My firstborn Emilia turns 13 today — teenage official — and she is already the picture of a modern teen. Often she can be found with AirPods in her ears, listening to the latest alternative music that she found on a social media site, or watching an anime series through Hulu, then discussing it with friends on a group video call. She doesn’t like to wake up for school, but loves the socialization and her music classes when she arrives. She toggles between wearing flowery rompers or men’s shirts tucked into jean shorts. She’s asked more than once about dying her naturally beautiful blonde hair, or shaving it off completely. I fully expect her to emerge from our bathroom one day with one or the other accomplished.
Yet in her experimentation, she is confident. Much more confident than I was at her age — and in some ways, much more confident than I am now. She does not shape her world view based on what others think — about life, or even about her. She reads a lot. She questions a lot, out loud. She is kind but speaks her mind when she feels someone is stepping on her toes, or the rights of another.
She is smart and funny, revealing new slivers of wit at every turn.
When I think back on her childhood to this point, this teen version of her makes sense. Sure, she may brood a little more now and smile less often than that four-year-old who loved EVERY song, EVERY movie, EVERY book — but her spirit of curiosity and desire to KNOW things, and people, is a mainstay of her personality. Sometimes I see “me” in the way she acts (her voice is getting eerily close to mine) but most of the time, I see someone I would never have met if she hadn’t been set in my arms moments after she wriggled free of me. I’m grateful every day for the gift of this child, this teen, this astounding human in my life.
There’s something about reaching teen age, as a parent, that feels like a personal milestone, too. After years of playing by the rules, and listening to the voices around you for guidance, you start stepping out on the plank of confidence a little more. You start to question what you’ve always thought, and been taught, about parenting — particularly a teenager — and you form your own opinions, say what’s on your mind when needed, and awkwardly try to stretch your own boundaries as a parent, and a person. You advocate more for your child, and for other children, and for yourself. You start to ask internal questions such as “Yeah, why IS it that way?” and try on new aesthetics in your parenting style.
Unlike the teenager you are raising, however, as a parent you feel more comfortable in your own skin than you ever have in the past. You’ve made it this far, Mama, you’ll make it through whatever comes next. You know that the rough patches always pass — some of them longer than others. Similarly, you are more aware that the phases of childhood also pass, and quickly, and that each poignant moment is just that: a moment.
The child you are raising will not be the same person tomorrow. So you start to savor the moments a little more. You stop saying things like “hurry up” in the morning when she’s taking too long to find her shoes and ask her about her next band concert instead. You laugh when they make a silly mistake, reminding them that nothing they can ever do will change how much you adore them. You reserve your lectures for the really big things and just listen the rest of the time. When they say something that changes your mind about a long-standing belief of yours, you tell them “thank you.”
So bring on the teenage years, full of so much to explore and try on. I look forward to what we can learn together.