I’m a card-carrying baby person. You know the type—the kind of mom who turns into a cooing heap of melty-hearted goo whenever a baby comes into view.
I love them when they’re tiny and helpless, when their necks are floppy and their limbs are jelly. I love the way their eyes are deep and knowing and how their heads smell so sweet and fit just right under my chin.
“Give me all the babies,” is a phrase on regular rotation in my vocabulary, and I truly mean it. It’s probably why, at pushing 40, my husband and I just had another baby—our fifth one—but that’s probably a story for another day.
I love babies. I can’t help it.
But there’s a rather uncomfortable reality I’m being forced to accept lately: those babies—even when you have enough of them to roster your own basketball team—turn into actual teenagers.
(Insert gulp and my slightly terrified wide eyes here.)
See, I fancy myself to be a decently good-ish mom of littles. Just last night I deciphered a particular cry to mean the baby had to burp, and not five seconds after my husband hoisted said baby upright, he burped. I may have taken a bow (sadly, no one clapped). Babies, I get.
I’d even say I manage the little kid stage with a solid B-average. I know how to potty train, how to redirect a toddler on the brink of meltdown, how to do the silly Grover voices in “The Monster at the End of This Book.”
Lord have mercy.
The hormones and the mood swings and the learning to drive and the eye rolls and the staring at a person who is suddenly my height and looks nothing like the baby I gave birth to only yesterday—?!
It’s wild. I’m officially a fish out of water.
Our eldest, a 13-year-old daughter, is a few hours away at a volleyball camp this week. Thanks to Life360, I knew she and the friends she hitched a ride with arrived safely, but I didn’t hear a peep from her that whole first day.
“Have you heard from your girl?” I texted one of the other moms late that night.
“Yes, we talked on the phone a while ago,” she responded.
“Not a word here. Guess that’s a good thing?” I write back with my favorite crooked face emoji. I read the exchange to my husband, mindlessly scrolling on his phone next to me, completely unaffected. He shrugged. “She’s fine,” he said.
But what about me?
I don’t know how to do this part.
Do I send a casual “How’s it going?” Ask about the knee that’s been bothering her lately? Is that too much? Are the other moms calling to check up on their daughters?
I know how to put Band-Aids on skinned knees, not how to let go in these undefined increments that feel, somehow, really big.
Maybe that’s the secret no one dares whisper as our kids grow into teens: we don’t actually know what the heck we’re doing. Some of us just fake it better than others.
I’m doing my best to keep up and let her lead where it makes sense, to balance the space she wants with the support she still needs. I listen when she talks. I help her see her strengths when she doubts. I still hug her whenever I can.
But it’s so much more complex than mothering the baby in my arms. When she cries, I can’t fix it with a snuggle or a snack—and that’s hard. I’m figuring out how to be the mother of a teenager as we go along. I suppose she’s figuring out her part too.
After the house was asleep on that first night of camp, my phone chirped on the nightstand. It was her. My girl.
“Goodnight. Love you. Tell Dad I said that too.”
I’m sure we’re going to have plenty of missteps over the next few years, the two of us as mother and daughter. We’ll push each other’s buttons, cry frustrated tears, and work through hard feelings and big, confusing emotions.
But we’ll figure it out together, these teenage years. And I have a feeling we’ll find some unexpected beauty in the journey.
Turns out I’m becoming a teenager person after all.