Teenagers. Right, guys?
If you don’t live with one currently you either remember living with one or being one or you have a tween or highly ambitious nine-year-old that’s on the fringe and providing you with ample glimpses of what lies ahead. In any case, what an utterly unique experience, huh? All awkward and jarring and whoa-these-hormones-mean-bizzzzznus. In one inhale there is closeness and sweet hugs from those gangly arms and bodies that somehow grew overnight and the next exhale dissolves to distance and escape and occasionally whispered but often thunderous requests to SERIOUSLY JUST LEAVE. ME. ALOOOOONE. *Cue dramatic door slam* There are limits pressed and battles for independence fought and dirty socks left on feet and clean shorts buried in laundry piles. Each and every moment drips with anticipation, like the plot line of an Oscar-worthy suspense film unfolding, as we eagerly wait to see what will happen next.
My thirteen-year-old is also the one who graced me with this Mom badge. Tyler made a noisy entrance into the world on an especially cold January night in Chicago, trailing his due date by just shy of two weeks. I was convinced he was NEVER going to make his escape from my uterus and I would be the first woman in the history of womanhood to tout a three-year pregnancy. Ahhh, a special shout out to wildly unstable gestational hormones for all of that glorious rational thinking you afford us. *highfives* I also recall my enthusiasm on our hospital release day being quickly obliterated by a big plate of trepidation served with a generous side of panic. His fragile newborn body was SO TINY and that air was North Pole grade bitter and so we acted sensibly and buried him under a twenty-seven blanket pile up (because twenty-six obviously wouldn’t cut it, folks) and set cruise control to 5 mph and HOLY HELL SLOW DOOOOWWNN became my battle cry for that menacing three-mile stretch. We lived in a one-bedroom loft at the time and had converted a storage closet (no joke) into a *fully-functioning* nursery. There was a crib and a changing table and a small dresser and just enough elbow room for one adult to delicately navigate the space for diaper duty. As a first-time mom and consummate over-achiever, I devoured ALL of the parenting books and I feverishly highlighted chapters as though studying for a high-stakes exam and I heeded all the warnings and tips and tricks and I rolled up my new mom sleeves and I was so ready to tackle this thing.
Bring it, motherhood.
And then our new housemate began to play his hand. And, oh-my-lord friends, his deck was stacked. Perhaps you’ve also given birth to a grizzled poker player with a bottomless bankroll. You guys, I was just so certain the Baby Whisperer authors were speaking directly to ME and MY CHILD and if I heeded their words and counsel it would carry us straight to the nighttime sleep schedule promise land. So certain, in fact, that even after months of testing every strategy with a zero percent success rate, I forged on completely undeterred for another several months. If anyone dared set that child in a spot other than DIRECTLY into his crib for nap time or bed time or at the mere inkling of a yawn or drooping eyelid and OF COURSE after activity time which was subsequent to eating time (babies are complicated) I’d follow with something level-headed like, Yes, I have eyeballs and I can see that he is sleeping soundly in that swing but it’s just ALL WRONG.*Cue wakeful baby* *And weeping, sleep-deprived woman*
I made plans, guys. big plans. But this renegade baby had an alternate agenda. One that included mostly wide-eyed amazement at his new world (always and especially when laid ever-so-gently in that FREAKING CRIB) and relentless testing of his voice box by way of high octane screams and definitely very very (let me be clear, VERY) little sleeping. We piloted so many well-intentioned parenting protocols on this kid, and thankfully despite an impressive track record of failed plans, we all survived. Well, all of us except that Baby Whisperer paperback. She found a happy new home at a used bookstore.
And now, thirteen years later, as I stand eye-to-eye with that same blue-eyed tow-head with the magnetic smile and perpetual spark and kind heart and competitive spirit (and continued take-it-or-leave-it attitude towards sleep) that I use to cradle in my arms, I can assure you this much is true…
I still don’t know what I’m doing.
And I still make a lot of mistakes.
And I still make plans that fight with reality.
I mean, us humans really LOVE a good plan, right? And we build these elaborate mental roadmaps of how we think things will go. And we don’t ask for much, really, we just want our thoughts to translate perfectly in real life. We simply desire for our vision of what should be to match what is.
But, life is our greatest teacher. And, friends, despite our best-laid plans and mental projections of what should be…
Sometimes, the due date is merely a loose suggestion.
And the birth plan is trumped by a medically necessary C-section.
And the baby just. will. not. sleep.
And the screaming infant can’t be soothed.
And the toddler will melt into a puddle over the purple cup when you DARE to provide that god-awful yellow one.
And the picky one seriously won’t eat that broccoli, you guys. Or those other 247 food items that are also disgusting.
And the young boy will come home carrying hurtful words and the fears of others in his backpack for attempting to be authentic in a world that craves conformity.
And the tween girl will get told that she isn’t welcomed at THIS lunch table because they don’t like her hair. Yesterday it was her shirt. Tomorrow it will be the way she talks. And she may consider changing these things to feel accepted.
And the teenager will stand near in one moment and hunger for space in the next. And he will say the wrong thing sometimes. Maybe a-lot-of-times. And all of these bizarre new emotions will frustrate him, but he may not know how to show it. And this boy who was once honest to a fault may start holding certain cards close to his dri-fit tee. And his intelligence and potential WON’T stop him from missing homework assignments. And he may not even SEE those clothes on his bedroom floor. And he will probably elect for faster escapes from the car when friends are watching. And he will make all of his own mistakes to learn from in spite of countless desperate attempts to protect him from ev-er-y-thing.
We love plans. But, when we love a plan so hard that it puts us at war with reality, we suffer. Don’t we? And in this painful place, it becomes almost impossible to see beyond our rightness. We get so consumed with protecting what we want it to be that we simply can’t connect with LIFE AS IT REALLY IS.
Today, let’s give one another permission to step back. Let’s breathe. Make plans. Make grandiose plans if it feels right. But, let’s also find moments to stop and create space for awareness. Let’s observe the it-is-supposed-to-be-THIS-way thoughts that are fighting reality. Let’s feel the pain and get irritated and allow our frustrations to run wild and free. And then let’s breathe again (like we really mean it this time, guys). Now stop, and notice it.
Life continues happening with our suffering, or without it.
*Cue warm, peace-filled hugs*