Friday, May 30, 2014

The Basement

A few weeks ago, another blogger wrote that May was the springtime version of December.  Reading that felt like such an epiphany because YES OF COURSE IT IS.  May is the month of last-minute school projects and graduations and end-of-the-year programs and teacher gifts and so many other things.  In this week alone, our household is celebrating two graduation ceremonies (one preschool and one high school), one eighteenth birthday, and one big party combining the two.  There has been so much to do and not enough time and my general feeling about May is that it is beating me up.

<Insert visual of me waving the white flag here.>

However, it's also a time of celebrating.  It's a time to be proud of things accomplished.  It's the last push of energy and exertion before we exhale and relax into summertime and easy living. It's also a time of reflection. It's that reflection that I want to write about tonight, but I'm not sure how because writing about this particular topic is hard.  Whenever I think about sitting down and writing it all out, I'm not sure if my instincts are encouraging me to be fearless and to just do it, or if they are actually cautioning me about being reckless.

I guess if I publish this, you all will know which voice was loudest tonight.

So, enough dancing around it: what I want to reflect on with you tonight is teenagers.

You guys.  It's really hard having a teenager.  I also vaguely remember that it was hard to be a teenager, but (and maybe this is the distance of time speaking) having experienced both now, I'm almost certain that it's much harder to raise a teenager. Here's why: as an adult, one has all this hindsight.  You try to offer it to the teenager.  You try to use your experience and hindsight to guide the teenager when you see them making mistakes.  You offer your hindsight and (here's the sucky part) .... they don't want it.  They don't give a rat's ass about your hindsight.  It has absolutely no relevance to their life.  They don't need it.  They don't see it.  They. Do. Not. Care.  They have girl problems (or boy problems).  They have acne.  They have hormones.  They're just trying to figure it all out and sure, yeah, you can try to help, but at the end of the day you're just in their way.  You're basically left on your knees, hands lifted in supplication, reaching out, weakly calling "But....I- I have this hindsight."

And you realize that somehow, you have become as lame as you feel.

Wait. It gets worse.

When you are a new parent there is all this information.  If you need to talk to someone about your baby, you can go anywhere.... the Internet, a friend, a bookstore, heck- walk into any grocery store- and someone there will have a listening ear and an opinion about whatever it is you want to know about your baby.  But then, if you fast forward thirteen years, you will find that you'll have SO MANY questions and hardly anywhere to turn because no one can really help you with your kid.  These problems are as unique as your child is, so there are no answers.  You are on your own.  Furthermore, you won't WANT to share these problems with the world because some of them will be horrible and shameful.  You won't want to expose your child (or yourself) to that kind of judgement from the world.  They may be teenagers, but what they really are is itty bitty baby adults, and you start to understand that what we're doing during the teen years is birthing little baby adults into the world.   I would no more want anyone judging my baby-adult harshly than I'd want someone to judge an actual baby. They are just too new.  The world is just too mean.  So you keep them under your wing best you can- but it's a bit like loving on a barbed-wire fence.  It's prickly and frustrating and painful and.... lonely.

And there you are.  Alone with an angry baby-adult who thinks you're lame, and no one to talk to about it besides your spouse (That's if you're lucky. Even if you have a spouse, sometimes you won't even agree on how to care for the baby-adult, so feel free to go ahead and compound that lonely feeling by two.)

A few months ago, a blogger wrote about this same topic- parenting teens- and a few people in the comment section complained that it was too negative.  They said it reminded them of when people would tell them "horror stories" about pregnancy and child birth just to scare them.  I wanted to respond to their comments by replying back, "Shhhhhhhhhh.  We're talking.  Clearly this is not about you.  I'm sure your child's years as a baby adult will be perfect and stress-free.  Right now, there's someone here that's like me.  I need to hear because no one really talks about this."

Yet another blogger (Yeesh. This is the 3rd one I've mentioned tonight.  Perhaps I should stop reading so many blogs.) ...has a page on their blog titled "The Basement".  It's actually a brilliant idea- if there is something you need to share but aren't able to do so publicly, you submit your piece to her "basement", and she'll publish it for you.  There was a lot of heavy stuff down there, but you could see that it was a healing place too, since there was a lot "me too" in the comments.  In these last few years, it's occurred to me that parents of teens could benefit from a basement.

This has been a hard year for us and 9.  I'm okay with writing that. I don't mind if he reads that.  He knows it's true.  There were times this past year when I was so completely pissed off at him that I couldn't even talk to him.  I had to talk to friends or family instead and ask them to show me an empathetic perspective.  Then I had to actually work on feeling that empathy, like I was some kind of robot with programming instructions.  I had to actually practice feeling empathetic because none of the nicer feelings were coming naturally to me. There was too much anger in the way.  (It's okay with me if he reads that too, as he lived it and knows it to be true.)

Of course, details and events are all part of 9's story, and I won't be sharing them here.  I can only talk about my feelings and my reactions, which I know, leaves a big hole in the story.  That's why I said earlier that this is a hard thing to write about.  At the end of the day, here's what I would be whispering into the basement: he lost his mom four years ago and we all know that a lot of this past years' turmoil came from.  In the middle of all the turmoil were big mile markers; getting his license, attending junior and senior Prom, performing in the school play, birthdays.... and next week will be graduation.  Each time one of these events pass, as I'm snapping a picture of him behind the wheel of his jeep, or in his tux, or blowing out candles, I get choked up- not on pride- (although I feel pride too) but guilt.  I always feel guilty that I'm here and his mom's not.  It's a weird kind of survivor guilt, I guess.  Usually when I try to talk about this, people rush in and talk over me and tell me that it's good, it's so good, that 9 has a person to fill in the role of motherhood.  And I nod and give up, because yes, it's good.  I'm not diminishing my role in his upbringing.  But I'd love it if people would just sit in the knowledge that it is also really unfair.  It's a bad break for everyone, especially 9 and Michelle.  It's okay to say that without trying to make it "better".

Those big moments that Michelle is not here for, it's true that she should be here, but I know also that she'd have traded anything, all her worldly goods, to be here for the crappy stuff too.  She didn't tell me this, but any mom knows it to be true.  And understanding that puts a different spin on it.  It doesn't make it easier to deal with teenager angst and inexperience.  It doesn't make me feel less frustrated.  But it does bring more meaning to the task.  The good stuff is easy, maybe that's why I feel guilty about it.  The blood, sweat and tears that goes into the hard stuff feels more "earned" somehow.  It's still bittersweet.  It's still unfair.  But having a role, working with his family to help him grow from a baby adult to a mature (and hopefully happy, healthy, productive) man has been worth it.  And that is one thing that has always been clear.....

He's always been worth it.  


  1. I absolutely dread the teen years, especially because my daughter will have the added bonus of a biological father who has already told me that when she gets to the point that she hates me, he will invite her go live with him in Florida.