But then I spent a week in Hot Springs, Arkansas with a family who has an actual teenager. A high schooler even. And it dawned on me that maybe it won't be so bad. I saw the joys and benefits or having a teenager around. Cheap babysitting was the first thing that came to mind of course. More subtly and far more rewarding is that you're ever closer to seeing who they will become. Don't get me wrong there's a lot of growth left to do (although at 6'5" I really hope there's not much more physical growth for Eamon). We spend so much time dreaming about our kids as grown ups. From the time they are little babies preferring one toy over another, to the sports and activities they pursue in grade school. It's a fascinating way to occupy the imagination. Wonder is one of the great parts of parenting.
Teenagers are so close. They have their own thoughts and ideas, ways of talking, wit, maturity. It's still too early to tell if they'll be bankers or doctors, but they are actual people in a way younger kids just don't seem to be. And it is a time to marvel at the culmination of your influence and DNA. It can be a time of great pride. There is also this:
A side effect of those independent thoughts and feelings is a mild and loving contempt for adults. Which, having spent a week with this behavior, (granted I'm not his parents and I'm sure they have much more to say on the subject) is more amusing than hurtful. All those eye rolls and condescension are just more examples of them defining themselves. It's a way of saying I do not like this, not I do not like you. An important distinction. This is quite easy to see from the outside. It's charming even. I must remember this when I'm in the middle of it and wishing my kids could just be nice to me for one day. One.day. (That's one of my simpler teenager fears.)
By contrast they still have a kid sitting smack in the middle of the sweet spot. He still needs his parents for comfort and identity. Sure he has desires and interests and a very clear personality, but he's still unabashedly devoted to his parents and to his family. His world is secure and he's thriving inside it, not yet stretching his neck out to the future. Why do that when everything he needs is right here?
Again, the gift of looking from the outside is that it helps me see my own life more clearly. I worry, I ruminate, I get lost in minutia, I don't always see them without judgement or realize my impact. But seeing this sweet spot from the outside I see the way Eliot looks adoringly at his parents, or tries to keep step, or feels so much pride to be attached, to be one of them. And they take him lovingly in stride and it is so sacred. Their wise mother told me, "You have to look beyond words for I love yous." It reminds me of Momestary's blog post on Kairos time. It's so hard to see our importance when we're on the inside of our bubble. But it is as simple as this - they need us, they love us, and they, at this sweet age, want to be like us. It is both an intimidating responsibility and an enormous privilege.