I spent about 45 minutes yesterday frantically searching for Ruby’s red choir dress. The last time she wore it was for her Christmas concert in December, so I mistakenly assumed it would still be in the “delicates” bin of my hamper (aka where I throw clothes that should be washed on delicate and then forget about them until they are urgently needed). After failing to find it there, I searched in all of the bins of clean laundry in the laundry room (there are an embarrassing number of bins of clean laundry in my laundry room), in the bin I stashed in my stepson’s closet when we were having company over a few months ago, and under a pile of my husband’s clothes that we need to bring to the dry cleaners at some point. No dice. Finally, I opened Ruby’s closet to search in her costume bin and found the dress. In the closet. Clean and hanging up on a hanger. Exactly where it should be if I were a functional adult — and the last place I thought it would be because I am not really a functional adult.
I feel like I’m faking it pretty well most of the time. I get my kids to school on time, fed and washed and dressed; I have a job; I do some volunteer work. But I still feel like a complete mess who just keeps it hidden.
My coworker tells me that this is called Imposter Syndrome and that it’s common among high-achieving women. All I know is that I feel like I’m doing a thousand things at once and none of them well.
I also feel like I’m being told a thousand different contradictory things about the best way to do things.
Recently, a bunch of my parent friends posted a link to this article, which suggests giving your kid an easy way out of a situation by allowing him/her to text you the letter X when in an uncomfortable situation. Upon receiving the X text, a parent calls the child, makes up a pretext to come and get him/her, and then extricates the child from the situation, no questions asked.
I like this plan. I have, in fact, used a version of this plan with Ruby years ago when she went on her first sleepover.
“If anything makes you uncomfortable, text me, ‘How’s Georgia?’” I told her right before I dropped her off. “Anything at all, you text me.”
I was having fancy cocktails with a friend later that night when my phone buzzed.
“How’s Georgia?” it read.
“Oh, no!” I said to my friend. “That’s our code. That means something is making her uncomfortable. Oh, no. Oh, shit. I hope she’s OK. Sorry, excuse me, sorry, I have to go outside and call her, sorry!”
“Ruby!” I said when she answered. “What’s wrong, baby?”
“There’s a tag in my pajama shirt,” she said. “It’s scratchy, and it’s making me really uncomfortable! Also, I kind of really do want to know how Georgia is.”
“False alarm,” I told my friend, going back to my Manhattan.
But still, I thought this idea would hold up well for her teen years. I liked the X plan.
Then I read "A Mother’s Reckoning" by Sue Klebold, the mother of Columbine High shooter Dylan Klebold (highly recommended but also hard to get through without having a nervous breakdown).
She recalled that she and her husband had always been willing to play the bad guy to get their son out of anything he didn’t want to be a part of — if he didn’t think it was a good idea to go to a party, he could blame it on his parents. But he never needed to use it until he got involved with Eric Harris:
“I had told both my sons they could always use me as an excuse in an emergency,” she writes in the chapter “Fateful Dynamic.” “I was thinking particularly of drinking and driving, but I meant any unsafe situation. So I was pleased, not only that Dylan had taken me up on my long-standing offer, but that he’d found a way to separate from his friend without hurting Eric’s feelings.
“After I saw the dynamic between Eric and Dylan on the Basement Tapes, I found myself revisiting this episode in a new light. If Dylan didn’t want to go out with Zack or Nate or Robyn or any of his other friends, he simply told them so: ‘Nah, I can’t this weekend. I need to write this paper.’ Only with Eric did he need me to bail him out. I never wondered about that or thought to ask Dylan: ‘Why can’t you just say no?’ Asking for my help seemed like a sign of good judgment, but afterward I realized that it was a portent of something much more disturbing. It was a sign I had missed until it was too late.”
Oh, God. So is the X plan a way to keep my kids safe? Or is having to use it at all a sign that they’re already in over their heads?
If you’re like me – a control freak who often feels incapable of controlling anything, a worrier prone to anxiety, self-doubt, and falling into a rabbit hole of worst-case scenarios – it can sometimes feel like everything in the world is contradictory, like whichever way you choose is wrong. And raising kids is just about the most high-stakes activity there is, so I really want there to be one right answer, one true way.
All I can do, though, is love my kids, trust them and myself, keep communication as open as possible — and, in the end, just hope and pray for the best.
It’s comforting and terrifying all at once, but it’s the truth. And sometimes the truth is right in front of you, as clear and obvious as a bright-red dress.
Hanging neatly up in the closet, exactly where it was supposed to be, all along.