Clean-up on Aisle Five, or What It Takes to Parent Teens

I kind of interrogated and then lectured Big Man this morning, and then I came back and apologized for being a little over the top. I told him we’re trying to figure out this parenting-of-teens thing, and sometimes we’re going to mess up. I reminded him we trust them until they give us a reason not to, but give us a reason not to trust, and they’ll go back to being treated like five year olds on lockdown. This stuff ain’t easy.

The morning conversation had me thinking during a.m. carpool what it takes to survive parenting teens. First off, God hears from me a lot, even if it’s just something like, “Sweet Jesus, get me through the next two minutes without totally screwing this up!” and “Good Lord, what  now?” There’s a LOT of head shaking involved, and frequent banging of that same head against the proverbial wall. They will insist upon messing up – often repeating the same mistakes, doing the same exact thing you’ve already had five conversations about with them. And as Little Man would say, there’s a lot of face palm too. I almost need a neck brace at this point, and my youngest JUST turned 13, which means I have a ways to go.

You definitely need your tribe. There are days the frantic texts fly – “Hey, have you been through this?”, “Hey, have you heard of this thing?”, “OMG!!!! WTF??!!”. “Would you believe he/she?”, “Do you know anything about such-n-such kid?” It’s not just bad stuff. It’s sharing the really good stuff too, along with the commiserating. There are the sanity-saving, wine-fueled pow-wows where we remind each other not to put our own crazy on our kids, and where we can actually  hash out whatever situation has come up, knowing we need to keep our mouths shut around said teens, and that they wouldn’t listen to us anyways.

Which brings me to another thing….There’s a lot of tongue-biting and teeth clenching. I think I might be rolling my eyes a bunch too. Spouse and I are having more conversations about the kids than we’ve had since they were little and we were just trying to survive baths and bedtimes. We keep checking in to make sure we’re on the same page. He checks my crazy, and I give him lessons on life with teenage girls (remember, he has no sisters and went to an all-boys high school).

I frequently remind myself to just shush – that whole “check yoself before you wreck yoself”. That. They have stuff they need to figure out on their own, without my interference or advice. Unless it’s a safety/legal issue, or will have really big-picture repercussions, I try to leave them to it. Not that I don’t ever try to help, give some direction, or at least offer my opinion, but they’re working on becoming independent young adults. You can’t stop that process by running their lives for them.

You have to take care of yourself. I run, I spend time with my friends, Spouse and I have our date nights. I remind my children I am not here at their beck-and-call, not here to serve them 24/7.  I work hard to maintain an identity that isn’t just “mom”.

It’s hard, but I admit to them – or try to – when I’ve messed up, and apologize. While as parents we need to maintain our authority, we also need to acknowledge the fact we aren’t perfect, and we are learning too. I read something the other day that to us, our kids will always be babies – baby preschoolers, baby big kids, baby teenagers, baby college students, baby adults. Every first is still a first. That means to my parents I’m a baby mom-to-teens. This is a first for me. I’m sure my parents are giggling while they’re watching this – the difference being a baby-parent-to-teens will ask her parents for advice, and will also actually listen to that advice.

If they should happen to read this post – I love you guys so much and I’m so proud of who you are, who you’re becoming. I truly don’t think this stage is the worst thing ever. It’s amazing to watch you face all these firsts, to see you experience high school and all the memories you’re creating.  I’d do anything to make the process easier, to keep you from pain or  hurt, but this is your life, your experience. Go live it. Go be great. Become.

I have good kids.   They do give me great joy. They also frustrate the hell out of me. (Why can’t people just do what I think they should do??!!). I am still figuring this whole thing out. I’m adding tools to my toolbox. By the time Little Man is a Senior, I just may have it together.

Huddle

We have two more weeks before our kids are on spring break. It seems an eternity since the holidays, so we are all looking forward to a much-needed break. The Herd will be headed out on an RV trip to some National Parks. We had invited a few other families along, but it didn’t work out for either of them to join us, so it will be just us – just the five of us. While I was super bummed our friends couldn’t come along, I’m now grateful for the time we will have as a family.

I’m feeling we need a family huddle – a time to re-group, reconnect, heal some wounds, help recover from some lessons, push a re-set button. It has been yet another haul this school year. We’ve had some really good things happen, but we’ve also each slugged our way through some pretty heavy stuff. I think we could each use some time to lick our wounds, figure out what we can fix, how we can fix it, what we need to move on from, what lessons have been learned, how we can communicate our needs to each other much better than we have been. We can remind each other all the great stuff about us.

Oh, it won’t all be serious stuff over the whole week we’re gone. There will be adventures – lots of hiking and biking. There will be lots of pictures, because that’s what I do. I’m already planning the scrapbook for this trip in my mind (and on Pinterest). There will be music, food, games, books, late nights, blessed mornings. Someone will say something funny and it will become part of the fabric of our family – another story to tell in years to come. We will see amazing things, go amazing places. There will be meltdowns, arguments, frustrations, but those are all part of building memories, right?

I just feel we need this time to figure out who we are as a family once again. I cannot wait to see the places we’re going to see, but more than that, I cannot wait for the time together, away from tv, friends, distractions, training schedules, classes, homework, practices, computers.  We will be contained in one RV – no separate bedrooms to run off to and close everyone else out. I’m sure that may sound like some form of torture for my three teens, but I think they’re looking forward to this as much as I am. The time with them still under our roof is speeding quickly by. I’m grateful to have the chance to be with them, experience something new for all of us.

Does your family take huddle time sometimes?

And I thought that was hard

Big Man was born 3.5 months too soon, and spent ninety-three days in the NICU. I spent countless hours driving back and forth to spend countless hours sitting by his isolette. I watched him forget to breath, watched his heart rate drop, watched him turn gray, watched him battle his own infections, watched machines keep him alive, watched him fight to survive. And I thought that was hard.

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Big Man on his birth day

Big Man came home from the NICU, and we had a home health nurse out every other week, a developmental specialist out every month, bi-weekly doctor visits for weight checks, monthly doctor visits for synagis shots to keep him from getting RSV. My life, my schedule was not my own. He didn’t want to be put down, ever. I had to learn to let go of my want for routine, schedule, time. And I thought that was hard.

When Big Man was four months old, I discovered I was pregnant with the Princess. I faced a pregnancy certain we were going to be back in the NICU. I was full of fear and anxiety. I saw a specialist OB (perinatologist) every other week, until we got past the gestational age Big Man was born. Then she had to be induced at 41 weeks 1 day. And I thought that was hard.

Big Man was developmentally nine months old when the Princess was born, so I basically had two infants under one roof. They are twelve months and nineteen days apart. Sleep was at a premium. Bottles were everywhere. We all three cried for hours every evening. And I thought that was hard.

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Big Man had high muscle tone on his left side, and a mild speech delay. Enter therapists visits to the weekly routine. And I thought that was hard.

When Big Man was nearly two, and the Princess eight months old, we moved….400 miles away.  I left my career of ten years. I left my family. I left my friends. I left my church. We moved in with spouse’s  (awesomely amazing) parents for eight months while our new home was being built. I found a new job I hated. It took forever to build new relationships. I had two toddlers in a new place, and I wasn’t entirely happy…yet. And I thought that was hard.

I had two toddlers under one roof – two toddlers who were like the wonder twins. I couldn’t keep up with their creative disasters. They finger-painted with baby shampoo in the middle of Big Man’s room. Baby shampoo NEVER comes out of carpet, ever. They unraveled a Costco-sized package of toilet paper up and down the upstairs hallway. They threw another Costco-sized package (out of the plastic wrapping) into my big jacuzzi bathtub. They ran away, down the street and around two corners, while I fed their six-week old baby brother. Big Man cut ALL of the Princess’ hair off, to the scalp, twice. They colored the underside of the pool table. I caught them, frequently, eating frozen waffles underneath the dining room table. Ditto bags of candy they’d climb on top of the fridge to retrieve. And I thought that was hard.

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I had three kids under four. I can’t even list all that drama, but I thought that was hard.

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The Herd in earlier days

There was a time they were all three involved in multiple sports….baseball, soccer, dance, piano lessons, golf. I lived at whatever field it was the season for.  I spent hours and hours in the car getting them each to whatever practice, game, lesson, or recital. And I thought that was hard.

Big Man was diagnosed ADHD, and with a mild visual processing disorder in second grade. We chose to medicate the ADHD. He fought the medication for the first year. I’d find pills hidden in the kitchen drawer, under the lazy susan in the middle of the kitchen island, and pretty much anywhere but in him if I didn’t watch him take it and make sure he actually swallowed it. He got glasses, and we got an every-six-months schedule of appointments with the pediatric opthamologist. And I thought that was hard.

I had three in elementary school. I went on field trips. I taped, glued, cut, copied, read to kindergartners and third graders, ran the book fair, was on the PTA, and basically lived at the school. We lived in nightly homework hell. And I thought that was hard.

Little Man was diagnosed on the autism spectrum, and ADHD, in second grade. It nearly broke me, but we finally had an answer, and a plan, and help. We entered the world of IEP’s, special education, accommodations, speech therapy, psychiatrists and therapists. And  I thought that was hard.

We moved on to middle school for the older two – ugh, middle school and middle schoolers. They each got their first phones, and we had to start talking about internet safety, data plans, and had to come up with rules of how we would handle things. And I thought that was hard.

Now here we are…..two days away from having three teenagers under one roof. Two are in high school. I was ill-prepared for the drama, the angst, the emotional rollercoaster, the pushing back against rules we’ve had in place forever, the angry words that instantly bring tears to my eyes, the eyeball rolling, the intense search for independence, the life-lessons they are learning through which I just want to help but know I need to stand back and let them have at it, come whatever the natural consequences will be. I’ve watched my biggest baby boy struggle to find his way academically when it used to come to him so easily I think he took it for granted. I’ve watched P fight to find herself – somehow losing (hopefully temporarily) the brave, bold, confident girl we used to know. Then, recently, came the day Big drove himself and P to school, his driver’s license finally earned. And I think this is hard.

Within the next five years, I will watch as they have all the rest of those “firsts”, as they graduate, and leave for school, only ever to come back for what will essentially be visits between semesters and school years. I know I will look back on all those things I thought were hard and will know that was nothing, because watching them go be their own people, away from us, my heart living outside of me (possibly far away from home), now that, that will be hard.

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The Last Drive

I didn’t realize yesterday morning was my last drive with Big Man to school. I wish I’d processed that information in the moment. It didn’t hit me until last night, after he’d passed his driver’s license test, and was getting his truck ready to drive to school this morning. Yesterday morning was my last time driving my baby boy to school, my last time picking him up from school.

You know, you wait to have even one thing taken off your parental plate. When it is, there’s a certain sadness to it. I’m realizing every day that each milestone is leading him one step away from home, one step towards adulthood, one step towards independence. And P isn’t far behind….she can get her permit next month (Holy Wow!), and her license in seven months (Double Holy Wow)…..that’s right…..two kids getting their driver’s license within seven months of each other. Oh, the insurance bill! But even more, oh, the big changes we are facing.

It is a break in my day to have to go drop off and pick up. There’s a certain stress to getting out of the house on time multiple times a day. But it also gives me a measure of control, and it allows me a tiny glimpse into their daily worlds. With them driving themselves, I lose that, take one step further away from their world. I won’t need to take them to and from practices and sporting events, thus even less interaction with coaches, friends, parents of friends, and teachers. I have a hard time keeping track of the names of those in their lives already.

It’s terrifying to give him this step of independence. He still seems so young and so little to me, but  yet he got into his big truck, and drove off to school by himself this morning. There are new rules, new consequences. Some days, I know I’m not ready for this. He was supposed to text me when they arrived at school (he was nice enough to take his sister with him). He forgot. That doesn’t help a nervous momma at all. But I know he was excited.

This is where we are now, and it only flies more quickly from here. I wish I’d taken in every second of that last drive yesterday.

Take heart, or so I’ve been told

I want to preface this post by saying I love my daughter deeply and dearly. I love who she is, how she is, what she is. I’m proud of how hard she works at whatever she sets her mind to. I love that she’s an entirely different person than me, as it gives me a chance to watch her experience life in a way I never did. I love that she’s tougher, stronger, more outspoken, more outgoing, and way less prissy than me. I love her sense of humor, her ability to laugh at herself, her intelligent mind, her curiosity with life. I’m thankful God saw fit to give me a daughter. Now, onto the task at hand….

If you have a daughter in high school, or going into high school, you’re going to need some thick skin. It’s going to be a rough ride I’m finding. Your ego is going to take some serious hits. You may find yourself questioning yourself in a way you haven’t since you first brought your precious newborn home. I found myself scrambling like a fiend, trying to find some parental footing. I’ve cried. I’ve been angry. I’ve whined. I’ve gone silent. I’ve said some bad words in my head. I’ve retreated, and I’ve gone to battle. Then I made a choice to get off the rollercoaster. It’s her circus, her monkeys, I’m just here, being the mom.

I’m me. I’m not the one going through a huge transitionary period in life. I’m the parent. I’m the adult. I’m not going to change just because that might be easier.  I’m still engaged, still overseeing, still enforcing all our mean rules. I know she’s going through what she must in order to separate, become independent, become her own person. That doesn’t make it hurt any less sometimes. Oh the days when the looks of disdain, the talking to me as if I’m the dumbest person in the world, the eyeball rolling – those hurt no matter how much I understand the reason behind them. But I do understand the reason behind them, so I, like all the other moms before me, soldier on. She is still an amazing, incredible, good, smart, talented kid. I know, because I hear it from other adults.

I have friends with daughters who have already gone through this and reached the other side. “Take heart,” they continually tell me, “Your daughter will come back to you.” That’s what I keep reminding myself. We will get through this. Our relationship will survive. I’ll have some bruises on my ego. I might cry. We’re going to have days we don’t like each other a whole lot. That’s family, though, isn’t it? This too shall pass. So take heart, moms of daughters, we can do this.

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He doesn’t do anything

I pulled up  my Timehop the other day, and there were photos and video of Little Man on Opening Day of his rookie year of baseball. That was prior to him being diagnosed on the spectrum. He played soccer and baseball back then. All three kids were in multiple activities. He was challenging to say the least, but he did whatever we put him in, although often begrudgingly.

He gave up baseball first, saying it was boring and he was actually afraid of getting hit by the ball. He would have reached the level of kids pitching that next year, and the thought of it freaked him out. We pulled him out of soccer when it became evident he could actually get hurt as the skill of the kids he was playing continued to improve while his stagnated. He wasn’t exactly one of the bigger boys out there either, nor quite the fastest, which would have helped. We talked about other activities for a couple of years, but nothing seemed to interest him at all, and, quite honestly, I was hauling the other two all over town and beyond for their stuff. Having one kid not involved in anything was something of a relief.

So, he doesn’t do anything….no football, no baseball, no soccer, no music…nothing. He comes home from school, and goes to his computer. He isn’t alone – he has friends over all the time. And he does get outside frequently. But he has no extra-curricular activities. Sometimes I feel guilty about that, but most of the time, I’m totally okay with it.

It isn’t worth putting him in something he doesn’t want to do. That wouldn’t be fair to his teammates or coaches, because he would push back. So yes, we did kind of take the easy way out on this part of his childhood. Will he regret it, or hold it against us someday? I highly doubt it – he’s perfectly content with his lack of extra-curriculars.

We have sent him to camp during the summer. This past summer, he went to coding camp and he loved it. We’ll be sending him back to that program again this summer. He’s lately indicated an interest in learning to play the guitar. We’re working on that.  Big Man will have his driver’s license soon, and that will free up time for me to manage lessons and such for Little Man.

Spouse has started to take him running on Saturday or  Sunday mornings. He doesn’t seem to mind the running and it’s his preferred choice, given the option, during PE at school. We will put him on the cross country team when he starts high school in a year and a half.

For now, he’s not involved in any extra activities, and that’s okay. Do I miss seeing him in his uniform, out on the field? Sometimes, yes. But I certainly don’t miss the drama of making him get out there.

Funny thing, those plans

The Princess had a friend over the other afternoon, and, as this particular plan is a Senior, they were talking about life after high school, college, and life plans. I tried oh so hard to not let the laughter burst forth, but I couldn’t help it. I laughed because I know that life plans are kinda like assumptions.  Funny thing about life plans….Life usually has other plans.

I had a life plan when I was in high school, and again in college, and then again after college. I had to keep changing my plan, because life kept changing and throwing me curve balls. Almost nothing went the way I’d planned. First off, I started school at a private, small, Christian college. I’d planned to finish my undergrad there, and then go to law school. I’d also thought I might meet my Mr. Right there, maybe during my sophomore or junior year, get married a year or two out of college, get my career going, and then have some kids by or during my early 30’s, employing a nanny while I rose to the top in my corporate law career. HAH! My parents split up right after I graduated from high school, and sold our home during my sophomore  year. There was a push to come home as my brother was getting married and my sister was debating college. So, I left my small, private, Christian college and came home to the nearby, not-too-big, state college. I didn’t meet Mr. Right, although I had a few Mr. Right-nows. I didn’t go to law school. I didn’t meet my Mr. Right until I was almost 27 years old, was almost 30 when we got married, and 31, 32, and 34.5 when I had my kids, AFTER going through fertility issues, a miscarriage, a premature birth, two kids 12 months apart, and having one autistic child.  I don’t have a high-flying career. We did have a nanny for two months one summer, but not because  I was out lawyering – I was an AR/HR person making $10 an hour.  I’ve been a SAHM for seven years, and just went back to a part-time, mostly-from-home job a bit over a year ago. Not exactly  how I’d planned my life to go.

I’m not disappointed with my life in the least. I have a happy marriage, amazing babies, treasure friends, a job I love, a nice home, and all the things I need. And it certainly isn’t bad to have a plan for your life. Plans provide goals and direction. My point to the Princess was to go ahead and have a plan, but don’t freak out when life doesn’t go the way you planned. Don’t let that plan keep you from experiencing what life is putting in your path. Don’t let your plan keep you from relationships that could enrich  your life, help you grow. Don’t let devastating curveballs turn you away from living, or completely divert you from your goals and dreams.

Did you have a life plan when you were younger? Did life go anything close to what you planned?