It’s so tedious when an adult says to a kid “My, how you’ve grown!”
What we are really saying is:
“Oh my gosh, you look so different. When I peer into your face, I can barely see the baby/small child that I once knew. It seems like I just saw you not too long ago, but now that I think on it, it’s been several years. How has it been several years? Your mother and I were once so close and are still, but we just don’t see each other enough anymore. I guess I should realize that you are going to keep growing and changing, even though, in my mind, you still look exactly the same as you did when you were little. I know your mother thinks this as well. How is it possible that you look like a young adult? With an adult shape, look, and voice? This means I am aging too, and that is hard.”
These have been my thoughts in the last months since Christmas, beginning with a dinner I shared with not-often-seen friends. Their kids have shot up, with the oldest headed to college next year. We met in childbirth class, when she was pregnant with him. I have held all of her three children in my arms, cuddling them as babies and toddlers. I had to resist this when we met again, settling for a one-armed hug so I wouldn’t embarrass her big boy (taller than any of us now). All through the night, I kept marveling at how different they all looked, and remembering who they once were. It was impossible to reconcile these memories with the group of young people filling up on dessert in my living room.
Recently, my own big boy told us he was ready to be an independent, responsible driver. At our house, the original agreement was that the dad would be the driving instructor. However, he has a company car, and travels with his job a lot during the spring, so the responsibility for practice fell to me. I am NOT the best person for this. I am a worrier, and any driver close calls blow up in my head to multi-car pile ups requiring fire and rescue response. This I can instantly visualize with little or no effort. My mental mom world is not always a happy place and this does not make me the ideal driver trainer. However, when I recognize that I have a problem, I try to meet it head on rather than avoiding it. Therefore, we drove all over the highways of our city (there are a lot of these). Together, we got through it, especially when I put his sister in the front seat and sat in the back with her twin. Facebook on a smart phone is a great distraction for nervous moms.
When he took his road test, I decided that his reward for passing would be an immediate solo. I manufactured a short shopping list, and asked him to go as soon as he got home. Even though it was raining. And the roads were slick. And other drivers didn’t know he was new at it. And that the law was probably wrong because kids this young really shouldn’t be driving even with a scared parent on board, much less by themselves. Even though I wanted to throw up. Or cry. Probably both.
He was so excited that all I could do was congratulate him and send him on his way, without the eighty thousand warnings rolling around in my head. No need to make him as nuts as his mother. It was wonderful and he was so uplifted with new freedom and responsibility, that I realized it was worth it. He is a good driver, and I am a much better rider.
Growing and changing is going beyond how they look. We have an annual tradition at the end of May. During the school year, I always cook a healthy breakfast, every morning without fail. We have just found that they do better this way, and it has been important for us as parents to teach them healthy eating habits. However, we don’t think that “food as a reward” is a bad option either. On the last day of school, we head over to Publix where they each pick out their own box of cereal. This is usually the one with the most artificial colors, shapes, and high volume sugar as possible; often fake chocolate flavor as well. They share amongst themselves, sometimes consuming the whole box in 2-3 days, other times making it last as long as possible. This used to be a very big deal, a highlight to mark the beginning of vacation time, right along with the summer reading program. This year, I will be wondering if they are following tradition for my sake; although I am sure no cereal will go to waste.
“Oh my gosh, you look so different.”
This is also the end of childhood with beginning steps into young adulthood. My girls will start high school next year, and to me, this is a major milestone. Grades and activities count, and it’s time for parents to let go even more, while trying to be present. I have discovered that teens are a lot like toddlers. Many of the behaviors are the same, plus there is a big need to set clear limits while encouraging independence. I have found that if I am simply present and available for chunks of time, the good conversations happen. This is my opportunity to learn what is really going on in their lives. My gang is looking at the world and thinking big thoughts, forming their own opinions and interests. They know things that I don’t, and I love to learn from them.
Like the time during the baby and toddler years, I have put some of my own interests and distractions aside in order to be present for these opportunities. I am easing into the background at this point and I know that my chance to influence and be an active participant will be over in a blink. I don’t want to miss it.