Chapter 21

Push Me, Pull You

I vividly remember, at sixteen, hugging my mother one minute for having given me the keys to her Karmann Ghia, no questions asked, and barking at her the next for saying, "Drive safely, honey." "No," I said with as much venom and sarcasm as I could muster. "I'm going to drive dangerously." And by way of demonstration, I screeched out of the driveway without looking in my rearview mirror. I never imagined that one day my own daughter would be as contrary as I was. Nor do I believe that my son, now in the throes of adolescence, will spare me.

A couple of years ago, Colette and I were invited to a Passover seder at my sister's house in Riverdale. Miles and Mark were at a tennis tournament and wouldn't be home until late. Colette, racing to flatiron her hair, mask her blemishes, and lose five pounds before sundown, asked me to help her choose a top to wear with her black slacks.

"How about this?" I suggested, holding up a black lace blouse.

"Mah-um," she said derisively, dragging the one-syllable word into two. "Aunt Rena's seders are conservative," as if I didn't know.

"Well, what about this sweater?" I tried again.

"Not dressy enough."

"And this?" I asked, handing her an oxford, button-down shirt.

"Too preppy."

And so we proceeded through her closet until the bulk of her wardrobe was heaped in a reject pile on her bed.

Eventually, we got to the shoes. She screamed at me first for suggesting a pair of boots (too wintry for April), and then for suggesting sandals (too summery). That's when I quit. "Just tell me when you're ready to go," I said, walking out of the room. Five minutes later, Colette found me in my own closet, throwing on whatever clothes were in easy reach. Pleading, her voice sugary, she said, "I'm sorry, Mom." Then she added, "Would you please help me choose a purse?"

In the half-hour car ride to Riverdale, Colette sat grinning at the cell phone in her lap, thumbing text messages to her friends. As we were crossing the George Washington Bridge, she turned to me and, without preface, asked what I thought about smoking pot. I noticed that she called it pot, not marijuana, the word teachers use in health class. At fifteen, she said, she was the only one among her friends who had not tried it. I thought, How lucky I am to have a teenager who still talks to me. Then I tried to cop a casual tone so that she would keep on talking. But later that evening, because I would not let her sleep over at a friend's house just blocks from my sister's, since it was a school night, she wouldn't say a word the whole way home. Once inside the house, she slammed her door in my face and went to bed without saying good-night.

Carl Jung tells us that the heart is "the place of the coincidence of opposites." No one better understands the wisdom of these words than a mother. We are used to doing the do-si-do with our children, welcoming their advances, then dodging their blows, stepping forward and back, then forward and back again. As partners in this dance, we are pushed and pulled by our own opposing emotions as well. On any given day, we may feel cultish adoration and fiendish hatred, we may experience anger and forgiveness, doubt and trust, fear and hope. At no time in a mother's life is this dance more lively than when our children are in adolescence, but from the beginning we are torn between the instinct to pull our children close and the impulse to push them away.

An Amazon search assures me that I am not the only mother bungee jumping through her daughter's teenage years. As many as 21,294 hits resulted from a search of these three words: mothers, daughters, adolescence. Among them I found such encouraging titles as Hold Me Close, Let Me Go: A Mother, a Daughter and an Adolescence Survived; When We're in Public, Pretend You Don't Know Me: Surviving Your Daughter's Adolescence So You Don't Look Like an Idiot and She Still Talks to You; and Get out of My Life, but First Could You Drive Me and Cheryl to the Mall.

As much comfort as these books may provide, however, I still gain the most solace from remembering my favorite Dr. Dolittle character, the Pushmi-Pullyu. A llama with two heads at opposite ends, this fictional character speaks more to the truth about mothering adolescents than any pop psychology book does. Why I was fascinated by this beast as a child I cannot say, but now that I am a mother, he makes me smile when I might otherwise scream from being pushed and pulled at the same time.


Pushmi-Pullyu. A child does not need to be in adolescence to behave like Dr. Dolittle's fickle two-headed beast. Write down the writing start Pushmi-Pullyu. On one page, write about a time your child pulled you close: climbed onto your lap, asked for your advice, revealed a secret. On the next page, write about a time he or she pushed you away: let go of your hand, rejected your counsel, slammed the door in your face. The two incidents may be years apart or they may be minutes apart. By writing about them in one sitting, you will begin to appreciate the humor that inspired Hugh Lofting to invent his fictional jungle character.


Being a mother is a lifelong lesson in embracing contradiction.
(Camille Peri and Kate Moses)

As anyone who has raised children can attest, motherhood is the world's most intensive course in love.We may experience it, by turns, as a state of grace or oblivion, entrapment or exaltation, profound joy or numbing fatigue. Sometimes we pass through all these emotions in the course of a single day. And yet, the next morning, we are ready to resume.
(Katrina Kenison and Kathleen Hirsch)

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Copyright © 2007 by Lisa Garrigues

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