“You think you got it bad now,” other moms cautioned when my kids were young, “just wait ‘til they’re teenagers.”
Like the weird sisters of Macbeth, they’d give each other knowing glances and chuckle, as they watched me nearly amputate a foot while trying get my screaming toddler’s stroller onto the escalator at the mall.
I thought those moms were too old and summarily dismissed their annoying prophecies. Besides, back in the “olden days” kids played outside unsupervised all day while their mothers lounged around in crinolined skirts, smoking cigarettes, polishing silver, and watching “I Love Lucy.”
No wonder their kids turned out to be horrible teens. I firmly believed that whatever stage of parenting I was experiencing was the worst one, and no one was going to convince me otherwise.
This month, my eldest child turned 17, and it occurred to me that only one year of his childhood remains. I’m not sure if I should celebrate or burst into tears.
The first time I held my son in my arms, I felt an awesome sense of love and purpose. In an instant, my own needs shifted from my top priority to a distant second, and the funny thing is, I couldn’t have been happier about it. I can’t take credit; it was merely a consequence of animal instinct, and like any mama bear, squirrel, or flamingo, focus on my own survival automatically switched to the endurance of my offspring.
Although it is initially a joy to put our children’s needs ahead of our own, over time the task of parenting gets bothersome, frustrating and let’s face it, downright terrifying.
Nowhere does this fact of life become clearer than in parenting teens. I hate to admit it, but those cackling witches at the mall were right as rain.
When my son turned 13, his head didn’t spin, his eyes didn’t roll, and foul expletives didn’t burst forth from his mouth. No, he was the same kid he’d always been. When he turned 14 we saw subtle changes – his first shave, a deepening voice, reluctance to accept affection. How cute, we thought.
We drifted contentedly into our son’s teen years, comfortably secure that our teenager would never be a problem, because we were good parents and had raised him right.
But soon after the candles on our son’s Rubik’s Cube-shaped 15th birthday cake were extinguished, a new period of parenting ensued, which might best be described as “Armageddon.”
Suddenly, the bathroom door was permanently locked. Our son stopped making eye contact. A foul smell hung like a green fog in his bedroom. He snickered secretly into the phone behind his barricaded bedroom door. When we managed to come face to face with him, he was always asleep.
In what seemed like an instant, the sweet boy we had known all these years turned into a smelly undisciplined stranger who, apparently, hated our guts.
At night we lay in bed, our minds racing with anger, frustration, guilt, and panicked thoughts of our son’s future. Desperate, we listened to other parents of teens, and found out that the hell we were experiencing was actually quite common.
Apparently, just as new hairs sprout from a teen’s body, a budding new attitude develops in the teen brain. The once dependent, reverent child suddenly thinks:
“There’s nothing that I don’t already know. I will now run my own life. I find you totally embarrassing, and reserve the right to roll my eyes in pure disgust whenever I see fit. I will, however, continue to associate with you so that you can buy me a car, electronics, clothing of my choice, pizza for me and my friends, and a place to sleep until two in the afternoon. Oh, and don’t forget to save upwards of $100 K to send me off to college so that I can reenact ‘Animal House’ at your expense.”
With one year left before my son leaves the nest, you’d think I’d be chilling champagne and making plans to fumigate his room. But ironically, I’m melancholy and must resist the urge to become one of the witches, warning young moms to appreciate the days when their biggest problem is getting the stroller onto the escalator at the mall.
Instead, I’ll remind myself that every day of parenting a child is precious, and I’ll savor the next 365. And counting.