Here is the full text of the letter my daughter left on the dining room table after I forgot to pick her up at ballet lessons for the third time:
Mommy and Daddy,
It is the second time I’ve cried after ballet. It is the 8th time you’ve been late. It is the 83rd time you’ve forgotten [ed.note: no, it wasn’t]. I’m only 13 and shouldn’t shoulder the responcibility of a 25 year-old. Please, pick me up at 11:30 next time.
Your loving, angry daughter
PS If you are going to say you will pick me up, then pick me UP!
PPS Don’t worry. I’m also mad at myself for forgetting my phone.
This was obviously not the type of letter I expected my 13-year-old would write me, back before I was a mom. Because—let’s be honest—it is not the type of letter a good mom receives, and I was of course going to be the very best of moms.
It turns out, though, that being a “good mom” is perhaps more complicated than it first appears.
In my defense, my daughter was only taking ballet lessons because the studio was within a mile of our house. We had instituted a strict one-activity-at-a-time rule when the kids were younger, because I have precisely 0.0 grams of interest in spending my afternoons and Saturdays driving around. But I was blessed/cursed with a curious daughter who wanted to do theater. And also ballet,. And also piano. So I put her in charge of finding a place for each to which she could transport herself. This way, she could get herself there and back if I was at work, making dinner, driving her brother around or at a particularly good part of the novel I was reading.
There are many opportunities for the buzzards to circle and pick over my parenthood choices in that last paragraph. Most obviously, my list of “Legitimate Reasons Not To Spend My Time Driving Around A Child” includes reading a novel. Most parents would accept—perhaps grudgingly—that working, feeding my family and/or attending to my other offspring might be a justifiable excuse to not drive my daughter to the after-school activity of her choice. But reading a novel? This is an activity so frivolous, so selfish, so un-good-mom-like that I can hear the collective shocked gasp.
In the beginning, I felt guilty at times that I wasn’t willing to serve as my children’s chauffeur. We’re programmed to think that a good mom will of course put her kid’s needs first, that if little Ava or Tucker expresses interest in piano or chess she will happily brave rush hour traffic and hang out in her minivan for hours to support their interest.
But have you seen rush hour traffic in San Diego?
Besides—and I don’t think I’m just justifying laziness here—I’m not sure it’s healthy to grow up as the center of another person’s orbit. That’s not typically the experience of adulthood, unless you’re in a patently dysfunctional relationship. So I will happily pay for any activity that interests my children, but they have to research and find a place that they can get to, figure out their own schedules and remind me when fees are due—because that’s good practice for being an adult.
But my daughter was right that she should be able to count on someone picking her up when they say they will. That’s why, last year, we installed Lyft on her phone. Because Lyft never forgets to pick you up.