I don’t think I’m going to survive the teenage years. I know this is the same thought that millions of parents have had throughout the ages, but it’s going to be me. I’m going to be the case study that will be used to teach other parents about to embark on this roller coaster ride that is adolescence.
For years while my children were younger, my mother-in-law would tell me that each of her three children had left home one day to be replaced by aliens. Aliens who looked and sounded like her children, but who bore little resemblance to the children she had loved their entire lives.
I would laugh, and she would laugh, but there was always a wistful glint in her eyes, and a slight sadness and longing in her voice as she spoke of that time. Then she would give her head a little shake and warn me, “Just wait. You’ll see.”
I was naïve enough to think that it would never happen to me.
Oh, how wrong I was.
We’ve been in the teenage years for over four years now. Our oldest is 17, followed by a 15-year-old, and twin 13-year-olds. We have been relatively lucky with the eldest; he seems to have sidestepped most of the teen angst that strikes just after that 13th birthday rolls around. He just moves through the world, following his own beat, and not really caring much about what others think of him. There have been a few father/son talks about girls, school, and what the future might hold for him, but other than that, he’s been relatively easy to deal with as teenagers go.
The 15-year-old, always considered the “calm” one in the family, is starting to show signs of hormones going into overdrive. Outside of the house, she is friendly, outgoing, kind, generous, and giving. She is finding her voice, even if that voice sometimes screeches so loudly that even the dogs run for cover. However, where once my beautiful little girl couldn’t wait to share every single thing about her day with me, I now have to play detective and drag the answers from her.
Then there are the twins.
We’d been told that, because they are fraternal, our twins would be as similar as any other brother and sister. The likelihood of them sharing that “twin” bond that identical twins seem to have would be low. They would interact the way other siblings do.
When they were born, life became chaotic and messy, a blur of diaper changes and feedings, all while trying to ensure the two older children didn’t feel neglected or abandoned. But they could be put into cribs or playpens, where they could be safely contained (read: they couldn’t wreak havoc). For a few short months, the “lump” stage as my husband and I were fond of calling it, these two slept in the same crib, co-existing peacefully. This lasted until the afternoon they were taking a nap, and I went in to check on them. The youngest, our sweet baby boy, was kicking his sister in the head as they slept. I called my husband in, and we moved the babies apart, only to watch as our son moved back into position so he could begin kicking our baby girl again.
Not much has changed in the 13 years since, with one exception. Now, the sweet little girl fights back, and she’s not so sweet all the time.
These four young people used to get along so well that strangers would comment on their interactions. We would regularly be asked how we could manage four children so close in age. We would laugh lightly and reply, “Oh, it’s not so hard. They get along really well. It’s like they are their own club.”
I knew that each of them was unique, that they all had separate personalities, and that, some day, those personalities might clash.
I was not prepared for the all-out warfare that is sometimes waged between them. Nor was I ready for the rolling eyes, the sarcastic tones in their voices when they speak to us or to each other, or for the closed bedroom doors so they can have privacy. I wasn’t ready to be rebuffed when I try to hug them, or for the one word answers when I ask about their day. Nor was I prepared for the infuriatingly insolent looks my babies would point in my direction when they want to tell me off, but don’t use their words to do so.
I wasn’t ready to hear, “As long as you live under our roof, you will follow our rules,” or the infamous, “Because I said so!” and I’ve recoiled from the shock of hearing my own mother and father come rolling out of my mouth.
I’ve read that the logical part of the brain is not fully developed in humans until we reach our early twenties. This is something I need to constantly tell myself when the questions of “Where should I put this?” come at me and I want to scream, “In the garbage can!” Where else would you put the garbage? I want to ask them. I shake my head when the standard response is, “Oh. Yeah.” I mutter darkly, “You know, there is a reason why some animals destroy their young,” a statement that my children find amusing, little realizing some days how close they are to Mama completely losing her mind.
They don’t seem to know that the hormonal swings that affect them, making them sweet and kind one minute and screaming banshees the next, make me want to run into my closet and hide. Or how much strength it takes to simply stand there and tell them that I love them, even as I face the scathing retorts of “No, you don’t,” because computers and television sets are not allowed in their bedrooms. (We have explained that part of our reasoning for that rule is that we fear we would never see them again.)
When they were younger and sometimes angry with me, they would yell at me, “You’re not my friend anymore!” and I would agree with them, telling them, “No, we are not friends. I am your mother. We can be friends when you’re grown up.” They’re still too young for us to be friends, and I don’t want to be one of their peers. They still need my husband and I to be their parents. They need to feel that safety net of knowing that we will be there for them, to catch them and help them if life gets messy, even as they try to push us away while they try to grow up.
Some day, my husband and I will be mourning the loss of these days. All too soon, the house will be too quiet, rooms will be cleaned and stay that way for weeks on end, the fights over who gets to use the bathroom first in the morning will be done, and I will wander from room to room wondering where on earth the time has gone. I will stare at their pictures on the walls, desperate for another chance to hold them in my arms while they sleep. I will look back on their fighting and the chaos, and I will smile, wishing I had it to do all over again.
So while the aliens seem to have the upper hand right now, I know that somewhere inside those familiar yet changing faces are the glorious children I have been gifted.
As long as I don’t actually eat them, we might just survive after all.