Before I had kids, I’d heard all the stories. Everyone has them, and sometimes too many of them will share ’em with you. Lots of them. About childbirth, bottles vs. the breast, sleeping, pooping, bathing, feeding, Onesies…you name it, someone has a story (or 10) for you.
It can be scary in those early days, but everyone gets through it. We’re better for it. Stronger. Newly-wired to multi-task like no other sub-set of our human species. Able to exist on less sleep afterwards. We may even become so comfortable (and forgetful) that we have another one or two (one’s so much fun, let’s do this again!). Why not, we’re so good at this, right?
Years go by. Eventually, they begin to do more and more for themselves. Awesome, they feed themselves now! They make their way to a toilet and we don’t even have to know about it or care what comes out. They can be left alone, awake in a room without fear of swallowing small plastic or anything with an electrical current running through it. They sleep all night and sometimes even wake up in the morning after we do. As Anna Quindlen once wrote, they “miraculously go to the bathroom, zip up their jackets and move food from plate to mouth all by themselves.“
Wow, this sure got easier, huh?
But then they become teenagers.
We think we are prepared. Nothing to this. At this point, we’re parenting pros.
But, well, it’s different. Deeper, somehow. The changes are internal, subtle. It’s more bittersweet than joyous. Introspective. Weird.
OMG I wasn’t ready for this.
I’m no different than the rest, though maybe I thought I was. I’ve been asked not to talk when friends are around the house or in the car with us. To not sing along with any music. To observe complete silence within 100 feet of the school or the car drop-off line. To not, under any circumstances, yell out any messages or reminders once the car door is open and school drop-off has begun. To not take pictures of them. Or of their friends. And the list goes on…
They’d rather be hanging out with a friend than with me. That, I get. They’d rather be on Facebook or alone in their room than with me. That one, harder to swallow. They are both taller than I am. That, I expected. They sleep until noon on non-school days. That annoys me.
Instead of worrying about stepping on errant Legos, I stalk Facebook walls. They request enough bath and hygiene products for an army. I get shot down when I ask why this or what’s that for. We have more Mac cords and Kindle chargers and App Store logins than I can keep track of. I’m told regularly “We have nothing to eat in this house!” and suddenly no one much cares that I’d like them to eat more fruits and vegetables. A recent “shopping list” they left for me read something like this: “Diet Dr. Pepper, purple Doritos, Cheeze-its, roast beef, cantaloupe (if you want mom), icing.” (The latter was to have been eaten separately, alone and had no baking purpose. I did not buy it.)
These days, leaving them alone in their room is more scary than ever. They literally have access to the entire world (and the entire world to them) from that little box with a plug that allows them to talk, chat, “VC” (that’s Video Chat for you people so not in the know!), update on Life Profile and tumble (they go to Tumblr because all the parents are on Facebook). Thinking it is possible to be in control of a teenager at all times is a delusion.
All too suddenly, swallowing a plastic toy seems like a danger I can manage. Instant direct access to all of the world? Not so much.
I expected it, yes.
It’s normal, yes.
It isn’t personal, no.
I have an identity gives me meaning beyond my kids, yes. A rich one, as a matter of fact.
But it still hits me like a ton of bricks. Over and over again on some days.
When your child walks for the first time, the joy of just beginning is so pure and real. When your child begins to walk away for the first time, the realization of what’s to come, of how instantly things change and of how fast time really does move can be overwhelming.
Watching your kids grow up, really grow up, can take your breath away and break your heart all at once.
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