Friday, September 13, 2013

Toddlers to Teens

It's 9:30 pm and I pull up in front of the house.  It's dark and damp out, and I'm returning from choir practice, having missed Olesya and Matthew's first volleyball game of the season.  Several hours ago, Dominick drove off with the van full, headed toward Grand Junction, while I spent the next couple of hours blissfully alone in the house before heading off to another night of singing and laughter with the Sweet Adelines chorus.

Walking through the front door, Dominick tells me the kids all just headed off to bed, but within moments they find their way down the hall and to the kitchen, where we spend the next hour rehashing the game (it was bad!), the singing (it was good!), and Matt's Civil Air Patrol meeting (it was ok!).  Voices tumbled over one another, as we gathered, teased, and talked.

It was one of those moments...the kind where you smile at your life and send a prayer up as you sit filled with incredible gratitude.  Dominick is leaning on the counter behind, watching...listening...grinning.  He looks at me and says, "Mom's home!" as they all continue to go on sharing about their adventures of the afternoon.  I hear Olesya's perspective as she tells me it was not her best game, but she was happy because even though they lost, they all played together well as a team, better than they have in practice.  Angela is giggling up a storm as she talks about how Dad was goofing around during the game and kept her laughing the whole much so that she whacked her head on the wall behind her as she responded to one of his jokes.  Josh arrives on the scene, smelling Old Spice fresh, hair damp from his shower.  Matthew sits down and shows me his rug burn from the game, which was played on a carpeted surface.  I lean over and kiss it, look up at him, and that deep voice says, "Thanks Mom, now it's all better!" and we all find that hilarious.  Kenny starts laughing and can.not.stop. for some reason, and we all laugh because he is laughing.

There was nothing special about the hour we spent together, and yet there was everything special about it.  I am old enough, and wise enough, to know that these moments are missing from many families, and that the constant tension that fills the rooms of so many homes is more the norm than the scene before me.  There are families of teens who seldom speak to one another, doing nothing more than brushing shoulders as they pass one another in the hall on their way back to their bedrooms, where they live in isolation with technology and Facebook.  They emerge only to leave for school or activities, then cocoon again once they return, offering parents not much more than grunts or annoyed expressions at their attempts to engage their kids in conversation.

We are blessed, all of us.  Oh, we have days, just like everyone else, days where I complain about the dirty dishes that don't make it to the dishwasher, the brain death that seems to occur because of Teenage Syndrome, the four thousand six hundred and ninety one hairbands that I have to pick up that are magically migrating everywhere but to the bathroom.  There are days when we all need a break from one another, when school work is too challenging, when deficits are harder to work with, or when we just don't feel like doing anything that day.  We muscle through, we "kick bootie" as we like to say, we talk about the frustrations and we find solutions.  Basically, our motto is, "We Try".

We have conversations that are different, our experiences season our dialogue.  Genetics lessons are filled with references to the parents who are no longer parenting, and the questions of who we really are hang in the air above us, like empty cartoon speech balloons waiting for answers to fill them.  Frank discussions about Sex Ed are honest and direct, and as the days go on, they grow to contain the pain of abandonment, and contraception and abortion statistics take on new meaning.  We talk about mechanics and responsibilities, about choices and consequences.  They become more comfortable asking questions, and I become ever more grateful that these conversations are happening around our kitchen table rather than in a classroom, where morals are infused along with the information.  This isn't "The Talk", that happened long ago.  This is relationship training, this is reproduction explained in depth with visuals, this is conversation about sex that is not fear or guilt based, but is realistic, thorough, and is about so much more than naming body parts.  It is about recognizing choices that one day, not too far in the future, they will be making.  Much to the surprise of an outsider, I am sure, there is little blushing or discomfort, for this is little more than an extension of the work that has been going on since Day One.  Really, we are talking about Life...not Sex...and it is apparent to me as time goes on that they are all viewing it as that, which pleases me.

Years ago I had a specific hope for our family.  We had toddlers and preschoolers at the time, and I vividly recall hoping that as our kids grew older, we would somehow find a way to be close knit and that we wouldn't lose them to teen culture.  I hoped we would have Big Talks about Big Things, that our kids wouldn't automatically treat us with the usual disdain that arrives around 13 years old, and that we all would have a great appreciation for one another throughout our lives.  Our three older adoptees were a mere gleam in our eye at the time, when I had a conversation with someone that remains seared in my mind.  It went basically like this..."You're crazy, by about 10 your kids will push you away, and by 13 you are sort of done parenting.  You'll be lucky if they acknowledge your presence by the time they are 15, let alone have any meaningful conversations.  It'll never happen."  Wow, talk about a depressing forecast for our future!

And yet I knew how true that was in so many homes. I yearned for more for all of us.

Somehow, we pulled it off.  Some have said it is at great sacrifice, I vehemently do not see it that way.  It is at great gain!  Sure, we have had to give up a few things, but they are nothing of value.  Yes, we are probably stressed over money a lot, but who isn't?  If I were out working and bringing home a paycheck, I doubt that our financial concerns would change, it would just be over different things.

I get to be greeted warmly by our teenage children!  I get to spend my days with the most interesting people ever, engaged in the most interesting conversations I could ever wish for as we wrestle with Syria and the dehumanization of "the other" so that killing is easier, compare and contrast war with individual relationships,  and talk about how the cycle of poverty might be broken and why it is so difficult.  We read Maya Angelou together, we talk about the Green Lantern and his Super Powers, we dissect things both literally and figuratively.  We create, we write, we grow.  Most importantly, we stay deeply connected, and we imagine our futures.

Sometimes I wonder, do most parents walk through their life recognizing how fortunate they are?  Do they spend as much time in overwhelming gratitude for the kids that bless their lives?  Does a smile spring to their lips when their children cross their minds?  Do they often exchange looks with their spouse over the tops of their kids's heads as they listen to their excited talk about friends, sports, or comic book characters?  I do know we might be totally weird.  I recognize that being childless for the first 13 years of our marriage may make a tremendous difference in how we approach family life.  I do see how our kids may view family differently based upon their own prior lives.  But I hope, with all my heart, that most parents feel this way.  I hope, with all my heart, that there is as much joy in many families of teens as there is in families of toddlers.

Kenny summed it up somewhat humorously for me today as we drove home from yet another orthodontist appointment.  He was evidently feeling introspective this morning as out of the blue he said, "Mom, thank you for the dentist and my braces.  I was just thinking that most kids probably don't even think about saying thanks to their parents for something so expensive."  I said he was very welcome, and he grew quiet again for a moment, then said, "You know, Mom, we are all so lucky to have each other.  The circle of life is so cool, someday you and Dad might need help with your teeth, and maybe I'll be able to help with that.  That may sound silly, but I am glad our family is something we can all count on so we all have what we need.  But mostly, I am glad I am in a family where I can just be happy and we have fun."

So, as I contemplate with great gratitude that one day my son will eagerly purchase my dentures, I will rest easy, knowing I am loved!  

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Cindy, can you share your secret ? My deepest desire was for a family with laughter and joy, where the kids truely loved each other and enjoyed being with our family. My two oldest cannot stand the two youngest and the one in the middle is, well, in the middle. One minute hating the older kids and the next hating the younger ones. The younger ones adore the olders and the olders disdain each other