Jenny Knaak: Staying on the platform
September 21, 2018
To all my friends with small children: Be warned. This will happen to you.
One day, you will wake up to find your sweet, silly, chubby-faced toddler has become a surly, sour, acne-faced adolescent. Gone will be the face-crushing kisses, replaced by cold indifference.
No longer will they go skipping happily to their school friends and beloved teacher — they will grumpily shuffle to the car for a zero-hour class (one you lobbied unsuccessfully to have them drop), and tumble out without so much as a "Thank you" as you try to navigate through the pot hole-ridden, teenage driver-filled parking lot, hoping to escape without incident.
You will have a high-schooler. And you will wonder when they grew up. You will think "God, I'm so old. But I don't FEEL old…" Then your teenager will play their preferred music, and you will think, "I don't think this is actually music. This. Is. Appalling. Oh My God — I've become MY MOTHER!"
You will shake your head, and think, "Where did the time go?"
You blinked. In geological time, it's not even the time it takes for a tear to roll down a face, let alone a glacier carve a canyon. Yet, here you are, with this seismic shift in reality.
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And I'll tell you a secret. It's really not as terrible as you think it will be.
Teenagers are hilarious. They are so incredibly self-centered, it's hard to not laugh at them. But you won't. You will let them talk about themselves incessantly. Until you grow weary of it all and turn on NPR, much to their dismay.
The drama rivals telenovela — HE said this about HER, and then SHE told her friends about HIM, and then HER friend told HIS friend… It will take you right back to the drama and trauma of your own high school experiences. And you will feel this enormous surge of gratitude towards your parents, for having putting up with your own version of a Latin American soap opera.
You're convinced you will be The Cool Parent. Letting them program your car radio, driving their friends to school functions, saying funny things during the car ride. Funny To You. No one else in the car laughs. Oh no. You are not cool. Ugh.
You will try to be involved. Just like in elementary school, you will volunteer for school functions. But this time, your adorable offspring won't squeal in delight when s/he sees you. Now, you'll receive an eye roll. Maybe a scowl. If you're lucky, you will remain as invisible as your child wishes you were.
But, while you're there, you'll hear all sorts of amazing things. You'll hear how sweet, and helpful, and thoughtful your child is. Hmmm … who is this creature the other moms and teachers are talking about? The adolescent in your home sulks and grumbles when you suggest doing the dishes — this other wunderkind who volunteers to help others is an alien to you. But you nod, and smile. And hope you'll see this changeling at your home.
Sometimes it will all pay off. Once in a blue moon, your offspring will say "Thank you" in a way that makes you believe their sincerity. They will call you, desperate, begging for a forgotten item to be dropped off at the office. And later, they won't actually voice their appreciation for your willingness to put aside your own schedule, but they will casually drop into the dinner conversation when so-and-so forgot his assignment, the teacher really came down on him.
Don't get me wrong — it isn't always rewarding or pleasant. You might mention that it looks like they dribbled toothpaste on their shirt, and your offspring will go from seemingly normal to possessed by demons in 1.4 seconds. Yelling, accusations and foot stomping will ensue. And you'll try to keep your cool. Sometimes, you'll fail. But you'll try. I have a friend who likes to say, "They're the ones on the roller coaster. It's your job to stay on the platform." I urge you to remember this — they will loop-de-loop, go up and down and backwards, but in no time at all, they will return to the platform, and walk calmly by.
And as fun as your little ones are right now, and I know, they really are … the high-schooler can be even better. You no longer have to watch your language in front of them — and the first time you catch them swearing, you'll want to write it on the calendar. They will watch some of the same television shows, and actually understand the jokes. And they will transform into someone you can see yourself being friends with — not quite yet, but sometime in the future.
You thought when they were infants, and you held them in your arms, the crushing, overwhelming love you felt for them would be the end of you. You didn't know. You didn't think how paralyzing it would be to put them behind the wheel of a car. To hear about their first kiss. To hold their hand through their first devastating loss.
You didn't completely comprehend when you said "I want to have a baby," it meant "I'm going to be responsible for raising a human. And unleashing them on the world." And you will lay awake at night, hoping you haven't screwed it up. At least, not too much.
You will find yourself in my shoes. You will be standing on the precipice of your child's adulthood, hoping you've done enough. Hoping you've laid enough of a foundation for them to make good choices while they navigate the insane teenage amusement park. Hoping they have enough maturity to face the challenges ahead of them, without you by their side. Hoping they will still call you for help, even when they are miles away. Hoping they still lay next to you on the couch, and fill you in on the drama of their day, any day, especially Sunday in the Park.
Jenny Knaak, guest columnist, is the daughter of Teri Orr, the customary author of "Sunday in The Park."
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