Remember when your child was just a tiny, little ball of warmth? Do you look back with fondness when he would sleep for hours, and you could keep him happy with milk, cuddles, and a stuffed froggy? Remember when your child took his first few steps and how you would worry he would fall and hit his head or bruise his little pink lips?

Or what about the first day of school, when you thought your heart was going to explode because you had to leave your first-born angel in a strange classroom with a bunch of other people’s children you did not know? Did you worry? Did you think to yourself that it couldn’t ever get any worse than that?

I wish I could tell you the worry stops as your child grows. I wish I could say as your child gets older, things settle down and you get more comfortable. But as they grow, our children become more independent. They have thoughts and feelings. They worry about grades, girls, sports, and friends. And there you are, mother of a teenager, and you have no idea what you are doing.

That’s where I am now.

I am the maker of dinners and the buyer of snacks.
I am the keeper of schedules and the chauffeur to all events and social activities.
I am the guard of hearts and the protector of feelings.
I am the dryer of tears.
I am the nurse and the comforter in times of sickness.
I am the worrier, the debater, the interrogator, the doubter, the cheerleader, the gift buyer, and the punisher.

I remember the days when neither of my boys cared about how their hair looked or what they wore to school. I marvel at the pictures I have of my youngest son playing in the yard wearing a stained t-shirt with his hair sticking up all over the place, remnants of his lunch still stuck to one side of his mouth, mud on his hands and knees. Now I’m told when he needs his hair cut, what brand of shoes to buy, the type of deodorant and cologne he wants me to pick up the next time I’m out running errands, and why he simply cannot and will not wear the blue shirt I bought him (it looks too “nerdy”), that costs more than I probably should have spent.

I’ve come to realize, now that both of my boys are teens, I absolutely, unequivocally, completely have no earthly idea what I am doing. And there are days I feel like I’m losing my mind.

Some mornings, they speak to me. Other mornings, it’s as if I’m the reason all things in life are difficult. One minute they need and want my advice, and then, in the time it takes for me to go into the kitchen and make them smoothies, I have become the stupidest woman on the planet. All my ideas are ridiculous, and I obviously do not understand what it is like to be a teenager. I’m too old, too out of touch, too “back in the day.”

And oh my, the first heartbreak is overwhelming! Imagine you have a son who guards his heart, and is so careful with whom he shares it. He opens it up for a sweet, pretty, lovely young girl, and she subsequently shatters said son’s heart into hundreds of tiny, little, sharp pieces, stomps on those pieces as he crumbles, and he comes home to you, with tears in his eyes, bewildered as to what in the world he did to deserve such betrayal.

At first, you hurt for him so badly your own heart breaks and you want to put him in a giant bubble and never let him out. Next, you hate the girl. You despise the girl, and you convince yourself the girl is some modern-day Medusa with fangs, bad breath, and a careless and cruel black heart. Obviously, she must have horrible, narcissistic parents who spoil their awful child and who have allowed her to run around aimlessly breaking the hearts of poor, young boys as she destroys almost all of humanity with her witch-like powers, and misplaced charm.

Then you realize there’s probably nothing wrong with the girl or her parents. She just isn’t interested in your son. And that hurts so much because your son is the most handsome, the sweetest, the kindest, and the smartest kid you have ever seen. How does she not see that? How could she not love your kid?

You console your beloved child with the typical phrases like, “there are so many other girls out there, you deserve better, she’ll be sorry, blah, blah, blah . . . ” But deep down you know nothing you can say will take away his pain and that, truly, only time can heal what has broken inside him. You realize that next time he’ll be even more protective of his vulnerable heart, and that he is now his is a bit jaded. You want to hold onto him with everything you have and protect him from all the evils in the world that are out there ready to hurt him over and over again. But you can’t. You know you can’t. He has to face all the demons alone, and learn how to deal with them in his own way. The pain is real, my friends. The worry is almost unbearable.

After you cry, rant, scream into a pillow while locked inside your closet, you come out, smile on your face, and you make your heartbroken offspring his favorite dinner, hug him close, and for that one small, brief moment, you are once again the only girl in his life he loves and trusts. You remind him you will always be there for him, and he tells you you are the best mom in the world. You go to sleep that night feeling better—like you must have done and said the right things.

The next morning, you make breakfast for your baby boys, and the oldest now hates eggs, the youngest doesn’t want french toast, he wants cereal. There is not any “good cereal” and all the juice you have in the stocked refrigerator “sucks”. Your youngest needs new shoes because his “feel cramped in the toe” and your oldest reminds you that you forgot to wash his dress shirt for that night’s basketball game.

You creep into the laundry room to wash the shirt, all the while fighting the urge to secretly give both of your beloved boys the finger behind their backs as they continue to complain about the smell of the dishes (seriously, apparently there are days when our plates and glasses smell funny?), and when you dare ask them to take out the garbage, all hell breaks loose.

Then, as if things couldn’t get any worse, your husband walks in to ask you why you spent so much money at Godiva the other day (it’s almost Valentine’s Day, and you bought chocolate hearts for everyone in the family, including him), and you immediately begin to grow horns, sprout fangs, your fingernails lengthen and become yellow, your voice drops seventeen octaves, and you shout, “BECAUSE I FREAKING WANTED TO!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!”, at decibels only detectable by rabid dogs, wild pigs, and husbands who say the wrong thing at the wrong time. As your husband winces and exits the laundry room, you have given in to temptation, your resolve weakens, and the middle finger rises, as if it is your only defense to combat the enemy which is the three unwise, ungrateful, and unappreciative men you call your family members.

In that moment, right as you are just about to lose every sane piece of mind you have left, your youngest son skips into the room, kisses you on the cheek, and says, “I love you, Mom.” He smiles as he takes a bite of a granola bar (the very brand he claimed was “disgusting” last week, mind you), grabs the clothes he needs for his gym class, stuffs them into his backpack, and walks out of the room.

“Who are these people?” you ask yourself. “What happened to the tiny, warm, happy, little nuggets I held so close to me when they were just babies? Why did they have to grow up?”

And then you realize they are just what you have taught them to be. They are learning. They aren’t always right. They don’t always behave. They make mistakes. They take risks. They are incredibly sweet one minute and moody and angry the next. They are human. They are all of us.

You know then that your job isn’t done. You’re not even close to the finish line. You still have work to do to teach them to be strong but compassionate, smart but tolerant, confident but kind. They still need you, maybe not like before, but just as much. It’s possible that now, they need you more than they ever have.

You put the washed dress shirt in the dryer, you tell your oldest it’s almost ready, and remind him that next time, he needs to wash the shirt himself if he wants to be sure it’s done when he needs it. You go into the kitchen and see that the garbage has been taken out and the plates, forks, knives, and glasses have all been neatly placed in the dishwasher and the cereal boxes have been put away.

You remind yourself it’s a process, and if you really take a good look, you aren’t doing that bad of a job at all. You take a sip of your coffee (that is now cold), and you begin another day with the hope that you, along with your boys, will grow and learn a bit more today than you all did yesterday.

Tammi Landry-Gilder

Tammi is an author, wife, mother and blogger who lives in West Bloomfield, Michigan, with her husband, two sons, three dogs, and too many fish in a tank to count.