“Mo-om!” If the rolling of eyes could make a noise, my oldest daughter’s facial expression would have been deafening.
We were headed to her orthodontist appointment. It was early, but I had brushed my teeth, put on make up, and was wearing my new hat. I thought I might even look a little bit put-together.
I was wrong.
“If you are going to wear a newsboy-style cap, you cannot wear those sunglasses.”
“But they’re the only ones I have!”
“But the sun is so bright!”
I was amused. And surprised. Not surprised that a 14-year-old girl would disapprove of her mother’s fashion choices, but surprised that I was the mother in this particular scenario. How exactly did I wind up on this side of things?
I remember being 14. What I remember most about being 14 is promising myself that I would not forget what it was like being 14. And though I think I have not, I am probably wrong. Just ask my daughter. And take a look at my sunglasses.
For as long as I have been a mother, people have warned me about how much my life will change when my kids are older.
“Just you wait till they’re teens,” older moms seemed to relish cautioning me in the church parking lot after Mass. I would see their weary expressions, glance at the sullen somebody with purple fringed hair standing next to them, and wonder exactly what the future held for me.
I knew the veteran moms were trying to scare me, and they did, a little bit. To an exhausted mother who had spent the last 60 minutes wrestling a hair-pulling infant and chasing a handful of tireless toddlers through the narthex, though, the idea of teenagers was more appealing than terrifying.
And now that I have teens, I must admit that they are rather awesome. Big kids are fun to have around. And let’s not forget the attractive fact that they can handle their own hygiene. I will never forget the joy that swelled in my heart the day my oldest came to me smelling of apple blossoms and said, “I took a shower. I hope that was okay.”
But of course there are times when I see just a bit of what the parking lot moms were talking about. The other day, for example, when I picked up my oldest son from basketball practice, he hopped into the passenger seat and, within seven seconds, had changed the radio station, rolled down all the van windows to cool himself off in the 20-degree temperatures, and complained about my parking skills.
Some argue that the “teen years” as we know them are a cultural phenomenon rather than a natural stage of development. Teen rebellion, they say, is artificially fueled by a culture that is bent on teaching young adults that their parents are stupid, tradition is senseless, and the most important thing they can ever do is disrespect authority.
And they have point. But I do think it’s normal and natural for teens to push against limits, seek new freedoms, and learn to identify themselves separately from their parents. The hard part is that there is no guarantee that they will always use their freedom appropriately. There is no magic formula of homeschooling, friend-screening, or catechesis that can guarantee a smooth ride from adolescence through to adulthood.
As my family enters the teen years, I find myself in a familiar place. I used to collapse on the couch with an open parenting book on my lap and a finally sleeping baby on my shoulder. These days, I am reading, researching, asking silly questions, and ultimately finding out the same thing I learned back then — that the only one who can really teach you how to be a parent is your own child. You read the books, you ask the questions, you make the choices, and then you muddle your way through it together.
There is no magic formula; there is only grace. In the coming years, as we try and fail, love and learn, and feel our way shakily through unknown territory together, I intend to lean on it hard.
On the way home from basketball the other day, I slowed at a yellow light and my son sighed.
“I totally would have made that,” he said.
“You,” I lowered my dorky sunglasses at him, “do not have your driver’s license.”
I turned my attention back to the wheel and smiled. Wherever this road might take us, I am grateful to be along for the ride.