Today I am delighted to have New York Times Bestselling Author Eleanor Vincent join me here on Words, Wit and Wisdon. What Eleanor is sharing with today’s readers definitely falls under the category of Wisdom and it is a story that is truly from the heart. Without further ado…I give you ELEANOR VINCENT
My daughter’s friends called her “Barbie” because of her platinum blond hair. Maya was lean and willowy, with deep brown eyes and a winning smile. But she was no dumb blonde.
She appeared in her first play at the age of nine, portraying one of the “no neck monsters” in “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof” by Tennessee Williams. Maya was a natural actress. She had a combination of charisma and vulnerability that commanded attention.
Offstage, her artistic personality was challenging: one minute sunny and witty, the next gloomy and surly. As she became a teen, she increasingly defied me.
In “Swimming with Maya” I recount a painful confrontation that marked the nadir of our relationship. By her junior year in high school Maya had become a binge drinker, something I was too naïve and frightened to acknowledge. But the summer before her senior year, things came to a head when I discovered her coming home two hours after her curfew.
I confronted her. When she insisted she was going out again at two o’clock in the morning, I blocked her bedroom door.
“Think again, Maya,” I said. “You are not going anywhere.”
As we faced off in front of her door, she whispered under her breath, “You bitch.”
“What did you say?”
“You heard me,” Maya said, eyes flashing.
“You are grounded for a month,” I said.
She showered me with curse words. I slammed the bedroom door, furious and humiliated. A few minutes later I heard her bedroom window open, and then her car tires squealing away from the curb. Maya had run away.
That sleepless night I reached some long overdue decisions. After she returned home the following day, we had a heart-to-heart discussion. I insisted we go into family therapy together. I told her that I needed to make some changes. She might not like the new limits I was setting, but they were essential. I told her I would only agree to send her away to college in Southern California if she improved her grades and quit drinking.
Maya desperately wanted to attend Santa Barbara City College (SBCC). Gradually, she began to apply herself in school and focus on her future. In turn, I became a different kind of parent. I no longer expected Maya to be my best friend, and I set firm limits I enforced.
Being a single parent is challenging. When you have a gifted or difficult teen, it can seem unendurable, at times. Without the buffer of a spouse, it is easier for a smart, manipulative teen to get her way. It cut me to my soul to see my daughter acting out self-destructively, so I toughened up in a hurry.
My efforts, and Maya’s response, paid off. She went on to major in acting at SBCC. She was on the Dean’s List every quarter of her attendance there. She was accepted into the Theater Arts departments at both the University of California – Los Angeles, and the University of Southern California, as a transfer student. UCLA offered her a full scholarship. Maya was on the verge of realizing her promise as an actress.
I have no regrets about becoming a firmer, better parent. It allowed Maya and I to heal the rifts in our relationship and set her on a better course for the final three years of her life. She left this life at a high point, and for that I am forever grateful.
For the full story of my journey as a single mother, my overwhelming grief following Maya’s death, and how I was able to recover, please enter to win a copy of “Swimming with Maya.”
ELEANOR VINCENT is an award-winning writer whose debut memoir, Swimming with Maya: A Mother’s Story was nominated for the Independent Publisher Book Award and has been reissued by Dream of Things press. She writes about love, loss, and grief recovery with a special focus on the challenges and joys of raising children at any age.