There comes a time in every mother’s life when the unthinkable happens: Your baby is suddenly embarrassed to kiss you in public. “Mom, please,” she says, “do you have to do that in front of people?”
In disbelief, you step back and watch your daughter join her group of friends as you try to wrap your head around what just happened. Scary thoughts race through your mind: Does she still love me? Is she ashamed of having me as a mother? Does she even want to be my daughter anymore?
Well, of course she does. It’s just that at this point in her life, she doesn’t want her friends to know how much she still adores you. Remember when you were her age and felt the same way? This is just a normal part of growing up. So pull up your big-girl panties and head to Target for a little retail therapy while your daughter hangs out with her friends. Later that evening when you pick her up, she will give you a kiss—once you’ve driven down the block and out of sight. But hey, you’ll take it.
Since she began middle school three years ago, my daughter’s bus stop has been right in front of our house. I would walk her down the driveway to the front door of the bus, kiss her goodbye, and tell her to have a great day. Last year, she told me, “You don’t have to walk me to the bus.” That was fine with me because I was still in my mismatched pajamas and half asleep, so I could kiss her goodbye at our door and wave as the bus drove down the street.
But this year, something odd happened. As I went to kiss my daughter goodbye, she halfheartedly gave me her cheek and rushed out of the house without a word. What was going on here? Maybe she is just having a bad morning, I thought. But the next day, the same thing happened.
Then, like a ton of bricks, it hit me: My teenage daughter doesn’t want to kiss her mother in public. Even though it was only the bus driver and a few other children who might see the quick sign affection, my daughter was aware of it, owned her feelings, and did not want to be embarrassed.
As the mother of a special needs child, I have struggled with my share of autism-related issues. But, on the flip side, I have escaped many of the less enjoyable aspects of “typical” teenager-hood. My daughter doesn’t “need” stylish clothing or the latest smartphone. She doesn’t beg to attend Taylor Swift concerts or sleepover parties. She doesn’t engage in manicures and pedicures, Alex and Ani bracelets, gossip, selfies, or—mercifully—boys.
For me, this is bittersweet. In some ways, when you have a teenager with autism, it is easier not to have to deal with the expense and drama that comes along with these “typical” things. But sometimes, when other moms are talking about the most recent concert all the girls are “dying to go to” or the big party that my daughter wasn’t invited to attend, I can’t help but feel that my daughter has been slighted.
As I stood in the doorway still reeling from that unanticipated rejection, I tried to wrap my mind around the enormity of what it meant. My God, I thought, isn’t this how a teenage girl is supposed to react when her mother tries to kiss her in public? After an extended and exuberant victory dance, the “typical” mom questions set in: Does she still love me? Is she ashamed of having me as a mother? Does she even want to be my daughter anymore?
Well, of course she does. It’s just that at this point in her life, she doesn’t want her friends to know how much she still adores me. I remember when I was her age and felt the same way. This is just a normal part of growing up. So I put on my big-girl panties and headed to Target for a little retail celebration while my daughter went off to school. I was confident that later that evening she would accept a kiss from her mom—when none of the kids on the bus were around to see.
And hey, I’ll take it.
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