Today’s news:

I put the words right into their mouths

for The Brooklyn Paper

At Thanksgiving, I promised myself it wouldn’t happen again, that I’d stay in control. No matter what my in-laws said, I was going to keep my big mouth shut.

In spite of my preparations and best intentions, even with breathing, mantras, and biting my tongue, it still happened: as Grandma asked my kids some question about school, and they gave her a meager, shallow answer, my mouth opened and out flowed the words I thought my girls should have said.

Once again, I answered for my children.

This habit drives me crazy when I hear it in other parents. I can’t stand it when I bend down to speak to their youngster and ask him about school or the cool looking stain on his shirt and, just as the little tyke starts to respond, mom or dad chimes in and make it a conversation between the grown ups.

Still, no matter how hard I try, I can’t keep myself from doing it, too.

I could justify this behavior years ago, when one of my daughters was little and didn’t know enough words to tell an inquisitive stranger on the bus that the ice cream dripping down her chin was cookies and cream from a shop about 10 blocks back.

But now my girls are articulate (when they want to be), intelligent, and argumentative teenagers (again, when they want to be). They don’t need me, or anyone else, sounding off for them. Yet I struggle to contain myself.

Maybe I do it because I find their reply to an adult rude or way off the point. Maybe it’s because I feel a fuller answer is called for and their words lacked nuance or depth or relevant details. Maybe I speak up to model a better way to respond in a certain situation. All of this could be true.

But maybe I insert myself into my girls’ talks with adults because, really, I want to be part of the conversation and I know, deep down, my daughters are more interesting than I am.

I know my 14-year-old, who is stage manager for a play, is on the gymnastics team and is reading all the works of Jane Austen for a class, has got it all on a bald, middle-aged guy who works out at the gym once in a while.

The other night I was sitting with a young woman who a freshman at college and her mother. As I asked the student about school, mom would chime in, responding for her daughter. Of course this woman is proud of her daughter, and knows so much about what her daughter does and is interested in. But come on, let the girl speak for herself!

So, if I learn to control myself, and keep my mouth shut when my kids are conversing with adults, perhaps that will mean I’ve accepted my place in life, that I’m no longer trying to hold on to my daughters’ coattails, that I’m ready to let them present themselves however they want and take the spotlight.

Besides, I’d rather listen to what my girls have to say than whatever gibberish comes out of my lips.

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Jim from Cobble Hill says:
Parents seem to never be able to come to terms with the fact that the "need-to-know" basis with which they heavily rely on for dissemination of their own personal information to their children, is something that their offspring are more than entitled to as well.
Dec. 20, 2012, 9:39 am

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