Remember pregnancy ? When you were sick in the "morning" (my mornings lasted till 10 p.m. and peaked around supper time) and then your stomach got bigger and bigger and the little alien inside started kicking around up under your ribs just when you were least expecting it, causing you to jump and spill your hot tea all over your hand, while everyone looked at you like you were crazy?
Ah, such warm, fuzzy memories.
Remember pre-natal classes? Learning how to breathe through the contractions? All of that, of course, went right out the window when the real thing occurred. I barely remembered to breathe at all.
After Jesse was born, I was in a hospital room with four other moms, one of whom was admitted because her water had broken, but she hadn't started labor yet. Her husband walked in with their 2-year-old daughter. I looked at her and thought accusingly, You knew about this and did it again??
But yeah, I did it again too. And again. Because I kept thinking, kept believing that the pain is "all worth it," because you get this wonderful little human being afterwards who loves you unconditionally and with whom you have this irreversible bond that connects you for life. (Cue mad sarcastic laughter from above.)
Sure, it's like that for several years. Several excruciatingly painful years, where the little human bosses you around and tortures you with sleep deprivation, extreme physical hard labor, lack of any privacy ever and other known torture techniques such as repeating the same question over and over until your head explodes. But the little person still acts, every now and then, like he loves you unconditionally and you do feel that connection to a higher purpose in life. But you basically run around every day in a sleep-deprived daze just trying to keep the little being safe.
And then, just when you are starting to recover from the post-partum blues at around 12 years post-delivery, adolescence hits.
Yes I KNOW, everyone is expecting parenting a teenager to suck, but let's all admit it, we all thought it would be different for us because we have a bond, we have communication, we have read all the parenting books with titles that range from "Exciting And Fun Ways To Parent The Wonderfully Challenging, High-Maintenance Teen," to "Keep The Anarchists In Check And Stop The Rebellion Before They Destroy The World With Their Music, Weird Haircuts And Smelly Socks." We also believe it will be different for us because we remember being teens and we know we were really not so difficult, just misunderstood (cue mad sarcastic laughter from my parents).
The little human is now much bigger, still bossing you around, but acts like you are:
1. The most ridiculous looking being around, especially if you are wearing basically any of the usually normal clothes you own and have spoken any words at all including and in fact especially, "hello," particularly when said ridiculousness is being witnessed by a friend of his.
2. The least intelligent person on the planet, regardless of any life experience, diploma, university degree or prior knowledge about any subject whatsoever.
3. Someone who was clearly put on this earth to annoy him. (Which, to be fair, even when you try not to, still seems to be the case. You can actually feel yourself doing annoying things like ask casually how his day was, and yet you seem powerless to stop yourself.)
To be fair, this is all an act, and one they are often not even conscious of. Deep down, they still adore you and desperately need you. But still, as a parent, it's hard to accept this fall from grace.
During the teen years, the not-so-little human being now decides to work on his independence by carefully analyzing all the areas where you have worked so hard over the years to be a good parent, and do the exact opposite. So, he will eat and drink whatever is potentially unhealthy, thus negating the years of organic homemade baby food you worked hours at preparing; he will add new words to his vocabulary that you were so careful to avoid; he will take risks with his physical well-being that contradict all the years of running behind him making sure he was safe from getting hurt; and he will deliberately sabotage his own future with a cool, calm, casualness that will leave your teeth rattling. You basically run around all day in a sleep-deprived daze (sleep deprived from the worrying this time), just trying to figure out where you lost control.
And you have to learn to accept that.
No, in fact, you have to learn something even more difficult: You have to let him do all of these thing and find new and cleverer ways to keep him safe. You have to surreptitiously work at his health, safety and future, and this requires a huge amount of energy. It also is extremely annoying for the teenager.
You have to talk to him about things like drinking, drugs, jobs,and of course, sex. Teens LOVE that. And you have to do it several times, because, believe it or not, they actually have the ability to tune your voice out while you speak so that they only hear enough to give correct responses without absorbing any content. (Fortunately, there is a little known area of a teen's brain which slowly develops over the course of these formative years, called the Mom Voice, which records and plays back the most annoying parts of any of your discussions to him exactly at the moment when he needs to hear it later in life. Frequently, this section of the brain embellishes the memory so he will hear things like, "If your friend has had one sip of an alcoholic drink you should not get a drive home with him because he will drive off the road and into a ditch and wrap his car around a tree and you will break your brain and be a vegetable and I will be the only one to care for you and I will spoon feed you organic carrot puree which I know you hate because I forced it on you when you were a baby so take the bus dammit.")
The funnest one is the Sex Talk. That's always a bundle of laughs. Then there's the drinking and drugs talk, which in my opinion, must be repeated several times over the years because we all know what's going on out there. And in this regard, you have to really work hard to be an example of responsible drinking, which is excruciatingly difficult because parenting could drive a nun to drink. Oh, so many ironies in that last sentence, and I didn't even do it on purpose.
Then there's the educational talk. You know, the one where you are saying, "You failed this test that you didn't study for, which means you could potentially fail the year, which means you may not get your diploma, which means you may have fewer options for careers in the future!" and your child hears, "You failed this insignificant useless and boring test despite the fact that you clearly have enough work on your plate and the teacher is just being mean because she clearly has it out for you and although the test has no impact on your life it is important to me to say blah blah blah several times to annoy you."
There are, of course, many more equally riveting one-sided conversations you get to have with your teenager. Generally these conversations are carefully timed to happen when you are exhausted and already anxious about said teenager or perhaps about his siblings, because they do gang up on you, like a pack of hyenas attacking their prey.
These conversations are enough to make you question your sanity. A Talk with your grown kid is like a chess game, strategically trying to make the right move and think three steps ahead in the conversation, then as the tension rises throwing caution to the wind and plowing right in to the subject, knowing you are getting backed in to a corner by the mere fact that you are less willing to attack than they are.
But wait! There is a silver lining! (I know I was painting a pretty bleak picture there, and some of you may have been reaching for the bottle of wine (if so please re-read the part 4 paragraphs up about being an example, and the nun, and all that).
Apparently, this is just a "phase"! It's NOT, I repeat NOT permanent!
It's a stage where the child is searching for independence, and according to the experts, they'll "come back to you."
I can personally vouch for the fact that this is true. They come back.
You knew there would be a "but," right?
I know you are hoping that when the teenage madness subsides and the dust settles, your cute little kid will be standing there looking all innocent and saying "What was that all about" with big loving eyes and then will ask you "why" an million times and believe you have the answer.
It's not like that.
The dust settles, and another guy shows up. An adult, who is nicer than the teenager, and looks a bit like the kid you used to have. But that cute little cuddly kid who used to call you back to his bedroom for the twentieth time for a glass of water or a hug? He's gone. The teenager ate him up.
So what do we do about it?
Accept it. Let go.
It's the hardest parenting thing you'll ever have to do. And it hurts.
Parenting hurts, from start to finish. I read once that parenting is like forever walking around with your heart outside your body, for anyone and everyone to step on it.
Honestly, I don't know. I guess it's one of those inevitable things we all have to learn to deal with, like wrinkles.
And it hurts.
Pregnancy hurts. Childbirth hurts. Sleep deprivation hurts. Worrying hurts. Letting go hurts.
It all hurts.
Well, wrinkles don't actually hurt.
Unconditional love? Yes it's mutual, but don't go thinking you'll get a great mother's day present if you don't drop several hints about when the actual day is -- in fact, I bet you $10 if you ask your teen right now what month mother's day falls in, she won't know (hey, I may just become a millionaire with this blog after all!).
Higher purpose in life? Yes, I created other people. They are out there doing good things and being generally amazing people.
But in the process, have I lost a bit of myself? Did I follow the parenting map so well through the jungle years that I ended up off track and far from who I truly am?
Because, when it comes down to it, more than anything in the last 23 years, I have been a mom. I had jobs and was married and did charity work and had many other titles and roles, but being a mom was what defined me. And I have loved it. Oh yeah, I know there were some tough moments there, especially that period just after the epidural wore off up till the middle of last week, but otherwise, it's been fun.
And so I ask myself that haunting question that all moms eventually face.
No no, not "how do I remove juice stains from the inside of my purse" or "how did that footprint get on the ceiling of my living room."
The question is: Who am I, without my kids?
My7-year-old is in that wonderful phase where he is much less work than the baby and toddler years, we can do fun things together and he needs and loves me. I sleep most nights for at least seven hours (often waking to find a small body wedged between my husband and I, and little cold feet pressed firmly against my back). I worry much less than I did with my first child -- which is irony slapping me in the face since my youngest is the one who has given us the most realistic reasons to worry. Some would say I have learned to differentiate between real worries and those that are useless anxieties, but the truth is, I think I maxed out on the anxiety scale. My worry barometer went past overload and broke.
But I have seen the future. I know what lies ahead for me.
And after this child is gone and replaced with the other person that shows up after the teen years, my current definition as a mom will end. Parenting an adult is an oxymoron -- I am the mother to an adult, but I am no longer parenting. My role is gone, in fact, when your child becomes and adult, you become equals. (Oh my god, we're equals?)
So here is my advice as the mom of an adult to the mom of a 7-year-old. (Yes, that means I am in effect giving advice to myself and no, it's not a sign of sleep-deprived insanity.)
First, give up the guilt. It doesn't matter anyway, you're screwing things up even if you do everything perfectly (I know that made no sense but it made sense, right?)
Second, get a life. This is a pearl of advice I have actually been given years ago by an ex but I didn't take it as great advice at the time, since he was yelling it at me. But it's so true: it is crucial to have something else. Some other thing that is also what you do and who you are, other than momming.
Third, let go. Yes that's right, there's an actual message in that Frozen song. Take a deep breath. Decide to accept that things change, and that it's ok. Exhale. They'll be OK. Let go.