I have four children, and my youngest two are twins. They were such a surprise! We didn’t think we would have four children under 5 years old, but we did. Their arrival launched us into the life of a big family, and the ride is eye-watering-ly fast.
When I just had one kid, I read so much about how to care for her, and when she came, I was able to talk with other moms, new and old about how to be a good mom. It was easy to do apply all those lessons when my son came along. But somehow, when the twins were born, it was like I had never done this before. I don’t know if it was the fact that they were multiples or if the timing just hit as parenting products and attitudes were changing or if it was the idea of going from a tidy family of four to what seemed like a clown-car six person family. But I felt like I was reinventing the wheel all the time.
On sunday, my little babies will turn 13. And it’s been dawning on me since my oldest hit puberty that I am out of my depth. One middle schooler and the attending dramas (friends are not so friendly! Math is not so easy! Can I ombre my hair?!) was like a conveyor belt on slow speed. Once there are four of them, it will be like that scene from I Love Lucy with the chocolates — a losing battle. Parenting teenagers is a whole different thing that raising babies. They are dealing with problems there is no right answer to. Their grades matter. It’s for real now.
It was either the time my seventh grader got in the car with her classmate and said “I got syphillis, what did you get?” and my daughter answered “Ugh. Pubic Lice!” (middle school STD presentations for Health Class, as it turned out) or when I pulled into the High School driveway to see a police car parked in front and subsequently heard a student had been selling pot brownies in the bathroom (allegedly!). But somewhere in there I realized that I’m not ready for this! Do they have “What to expect when the 17th year?” Because I would read that. How does Dr. Sears, with his attachment parenting strategies, deal with requests for head shaving or septum piercings?
As far as I can tell, most situations call for a firm bite of the tongue. These teens are very good at tuning you out, especially when you are telling them what they did wrong. The other day two of my kids hung up on me when I called them out for being rude. The lesson is that yes, I am the mom, but not every moment is a teachable one. And when they do want to talk nicely to you, keep quiet. I always want to jump in with a story of my own or try to get them to explain more by asking questions. But if I just wait, usually the whole story comes out. And guess what, the incredulous “What were you thinking” should be strictly inner monologue. They weren’t thinking. Somehow, sometimes, if you really listen, you get an explanation.
I wouldn’t recommend this approach, but this is something that touched me. In the terrific scene from the Pamela Adlon show “Better Things” episode titled Eulogy, a woman makes her kids throw her a fake funeral and give her a eulogy because they casually pass by a movie their actress mom has made when channel surfing. Two of her daughters explain why they don’t seem to care about their mom’s work, and it is so honest to me and such an uncanny representation of how teens can seem inscrutable just until you lose your mind and then plainly voice their most deep, insightful, sophisticated and understandable feelings.
So, the teen years are bumpy, and not just for teens! Hold on for dear life, remember that they are both the chubby cheeked cuties they once were and the coolest adults you’ll ever know. This is just the middle.