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.

n755588836_1022277_1220

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.

top-1_edited-1

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.

IMG_3735

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

Herdatbaptism

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.

Schweitzer Family.jpg

 

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.

Re-Learning Them

Something no one told me to expect parenting high-schoolers is how much they might change. I felt I had a good grasp on who my kids were – their personalities, strengths, weaknesses. I knew they would grow into their own people, but I had no idea they could innately change so much. I have to look deeply to see the things I used to see. I don’t know why that is…maybe it’s such a time of self-discovery, so impacted by people other than family that insecurity and lack of surety overwhelm those solid traits you used to be able to count on.

Big Man has been a little easier through this process. Oh, he’s seriously given us a run. I know I’ve looked at him with that dazed, WTH look on my face fairly frequently the last year or so, but I don’t have to look too hard or too far to see that loving, empathetic, quirky, witty, intelligent boy he’s always been. His hugs are still the same. But we did have to tap into a new vein for what drives him. Spouse called him a honey-badger….you know, honey badgers don’t care. Big Man is easy, accepting, open. He may seem shy on the surface, but he’s well-liked, because he’s easy, doesn’t judge, seems to want everyone around him to be happy and will go out of his way to make it so. He still seems to have the ability to walk into a room expecting everyone to like him, and finding that they do.

The Princess……this hasn’t been as easy a process. I’ve been watching her dance competition videos from last year the last few days, tears forming as I see the joy on her face, the fierceness in her eyes. I see a brave, bold, strong girl with the most amazing smile, and such beautiful skill. I ache, because she seems to have lost her mojo. I don’t know what drives her. I feel she’s seeing all her own weaknesses, but isn’t giving herself any credit at all for her unique strengths. It seems she sees how and what she lacks, rather than all she’s capable of. She seems to be comparing herself, and finding herself lacking or falling behind, not good enough. This is killing me to watch. But if I look back on high school, I recall facing many of the same issues. Watching her, I’m reminded why you couldn’t pay me enough money to go back and do high school all over again. I used to know what she wanted, what her goals were, who she was. Now, those seem to change on a weekly basis. I know I have a blank look much of the time, sit here silently trying to figure her out all over again, re-learn who she is. I want my brave, bold girl back.

I logically know this is part of the process of growing up. No one told me I would feel their growing pains just as much as they do. I’m doing my best to gently guide, while accepting their choices. I’ll keep looking for those glimpses of the children I used to know, while I figure out who they are becoming, and just keep loving them.

Soon Enough

I’m faced daily with the fact our time with our kids is running short. Soon enough, too soon, the oldest will be starting college visits, will begin making choices for his future, will graduate and head off to college. The year after, the middle will do the same, and then we’ll just have two years left with the little at home. It’s completely cliche, but these years are going to fly by.

When your kids are little, you count up….you count up the years, you count up each milestone reached, each phase, each stage. They start school, and you count up the grades. Our script has been flipped. I’m now counting down. Each milestone is one step closer to our house being empty. We’re weeks away from Big Man getting his driver’s license. Soon, I won’t be driving him to and from school anymore, won’t be driving him to and from practices. I’m counting down the number of times I will walk out the door to the car to take him to school. I’m counting down the number of times I’ll need to sit outside the high school waiting to pick him up. I’m counting down the number of times I’ll wait for his text they’re on the last hole at the golf course so I know when to go pick him up. While there’s some joy and excitement in the freedom it will give both of us, it’s a step away for him…one more move towards adulthood and independence.

We count down the sports seasons. He has two more cross country seasons, three more golf seasons. I remember how long four years used to seem. It’s not that way anymore. I didn’t even get to see him race this year but once. I feel a push to take advantage of every opportunity to witness his achievements.

Same goes for the Princess. I’m counting down the number of recitals and Nutcrackers she has left before she’s off to college. I’m counting down the number of games she will cheer, trying to be there as much as possible. I don’t want to miss a thing. She’s started her online driver’s ed. She will take her permit test in April, her license test in October. She’s spending more time with her friends. She’s charting her own territory. Before I know it, 6am cheer will no longer be my problem – she’ll be taking herself. The nights driving to and from the studio, or sitting there for hours while she’s in class will be history for me. I can’t really begin to wrap my brain around that. What am I going to do with myself?

Every first is another notch in the countdown of them growing up. I feel myself counting down, nearly every day. We only have so many spring breaks, so many summers, so many first days of school left. I’m trying to process that. I’m trying to hold onto each moment I have with them, make them all count, but not go completely off the rails so much I hold them back. I actually asked the Princess permission to watch her cheer tonight at a wrestling match. Yeah, that.

When they were little, the days did last forever. I struggled to reach bedtime every single day. I counted hours from waking to bed, wishing days away because they were hard. My toddlers got the best of me. My littles exhausted me. I couldn’t wait for sports seasons to be over so I could breath. I longed for the end of each school year so I could be done with the homework battles and endless projects, as well as the morning hurricane process of getting them out the door. The saying, “The days are long but the years are short” is truth.  I wish I’d realized that in those early days, because now I’m counting down, and I’m very aware how short the next few years will be.

In which I noticed something strange

When I was in high school, I didn’t know one kid who couldn’t wait to get her driver’s license. We all took driver’s ed at school, got our learner’s permits as soon as we could, and did our best to schedule our license appointments as close to our sixteenth birthdays as possible. It was just a thing….that freedom….we all couldn’t wait for it. Even if a kid didn’t have immediate access to a vehicle, he’d still get his license as soon as it was allowed by law. I grew up in a small town – a license allowed one to cruise, to actually even escape to the next, larger town, and if you were of a mind, it allowed you to get out to the “far out country” to party in the gravel pits (I wasn’t a partier in high school, so never experienced those infamous gravel pits).

Something seems to have changed over the years, because I know a ton of kids at my kids’ high school who have seemingly zero interest in getting their licenses.  Seriously, wth? It makes  no sense to me. You’d think they’d all be like we were – so ready for that freedom of being able to drive themselves where they need and want to go. But no….

Big Man turned sixteen nearly six months ago. He will finally take his license test at the end of February. Now his is a different circumstance – we held getting his permit over his head to push him to get his grades up. Doesn’t seem it was much incentive. I finally caved, knowing I was punishing myself more than I was punishing him. I know boys older than him who don’t have their permits yet, and some just now getting their licenses. One of my friends has a daughter who’s a Senior – she doesn’t have her license, and doesn’t want it.

I’ve been trying to figure this out. Why don’t they seem to care about this typical teenage milestone? Is it the parents, or the kids? Is it because we’ve just gotten into the habit of doing so much for our kids, it doesn’t seem to matter? Are we part of the entitlement problem, enabling our kids to disregard learning how to drive because we simply take them everywhere? Are they so used to, and fond of, us having total control? Or is that one on us as parents?

Like I said, Big Man will test for his license the end of this month. Am I nervous about him taking the wheel by himself? Of course I’m nervous, but you know what? I can’t wait…I can’t wait to not have to drop three kids off at school at three different times. I can’t wait to not have to pick him up from school, take him to the golf course, and then wait for his text they’re on the last hole to go pick him up. I can’t wait to have one more driver in the house to help with errands and getting his siblings where they need to go, when they need to get there, without  me losing my mind.

Do you have kids old enough to get their driver’s licenses? Do they have them? Do they care? What’s your take on this situation?