on teenagers and other foreign creatures

On Monday afternoon we played in an open courtyard in front of a movie theater at the far end of a busy outdoor mall. Girl Powers directed all four of us in choreographed variations on ring-around-the-rosie; Boy Powers obeyed his sister’s stage directions dutifully, and in between numbers inspected the Christmas lights wound around the palm trees.

The weather was spectacular and the people-watching fruitful on this, the first Monday of the new year (and because of the observance of New Year’s Day, also the last day of vacation for many).

A group of teenagers came together, then made their way as a group toward the movie theater. As they walked their formation changed from distinct clusters – one of boys, another of girls – to a more cautiously integrated group. One boy/girl couple drifted imperceptibly from the rest, walking around the left side of a sign that split the group’s path while the rest veered to the right.

I studied them, marveling at their hair, their shoes, their foreignness. I am too far removed from adolescence now to identify with them; I remember being there, but the memories seem to be of someone else, equally foreign, not of the person whose purse now holds hand sanitizer and Goldfish crackers and plastic dinosaurs. But neither can I identify with their mothers; nearly a decade stands between me and the day I will become the mother of a teenager.

These creatures were too young to be me and too old to be mine and I was riveted.

My first instinct was to panic (quietly, inwardly, in the way all mothers learn to panic). I don’t want to have teenagers! I don’t want them going places without me! I want to serve their lunches on plastic plates with little sections for each food forever! Stop the clock! 

I had a similar reaction in the first few weeks following Girl Powers’s birth. An unexpected month or so of hormonal blues brought with it all kinds of irrational anxieties, but the one I remember most was the one about my perfect baby getting older and bigger. Wow! people would remark, she’s getting rolls! she’s so much bigger than just last week! and I would bristle. I didn’t want her to change. I had endured forty weeks of anticipation to meet my newborn and then, as if to spite me and all my expectations, she seemed to be growing and changing under my very gaze. The thought of her morphing into an older baby – or even worse, a sticky, opinionated toddler – felt unfair, out of control, frightening, disappointing.

And then, when the fog lifted, so too did that feeling of wanting to stop time. I welcomed the developments and the milestones and the rolls of delicious baby chunk and the 29th day of each month when I got to tell people she was another month older. Other than those first few weeks I have never really mourned the passing of baby phases. There are things that suck and things that are magical about every age, and while you’re in the middle of it all it’s sometimes hard to see outside the bubble. But I can’t say I’ve ever disliked an age or stage so much I’ve been glad to see it go, or dreaded it coming.

The fact remains, though, I don’t want to parent teenagers. Right now. Which is perfectly okay because I don’t have to. Just like when Girl Powers was first born I was not prepared to have a toddler. At that moment in time. By the time she was a toddler, I was somehow ready. And it happened – go figure – kind of gradually, not all of a sudden as if somebody dropped a chubby chatterbox of a two-year-old on my doorstep. She grew into that toddler as I grew into the mother of that toddler. And it all turned out okay.

And so I let the little wave of panic come and go, like so many baby phases do, and I felt relief in knowing I don’t have to parent those teenagers on this day. I figure that by the time it’s my time, I’ll be watching a young family wrestle toddlers and preschoolers into the car and thinking man, I’m glad I don’t have to do that anymore.

Do you panic about your kids growing up? Do you mourn the passage of baby phases and stages?


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