Some days are hard

A triptych of memories, circa 2008:

Lauren chose 9:30 p.m. on a Sunday night, the last day of February break, to bring us the sheet of paper.

Modigliani's Woman with Red Hair

Modigliani's Woman with Red Hair

"I'm supposed to have a conversation with you."

Distracted by Jon Stewart's Oscar banter, I faintly register her request but fail to respond.
"Like, by tomorrow. It's due tomorrow in Health."
"Okay...let me see what it is."

The form lists five questions that students are supposed to discuss with parents about sex and birth control: How should teenagers show affection for each other? Should a couple have sex if they love each other and are going to get married? If a teen is sexually active, what kind of birth control should she use? Etcetera.

This is not the conversation I want to have, on demand, on Oscar night at 9:30. Keep in mind we have had nine unscheduled, unhurried days of vacation before this. I sigh.

"I already know the answers to most of these. We've talked about this before" she says hopefully. "Maybe we don't need to talk about it and you can just sign the sheet."
This is true, although we haven't explicitly discussed birth control. I imagine a pregnant child, blaming her parents' cluelessness: They couldn't be bothered. The Oscars were on.

So we talk, our glances not quite meeting for most of it. One commercial break, Greg screamingly silent on the other sofa.
As she heads for bed, she says "don't worry, I'm not planning on doing anything like this anytime soon."

Silence in the wake of her departure.

Greg asks, "Did she say 'not anytime soon'? Because I was hoping to hear 'not planning on anything like this ever'." I'm just thinking why didn't I turn off the t.v. and spend a little more time? What's so difficult about that?

. . .

Most of my interactions with Sam are still instrumental.

Bruegel's Child's Games

Bruegel's Child's Games

Where are my church shoes? What are we having for dinner? Will you help me with this song? Will you play a game with me? Comb my hair? Check my homework?

These things I can do, can check off as positive indicators for the parenting balance sheet.

Although yesterday, when he hollered up from the kitchen "Can you cut my bagel for me?" I admit I actually weighed the probability of a lacerated palm (if I had him try it himself) versus a few more peaceful moments of reading before I replied a delayed "okay." Even the simple things are hard some days, their grinding dailiness overpowering my ability to rise to the occasion.

. . .

I wake up to a small sound at midnight, my Miss Clavell-like mother sensors detecting something is not right. There it is again--a soft sniffle, a low moan. Is someone crying? I shuffle into the hallway, blurry from the scant hour of sleep and still half in my dream.

Michelangelo's Pieta

Michelangelo's Pieta

Maddy is crying--a soft, forlorn sob that breaks my heart.

I scoot her over a bit to make room for myself under the covers of her twin bed. I fit my legs into the angle of hers {and note fleetingly how her legs have stretched longer in the last few months} and wrap my arms around her. She spills out her worries and disappointments that have been building under her cheerful 12-year-old exterior. Loneliness, jealousy, fear, nostalgia already for her simpler elementary school days, friend troubles, sister troubles, dashed expectations for the glorious experiences she thought would be hers at 12--these are all soured by their proximity to each other and by the late dark lonely hour.

There was a time when my midnight ministrations were easier, when, blurry eyed, I could provide milk and nearness and that was enough to satisfy her nighttime needs. Now my role isn't resolving or satisfying but simply witnessing & waiting while she resolves for herself.

Yep. Some days are hard. While Nest & Launch is mostly about emphasizing the enjoying part of life with big kids and teens, we also want to be clear: some days are just breathtakingly, bone-achingly hard. We won't dwell there but we won't shy away from that reality either. Two-year-old tantrums somehow seem cuter than 13-year-old ones. Big kid problems--hey, even just the moments of basic mid-stage parenting--feel more personal and seem to carry higher stakes.  I get that. 

Looking back on that week in 2008, I want to put my arm around that anxious, melancholy Annie and say, "Breathe, sweetheart. Lighten up on yourself. And them. It'll pass. That's the bitter and the sweet news of all this. It'll pass." 

Yesterday Cathy Zielske talked about the challenging parts of parenting teens.  Now it's your turn: What challenges do you find unique to mid-stage parenthood? What would you tell the five-years-ago version of yourself now that you know what you know?