Parenting, it is argued, is most difficult when your kids are young. When the likelihood of their choking on a cigarette butt found on the ground at the neighborhood spring festival is high.
And there are those who believe that parenting is most difficult when your kids are older. And the likelihood of their smoking is high, or the likelihood of their getting high is high.
Small child? Cigarette butt? Pick them up, wrench the thing out of their mouth, tell them, “No.” Control is everything.
Adolescent? Pot in the sock drawer? Can’t take it away there is always more to be found. Red patent leather “fuck me” pumps that served as playful “dress up” shoes for a child, now secretly in a suitcase with a 12-year-old girl headed to L.A. for dance camp and the troupe’s night on the town. What?
Control is a suddenly foreign concept.
I find it all equally, just differently, challenging, raising toddlers, adolescents, young adults, or just being there for my grown daughters. And I must say that I have quite enjoyed the challenges of raising adolescents. Finding the lines to cross or not cross. Pining for the days when I could pick them up and yank it out of their grip, or their mouth, or their line of sight, whatever it was. Plowing through the times when they were smart enough to know better, resourceful enough to accomplish it, yet, not good at it, yet. And, in the case of my girls, they are always determined, not unlike their mother, to argue that they are good at it, even when it is obvious that they are not. They can do it, even when they have failed. The argument is moot.
And as they teeter on the edge of adulthood. When sex is a logical topic for an older woman and younger woman to take on. When the mysteries of divorce and early marriage are no longer awkward and causing the proverbial roll of eyes. This age is particularly challenging. And tremendously rewarding. Because the falls, the mistakes, theirs, and mine, are harder and inevitable. Forgivable, of course, from each other, but often not from ourselves. That’s where the real work happens.
And then the continental trip alone. She researched it. Planned it. Booked it. Packed. Dressed. Ready to go. Me a proud mama. She an excited 18 year old. Off to Italy. For the summer. Alone. Wow. At the airport. Kiosk. ‘No boarding pass allowed’ the computer told us. What? Try again. ‘Go to the ticket counter.’ What? Long line. Kind lady with her uniform and badge. Quick to understand what was going on, she quietly, professionally, and gently explained. ‘Your passport expired. Two days ago.’
I have never seen horizontal tears. Literally flying out of her big beautiful frightfully embarrassed sad and angry brown eyes. There were no words. For either of us. No apologies. ‘I told you so.’ I can’t say that. ‘I fucked up.’ She can’t say that. We hugged. A lot.
Can’t even joke about this one. The pot in the sock drawer. A family joke now. Red pumps in the suitcase. We laugh. Expired passport?
The best lessons in life are the hardest, no? We know they will arrive, these lessons. And they make us worry. And we know that worrying does not help avoid them or deter them or stop them in their awful path. Shit’s just gonna happen to our kids.
They’re going to put the cigarette butt in their mouth. And we may not be there to yank it out. And we breathe deep. Hug often. And pray that they survive.
The girls know I am always here for them. And if I grow judgmental, and they grow cavalier, we know we can call each other on it, and move through it. Sometimes slowly. Always successfully.
Usually with scrambled eggs and an episode or two of “Friends.”