So that’s why

I had a thought last night as Spouse and I had yet another conversation about and with Big Man on homework, grades, accountability, and attitude…..I now get why people who’ve been married, and happily so, for a very long time, can completely derail when their kids are teenagers. This. Is. Really. Hard.

I realize I sound like I’m on replay right now, but I’m still shocked, almost daily, how difficult this parenting of teens is. I know Spouse and I keep looking at each other with kind of the same look we had when we brought our precious oldest child home from the hospital – the look of, “well, now what do we do?” I am shaking my head and gritting my teeth quite a bit. I thought I’d outgrown the yelling mom I used to be. Yeah, she’s back. I’m at an utter loss much of the time, and those  frantic “When are you going to be home?” texts to Spouse have resurfaced.

We know we’re supposed to be on the same page. We’ve had a lot of conversations lately talking about what page that is, what our plan is. But then I’ll reach the end of my rope, and hand it off to him, but then I think what he does isn’t what I would have done, and we’re back to not being on the same page. Or he will get frustrated and hand it off to me, but then he won’t like how I handle it. I get where marriages can suffer stress. I think we’ve talked more in the past three months about BIG STUFF than we have in the last three years.

I’m pretty sure I wear that dazed new parent look a lot these days, and my kids are sixteen, fifteen, and twelve. Who are the aliens who’ve taken over my children? What in the heck am I doing?  What in the heck are they thinking? Are we all going to survive?

We keep talking. I suppose that’s the key. We still try to make us a priority, even if it’s just in twenty-minute, sit-on-the-couch-after-they’ve-gone-to-bed increments. We talk to friends who have survived this season and come safely out the other side, with kids who have become really decent adults. We drink wine. We laugh at ourselves. We lay down expectations, and draw solid boundaries. We shake our heads, a lot. We yell some. There’s probably a lot of deep sighing. And we just hope we all emerge from this season, once again exiting a parenting fog.

Trusting him

I did say I would keep more and more of what goes on with Big Man and the Princess private out of respect for them. I didn’t say I would keep EVERYTHING private. Hahaha

One of the milestones of teenagers is getting that learner’s permit and learning to drive. We are there now. Big Man got his permit a month ago, and had his first lesson with the instructor last week. That means Spouse and I are spending a good amount of time in the passenger seat with him behind the wheel.

I’m not as nervous as I’d thought I would be. If you’d asked me a year ago what I would be like teaching him to drive, I’d have told  you his dad would probably have to bear the brunt of the training. But it really isn’t too bad. I think I’ve been rather calm. Big Man might tell you something else. I’ve only pushed the imaginary brake on my side of the car twice in the four times I’ve gone with him. He’s pretty conservative and cautious, which totally works right now. There generally isn’t much traffic when we’re on the road either, which  helps immensely.

I realized this morning when he’s driving, I’m placing my life in his hands. Whoa. He is in control of a big machine, surrounded by other people in big machines. And he’s just learning how to operate that big machine. Mistakes are to be expected when someone is learning. The scary part is a driving mistake can result in an accident. I try really hard to not go there when I’m in the passenger seat and he’s driving. I am learning to trust him in a way I’ve never had to before. I think the fact I’ve been so calm shows I do trust him with this.

Like I said the other day, we are definitely in yet another new season. Being in the passenger seat while he drives is a new normal for us. We’re adjusting. I guess we’d better do that quickly, especially considering the Princess will have her learner’s permit too in just over six months!

Another New Season

Something happened yesterday that normally I would have been here, writing away, within the hour. But as I started towards my computer, I realized I couldn’t do it, even if I’d written it from my perspective. Do you know how hard it is for a writer to process something when she can’t write about it, at least not the way she used to write about stuff like that? Sigh….this mothering of teenagers is hard!

We’ve been facing a few new challenges/adventures/experiences this school year. But as my blog is connected to my social media accounts, and as the older two herdies have their own social media accounts (with which I am “friends”), I’ve realized I can’t blab the way I used to. I’ve been a blogger for eleven years. It’s always been from my perspective, and I’ve never set out to embarrass or humiliate them. They have now reached a certain age, a certain presence in the world I don’t feel right sharing even my experience of all their experiences. Does that make sense?

Maybe someday they’ll choose to become bloggers, and will write about it themselves. And maybe someday we will reach yet another new stage I’ll feel free to hammer away at these keys. Oh, don’t get your hopes up I’m done writing about my herd. You may just be hearing it differently for awhile. I don’t feel I can share everything the way I’ve shared it before, unless they give me explicit permission.

I will tell you this…Yesterday was a rough one for the Princess. There was a tearful phone call, some ice cream, some french bread (cuz that’s how she rolls), her bestie and bestie’s mom over in the afternoon with candy and lots of laughter. She knows we have her back, and she had a better outlook today.

Don’t worry  – The Herd isn’t going anywhere. It’s just going to maybe sound a little bit different.

That day

It’s Big Man’s birthday today. I was scrolling through my Timehop app, reading my posts on his birthday each  year. To a point, every single one of those posts mentions his early arrival, survival, dramatic start, and how proud we are of how far he’s come. It seems that day, beyond being his birthday, will always carry that part of it, that part of his story.

I can’t consider his birthday without remembering or thinking about how he came into this world. I can’t talk about his birthday without bringing up his beginning. Every time I think about how quickly he’s growing up, I think about what exactly that means.

That day will always be a part of his story. It will always be included in my narrative of his life. I can go for days without thinking about it – how his life started. I get caught up in the normal day-to-day stuff of having a teenage son. But when milestones hit, I always go back to that day. And I need people to know just what that milestone means, why I get a little crazy about each and every one. I want them to understand just how far he’s come, why that matters, what a miracle he is, how incredible it is he’s here.

I can tell you almost exactly what was happening at any given moment this day sixteen years ago. I remember my thoughts, my fear, my denial. I remember the pride in Spouse’s voice when he announced we had a son. I remember the tiny cry Big Man gave just before he was intubated. I remember thinking the fact he’d made a sound meant everything was going to be okay. I remember the words of the neonatologist as he handed us a polaroid photo of our son – him splayed, naked, tubes and wires attached to all parts of him. I remember how red he looked because he didn’t have all his layers of skin yet. I remember him grabbing onto my finger. I remember hardly hearing the words of the doctor and nurses as they loaded him into the ambulance that would take him to his NICU ten minutes away. I remember that gut-wrenching goodbye, not knowing when or if I would see him again. I remember feeling I’d failed after all –  my body had failed him. I remember the first time a nurse called me his mom. I remember my nurse rolling the breast pump into my room, showing me what to do, and making sure I was aware how vitally important it was I pump and get the breastmilk to my son. I remember how surreal it all was.

That day, this day…..It’s his story. It will always be his story. No matter how many birthdays pass for him, I will always think of and mention that day. I will always be aware his start, how far he’s come, what an amazing gift his life is.

There was a boy like him

Big Man’s birthday is tomorrow. SIXTEEN!! I’m still trying to wrap my momma brain around that. Given our insane schedules, and the fact we will be at the high school football field tomorrow night watching the Princess cheer, and that there’s dance tonight, we went out to dinner last night to celebrate the birthday milestone.

We went to a restaurant we frequent rather regularly. There was a middle school band performing in the courtyard just outside, and the place was packed. The host was suggesting people order take-out, as the wait was an hour long. We, however, had a party of seven, requiring one of the big tables, and one of those big tables had just been vacated. We were seated immediately.

Now, dinner out with Little Man typically requires some sort of technology to keep him focused and to minimize the effects of all the sensory input.  He was playing some game on his phone – I have no idea what. The band outside took an intermission, and some of the students wandered in to get food from their family members. All of the sudden, there was a boy standing at Little Man’s shoulder, just watching him play the game. He didn’t say a word, and it took a minute for Little Man to notice him standing there.

I won’t lie – it was awkward. I mean this kid was right in Little Man’s personal space. Big Man was sitting across the table and was trying hard not to laugh, it was that awkward. The Princess, sitting right next to Little Man, was a bit freaked out.

I knew right away this boy was just like him. Sometimes, you just know. I did find myself giggling a little bit, because, well, awkward. But my heart just opened. If there’s  one thing having an autistic kid has taught me, it’s to be  more patient and definitely more accepting.

The boy eventually wandered off. Later, I saw him with his mom. She looked at our table, and I wondered if she’d seen him earlier, hovering at Little Man’s shoulder. I just smiled and nodded my head – one of those, I see you and I know you moments.

When Little Man has his moments out in public, or when he sees something that interests him and he creates an awkward moment, I pray there’s someone there who gets it, that there might be a mom who sees my boy is just like her boy. I pray she will nod her head and smile with that I-see-you-and-I-know-you look.

Oh yeah…*this* place

We are five weeks into Little Man’s school year. I’m afraid to type this out loud, but it’s been quiet. Eerily quiet. I realized I’m not walking around with my phone in my hand, jumping every single time it rings or pings with an email.  I’ve only had a few logistical emails from his SAI, one of those solicited by me when we were going to see his psychiatrist and I needed her feedback. One of my friends was asking me last Friday how his year is going. I had to think about it, and was surprised to hear myself saying he seems to be doing well, really well.

We’ve heard words like “improved self-regulation,” “an increase in problem-solving,” and “working well in group work.” Oh my gosh, people!! Did you read that? He’s still having some occasional anxiety at home, but he’s sleeping better, having fewer tantrums, not lashing out quite as much. He’s staying in class, and getting his work done.

It’s been almost eighteen months since we’ve been in *this* place, this good place. I can breath while he’s at school. I’m not stressing every second what may be going sideways in his day. This is good stuff. This is great stuff. This is amazing stuff. I’d forgotten what this place was like – dropping my baby off at school in the morning and completely going about my day without the constant worry he’s going to lose it, without the fear of what I’ll see/hear/face when I pick him up in the afternoon (or his carpool ride drops him off).

People promised me we would get back here. I didn’t really believe them. Last year was just so absolutely brutal most of the time. We both entered summer completely tapped out. I hoped this year, being back in the same school – now familiar, with familiar faces, routines, schedules- would make it easier on everyone. He’s been amazing. We still have stuff to work on. Ever mindful we have more to manage than just this year – we must prepare him for high school, for whatever comes after. That’s our job – to ready him to be out in the world. But for now, I’m going to breath, and enjoy this place we’re in, for as long as we’re in it.

This may very well be harder

I was an awful toddler mom. No joke. I wasn’t good at it. It was, by far, the hardest job I’ve ever had in my life. I spent every day physically exhausted. Now I did have three under four years old. That’s my own (I guess Spouse was involved too) fault. But still. It was brutally difficult. I spent at least five years in a fog of diapers, sippy cups, potty training, bathing, herding, putting to bed, fighting over naps, reading SkippyJonJones on repeat every  night, cleaning, cleaning, cleaning, and cleaning. Little Man was three years old before I started to see a clearing of that fog. Then things were crazy with them all in different activities that so often seemed to overlap and coincide. There was classroom volunteering, field trips, soccer, soccer practice, baseball, baseball practice, dance, homework, and so on. But they were easier – more self-sufficient, less destructive. I thought we might be home-free. HAH!

I have two teenagers, and one on the verge of being a teenager. I blame the older two for sucking us in, making us think we might get through these years without being ravaged by teenager-ness. You know what I’m talking about – the defiant, independence-seeking, snarky, rude, disrespectful, distrusting, make-you-want-to-pull-your-hair-out, make you want to cry teenager-ness. Yeah. That. We saw small glimpses of it last year with  Big Man, but this year with both he and the Princess in high school, we are being slammed with the reality. Someday, we will laugh at us. I guarantee you, someday we will laugh at them when they come to us with the same glazed looks we’re currently wearing, when they  have teenagers of their own.

This. Is. Exhausting. It’s exhausting in a different way than that of parenting toddlers, but it’s exhausting all the same. I’ve been talking about it with my friends who are parents of my childrens’ peers. We’re all wiped out, and somewhat stunned. We’re mentally and emotionally worn down.

Sometimes I wonder if it was this difficult for our parents, or has technology and the accompanying social media made it that much harder? Our kids have access to so much more stuff in some ways, a billion more opportunities to be bullied online. So we are vigilant – phones are taken away at night. Social media accounts are regularly reviewed and watched very closely. Photos are skimmed through. Search histories are saved and looked at. Tabs are reopened. My kids are good kids, at least they’ve shown that thus far. But we have all this in play to keep them safe, to make sure they aren’t making stupid decisions. We’re not naive – we know they likely have their ways around all our vigilance, should they so choose. But we’re doing our best to safeguard them, and it’s exhausting.

Don’t even get me started on the school front…..making sure grades are kept up, homework is done, trying to teach them to be accountable and advocates for themselves at the same time we need to assure they don’t blow something during the next four years, and thus blow their chances at college.  Then there’s the dating, or potential dating, the friend drama, the extra-curricular activities, the worry they might get into alcohol, drugs, devastating car accidents.

When they were toddlers, there were so many worries, mostly physical. The worries now are so encompassing. They seem so much bigger. The risks are greater, as are the rewards. I love where they are, truly. It’s fun to watch them really come into themselves, figure out who they are, where they’re going. But it’s terrifying, and it’s exhausting. I’m pretty sure this may be harder than when they were toddlers. I’ll do a review in about six years and let you know for sure. For now, I think I need a nap….before they all get home from school.