s cardinal rules of driving—Don’t mess with the driver. She told me not to talk to her. That was it. I pulled over, handed her the car keys and proclaimed that I was walking the couple of miles back home.

I walked for about 15 minutes. Every time a car passed by I hoped it was Anna coming to pick me up. What was I thinking? That a kid who doesn’t like to drive, won’t ever drive without her permit, would illegally take the wheel and come looking for me at night. By the time I had figured this out, I had walked pretty far. And my BlackBerry was in the car.

Then I noticed a police cruiser coming down the other side of the street. I flagged down the officer. “I need a ride,” I blurted out. “My 17 year-old daughter and I had a fight and I left her in the car.”

The policeman asked me my daughter’s age three times. “Get in the back,” he said. Have you ever been in the back of a police car? There’s no upholstery and the windows have bars. I deserved to be treated like a criminal, I thought.

We pulled up to my car. The officer pointed out that he had to let me out because the patrol car locked from the inside. “It’s for prisoners, you know.” Then he peered into my car with a flashlight to make sure Anna was really 17 and not 7.

She told the officer she was okay. She had been crying and handed me my phone. “I can’t get a flight out tonight,” Ken said. “Maybe I can catch a train.” He thought he was still speaking to Anna.

What came over me? I guess that I dug myself so deep into a hole that I couldn’t climb out. And I was scared and cold and exhausted. But I’m the grownup. I should always know better.

Anna and I patched things up later that night. I swore to her I would never do something that stupid again. The next day she told me that she and her friends were cracking up over our little mishap. “Everyone said the story would find its way into your column.”

Kids these days are so smart.

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Anna’s Nose Pierce

The day my daughter Anna got her nose pierced, my husband Ken remained unequivocal on the subject. He told me that, “if you had had a nose piercing when we met we wouldn’t be having this conversation today.”

Obviously Dad had to be convinced that a small stud in the nose was in vogue rather than disgusting. As for me, I bought Anna’s argument that piercing her nose has been the only notable rebellious thing she’s wanted to do as a teenager. And she’d been lobbying for two years. “I have the perfect nose for it,” was one of her key points. “This is your face,” Ken shot back.

I was no help to the home team when I said, “I’d pierce my nose with Anna if it didn’t look so ridiculous on a middle-aged mom.” Besides, I grew up with Latina cousins whose ears were pierced at birth. My Latina mother wanted my ears pierced when I was a baby, but was met with heavy (read: hysterical) opposition from her American mother-in-law.

For two years Anna begged, argued, and yes, threw mild tantrums all in the name of establishing her own identity. She tried to highlight the fact that she would be 18 sooner rather than later and wouldn’t need our permission to pierce any part of her body. To her credit, she also said that she wouldn’t go ahead with the piercing at any age if Ken ultimately objected. When he heard that he got choked up and gave in to his little girl.

Anna did her homework. She found a reputable piercing/tattoo parlor to do the deed. Yes, piercings and tattoos seem to go hand in hand. But I don’t care how old my kids are, tattoos are not on the table at any age. The place that I’ll call I’m Piercing Your Daughter, Inc., looked reputable from its Web site. They’d been in business for over a decade and took pains to emphasize that everything—needles, studs, gauze—was completely sterilized and disposable.

I have to confess that I was feeling more and more nervous as Anna’s appointment drew closer. The waiting room at I’m Piercing Your Daughter, Inc. didn’t do much to put me at ease. It was decorated with scary wooden masks that sported creative ways to pierce the face. But at least I sat. Ken paced. Anna was too excited to notice anything. The song “Super Freak” was playing overhead. (I swear I’m not making any of this up.)

Owen, who was a walking advertisement for his profession, beckoned us into a private treatment room and carefully explained what he was going to do to our daughter’s nose. He was gentle and understanding as well as tattooed and pierced on every part of his body that was exposed to us. In addition to having his own nose pierced in a couple of places, he also had a nose bullring. Yes, his septum was pierced. I caught Ken staring.

Nose piercing is a quick, simple and relatively painless procedure. It took longer for all of us to take our places in the small room and still be able to hold hands. Anna held Ken’s hand and Ken held my hand. Owen pierced. Anna smiled. Ken flinched. And I realized I didn’t have what it takes to get my nose pierced after all.

Owen gave Anna a sheet outlining care instructions that she taped to her bathroom mirror. And the fallout? Not much to speak of. I’m hailed as a cooler than cool mom and Anna is the ultimate hipster, especially when she wears her black framed reading glasses. As for Ken, he’s secure in the knowledge that if Anna’s nose stud is removed, the hole will close up in less than a day.