It Just Seems to Happen

I was talking with my sister (mom of two girls, age 19 and 17) last night about our beautiful teenage daughters, and our own high school/teenage years. I’ve not hidden the fact my beauty has been going through it in recent months. My sister and I compared our high school, and pre-high school, experiences, which were very different as far as friendships were concerned. Even though we had those different experiences – I had a bff from 7th grade all the way through high school, while my sister did not, but rather bounced each year from group to group, never quite finding her tribe – we both suffered massively from horribly low self-esteem and very poor self-image. We both had issues with food. We both struggled severely with our own sense of worth and value.  Now I know the source we both point to, but I found it interesting that even with those different friend experiences from an early age, we both ended up in the same insecure boat.

When I found out I was going to have a baby girl, I was immediately determined she would never, ever for one minute question her worth, her value, how much she’s loved. I didn’t want her to ever suffer insecurity, self-doubt, or unhealthy self-esteem/self-image. I for sure never wanted her to deal with an eating/exercise disorder, or any of a host of  stress-induced illnesses. I’ve tried to tell her every day (sometimes I wondered if it wasn’t too much) how very loved she is, how much she’s needed, how proud of her we are, reinforcing all her strengths, encouraging her. I saw her, until a couple years ago, as a strong, independent, courageous, brave, outgoing girl who always stood up for others as well as herself. She’s incredibly smart, goofily funny, amazingly talented, and also happens to be beautiful.

But it just seems to happen to teenage girls, no matter how they’re brought up, no matter who they’re friends with, no matter what activities they’re engaged in. Teenage girls all seem to suffer insecurity – often debilitating – they doubt their worth and value, particularly amongst their peers. If there are any struggles with friendships, they find the fault within themselves all too often. They are struggling to figure out who they are, and where they fit  in, at the same time hormones are ruling their bodies and minds. Add to that anyone who may be threatened by them, and boom, perfect storm.

I thought I could keep her from going through this – I well and truly did. I’m finding you really can’t shield them entirely. Each girl has to face it – find her worth within herself, learn to accept herself, learn to be okay with who she is, find a peace with herself within herself, learn to be happy with herself. We just have to love them through it, and pray the effects aren’t long-lasting. Lord knows it took me YEARS to recover, same for my sister. I wish I could minimize and fast-forward the process, because when your child struggles in any way, you struggle.

Someday

Someday, you will be but a blip on the radar of her high school memories.

Someday, she may still remember your  name, but everything else about you will blur and fade in her mind.

Someday, the memory of you, her first like, will be eclipsed by the memory of another, her first love.

Someday, she will wonder why she was afraid, for she will realize you are just a boy.

Someday, she will wonder what it was about you that made you stand out in the first place.

Someday, she won’t recall why she let you so impact her days, her moods, her emotions for  a season of her life, won’t remember why she gave you that power to begin with.

Someday, she will be able to see you and not feel that little hitch in her breath, that little hit to her heart, that little kick to her stomach.

Someday she won’t remember your voice, your laugh, your birthday, your favorite foods.

Someday, she will forget why she let you matter so much.

For now, she is cracked and a little bent, but she is not broken.

For now, she is a bit sad, a bit angry, a bit confused.

For now, she is finding her way back to herself.

For now, some songs, types of movies and tv shows are off limits.

For now, she is digging into that well of strength and resilience she remembers she has inside of her.

For now, I am seeing glimpses of my happy, goofy, confident girl.

For now, she is surrounding herself with her friends and her family, doing the things that make her feel good about herself again.

For now, she is learning that she will never quite be the exact person she was before she let you in her life, but that isn’t a bad thing.

For now, she may be bruised, but she is getting back up, and will move on, stronger for the lessons learned.

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.

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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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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Giving Up

I grew up in a Lutheran home, and had a lot of Catholic friends in high school, so I’m used to giving  up stuff for Lent. It’s just a thing for me. Some years, I decide to do something in particular – ie daily devotions, intentional prayer, daily kindnesses, etc – but most years it’s about letting go of something that plays a big role in my daily life.

Lent has never been a thing for my kids, but this year, the older two have become aware. P and I were talking about it on the way home from the studio last night. I told her it was supposed to be something difficult to do without. Then she announced what she’s decided to give up for the next 40 (well, 38 now) days. She’s giving up caring what people think about her. I was silent for a moment after she said that. Then I told her that’s probably a good thing for her to think about right now.

It’s not easy to not care what people think about you, especially when you’re a girl in high school.  It’s hard for me to not care what people think about me, and I’m a LOT of  years removed from high school. She’s reached a place in the last few months that gives too much credit to what other people think, and what she believes other people think of her. From my point of view, she’s let it hold her back, let it influence her daily life and her decisions. She’s fearful and insecure. I long for my brave, bold, confident girl to return. I see glimpses of her every once in awhile.

Why do we care so much what others think of us? Well, we are social beings. We want to be accepted, we need to find our people. But we shouldn’t do that at the sacrifice of ourselves. We shouldn’t change to fit someone else’s idea of what is good and acceptable. We should be proud of who we are, what we are.

I’ve learned it is easier for others to accept us if we first accept ourselves and are happy with ourselves. It took me entirely too long to find that place. If I’d focused on me, rather than other’s perceptions of me, I would have found that self-acceptance much earlier in life. I don’t know how to convey that to her without it sounding cliche or like something stupid your mom would say.

It will be an interesting six weeks to say the least, and a good life lesson if she’s able to let go at least a little bit of that caring so much what others think. Live YOUR life, my sweet girl. Lead, don’t be led. Be your beautiful you. Be brave, be bold. Rise up, rise above. If someone doesn’t like you just the way you are, that truly is their problem. You aren’t going to please everyone. Not everyone in this world is going to be your friend. That’s okay, really. Don’t let fear hold you back. Don’t give up who you are to fit someone else’s mold. Go be great.