Thursday, January 26, 2012

tweens, teens and the empty nest

Walking into the grocery store the other day, Olivia slipped her hand self-consciously out of mine.

I sighed (or gasped?) inaudibly.  It was the first time she'd ever let me go.  You know what I mean, the growing up kind of letting go.

That's not all.  Skinny jeans, curling iron, and the worst:  an occasional stiffness to her hugs that tells me she's humoring me.


I have already been thinking about this:  about the beginning of the end.  It occurred to me at New Year's that we only have three Christmases left before Gareth leaves for college.


After that landmark, we'll still spend holidays together (I hope), but they will be different--not part of his official childhood.  I'm not ready for my kids to simply visit on the holidays, for our family traditions to become nostalgic reenactments of what we used to do instead of simply what we're doing. Will that happen?

What about the traditions I haven't gotten around to yet?  We never did make a paper chain for the tree, and what about the family heritage night I wanted to hold every year?   And the wooden eggs we were supposed to paint on Easter?  I thought we'd end up with a big beautiful basket of them.  I think we have just four.

How did I go from  deliriously rocking a 3 week old infant while holding hot compresses to my infected breasts at the mind-numbing hour of 4am,  thinking I'd never sleep through the night or watch a movie from start to finish again, to  packing up the Christmas ornaments with the empty nest looming ominously on the not-so-distant horizon?

I have always cherished my kids' milesones, feeling more proud than sad as they have moved through the various phases of childhood.  I didn't expect to feel this way.

Maybe this is why teenagers treat their parents so badly.  It's a gift!  They need to break the bond.  Well, not break it, but stretch it, make it more pliable.  By generally refusing to talk to us, scoffing at our every word, rolling their eyes, complaining incessantly, and setting world records for huffing noises emitted during a 5 minute car ride to school, they prepare us. 

Teens motivate parents to say things like: "College can't come soon enough!"  I admit I'm new to the teen years and am not quite there yet (more abuse needed, I guess!), but I hear prospective empty nesters say this all the time. 

If our children continued to press their pudgy cheeks to ours; if their feet always felt like cotton and smelled like powder; if they never ceased to bring us their artwork, jump into our arms from the school bus, or steal into our beds in the early morning hours wearing fuzzy footy pajamas that beg to be cuddled, how would we ever let them go?

The next time Gareth acts rudely, telling me, "Mom, you have no idea what you're talking about," or the more charming, "Whatever!" I'll have to remember to thank him for helping to prepare me for his inevitable departure! 

Meanwhile, by the time we finished at the grocery store, Olivia had forgotten that she'd grown up (I guess that's why they call it the "tweens").  We walked hand in hand back to the car, her unconscious of any change, me recording every detail of her fingers curled in mine, taking all I could get while the getting was still good.

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