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.

We Listen to Music

One of the Princess’ friends made a comment to her that we always have the music on – at home, in the car, everywhere we go. And we do – we always have music on (unless we have the news, sports, or our favorite shows on tv going).  We listen to all kinds of music. If you put my iPod on total shuffle, you’ll hear everything from video game music to movie soundtracks, classical to hip hop,  Broadway to ballet music,  country to Christian,  gangsta rap to the Brat Pack, and Pop to hard/hair band rock.

I learned an appreciation for music basically from birth. My family always had music on, as well as my godmother/babysitter/second mom. I grew up to a varied soundtrack. We knew when the music turned on every Saturday morning. that was our cue to start our chores. We heard Neil Diamond and Elvis mostly, but also my mom’s favorite old-school, twangy country music, and the old standards for my dad – Frank Sinatra, Johnny Mathis, and Nat King Cole. In the car, out by the pool, camping trips, on the boat – music was always on. From my godmother – a bit younger than my parents – I gained an introduction to the Beatles, Peter, Paul & Mary, and whatever was contemporary at the time. My godmother also took us to church every Sunday. I sang in the youth choir, learned all those good Lutheran hymns, and all our VBS/Sunday School songs, which we loved (at that young age) to belt out in the car, and around her house. My brother, four years older than I, started listening to his own music in middle school, and we’re talking late 70’s/early 80’s, so disco, Journey, KISS, Styx, Queen, Abba, Boston, Kansas, and the Eagles were added to my life soundtrack. I think I got my first PlaySchool plastic record player when I was about four. My first album was Peaches & Herb (that’s a little terrifying), followed by the Grease soundtrack, Andy Gibb, Sean Cassidy, and Donny Osmond (no jokes regarding my age, please!).

High School brought a new soundtrack, but the music definitely continued to play, all the time. INXS, Prince, Janet Jackson, Michael Jackson, Bon Jovi, Def Leppard, Frankie Goes to Hollywood, and The Time take me back to dances in the cafeteria after football games. I can almost feel the cool fall night air, remember clearly sitting on the benches outside the cafeteria where we talked with our friends and waited to be asked to dance by that certain someone who’d caught our eye that week/month. Chicago always reminds me of hanging out by the pool of my best friend’s neighbor, or sitting in her room doing homework. Janet Jackson’s Control and Run DMC’s You Be Illin have me dancing cheer routines from Homecoming and Hoopla. Beastie Boys takes me back to being on the bus to basketball games – Funny how you can remember the lyrics to every song on one particular album, including the order the songs were in, 30 years later, but can’t remember what you ate for lunch three hours ago. Paul Revere anyone? Fight for Your Right? Girls? Oh  yeah…..And don’t even get me started on the soundtracks to Sixteen Candles, Pretty in Pink, and Breakfast Club. Sigh…Jake Ryan and Blane….mmmmmmmm…..

My college soundtrack covered the end of the 80’s and the beginning of the 90’s. I went from the scene in Santa Barbara – Oingo Boingo, UB40, the Cure, and U2 – to the Central Valley of CA and hip hop/dance music including MC Hammer, Vanilla Ice, Kriss Kross, and Color Me Badd. I spent hours driving to and from Santa Barbara listening to Kylie Minogue, Amy Grant, Michael  W Smith, and Debby Gibson.

Nearly every relationship has a playlist. Every single time I hear The Outfield, I’m once again riding in my first boyfriend’s truck (or his daddy’s Porsche, but that’s another story for another day). Garth Brook’s Friends in Low Places comes on and I’m at one of many college parties, with some awful memories attached to that particular disastrous relationship – but I still love that song. LL Cool J and Jodeci play, and I’m in J’s truck driving to our first vacation together in Tahoe. (It seems I dated a few boys who drove trucks) Color Me Badd songs remind me of following my end-of-and-just-out-of-college boyfriend to Chico for the baseball team’s games, and some of the ball players doing a crazy-good job of lip-syncing and dancing in some bar there.

Everyone who’s had someone has also lost someone. I have my sad break-up songs, my angry break-up songs, my revenge music.

Then there’s Spouse. We have our own soundtrack, and it’s pretty long. We met in a country bar, so that genre has always been part of us. Garth Brooks played at our wedding, as did Clay Walker, and Shania Twain. We also both love to dance, so any pop/dance music from the last twenty years goes on our soundtrack too. Loving, and actually being able to dance was one of my top requirements for the man I would spend my  life with. Spouse qualifies.

I have my own playlists for each of them. For Big Man, there are the songs that remind me of driving to and from the NICU – He’s My Son, and Creed’s Arms Wide Open. Wake Me Up When September Ends will always, always make me cry,  because it takes me back to that month – the month he was born, the month I lost everything I dreamed of when I got pregnant with him, and gained a tiny, two-pound, fragile, miracle of a child. For P, our only girl, My Little Girl, I Loved Her First, and Slipping Through My Fingers will remind us how quickly she’s growing up, that someday she’ll belong to someone else. I hear Nutcracker music, or any of the songs she’s danced solos to, and I can see her dancing in my head. Taylor Swift reminds me of the concerts we’ve gone to, For Good from Wicked reminds me of singing in the car with her (which we do a lot). I’m watching my kids develop their personal life-soundtracks now too. P is already planning the playlist for her Sweet Sixteen party, and I’m sure she will carry those songs with her for the rest of her life, as a captured memory of that night.

One of my FB memories the other day was when Little Man was little, and was singing Sexy Back loudly from his carseat in the second row of my SUV. Not embarrassing at all to pull up at a light, windows open, and your toddler is singing about bringing sexy back. Mother of the Year.

We do listen to music, all the time. It can reflect a mood, improve a mood, or set a mood. Music is part of our family fabric. What’s on your life soundtrack?

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?

You First

My mom recently moved out of the home she’s been in since I was just out of high school. In the process of the move, she gave me a bunch of my old things, including a box that held some of my older journals from high school. Might I just say, “wow”. Wow, did I worry a whole heck of a lot what other people thought of me, but then isn’t that the way of teenagers, particularly teenage girls? I can’t believe how much I allowed my vision of my self-worth to be wrapped up in who liked, or didn’t like me.

Learning to be okay with and like yourself is one of life’s hardest and greatest achievements. I didn’t quite figure out I wouldn’t be too attractive to others until I was attractive to myself until later. I think I was in my mid-twenties, ditching yet another failed relationship, stuck in a hotel room by myself on a business trip before I sat down and faced it all. I needed to like and accept myself first before I could expect anyone else to really like and accept me. I had to be fine alone before I could truly be in anyone else’s life, much less truly let anyone else fully inside my life.  Make sense? That was an intense week of self-reflection and self-revelation. It was painful at times – I had to clearly see and accept all my faults. I also had to clearly see and accept all my strengths, something I actually found much more difficult.

Back in high school, and even early college, I felt my value came through having someone want me, just me. I’m not talking about friends – I was lucky enough to have some really incredible friends who loved and accepted me more than I did myself. I’m still grateful to them for keeping me afloat. But as I read the words I’d written from freshman year through my high school graduation, I realized my days were preoccupied with whomever I had a crush on at the time. If he didn’t talk to me on a particular day, I must’ve looked bad or sounded stupid. If he didn’t acknowledge me, it was because I was an ugly, annoying little girl. If he didn’t smile at me, it was because I was wearing the wrong clothes. If I didn’t get asked to the prom, or homecoming, or the winter dance, I was worthless and a failure. I didn’t have a boyfriend until mid-way through my senior year of high school. Looking back, I can see that was mostly because of the way I viewed myself. Once I gained a little bit of confidence, things started to change. But if I’d spent less time obsessing about who liked me, or didn’t like me, whether I had a boyfriend or not, which group I was part of or not part of, and spent more time learning to like me for me, maybe I would have found a peace with myself much earlier in life.

Watching my older two navigate high school, I’m reminded why you couldn’t pay me enough to relive those four years (well, most of them anyways – it wasn’t all entirely awful). If I could go back and tell my sixteen-year-old self anything it would be to love, care for, and accept myself first. I’d tell myself not to send my “representative self” to school each day, but to just be me, and be good enough with who I really was to put that person out there every day. If I wasn’t good enough as myself, my representative certainly wouldn’t be good enough either as she was a shell, a front, a wall between me and the world around me.

I guess my point is this – love you, first. Once you learn to love you, others will find it easier to love you too.

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 Healing Baby

Little Man will turn 13 later this week – that’s right, we will have THREE teenagers under one roof. (send wine)  He doesn’t seem thirteen to me. It doesn’t seem possible on the one hand – it feels  he was just born. On another hand, because he’s autistic, and because he’s the youngest of our three, he just seems so much younger than Big Man and the Princess seemed at thirteen. Is that always the case with the youngest?

I knew, even after having our boy, and then a year later, our girl, that I wasn’t done, for many reasons. I’d always imagined myself as a mother of three kids. I didn’t feel done with having babies, although Spouse would have (back then) been good with just the two we had. In my heart, something was missing. More than that, I was hurting. I’d suffered a miscarriage, I’d had our firstborn ridiculously early, my pregnancy with the Princess was full of stress and anxiety we would go through another premature birth. I needed a pregnancy on my terms.

Little Man was just that – a pregnancy on my terms. He was my happiest pregnancy, even with that awesome morning-but-really-all-day sickness during the first trimester. I was relaxed. I was calm. I was so happy. I sang to him, I talked to him, I played music for him, I constantly had my hand on my belly. The day after my due date, having been dilated to 3cm’s for almost three weeks, I was induced. He took his time coming out, and there were a couple of hours of stress, but then he was here – the only baby put on my belly at birth. I fell in love instantaneously.

I won’t lie and say that day was perfect. We did have some stressful hours that day. He wasn’t in a good position, I wasn’t progressing, and then he started having some heart rate decelerations. We talked c-section, but then my doctor got him shifted, and things went quickly from there. Little Man had some junky breathing hours after birth. He spent some time in the nursery, and there was a brief consideration of sending him to the NICU. But then they brought him to me, and I held him, and he settled.  His first two nights home, he didn’t sleep, at all. I did, for real, fall asleep standing up. But day three home, he became the perfect infant, for the most part.

Before I got pregnant with Big Man, I had dreams of a very blond little boy. Well, Big Man was born with platinum hair that all fell out, and came back in brown. Little Man was that blondie I dreamed of, to a T. He was my healing baby – he helped me recover from all the pain, fear, guilt, grief of a too-soon birth, and then a too-soon pregnancy right after our NICU stay. He was my baby, my way.

When he was diagnosed on the spectrum, I remember feeling somehow that healing was being torn away. My perfect pregnancy, near-perfect birth, perfect baby wasn’t perfect anymore. But then a beautiful friend reminded me a diagnosis doesn’t take away who he is, how he came to be. Autism couldn’t touch how I felt the day he was born – all those cherished memories weren’t gone. He was still that beautiful blond toddler I’d dreamed about and held in my arms.

Thirteen years ago, he took away so  much pain, and brought so much joy. He completed our family, completely. I’m so grateful God saw fit to make me this precious boy’s mom.

It’s his, but he doesn’t remember

I met with a  new local March of Dimes staff-person last week. As is typical, I shared why we volunteer, told our story – how we’re connected to the mission of the organization. She asked if Big Man does his own fundraising, tells his own story. Um, no. He walks, but when it comes to the talking, he leaves that to me. Why? Well…..it is his story,, but he doesn’t remember it, thank the good Lord. He knows my version of his story. He’s heard it a billion times. He did live it, but he has no memory of it. The baby in all the photos is him, but like any other baby, he has no memory of his early years, much less his too-early, dramatic entry into the world.

He does get why  his story matters. He does  understand prematurity was, is, and always will be part of who  he is, but all the emotions attached to his premature birth belong to others, not to him. Does that make sense? He lived it, but we lived the fear, guilt, pain of having failed him in any way. He was the feisty fighter who made it while we stood by, watching and praying. He did it, but we are the ones who remember.

He compared it to when people say I’m strong for having gone through all we’ve gone through.  My response always is, “You never know how strong you are until you have to BE strong.” He just lived – he doesn’t see anything amazing in that coming from him, but instead places the credit upon us, his nurses, his doctors. I say he had a strong will to survive right from the very beginning.

I keep encouraging him to own his story. I think he’s there now. He  had to write his own obituary in his psych class recently.  He did include his premature birth in his narrative. I was a little surprised by the inclusion. If you don’t know his story, you’d never guess his story. You can’t look at him and say, “Oh, yes, he was a preemie.” You can’t tell by looking at him, in other words. Well, I have to edit that a little bit – many preemie moms I know can tell by looking at a kid, but we know what to look for as we see it in our own preemies. The general population can’t look at him and know, without being told, he was born 3.5 months too soon.

I’m thankful he doesn’t remember at all, this story of his. I’ve always said I remember enough for both of us. But I’m glad he’s owning it, making it his, because it is his, even if he doesn’t remember one second of it.