Friday, May 17, 2013

It Smells Like Teen Spirit

As the end of the school year approaches, I'm struck again by the transitions and milestones that constantly dot the landscape of parenting. Whether it's signing your child up for a "real" baseball team after he's conquered the challenge of tee ball, anticipating your teen's first prom (and all the accompanying risks, drama and excitement that comes with it) or trying to whittle down the guest list for your graduate's party, the changes and challenges in our children's lives, and our own, seem never ending. The cliche that "They grow up so fast!" rings with a truth every parent can relate to. I can remember with clarity the entire outfit my son wore to his first day of preschool (complete with the camouflage backpack that was larger than he was), and now we are headed out to buy his eighth grade graduation suit. Like most parents, I look back with some regret for not capturing every milestone on film or appreciating every grimy grasp of a little hand around mine. But I have to admit, the teen years are by far my favorite (so far!) I can hear the groans and imagine the eye rolls of many parents who have weathered the angst-filled and admittedly dangerous teen years and come out the other side with ulcers, thinning hair and even sometimes legal bills. Those parents would warn me that I ain't seen nothing yet from my only near-14-year-old. And I would agree. The broken curfews, hidden beer cans and muttered F-bombs that await me will undoubtedly try my patience, frighten me in the early morning hours, and have me catastrophizing about breaking my little jailbird out of the Big House. But I have to admit that I am looking forward to the teen dramas with more than a little anticipation. Maybe it's my experience providing therapy for the last 20 years. Or maybe it's the memories of my own risk-taking adolescence that lures me into believing my little angel couldn't POSSIBLY be as bad of a kid as I was. (I'm dooming myself to eating my own words, aren't I?) But these years when my child has grown into his personality, when he has learned to use his voice and stretch into his personhood a bit more, have been a source of delight and wonder for me. The infant and toddler years were so challenging and fear-filled: for me, there was nothing more anxiety-producing than hearing my baby wail and not knowing for sure how he needed me or whether I was meeting his need in a way that did more than just quiet his crying. Apparently, I function much better in a relationship where I receive comprehensible feedback, when I can ask and get answers to questions about what my child needs and desires, and direction on how to best meet those requests. I was frantic and frightened by my catastrophic forebodings that I would "miss" some crucial sign from my small child, thereby causing mortal physical or psychological harm from which neither he nor I would ever truly recover. I know I am fooling myself now in thinking I have more clues about what my son needs--or doesn't need-- from me. Although a rather chatty kid, I'm aware that there is much in the mind and life of a teenage boy that I will never be privy to. But at least now I can ASK-- and if the only response I receive is a grunt or an eye roll, I can soothe myself with the reassurance that I've kept up my side of the parent/child bargain. I'm still mystified by my friends who long for those baby years, and who jump at any opportunity to nuzzle any infant in close proximity. Equally baffling to me are those folks who get more joy from the 35th reading of "Good Night Moon" to a willful two-year-old than from a long(solo) soak in a tub. Nope, I'll take those moments with my teenage son over almost any other outlet for my energy-- even if those moments involve smelly gym clothes, drooping jeans and a ravaged refrigerator. What about you? Was there a favorite time for you with your kids? Were you surprised at the ways you managed the different phases and tasks in their childhood? I'd love to hear your stories!