Pretty Sure

I am pretty sure that I completely suck at mothering teenagers. This. Is. Hard. Stuff. I haven’t felt so incapable since I was a brand new momma. My biggest goal right now is to somehow keep them all from hating me the rest of their lives, and to get them through this growing-up process to become not-a-hole adults. But, oh lordy, I fear I’m failing.

I don’t know about you….if you’ve already mom’d teens, or are in it, or are heading towards it, but this phase has brought out all my own teenage insecurities. I know I’m not good enough. I know probably every other mom of teens is way better at this than me. I know I’m second-best. I know, despite my desire for the best for them, I’m failing them in every way possible. I know I suck at this. Every eyeball roll, look of disdain, or angry/impatient response reinforces the idea I am the “Worst Mother Ever”, or at least the dumbest.

Half the time, I don’t know how to respond in the moment, so I shut down, keep my mouth closed. When I’m not sure if what they’re telling me is a “Big Thing,” or just something that seems big but should be chalked up to typical teenage reaction, I go mute. Pretty sure that isn’t helping anything, but I’m flying by the seat of my pants over here. And my kids are good kids. I pray God we don’t have to face real trouble, particularly since I feel I’m incompetent as it is.

The thing is, I had a grasp on this mom thing. I’d figured out their personalities, knew who they were.  Those people are still inside the growing beings inhabiting my house now, but so much is changing, and I’ve felt that grasp slip away.

I don’t want to fail them, but I’m terrified every single day that’s exactly what I’m doing. I guess I’d be worse off if I weren’t afraid of failing them.  However, I am fairly sure I suck at this.

Well that was kind of weird

Today was the first day of school for the Herd. Honestly, it didn’t really feel like we had a real summer. I know everyone says it, but our summer really did fly by. We waited forever for this summer to arrive, and then eight short weeks later, it’s gone.

Today felt weird. Maybe that had something to do with me being gone until Monday. Maybe it was because our summer was abbreviated. But Little Man put my feelings into words when I was taking first day photos of him and Big Man. He said, “It will never be the same again.” Nope, it won’t. The Princess had left an hour before, her first day photo taken inside the house, rather than the traditional courtyard photo, because it was still dark outside when she left for cheer practice. After photos, Big Man drove himself to school. The only thing that was familiar was driving carpool to the middle school. Even that though is a bit different with the addition of some traffic lights due to new neighborhoods going in.

As soon as I had Little Man dropped off, I had to get myself pulled together and go to a work lunch. That threw my game off a bit too. For the last eleven years, I’ve generally spent the first day with my mom friends, or enjoying a quiet day at home after a run or walk. The other weird was not picking any of them up from school.

Things are changing. Big Man has his license. The Princess will have her license in a few months. They’re growing up, and too soon, they will fly off to their adult lives. I’m left feeling a bit off-kilter.

I know by the end of next week, we will have settled into the routine of the school year. I’ll have wrapped my brain around the fact they are back in school. It will be less weird than it feels today.

Not posting a pic of this year’s first day since Little Man was wearing his school shirt, and I’m not tech-savvy enough to blur it out with my photo editing software. But here’s a throwback first day photo for your enjoyment…..

First day of school 2011

The last first day all three were at RC

Hey, they’re still alive, aren’t they?

When the kids were little, I learned it was okay for me to take time for myself. It was necessary to maintaining my sanity – those once-a-month bunco nights, book club, the occasional GNO….When they were older, I started to take weekends – scrapbooking retreats and girls’ getaways. Every time I came home though, I felt I was being punished for having had the nerve to go out/away. The house would be a total disaster – kitchen covered in food and dishes, cups everywhere, everything anyone had worn while I was gone tossed wherever, shoes and blankets all over the floor. I’d cry and yell in frustration. I’d bang things around, making sure everyone was aware I was unhappy with the state of our home. It didn’t make anyone feel any better.

Years passed. I continue to do book club, Girls’ Night Out, weekends away. Sometimes when I come home, they’ve taken the time to clean up, knowing it will ease re-entry for everyone involved.  Sometimes it’s a total disaster. I never really know what I’m going to get, but even if it’s relatively clean, it’s not how I would do it. Counters aren’t wiped down. Blankets aren’t folded on the back of the couch. Shoes aren’t in their baskets. There are likely towels hanging over the chairs in the backyard. The dishwasher isn’t loaded the way I load it (and everyone knows the moms load dishwashers the most effective, efficient way possible to make the most of every inch, right?).  The trash and recycling bins are probably overflowing. Floors likely aren’t swept. I’ve learned to let it go.

Hey, the kids (and pets) are still alive, right? They’ve probably been off-schedule, the boys likely haven’t taken their meds every day. But they’ve been fed. They’ve probably done some fun stuff with dad. They got a break from the way mom does everything. No, it isn’t the way I do things, but everyone is still intact, and the house can be put back to order.

I got home from my weekend in Chicago yesterday. I’d been gone for five days. The house was a DISASTER of the first order. I was so tired, and my luggage had been put on another, much-later plane than mine, so I was dealing with that too. I walked in the door, happy to be home and see my babies. I saw the mess, and sighed. I gave the boys a hug, greeted the fur herd, dropped my bag, and set about putting things in order, my order. But I wasn’t mad. It is what it is. I had an amazing weekend away. My kids had a great time at home (well except for the part both Big Man and the Princess’ phones took a dunking and had to be replaced). And hey, they were still alive, right?

Rollin

Holy wow – After that ridiculously long countdown to real summer, we have just two weeks before the Herd heads back to school. (insert bad words here) Where in the ever lovin where did summer go?

We’ve had an incredibly busy, super fun summer, but it has flown by. We’ve rolled from one thing right into the next, or at least I have. School finally ended for Little Man. The following Monday, he started tech camp. Big Man and the Princess were never really “off” as – I may have mentioned this before – high school sports continue to practice through summer. The last day of tech camp, we went to the showcase presentation, and then hit the road for Palm Springs. We spent four glorious days poolside, hanging out with our friends and neighbors who joined us, eating, drinking, sunbathing, reading, playing games, and golfing.  It was HOT, but we don’t care when we’re there. We’re in or right next to the pool all day long.

I was home for 1.5 days, then left for my summer scrapbooking retreat in  Big Bear. In four days there, I managed to finish my 2015 book, as well as our Spring Break Utah trip book. (pats self on back) It was much-needed momma time with friends. We walked by the lake each morning, talked, ate, laughed, and scrapbooked. The only bummer was our usual massage therapist wasn’t able to be there due to injury. I’d so been looking forward to that 90-minute massage. Sigh….other than that, it was a beautiful weekend.

After Big Bear, I spent three days running around like a crazed person, getting the house ready for a cousin invasion. Nine of them began arriving on Wednesday. They trickled in until Saturday, when we had everyone here. Did I mention that was also recital weekend? Yeah, that. We had five fun-filled, busy days. Oh, I won’t lie – we did take plenty of time to sit in or next to our pool, but we were definitely on the go for much of the time.

The day after cousins left, my bestie and her four teens arrived for a week-long visit. We didn’t really stop from the minute they arrived, but oh my…..so much fun! We forget how awesome our city is until people are here and we’re taking them all over. We hit Mission Beach, they kayaked La Jolla Cove, we went to the movies, spent a day in Coronado (on the beach and at the beach bar at the Hotel Del where there was a Norman Reedus (aka Daryl from Walking Dead) sighting (it was ComiCon weekend in San Diego and a bunch of stars were staying at the Hotel), watched the ponies race in Del Mar, golfed our club (K and I rode along while our spouses golfed), went wine tasting in Ramona (you get premium service when your FIL is the President of the Ramona Valley Vintner Association), and took in a Padres game. Yes, all of that. The day they left, I had a work event. I got home that evening and absolutely crashed.

This is the longest break we’ve had all summer……and I leave tomorrow for five days in Chicago. More fun…..a day a Lollapalooza, some beach time if the weather permits, and a Cubs game, not to mention more time (sans children this visit) with the bestie! Then I’ll be home for two days before we leave for a long weekend at my parents’ in Phoenix. We’re home from that trip for two days and the kids go back to school.

Are you tired? Cuz I’m tired. We’ve blasted through this summer, rollin from one fun thing to the next. I think I need a summer to recover from this summer. We’ve had pool time, bbq’s, baseball games, beach days, and movies. We’ve spent time with family and friends. We’ve soaked it all in, taking full advantage of every minute. I can’t believe it’s ending in two weeks, and we’ll be in for another long haul of a school year. I’ll put the pool towels and basket of sunscreen away, tuck the beach chairs onto their hooks in the garage, stow the cornhole game in its case, and say goodbye to summer 2017.

You can’t leave home without it

My bestie and her kids were here for a visit a couple of weeks ago. One of her daughters truly speaks Little Man’s language. They live on the same autism planet. They get each other, which is awesome. It also means we spread all kinds of autism awareness when we’re all out together.

We were out at lunch one day. The two of them sat at one end of the table, lost in their own combined world. BFF and I maneuvered them through food and drink choices, ordering, keeping them calm at the table, and getting through the meal. At one point, BFF looked at me and said, “There’s no vacation from it.” Yep, there’s no vacation from autism.

These babies of ours take it with them every day, all day. When we go out, when we shop, when we vacation, when we sit around the pool, when we go anywhere, autism comes with us. We can’t leave home without it. We can’t take a day off. We can’t simply forget to put it in the suitcase like that bottle of sunscreen that was left behind. Some days, some hours, that sucks more than others. Some moments, it’s perfectly fine.

We had highs and lows over the course of the week. It comes with the territory. I think my favorite part was their simple excitement of seeing each other, talking about their shared interests, and when he pulled out his sketch pad and pencils after she brought hers to the kitchen table. I feel blessed to watch them together, their particular bond.

We took them to a baseball game their last night here. They both rocked it, their way, which was completely fine. iPads, headphones, and phones in hand, they were fairly oblivious to the game, but they were there with the rest of us. Baseball the autism way.

We can’t leave home without autism, but we can see something people who don’t live it can’t see…we can see the purity of their wins, their strengths, their particular abilities.

How Not To

I’ve been processing this post for weeks, and debated whether to write it or just let it lay in my head and on my heart. But the words keep fighting to get out, so here it goes. I’m going to preface this with a word to my Princess……Please know I am not judging or disagreeing with your decision to try new and different things. Now is the time to explore and experience. Just know these words come from my viewpoint, my experience as a mom, as your mom….

When I found out I was having a baby girl, I was fairly sure I was going to put her in dance and/or gymnastics at some point. Whether it ever stuck or not would be up to her, and I would never force the issue if she straight-up hated it. But I knew we would try it out.  Before she was even born, I imagined her vaulting, swinging on the bars, and in a pink tutu and tights. When she was three, she started a Saturday morning combo class which covered ballet, tap, and a little bit of tumbling. It was adorable. She was adorable. Seriously though, I needed something girlie going on in our lives, outnumbered by men in our house. She made it through one year, and had her first recital when she was four. It was precious, and everything I’d hoped for.

We took the summer away from the studio, and when fall rolled around, I asked her if she wanted to dance again. She gave me a firm yes, so back we went to that Saturday morning class. That year, we met and made friends with another family whose oldest daughter was in class with the Princess. They’re still dancing together. That year, they did a tap routine for recital. I got used to doing the recital hair and makeup, to dress rehearsals, and buying flowers for my budding dancer.

Year-after-year, I would ask the Princess if she wanted to keep dancing. The answer was always yes. Eventually, we added a jazz class. Now, she was also playing competitive soccer. By age ten, she reached a level of dance we were at the studio three or four times a week, and she also had at least two soccer practices a week, plus Saturday (and sometimes Sunday) games. She was a busy little girl. That fall, midway through soccer and Nutcracker season, she told me she was tired. We told her it was probably time to choose between dance and soccer. She couldn’t do both at a competitive level and NOT be exhausted. I fully expected her to choose soccer, as that had been our life for more than three years.  She sat on it for a couple of weeks, and then told me she’d made her choice – she wanted to dance. I made her evaluate that choice for a couple of weeks before we started making any announcements, and she had to finish the season with her soccer team of course. But in February that winter, she became a dancer full time.

I’ve spent twelve years watching her dance, watching her become such a beautifully talented young woman. Every time I see her perform, I’m touched by her strength, her grace, her courage, her ability. I cry more often than not. I can cry just watching her hands moving in class as she works at the barre. This has been our life. I can’t begin to count the hours I’ve spent at the studio, driving to and from the studio, sewing ribbons and elastics on shoes, altering costumes, watching competitions, dress rehearsals and shows. I’ve loved it all. When  your kid does something so intently for so long, it’s not just about her anymore. You develop your own friendships with the other parents at the studio. We definitely have a much-loved dance family. And don’t get me started on her teachers and directors. They’re so much more to my girl than *just* dance teachers.

This past February, the Princess told me she wanted to stop dancing – well, at least stop ballet. I had no words, couldn’t even begin to think when she told me. I told her we were in it until recital as we’d already committed, paid, signed on the dotted line for this year. She’s a sophomore now, almost sixteen years old. She wants to try new things, be more engaged with her school. I understand. But this is hard. She may not believe this, but she is such a beautiful, talented dancer. Her face lights up on that stage. I see her – what’s inside of her – when she dances. And I just can’t imagine not being able to see that ever again.

Here’s the deal – I don’t know how not to be a dance mom. I don’t know how to not be able to watch her do something she’s so good at. I don’t know how not to be part of this dance family.

I watched her dance recital this past weekend. I cried every time she stepped onto that stage, knowing it might be the last time. We’ve spent twelve years doing this. I spent twelve years watching her grow, watching her turn into a real ballerina, a real dancer. At the hour of dress rehearsal I sat through last week, every dance she’s ever performed rolled through my head, from when she was a tiny ballerina in a pink leo and tutu, through her Hairspray jazz number, to being a turtle and lion, and on through her turn as Clara in the Nutcracker, to her solos, duo, and other competition pieces, to her finale as the Queen of Hearts in Alice in Wonderland. I could see them all in my mind. So  many hours, so many years.

Who knows what will happen in the next months and years. I know we have to let her choose, have to let her make these decisions. I will have to come to terms with change. She says she’s going to continue with some dance, but we won’t be here again, in this exact place. No more competitions, no more Nutcracker, definitely not nearly as much time at the studio. I will just have to learn how not to be the dance mom I’ve been for twelve years.

The End

While I’ve talked about the frequent weight checks for Big Man, I haven’t really talked about all  he’s been going through the last few years, and part of the reason for all those weight checks.

It wasn’t something entirely unexpected, but it was frustrating nonetheless.  Back in late-seventh, and eighth grade, nearly all his friends started their growth spurts. While Big Man didn’t stop growing, he didn’t spurt. Suddenly, most of his friends were significantly taller, while he stayed much the same height. My brother grew late. Spouse grew late. So did my BIL apparently, so we weren’t too worried. But then he fell far off his own growth curve….like REALLY far off his own growth curve. It was enough his pediatrician called in the troops – ordered blood work, and started all the referrals to any specialist applicable. We’ve spent the last 2+ years getting follow-up testing, blood work, bone age scans, visiting endocrinology a few times.

What it came down to is the fact he is just constitutionally delayed – by a bit over 2 years. That means his body is two years behind his chronological age. That’s kind of a big deal for a fourteen/fifteen/sixteen year old. He took it in stride initially, but then when even the “small” kids in his friend group grew taller than he, the struggle began. He never said much about it, but I knew it was hard for him. It was miserable for me to see the difference, to see my little big boy walking around, significantly shorter than most of his peers. I prayed continually for him to grow. Like when  he was in the NICU, we began to celebrate every ounce gained, every part of an inch grown. We watched for any sign he was entering his spurt. Days, weeks, months passed, and nothing.

He’s nearly seventeen. He’s grown almost three inches since January 1st. I really have to look up to him now. His voice has changed. His face looks different – more adult, more defined. He sleeps constantly. He eats when he isn’t asleep. He’s shot up three lines on the growth curve. His ADHD doctor now says he can’t even guess how tall Big Man will be (just a year ago, he was telling me Big Man would maybe end up at 5’9″ or so).

I can’t express my level of relief – moreso for him than anything. I don’t have to see that look on his face anymore. He’s catching up to his friends. We saw his pediatrician last week and she was surprised, but not really surprised. We’ve reached the end of this particular medical journey. He is fully in his growth spurt. Whew. We do have one more visit with endocrinology in September, just to dot that final i and cross that final t.

I’m once again reminded of his NICU days…..in the beginning, in the middle, and even towards the end, it seemed we would never see the day he would come home. The last few years, it seemed we would never reach the end of this delay, we wondered he would ever grow. This child has always done things in his own time, on his own terms. This shouldn’t have been any surprise to me at all, yet it was. But now this too will be put behind us, and I will look up at my getting-taller-every-day big boy, and be thankful.