This past Friday night found me home alone, as my family had taken off for different sides of the state with one in Williamsburg and the other in Lynchburg for their various activities. What did I do with my glorious alone time? Why I scrubbed out both showers, removing the shower heads to be soaked in vinegar, caught up on some netflix and had pop corn and ice cream for dinner. Of course. Isn’t that what every forty-something wife and mother does when they get alone time?
I admit, I had a small flicker of worry Friday evening, when I really thought about how my thirteen year old was staying in a hotel with who knows what adult as a chaperone for the South Central West Junior Regional Orchestra festival down in Lynchburg. It was the second such trip she took last week without me (having gone to Harrisonburg to participate in the National History Day contest) and both times, she indicated she was not interested in me chaperoning.
I suppose part of me should feel offended at this, although the part of me that stepped down from PTO and running the Girl Scout Troop this year, feels like it’s definitely time for other parents to step up. I’ve gone on every field trip since kindergarten, had a hand in every school (and classroom!!) event up until this year. Frankly, it feels nice to not be in charge. I think Edie was ready for it too.
I remember hearing the toddler years were a preview of the teen years. Now that I have an official teen, I definitely see the similarities – the mood swings, the push for independence and a definite opinion about clothes- both hers and mine. With toddlers though, parents are still very much in charge and still very much openly adored by their children. The teen years is when they start to figure out that you’re not actually superhuman, but oh, so very human.
Edie started prepping us for these days back when she was a toddler. The first time she rolled her eyes at what I was wearing and told me to go change, that she did not want to be seen with me dressed like that, was just after her second birthday. She was three the first time she refused to acknowledge us in public – we were at a party and she ditched us, pretending she didn’t know who we were. I finally walked up to her, where she was chatting with someone, when she sneared “Mother, I’m having a conversation”. Okay then.
(Yes, she really spoke like that at three.)
But toddler independence, where you are allowed to watch her from across the room and teenage independence, where you wave her off to go an hour away on a schoolbus without you for two days are two entirely different things. I’ve long said the main goal of parenting is to raise a child that can be a productive, responsible member of society, which means teaching them how to take care of themselves and how to be good to others. It means learning to let go so they can spread their wings – and sometimes that process is just hard on a mama’s heart. Of course, other times, teens are so exasperating that you want to push them out of the nest – my friend Nancy once said that we as parents actually need them to have that attitude towards us, because it helps us to want to let go. Without it, we’d never want them to leave the house and she’s right.
We do have certain rules regarding respect around here though. Edie might not always like us, but she has to treat us with respect. And in turn, she gets to demand the same from us. Out of that respect, I don’t air my beefs with her on the internet – I’m always slightly amazed by parents who do that. Would our child’s peers do this, it could be called cyber-bullying, but parents do it without seemingly any recourse. Several of Edie’s friends and schoolmates follow me on various forms of social media, so I am very careful of what I post, especially in regards to her. I remember all too well how hard the teen years can be to navigate, but now thanks to social media, that drama doesn’t just get left at school – it’s twenty four seven in various formats of social media and technology. She definitely doesn’t need her parents adding to that drama.
At the same time, this technology can also be used for better communication with her. When she was smaller, Edie would sometimes communicate with us via notes on whiteboards and chalkboards around the house. When we’d open our mouths to speak, she’d point to the whiteboard, “Answer here only please”. Entire conversations were had that way. The old whiteboards have given way to text messages, where it can be easier to talk about some difficult topics. Or just send lots of goofy emoji’s back and forth.
I often get a little wistful thinking about the toddler years – I miss them in some ways, but in others, I like having a teenager. She’s slightly more tactful at times about how she doesn’t like what I’m wearing, she can ride in the front seat on road trips, manning the music and the maps and she still holds up her end of the conversation wonderfully. She definitely has those teen moments that are inevitable, but I just take a deep breath and recall what my Granny used to always say, “it’s just a phase and this too shall pass.”