WHEN LUCY told me she intended to kill herself, I opened the window of a top-floor bedroom and said, "Go ahead, make my day." And I meant it. I truly hated her and wished she was out of my life. It was just another episode in the destructive relationship between me and my teenage daughter. Ramming home the point, I even suggested she take some pain killers first to ease her downward passage. "There's some on my dresser," I said, before leaving for work.
Mothers have pre-conceived ideas of how our "little darlings" should be, and when they don't turn out the way we've envisaged, we're badly let down and disappointed. Lucy gave me pure hell. At the age of 15, and just two weeks before she was due to return to school after the summer holiday, she declared that she was not going back to school. She intended getting a job at MacDonald's and having a baby.
I was furious. Lucy had been having a hard time at secondary school since she started. Before the age of 12, she'd been a delightful child. Obedient, tidy and even considerate. But then the letters started coming from her year tutor. She was not handing in homework, she was talking back to the teachers and walking off when they tried to converse with her about her attitude. And she was bunking off. I was back and forth at the school so much I became familiar with every corridor.
Eventually it was deemed that there must be problems at home because her father was living abroad, and her mother had a new boyfriend she did not get on with and a new baby. Lucy had gotten along with my partner when she met him at the age of five, so why the big deal now? The school arranged for us to see a counsellor, but every time we attended, Lucy would sit huddled in her chair and silent. I did all the talking and it wasn't until we were home that she'd round on me for "saying this and saying that".
Home life was a nightmare. We argued and warred over everything: her chores, her attitude, her constant cheek. We couldn't sit in the same room together. I tried everything; talking to her, grounding her and taking away privileges. Nothing worked. Lucy was out of control, shouting back, flouncing out, slamming doors and I was running out of options. The Children's Rights Act didn't help. When she discovered there was a number she could ring if she felt abused, she shoved an article about it in my face. I retaliated by slapping her in hers and pushed her towards the telephone just to prove a point.
When letters from her school year tutor poured in, threatening to take her name off some GCSE subjects, I knew something had to be done, but what? Her announcement, at age 15, in August 1995, tipped the scales. That day I made an overseas phone call and within a week I had arranged for her to go to join her father in the Caribbean.
I blew every penny I had in the bank on her air ticket, clothes, accessories and books. I didn't ask her if she wanted to go and I rang her father, from whom I'd separated when Lucy was a baby, and gave him no choice either. She was coming to live with him for the rest of her teenage years and that was that!
Nights of wailing followed: "How can you send me to a strange country to live with a man I've only seen about four times in my life?" she cried, time after time. My only response was a stony "you're going".
She thought I was the cruellest, meanest, hardest bitch on this planet. But I had to stick to my guns. She had no idea of the uncertainty that would creep its way up to my throat at nights, followed by buckets of stifled tears. I loved my baby but I was sending her away and it hurt like hell! I had relatives begging me not to do it and Lucy on the other side declaring that I simply wanted shot of her. Finally, I cruelly told her she was right. I wanted shot of her because if she stayed, I would kill her and I didn't intend serving time in prison for her. That she was a horrid brat whose birth I bitterly regretted and who was making my life a misery. She was mean to her little brother and had done her best to break up the relationship with his dad (succeeded, in fact), and I simply would not allow her to drag me into a mad-house. When she told me to "fuck off", ran up to her bedroom and locked herself in, I went berserk. There's still a mark on her door from the rolling pin I used to try and break the door down to get to her. For the first time, the term "seeing red" made sense, because I was no longer seeing my daughter - I wanted blood!
I battered at that door until I was physically exhausted and actually fell asleep on the floor outside of it. I was that determined to kill her. It took her godmother to calm me down. She kept saying, "it's just for a few days more".
Lucy's send-off party was the worst night of our lives. I was walking around like a brick, but inside I was being ripped apart. All her relatives came to see her off, but she spent the entire evening howling in her room and begging me at the top of her voice to let her stay, promising to change, to do as she was told, to clean her bedroom more often, not to tease her brother, even to bring me breakfast in bed - anything. Just let her stay. I had to close my ears and heart to it all and repeat, "It's for the best - I'm saving both our lives here." My eyes remained determinedly dry until the moment I came back to the house after watching the plane take off, and then I got drunk and wept for three days straight.
Lucy's 16th birthday came and went and I agonised. There was so much I wanted to say to her - so many pearls of wisdom that could not be passed over the telephone. I'd spoken to her about sex in the past, but now she had a boyfriend in Barbados and I was petrified she'd get derailed from the real reason why she'd been sent there. Saying "just be careful" was not enough. I so wanted and needed to look into her eyes, hold her close and assure her that the growing pains would ease. She'd given me hell, but I missed her. Every telephone exchange led to a sleepless night of tears for me, though I acted staunch and calm when we spoke.
Lucy was missing me too. Letters came every week. She missed her room, she told me, she even missed the weather, and she missed her family. Finally, after a year of wailing and promises of good behaviour and countless "I've really learnt my lesson, can I comehome?" I agreed and home she came.
Within a month, I regretted it. She was just in time to enroll at college to study for her GCSEs but soon, the sweetness and light she'd displayed over the telephone started dissipating. It was out with new friends, coming home late, back-chat and arguments. The same crappy, cheeky attitude emerged. We were back to square one.
She did nothing in the house, even though I was now working full time and all I got from her was lip. The rows were horrendous and we had violent physical fights. That's when the suicide threats began and I told her to "go ahead". That she was a "bitter disappointment" in my life and I wished she'd never been born. She retaliated that she too had ideas of how a mother was "supposed to be" and was "sorely disappointed" in me. That was it, I told her I wanted her out of the house and my life, then went off to work (I was now an editor, it was press day and the pressure was on).
When the police rang me at work at 9pm that night to say Lucy was on the street, coatless and shivering, I told them, "Tough, you've found her, you can keep her `cause I don't want her back."
I'd already spoken to a few close friends (including her godmother and aunts) and warned them that if they took her in I'd never speak to them again. I was scared stiff when I took that chance, but luckily for me, it worked. It was the shock she needed to pull herself together. But change didn't happen overnight. There was still a lot of rebellion and resistance, but I resolved to do something I'd never really done before. I spoke to her as an equal, and listened when she spoke back. This was not the end, it was the beginning. We still had mountains to climb.
Although Lucy's accusation of my being a "bad mother" was, I suspected, said to hurt me, it forced me to sit up and do something most teenagers accuse us adults of not doing, and that is listening to them.
My entire attitude had to change and it was terribly hard. Looking back, I could identify all that triggered Lucy's rebellion: the new baby, my renewed ambition to do something productive with my life (I'd been a single mother living on benefits), the demands I made on her to help, to pull her weight and support me. I expected things to fall into place. I was the mother, she the child - I made the rules and she would obey. But I hadn't reckoned on her having a mind of her own. I'd not thought for one moment that she might resent it.
Lucy's upbringing had been strict without being too restrictive. And I'd never thought my daughter would swear at me, raise her hand to me, and blatantly disrespect me in my own home - but then I realised, it was her home too, and her feelings had to be considered. I'd resisted seeing her as a person in her own right and instead reinforced my position as her mother - it nearly finished us.
I had to make a positive decision to change if there was to be any hope of saving our relationship. It didn't happen overnight. There was still tiny rebellions. After taking her GCSEs, for which she got excellent results, she decided she was dropping out of college for a year. I didn't hit the roof, I told her I accepted her decision, but was then accused of not caring. I was trying to treat her like an adult, but she wanted the response of a mother - I couldn't win. When I found out she smoked and had even dabbled with grass, I let that slide over me, even though there wasn't an ashtray to be found in my home. When she defiantly told me she'd slept with her boyfriend, I advised her on methods of precautions.
I closed my eyes every time I passed her bedroom and quit nagging. I still saw her as my little girl, but she was fast emerging a woman. I'd make a point of having little woman to woman talks with her and asking her opinion.
The words she uttered during one of our talks stayed with me, running around and around in my head every time it looked like I was about to boil over. She'd said: "You confuse me, Mum. You treat me like an adult one minute when you expect me to cook, tend the house or look after my brother - then yell at me that I'm a child when I do something wrong and answer back. I am not a child, mum, I'm a young woman." She was, too. Now 17, I was finally discovering my daughter
On 4 April this year, Lucy celebrated her 18th birthday and I was so proud of her. We had run the gauntlet of the terrible teens and come out the other end. We go shopping for clothes together, do each other's hair and compare notes on boyfriends. She tells me things about her life most daughters can't begin to even wonder if their mother's know about. And we enjoy each other's company. She even nags me to go clubbing with her. Now she has a job working for a record company, doing PR and marketing. Lucy's supposed to return to college in September to study for her A levels, but even if she doesn't I've told her, "whatever you decide, just know, that I'll support you all the way. I'll always be here for you".
The other evening Lucy was on her way up to bed at 10pm and paused in the lounge doorway to glance back at me where I was curled up with a book and the television remote control. She said: "You know something, Mum. You're okay. You're cool." Those words meant more to me than life itself. Love you too, baby...Reuse content