What I Want To Say To My Almost Teenager (But Don't)
This morning started with an argument, as seems to happen more often lately. It was over something silly, as is also the case most times. There were tears and slammed kitchen drawers. And eventually you stormed out in a huff to get on your bike to ride to school.
As soon as you left, I felt both relief and regret. Relief that the argument was over. Regret that we had argued, that you left with anger lingering between us.
And then, just as I was about to open the window to call out “I love you!,” you opened the door and lunged into my arms.
“I’m sorry, Mom,” you said. “I love you.”
I held you a little tighter than usual. “I’m sorry,” I said. “I love you too.”
But there was so much more I wanted to say. So much more I want to say – every day — but I don’t.
This is unchartered territory, my friend.
You tell me that I’m easier on your younger brother than I am on you, and maybe that’s true. But you are my first, and I have no means of comparison. I have no frame of reference to reassure me that, yes, this is just a phase and no, I don’t need to flip out. With him, I have the comfort of experience to assure me (albeit ever so slightly) that things will probably be okay.
But with you, well, I just don’t know. This is all new territory, and I’m so damn scared of falling short.
I see your goodness and kindness, but also your privilege. And I feel the weight and obligation of ensuring that is kept in check so that your privilege doesn’t morph into entitlement. So I rail against the “boys with be boys” mentality with an iron fist, and sometimes you are caught in the crosshairs. Sometimes you are the unintended victim of my rage at the inequalities and injustices of the world and my desperate attempts to right the wrongs of generations past. And so I obsess about seemingly insignificant things and talk too much about stuff you already know.
You are a sweet and sensitive soul, but as a white male, things will always be easier for you than they are for many other people. They just will. It’s your responsibility to use those comforts to make things better for others. And I am just so terrified that, as your mom, I won’t do a good enough job of teaching you this.
Basically, I’m terrified. All the time.
When you were a newborn, we used to spend late afternoons dancing. Anyone looking in on us would have thought, how sweet, a new mom swaying with her baby. But what they wouldn’t have known was that I did this with you simply because I didn’t know what else to do. I was exhausted and lonely and scared and didn’t know what to do with a 2-month-old baby. So we put on music and danced.
And sometimes I feel the same way now. You are just about 12 years old, and I feel a similar sense of exhaustion, loneliness, and fear. I don’t know what to do with an almost teenager, just like I didn’t know what to do with a newborn. And like in those early days of motherhood, I spend most days fending off a mild terror that I’m screwing this all up somehow.
You see, what parents don’t tell their kids – and don’t even admit to each other sometimes – is that we have no idea what we’re doing. Sure, we feel more comfortable with some decisions and we learn to trust our gut a bit, but there is always an undercurrent of fear. There are always the perpetual questions of: What should I do? Am I doing enough? Did I make the right decision?
Because through all the fear and arguments and regrets, there is this one truth:
I am absolutely in awe of you.
I am in awe of who you are and who you are becoming. I am in awe of your joyful laughter. I am in awe of your quiet confidence in who you are.
I am in awe of your seemingly effortless way of captivating a room of people, and interacting with others. I am in awe of the whole-hearted way you love your family and friends and life. I am in awe of your steady way of walking through the world.
And because of this, I’m terrified of not doing right by you.
But I don’t tell you this.
Why? Well, I don’t know if you’d understand. I don’t know if it even matters, or if it’s just parental fretting.
But, really, you would understand. It does matter. And it’s not parenting fretting.
So mostly, I don’t tell you, because I just don’t know how.