I want to feel that sweetness when I gaze at my teenagers, to reconnect us and allow me to tap into that inner reserve of love, the same one that surges up when my baby melts my heart with her giggle and her songs and toddler dances.
Who knew that the teenage years would be so harrowing? So utterly exhausting? Who knew that your little darling could leave you feeling overwhelmed and defeated with a single glance or that they could break your heart into a million pieces uttering only the shortest of phrases? Apparently, my mother. As she likes to remind me of my own teenage years, with her lovingly wrapped “I told you so’s,” she basks in the certainty of my naivety, when I yearn for a more enlightened way to approach my teenagers. In the face of her smug assurance, she listens to me declare that somehow my teenagers and I will be different. I know it is a bit cliché, deluding myself into thinking that somehow I will be the first parent who remembers what it felt like to be a teenager. Yet, I am hopeful. But if we weren’t all so hopeful, who would embark on this tale, through pages of heartache, misunderstanding and anguish? Who would subject themselves to such total contempt, after giving of yourself so completely for so long? But what happens, when you are past the point of turning back, when you are in the throes of sweaty gym bags and bottomless appetites, locked in the power struggle with an ornery, hormone-fueled monster who bears an uncanny resemblance to the baby you dreamed into being only a few years ago? What do you do to keep propelling yourself forward after each stumble and misstep? How do you keep exemplifying the character you demand from them without curling up in the fetal position, surrendering to your own weakness, at the thought of another onslaught of hormones and glares that cripple you with the attitude and certainty that you are truly the stupidest person they have ever met? How do you keep from locking them in a closet until the surge of puberty and the allure of pop culture’s glittery, substance-less promises subside into adulthood? How can you argue rationally with someone who demands their independence and self-hood, yet doesn’t believe in bathing or brushing their teeth?
I am the mother of three monsters.
But let me rewind… Last night, as I struggled to keep my eyes from crossing with exhaustion, I snuggled into bed with my two littlest for some quality time, as my older pubescent children flocked to the corners of the house to mull on fashion choices and cellular entertainment. My two year old’s spritely little body writhed and danced across my five year old and I in her Frozen nightie, battling her body’s (and our) desire for her to sleep. The pleasant vision I had daydreamed of as I coaxed myself through yet another round of dishes, was quickly disappearing as I felt exhaustion creeping up on me and frustration at the lack of snuggling and yawning transpiring. Watching her roll and flip across our bodies and the ragged copy of Go Dog Go! we were struggling to read, my toddler looked like a Mexican Jumping Bean after a stop at Starbucks following an all-nighter. She showed no signs of slowing as her little body nimbly performed somersaults and mind-boggling contortions across the width of the bed. Big blue eyes framed by tiny ringlets on a deceivingly sweet face, were at odds with the sharp elbows to the gut and knees to the nose she was doling out. And after surviving a painfully long evening of listening to her whine and shout “No!” to every simple request at dinner and bath time, I was desperate for a break so my system could reboot. My nerves were raw and the tone of my voice was just an octave above desperation, as I grouchily fended off the onslaught of wiry limbs. Just when I thought I couldn’t take one more minute of her bedtime ballet, she maneuvered herself into the crook of my arm, lovingly nuzzled my chest, then whispered “I wuvvvv you Mama” and closed her eyes. And I melted. Just like that it was over. She was done. I was moments away from pulling my hair out, and just as I thought I couldn’t take one more minute, I fell in love all over again. There was the spark that reignites the overwhelming love that springs from me for this little person curled next to me time and time again. Allowing myself to find strength and patience to sustain me through every power struggle and temper tantrum, through potty training and sibling rivalry, through teething and stomach viruses. This is the moment that makes it all better!
Fast forward to another hectic morning of coercing teenagers from bed and ushering everyone out the door with backpacks, lunches and instruments in hand. I am already feeling frustrated and irritated by the lack of appreciation and the excess of attitude. I need to find that spark. That same spark that rekindles my love affair for these teenagers who I spend countless hours chauffeuring for, washing for, cooking for, cleaning for… I give so many hours of my precious day to them, but how much of that day do I spend offering those simplest of gifts…the sweet snuggles and hugs? Words of love and affirmation? The “I love you’s?” I want to feel that sweetness when I gaze at my teenagers, to reconnect us and allow me to tap into that inner reserve of love, the same one that surges up when my baby melts my heart with her giggle and her songs and toddler dances. The glow I feel when my little boy presents me with a crumpled and wilting bouquet of weeds that are blooming in the backyard. Where is my sweet baby boy lost in that teenage body decked out in Hurley and Axe cologne? Where is the vibrant little girl that belted out Hannah Montana songs unabashedly? Where is my little princess who conducted her imaginary friends in a world rich with dragons and adventure, as adeptly as a conductor at the symphony orchestra? Where have all the goodnight kisses gone? I feel like I have lost them to raging hormones and the intrusive pressures of the outside world. So I am determined. With the same diligence and fortitude that carried me through thousands of diaper changes, temper tantrums, and time outs, I will plunge ahead in these final chapters of their childhood. I will force myself to gaze at them as I did when they were little. To stare in wonder at all of their amazing talents, smile at their quirky nuances, and to laugh at all of their silly mistakes, because this too is a part of the beautiful story that I am watching unfold as they grow before my eyes. I will choose to end each chapter with I love you and a goodnight kiss.