|A teenager who was|
nice to me
I wish I didn't know how unusual my experience was, but reminders like this are everywhere:
Across from me in a restaurant, a woman was seated with two boys, around nine and fifteen. From the way one, but not the other, interacted with her, and from the way each behaved as though the other weren't there, I'm assuming they were her sons.
The younger boy, clearly relishing her attention, engaged his mother with jokes and chatter and stories. The older boy, slumped in the corner of the booth like a crumpled shirt, said nothing.
While the younger boy chatted, the woman sat forward in her seat smiling, nodding, listening, smiling, nodding, listening... During pauses in the conversation, she turned to the older boy and made polite attempts to include him all to which he responded with long looks at his phone, impatient shrugs and a very irritated look of "How would I know?"
I wanted to slip her a note: "It gets better." But that would have been presumptuous. For all I knew the behavior of her fifteen-year-old was an improvement over the way he normally punched his brother in restaurants.
To be scorned by a child who has adored you for years is the hardest, most bewildering experience parents describe in the parenting years. It's expected and it's expected to be hard. But like labor itself, it hurts more than you think it should.
|"How would I know?"|
We have been told to let the rope out, that they are entitled to their growth, their distance, their isolation. Still, it ages us, wakes us in the night, makes us cry. We know we'll live through it, and so we brace, we accept, and above all, we wait.
Why are you like that? they ask us with that squint.
I love teenagers, they are mighty and mystifying and with rare exceptions, I've not looked into a teenage face and failed to see traces of the little person they once were behind that squint. But it is their parents, with their fixed, neutral expressions and hidden hurt and unwavering resolve to stay near, who have my heart.
And I wish
if only for a few moments
that a teenager...
...could view their separation through the eyes of the parent who - with no warning - has been shown the door but instead, moves to the other side of the room like a quiet child who still wants to see what's going on.
...who feels powerless in a world of influences beyond the home - could know their power to hurt a parent with a single look, a single, scornful statement: Why are you like that?
...who feels insignificant without a circle of friends - could know the way their single bad day will - instantly - reverse the most wonderful day in the life of a parent.
...who should be allowed to make a bad decision, to act like a jackass - would remember that it isn't possible to act in any way that will change the way a parent loves them.
...who would be crushed if a peer were to treat them with the contempt and disrespect that they inflict on a parent, could know it hurts just that much.
...could remember that there are other teenagers who experience the reverse - parents who have given up on them, taken back their own freedom, ceased their communication - and would trade places with a luckier teenager in a heartbeat.
But most of all, I wish that teenagers, who need more than the air they breathe to be loved for who they are, could see that equal to their efforts to journey away, is the parent's determination to walk with them, even if at enough distance to avoid getting stepped on.
All four of my teenagers evolved into adults I admire and adore. Today I enjoy relationships with them that are among my most rewarding, energizing, inspiring - and loving.
It does get better. It is worth the wait. But for some parents, it isn't free.
Teenagers, I wish you knew, it's hard for us too.