I have a teenager. I’ve had one for over 13 months, but his “teenagerness” is increasing by the day. As he alternates between needy child, independent adult, and some amalgamation of both, I find myself reeling, unsure of which child I have at the present moment.
I know I should delight in his increasing independence. Sometimes I do.
I know I should accept his moodiness and tendency to look sullen during the most festive of occasions. Sometimes I can.
I know his body and brain are growing and changing so quickly that rational thought, planning, and follow-through are as elusive as a homeschooling family with an orderly house. I know I should be patient with his uneven abilities now, and, given current brain research, for the next seven to eleven years.
Breathe in. Breathe out. Repeat.
Knowing helps a bit, but not as much as I’d like. Of greater help is conversations with friends with 14-year-old boys. Boys who, a few years back, were smart and generally smelled fine. Boys who had clean(er) rooms and let parents know where they were going. Heck, they even asked permission to change location. They were the same boys with soft skin and the remnants of the sweet smell of earlier childhood. They seemed to be maturing across the board, becoming more responsible and capable at a fairly steady albeit slow rate. They seemed to be Getting Somewhere.
Then came adolescence. As the mom of a late bloomer (okay, at 75 pounds he still is a bud), I’ve had some extra time to revel in the child that is smaller than I, leading to a false sense that he’s remained a child when in fact, he’s quite the adolescent. As his friends’ voices have lowered, scents have, um, deepened, and shoes grown to the size of canoes, he’s remained small and relatively unscented. But the small body has been a ruse, lulling me into complacency, thinking this child was still just, well, a child. Mindwise, brainwise, he’s all teenager.
Breathe in. Breathe out. Repeat.
I’m not ready, although I’ve not been truly ready for anything past conception. No parent is really ready, even as folks wait later and later to have children. We think we’re ready, but preparation for the unknown takes only acceptance of change and surprise. There is no class, book, email group, or mom2mom sale that prepares one for parenthood. It’s trial by fire, with plenty of sweat and tears along the way. The joy comes as a surprise as well. No matter what love we thought we’d had when waiting for the child to arrive, the intensity of our love for them is beyond what can be imagined pre-parenthood. Thank goodness, because all that love keeps it all together, from the sleepless months (years) with little ones needing to nurse or snuggle to the sleepless months (years) when older ones can reveal the worries that only can be shared after 11:30 p.m.
I’ve asked my teen, “Are your okay?” more times in the past year than in his previous 13 years. His face says nothing when it used to display his every emotion. Most times, I receive an animated, “I’m fine!” that sounds, well, fine. And I think he generally is fine. As I think back to my early teens, I can remember hours spent just thinking, reading, staring into the mirror, and just wondering at life. I didn’t wonder in a linear way, actually reaching conclusions about life, but I did quite a bit of reviewing events and wondering how it all worked. I looked to books for most of my information, reading fiction and looking for similarities between myself and the teens in the books. fortunately, the teen fiction of the early 80s was fairly tame compared to now. Since my son largely reads about meteorology and other sciences, I doubt his path to self discovery will follow mine.
And it shouldn’t. He’s his own person, and if nothing else, the work of adolescence is figuring out what that means and who you want to be. Again, it’s hardly done in a systematic matter, but it’s happening, largely unconsciously. Which is odd, given it’s such a self-conscious time. At no other point, it seems, does one spend more time thinking about who one is and less conscious work on shaping that person. That’s not a slam to teens, but I think it’s just the way the brain works at that point.
Aside from being present to hear him at 11:30 p.m. whenever and from maintaining consistent rules and unending love, there isn’t much I can do for him. I can’t kiss away his fears about growing up like I could a skinned knee. I can’t strap him into a backpack, knowing up there he’s safe from the crowds. And I can breathe.
In. Out. Repeat.
I can also cultivate more patience for the confusion he has about himself and the idiosyncrasies of a adolescent’s brain. I can set aside the expectations from a few years back, where slowly over time he became generally more capable, like height on a growth curve. Growth now is like the stock market: volatile with spurts upward and precipitous drops. Like the market, the trend is up, but it’s easy to get mired in the crashes, the days when I wonder if I’ve done it all wrong.
And so go the early teens. Go they will, all too quickly. Just as the blur of days from his newborn weeks seemed painfully long at the time but only a blink now, so will these teen years fly. And through them, I’ll continue with patience, listen in the dark, and breathe.