Raising A Teenager Is Like Having A Swarm Of Bees In Your Chest

by Jennifer Bonessi
Originally Published: 
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Dear Friend (that feels right to say),

This isn’t actually a letter to my son. Why? Because teenagers don’t read heartfelt letters from their mothers, and that’s the truth. And it’s not a love letter, either. It’s a hard read, actually, and it’s for you.

My son turned 16 yesterday. And like his 5th and 10th and 13th birthdays, it felt…significant. But it was more than just the number that felt significant. I felt the day coming well in advance in myself, too.

When my son turned 13, I wrote him a letter.

It was a little bit like having a busy cloud of bees in my chest – not stinging but moving. Urgently. Fast. Initially, it felt almost like anxiety but even more so like anticipation.

As the days passed, I continued to think a lot about how I was feeling. When you have teenagers, you have a lot of time to think and not a lot of time to talk.

So I sat with the bees and observed them.

There was definitely anticipation – a dash of excitement – but also some uncertainty. Some sadness. And I didn’t – and mostly still don’t – know what any of it meant. So I just held it, held it in my chest where it seemed to want to live. Because what else can you do when you don’t know how to define a thing?

When the birthday arrived, I felt much like I did when my mother died: a mouth full of words, a deep desire to say them and no one to hear.

Maybe it was the bees trying to get out. (Wouldn’t that be nice?) But I held them back.

I’m sorry to say my son’s 16th birthday didn’t contain much fanfare. The date fell on a school day, and he didn’t want a party with his friends. The week’s schedule didn’t allow for a family dinner, and I’m fairly certain it would have been a nightmare anyway with twin two year-olds in tow.

Isn’t 16 supposed to be a big deal? Significant – wasn’t that the description?

I got him a gym membership, so he could escape the house, and I started a retirement account for him. Logically. Then I bought him a slice of cookie cake and took him to an R-rated movie that was basically about mental illness. His request.

We sat in silence on the way to the movie. It was awkward and unnatural for me, but I was proud to practice my “don’t talk all the time, Mom” act and “just be shoulder-to-shoulder” with my son. It felt good and honoring to leave space for him to just be himself, and I felt strong and generous for being able to do it.

Then we sat in silence on the way back – except when he interrupted my weak attempt to share my thoughts about the movie. He spoke up to correct my use of a word. Commodity.

And through all of this, I held the bees.

When I got home, my husband was in bed, and the birthday boy went upstairs for a shower – school night. That was it.

I found myself standing alone in the dark, more than a little bewildered, after a disturbing movie and in the wake of a weird debate with my man-child about the meaning of a word. Just me and the bees.

And they were stirring.

This is when I knew for sure that the bees were words, and they were fighting to get out.

But I couldn’t let them…because they were sad.

Courtesy of Jennifer Bonessi

Why am I telling you all this, Friend? Goodness, why am I?

Well, first, I’m telling you this because the bees made me do it. I couldn’t keep them in any longer. What is that beautiful Maya Angelou quote – “There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.”

It was agony to carry the bees any longer.

But really, I think someone needs to start talking about what it feels like to be in this season of motherhood.

It. Is. Hard.

Relationships with teenage sons are hard. No matter how much you love them – because there is no lack of love. I have oodles of love for this kid. I’m dripping with it.

But it does not matter if your teen is a talker or not talker. It doesn’t matter if you used to be close and connected and suddenly aren’t. It doesn’t matter if you fill them with sugar and take them to R-rated movies.

It doesn’t matter how much love you are carrying in your heart for your son, that it weighs a million pounds, that you are dying to tell him about it in a way he can actually hear you. It just doesn’t matter.

Okay, all the history of goodness and intentions of goodness, in this season, does matter. But. It doesn’t make things easier.

Friend, if you are all up in the hard stuff, and you don’t know why other parents aren’t struggling to figure out how they fit into their teenager’s lives, THEY ARE.

If you are wondering why your fellow mommas aren’t fighting to sit quietly with their teen (because talking to a teenager could be talking to your best friend or a hornets’ nest), THEY ARE.

If you are wondering how other parents seem unbothered by watching their teen struggle in this hard season of their own lives, THEY ARE BOTHERED. It’s hard to watch a human grow and learn big life lessons. SO. Hard.

If you are wondering why no one else seems to be concerned about how to bridge an ever-widening gap in their relationships with their kid, THEY ARE. Some are bewildered, Friend, and some are panicked – the rest are likely oblivious a gap has appeared.

You are not alone. It’s happening to all of us.

Also, this time will pass. Things will change. I know that.

Do you?

Thank you, thank you, Friend. I think I’m ready to write that letter to the birthday boy now. This sweet boy deserves to hear how much his momma loves him. Even if he won’t hear it, really, until (a lot) later in his life.

Stay tuned, if you’d like, for the release of the bees.

Soldier on, Fellow Mommas. You’ve got this!

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