Last week Elena and I found ourselves sitting across from a cheerful fellow. Eager to shake my hand, he introduced himself as the man who would see us through to Elena’s graduation from high school. He’s her high school counselor, and we were there to schedule her freshman classes. He must be completely immune to the look of panic in parent’s eyes at this first introduction. I can assure you it was there, and it didn’t phase him one bit.
I’ve long been a fan of the mantra “The days are long and yet the years are short.” Lately, however, I feel a strong urge to change it up a bit: “The days are short and the years are even shorter.” I’m not upset to find myself here, in my 40s with a high schooler. It’s how this parenting thing works, after all, and it’s much better than the alternative of not making it to this point in one piece. I just want to make sure we get through this next phase in one piece, too. I want to do it well, ensure smooth sailing, and make sure we don’t want to claw each other’s eyes out when it’s all said and done. Basically, I want complete and utter control of the situation, which isn’t how this parenting thing works.
Parenting a teenager feels like learning choreography to a dance where the moves keep changing. Up up left back. Repeat. No! It’s up up left front! God, mom! (Cue eye roll and annoyed sigh.) Even when you get it right, you’ll end up wrong a few beats later. When you get the moves right you’re elated. We’re doing it! We’re making it look so easy – isn’t this fun? And then you say something in the wrong tone, or they do something super boneheaded, and you’re stepping on each other and falling on your asses.
I was enamored with parenting books when my children were small, and then they all but disappeared from my nightstand. Now they stack up and tumble over, their titles an insight into what’s plaguing my soul and turning my hair grey: How to Hug a Porcupine, The Secrets of Happy Families, Unspoiled, Untangled. I used to be obsessed with picky eating and crafting the perfect sleep schedule. Now I want to shout at my old self: It doesn’t matter!!! Who cares if they eat peas or took good naps? It matters that they don’t end up in jail or dancing around a pole. Where’s that book, hmm?
But there is no book that will magically get me through these years. Nor is there a magic formula, a sure-fire method or a guarantee. She’s her own person, who will make her own choices. We’re her parents, who are doing the best we know how. There’s only one guarantee: she’ll screw up and so will we. We’ll love her and embarrass her and remind her that we have her back. She’ll love us and embarrass us and say awful things about us to her friends behind our backs. That’s how this parenting thing works.
I hated junior high and truly enjoyed high school. It’s where I found friendships that still endure, first love, and opportunities to pursue passions that still bring me joy. Elena’s face lit up when the counselor suggested an alternate class for her, one that speaks to her love of creating and performance. She’s a good kid, and I feel pretty sure that she’ll find her own way in high school. I also feel pretty sure that it will be completely unlike the way Mike and I experienced high school, or what we imagined for her.
By the time I walked out of that meeting with the counselor, my panic was gone. I can’t believe we’re here, for sure, but at the same time I’m so glad we’re here. When we’re not tripping over each other, we’re having a good time. I enjoy her company and she makes me laugh. She’s going to be leaving us sooner, rather than later, and that will probably suck. And then we’ll move on to the next phase and wonder if we’re doing it right. Same partner, different song, completely different moves. That’s how this parenting thing works.