When you are the parent of a teenager, you can look right at them and see them, but at the same time, you see all the selves they’ve outgrown. You see it all at once, the teen self and the jump-roping self, the learning-to-read self and the lost-front-teeth self, the first-step self and the baby self, and the toddler self.
Oh, that toddler self.
Do you remember how it goes, taking a toddler out for a walk? You get about two steps past your front door, and then the toddler needs to stop to pick up each tiny pebble and to blow the fluff off every single dandelion.
“Wow!” they say, and “Look!” and “Ooh!” and you look at that blade of grass they’re holding, and you realize you haven’t really seen the world around you in years. Well, okay, first you think, Let’s get a move on here, shall we? But then you realize they’re giving you a gift. They’re reminding you of the world, the real true world, under your feet. It’s been right there, and you’ve been walking past it all this time.
Discovery, rediscovery, I’m not sure we ever leave that stage. It’s just that now, instead of discovering the wonders of ants and gravel and the occasional splat of bird poop, our children are awakening more fully to the world of current events and interpersonal drama, new books and newer technology, social issues and global politics. They have a fresh perspective, and in the best moments, they’re inviting us to see as if for the first time, too.
We keep showing them the world, and they keep showing it right back to us. See? see what’s become so familiar that you’re overlooking.
Oh, we see.
And we see that even though we parents are used to being in charge as we walk through the world, teenagers need to figure out for themselves where they’re headed and when and how. They are the heroes of their own stories, and they’re just starting to figure out what that means.
It doesn’t mean they don’t need us anymore. Heroes need mentors. They need guidance and direction. They need someone to teach them how to use a light saber. They need help to see their own potential. They need to be pointed toward the horizon. And then they need to start walking that path, that road toward their very own destinies. They’re at the beginning, and we get to help them launch their stories.
It’s hard work, being the hero. You know that. It’s difficult, it’s trying, and sometimes when things are tough, heroes will snap. They’ll make the wrong choices, they’ll lash out at the people who love them, because they know those people will still be there for them on the other side.
Heroes make mistakes. Then they get back up and keep going. It’s our job to remind them who they are.
What a privilege to witness that journey. What an honor, to walk alongside, cheering and encouraging and lifting them up when they stumble. How amazing to get to spend our days with these people who used to be like noisy little melons in our arms and who now borrow our shoes two days out of three, to get to tell them over and over: I know the way, and I’ll show you. But I know you’ll find your way, and you’ll show me.
None of us are ever ready for this journey, not really.