Performed at Listen to Your Mother – Oklahoma, City – May 2017
A Letter of Apology from your Helicopter Mom
My name is Dani. I am a helicopter mom. I remember the day my blades began to turn noisily overhead, it was April 3, 2001. It was a Tuesday and my son, Jacob had just entered the world six weeks premature. From the moment he was whisked away to be poked, prodded, and placed in baby Tupperware in the NICU, a helicopter mother was born. Sixteen years later, I find myself wondering what will happen when my 5 foot 10 inch man-child leaves the nest. I’ve said so many things to him over the years…but have I said the RIGHT things? Maybe now is a good time to draft a letter of advice.
As you prepare to leave home, I’ve come to the realization that at times our house probably seemed more like a fortress with padded walls. No wonder you’re throwing things into a duffel bag like a person packing for storm evacuation, “Underwear, cell phone, laptop, Cheez-Its – screw the rest. We gotta go, NOW.”
I acknowledge the fact that I’m a helicopter mom. The whirring of my blades overhead was the white noise of your childhood. In my defense, you were my firstborn and I was scared to death. Your father and I kill plants and we often forget to feed the cats. Clearly we felt unprepared for your arrival. In retrospect, perhaps I overcompensated.
Now that you’re heading out into the world to make a life for yourself, I fear I’ve inadvertently hobbled you with my close-knit parenting. Some might also call that, “smothering,” but I don’t think we need to put labels on people. I should’ve let you fall, fail, and fend for yourself as a child, so you would know how to do it as an adult.
In many ways my helicopter parenting was inconsistent. I realize that now. I never let you use the oven or stove top because I was afraid you’d get burned or set the house on fire. But then when you used your birthday money to buy a laptop, I didn’t set up parental controls or even do much in the way of monitoring your internet history, partly because at 46, the internet is a mystic portal that still confounds me. In your own apartment, I fear your diet will consist of microwave taquitos and endless loops of pornography.
When you had issues with inattentiveness in school, I swooped in to be the buffer because ADHD is often misunderstood. When you had arguments with your father, I was the mediator. I’ve inserted myself between you and conflict for as long as I can remember. I thought I was being protective and going to bat for my boy, but the first time you call to say, Mom, can you tell my girlfriend she’s being completely unreasonable about my taquito and porn consumption, I’ll probably regret not letting you fight more of your own battles.
You’re entering a time in your life where knowledge will be gained by trial and error, not by school books and timed tests. I won’t be there to hover, shelter, observe and swoop in if needed. This will be much harder for me because you know I live for the swoop. Since you’ve been a sheltered kid raised in the ‘burbs, I feel l would be remiss if I sent you out into the world without giving you a few nuggets of wisdom to tuck away.
1. Drugs and Alcohol – I have the nose of a drug-sniffing dog and my ability to hone in on slurred speech and glassy eyes would impress the DEA. Without my watchful eye you may be tempted to approach drugs and alcohol like a hungry man at an all-you-can-eat buffet. Remember, sheltered does not mean stupid. Experiment just enough to have a few good stories, but not so much that you could write a how-to guide.
2. Education – Get some! It’s important to get that paper so you can make some paper. I know you want to be a “famous musician,” but, honey, you’ve got to have a Plan B. And Plan B does not stand for basement, as in taking up permanent residence in mine. Whether it’s a prestigious university, community college, or trade school, your father and I will be proud no matter which educational path you choose.
3. Relationships – Be respectful. Open doors. Shake hands with her father — or his father. Whether you bring home a man or a woman we will be equally delighted. As Lin Manuel Miranda beautifully declared, “Love is love is love.” When you’re in a relationship, be supportive. Know when to give advice and when to just shut up and buy ice cream. Scratch that. Always buy ice cream.
4. Sex – Wrap that bear up. Every time. NEXT!
5. Expand your Horizons – You were raised on the flattest land in the middle of the United States. Grab a buddy, pick a direction and go see the rest of it while you’re still young enough to experience adventure the way only people unencumbered by family and responsibility can. Before the tethers of obligation, career, and financial constraints bind you to the ground, take flight.
Jacob, you have always been the child who had to learn things the hard way because you were convinced you knew it all. When your father and I tried to instruct you on how to do something, we were typically met with a dismissive wave and the reply, “I got it, I got it, I got it.” Our advice was never taken at face value, it had to be initially ignored, then internalized and analyzed for flaws before you deemed it worth your time – or not. I know this trait may lead to some rough times for you in the real world, but I’m going to consider these character-building moments.
On the day you leave home, your father will deal with his sadness and anxiety by performing a NASCAR pit crew-type check of your tires, oil, wiper fluid, and then wash your windows. FYI: He will also do this every time you come home to visit and he will inform you what the current tire pressure is for each tire. Do not roll your eyes. Thank him.
You and I will stand beside the car and watch your father load boxes with precision. We will offer to help but we’ll be met with a dismissive wave and the reply, “I got it, I got it, I got it.” The apple does not fall far from the tree.
As you drive away and your father and I become smaller and smaller in the rearview mirror, I hope the memories of your childhood are kind. I may have coddled and protected you more than I should have, but I think it’s better than the alternative.
I know my role in your life is changing. The whir of my helicopter blades will become more of a whisper than a roar, and it will be a strange transition for both of us. One that may take a little longer for one of us to deal with. By the way, I’m coming over on Thursday after I go grocery shopping, by then you’ll probably be out of taquitos.