Growing Pains

They're growing up.  It's inevitable.

They’re growing up. It’s inevitable.

When you’re pregnant, people say, “Enjoy your sleep while you can!”  When they’re babies, people say, “Enjoy it before they’re mobile!”  When they’re toddlers, people say, “Enjoy it before they start talking back!”  When they’re in preschool, people say, “Enjoy it before the friend problems start!”  When they’re in elementary school, people say, “Enjoy it before they’re teenagers!”  But when they’re in middle school, well all that “enjoy it” shit comes to a screeching halt.

Why do people say these things anyway?  Is it to give you pause, make you think?  Is it to make themselves feel better?  Or is it so you can look back and say how fucking brilliant they were?   By the way, it’s not really a loving little tidbit meant to engage you in the present.  It’s a reminder that they have laid the groundwork, you are the novice and your happy little life is about to get a kick in the ass.   In any event, you won’t find many middle school parents telling you to enjoy it.  Sure, it’s the last rodeo before teenager-hood sets in.  But it is a road paved with tricky twists and turns. It was formed from the anxiety that you experienced not so long ago.  After walking this road for about a week now, I’ve decided that I need to pull over.  I need to regroup.

In my house, we’ve had our share of nervous excitement, first day jitters and existential preteen drama.  What I was unprepared for, what I am still unprepared for as a parent to this day, is how completely and fully I inhabit their experience.  After my first heartbreak, I remember my mom telling me, “As a mom, when you hurt, I hurt.  When you’re sad, I’m sad.”  As a fully realized teenager, I of course shrugged it off.  How could she possibly know how I feel?  She is old.  She is married.  She is boring.  But as the years pass, it becomes clearer and clearer.  She was right.

In a 2013 article published in the journal Neuroscience, saliva samples were obtained from middle schoolers who were making the tough transition from elementary school.  As it happens, their saliva is chock full of cortisol-meaning they are in a state of stress where their brain is having to intervene to try and achieve some calm.  In addition, a preteen’s brain is way more focused on emotional processing than logical reasoning.  Uh-huh.  I see you all nodding.  This is referring to the moment when your preteen’s head literally explodes in front of you and you are left wondering, “who the hell is this person?”  All of a sudden, when everything seemed to be going along swimmingly, you are having to set boundaries, delineate rules and establish order.  And guess what?  Despite the fact that chaos is ruling your home, it’s all perfectly normal.

There’s nothing like novelty to get your brain supercharged.  Some people thrive on newness.  They get bored when things are all routine and predictable.  They need intrigue and new ideas to explore.  I am not one of those people.  And guessing from the talk of the suburbanites around me, we are all feeling a bit challenged.  Yesterday at a mom gathering at a friend’s house, some of the moms were wondering where their child had gone and who was that stranger now occupying their body?  (Here is where I apologize to parents of younger children.  I won’t be that bitch who says, “Enjoy it!  Before your kid gets to middle school!”) Last night, my husband astutely told me I was in supermom mode right now, but that it was temporary and everything will normalize soon.  It’s all gonna be fine.  I tried to believe him.

But it wasn’t until today while talking to my wise friend Tami that it all came together.  She was talking about how she had left a note on her daughter’s bed before she left for work.  Without knowing the exact wording, essentially it said the following:  I’m sorry.  I love you.  This is a transition for me, too.  She acknowledged that she was going through this as well.  We are in this together.  I’m not perfect, but you can count on me.  Isn’t that cool?

There are no easy answers, I suppose, although I wish there were.  There is great advice to read and be gained from your friends who have been there.  But, there is heartache ahead for your child, no matter who you are.  My daughter, who is too big for my lap, cuddled up in my lap last night.  She said, “When I was little and I had a nightmare, you told me it was okay and I wasn’t scared anymore.  Now I guess I have to do that myself.”  Sniffle, yes.  We can help.  We can listen (not to be confused with that other “L” word:  lecture).  Spend time with them without their siblings. Keep our shit together when she is losing hers.  Remind ourselves that their brains aren’t finished growing yet; that emotions often control their behavior.

And let her know, your lap is always there if she needs it.

Give her the goods, then let her go.

Give her the goods, then let her go.

Thanks to Barbara Paulsen, for the beautiful photos.  She has a high schooler and a middle schooler.  You should talk to her about it.  She’s a great mom.

Best. Summer. Ever.

Summer was awesome.  Writing?  Not so much.

Summer was awesome. Writing? Not so much.

Hello friends!  After a long hiatus, it feels good to be exactly here where you see this photo.  Back to thinking about you, me and the suburbs.

I don’t know if it’s the ages of our kids, the weather or some other cosmic transpiring, but so many of my fellow suburbanites have been saying it.  Maybe you, too.  “I didn’t want summer to end!”  This is the first time in my memory that I have actually been clutching on to summer with both hands, not willing to let it go.  Hence, the lack of posts.  I gobbled up as much time as possible with those curious little humans I call my children.  We camped, we hiked, we swam.  We rode on ships, kayaks, canoes and airplanes.  We celebrated their two birthdays.  We spent time, we wasted time and we killed time.  As I was fortunate to have to work very little this summer, I was able to do these things… I want to be with them while they still like me.  And while they can’t drive.

Also, as my kids and my friends’ kids get older, they are less dependent on us to make fun for them.  They do things to occupy themselves and there is not as much hands on care as there used to be.  For the entire summer, we just hung out.  I don’t remember yelling once nor a single utterance of “I’m bored.”  Bliss, I tell you!  For some of the other families I know with younger kids, I have heard those famous words, “school can’t come soon enough.”  But for the most part, it appears that summer was really magical.  And fleeting.

So…thought I’d share some things I notice around suburbia that signal fall is coming.  Like it or not.

  • that subtle browning of the leaves of tomato plants.
  • darkness at the end of soccer practice.
  • orange-spread over the face of growing pumpkins in the garden.
  • the thrill of pencils and binders and crisp loose leaf paper.
  • the crinkle of leaves under your step.
  • a gradual decline in the whoosh-whoosh sound of your neighbor’s sprinklers.
  • your neighborhood store has undergone a Halloween metamorphesis.
  • you reach for a sweater, or a hoodie with more regularity.
  • apples and pears ripen in the trees.
  • mums, kale and sunflowers are the showpieces at your local nursery.
  • life begins to feel more ordered and predictable.
  • warm and comfy shades of red, brown and orange make a reappearance.
  • you start thinking obsessively about boots you want (okay maybe that’s just me).

For those of you who have read my “September is the New January” post, you know I love to make a fresh start this time of year.  It’s the absolute perfect time to get your shit together.  Really.  What changes do you want to make?  For me, that pile of photographs needs to be sorted and placed into scrapbooks.  And most important to me right now is getting family dinners back on track.  Nothing wraps up the day better than sitting down to a home cooked meal where everyone gathers to share and reflect.  Oh, and also I would like to quit being hard on myself, do 5 pull-ups in a row, write in my journal,  and be more organized.  The end.

In the interest of full disclosure, I have a middle schooler this year.  All those Halloween displays with ghosts and goblins and zombies don’t hold a candle to the fear invoked while watching your child disappear behind the doors of your local middle school.  Now that is fucking scary.  It’s a rite of passage, you tell yourself when you see your child make an ill-advised clothing choice.  They have to make their own mistakes, you tell yourself when they forget their ID card and beg you to go home and get it.  We had a great summer, I say to myself when I start thinking that I somehow haven’t prepared her properly for this transition.  In the end, I know she’s a great kid and I know she’ll be fine.  Will she avoid be embarrassed, socially awkward or teased?  Probably not, altogether.  But I remind myself, this is not your experience, this belongs to her.  And I decide to enjoy it.  And go eat an apple.

Goodbye, summer.  Thank you.

Goodbye, summer. Thank you.

What signs remind you that fall is coming?

What are you going to do to get your shit together?

Thanks again to Barbara Paulsen at Mt. Hood Mama.  She gave me tons of gorgeous vacation photos, but this one is my favorite.