“I think she is growing up, and so begins to dream dreams, and have hopes and fears and fidgets, without knowing why or being able to explain them.”
– Louisa May Alcott, ‘Little Women’
Today I have a nine-year-old. After getting over the shock of realizing I’m old enough to have “kids” instead of “babies,” it occurs to me that, in the eyes of the state, I’m halfway through parenting this child.
In actuality, I plan to never stop parenting my children. I fully intend to continue pestering and meddling with both of them until they put me in the ground (or urn, or drawer, or a wooden rowboat, ceremoniously set aflame on a picturesque lake while a full choir sings hymns, you know, whatever the case may be). But legally we are halfway to the point where I could put this child out on her own to face and conquer the world. As far as we’ve gone is as far as we have to go until society will recognize her as a citizen who can stand on her own. Good luck with that, society.
She’s halfway to being able to get a tattoo or a body piercing without my consent (although my generation has overused this vehicle of rebellion past the point of it being cool anymore, so I probably don’t have to worry about this).
She’s halfway to being able to buy tobacco, or, heaven forbid, vaping supplies (although she’ll likely try these things before then, and whoever offers it to her better hope I don’t find them).
She’s halfway to obtaining the right to vote (and I plan to leave the room whenever she and her father get into a discussion about who earns that vote). She’s halfway to being old enough to be asked to fight to defend that right, an idea that makes my heart catch in my throat.
She’s halfway to being able to take out a credit card of her own (please let her have better spending habits than her mother). She’ll soon be able to lease an apartment (but probably not rent a condo for Spring Break, praise God) or buy a car (but not rent one, isn’t that weird?).
She’s halfway to being legally old enough to marry. Which likely won’t happen, because she won’t be allowed to date. EVER.
She’s halfway to being able to buy her own fireworks and lottery tickets. Which is good, because I’m totally tired of being the only person around here buying those things. Maybe she can pick up some toilet paper and a gallon of milk while she’s at it, and save me a trip.
I do not take it for granted that we are in a sweet spot in this season of parenting. My kids are old enough to take care of their basic needs, but still young enough to respect authority. We’re able to go to the pool without an imminent fear of drowning. When we’re at home, they can slip out of my view for long periods of time and I don’t break out in a cold sweat. They’re funny, loving, and articulate, all qualities that make them great companions. Even better, they still enjoy my companionship.
I want to enjoy this time and soak it all up, but the cynic and pessimist in me knows that, just like all the phases, this too will soon come to an end. The cardinal rule of parenting is just when you think you’ve got it, everything changes. I feel like I’m watching a storm brewing in the distance, not knowing if the clouds will bring a short shower, or blow the whole roof off. The tween and teen years are looming, and I don’t look forward to trading out my loud and boisterous sing-along snackmobile for a thickly silent SUV. I worry that one day I’ll shoo everyone out of the kitchen, and then they’ll just never come back on their own, choosing instead to hole up in a messy bedroom with a closed door.
I haven’t been able to carry my girls on my hip in what seems like a very long time. And though they’ll always have a place to sit in my lap no matter how big they get, it already feels awkward, with lots of shifting around, and legs and arms jutting out all over the place. I’ve noticed that my older daughter doesn’t want to hold my hand as much anymore. But when she does? Oh, be still my heart. I hold my breath and say to myself, Be cool, be cool, don’t mess this up.
From the moment you have children, people are always saying, “Take your time. Enjoy this. You’re going to miss it. It goes by so quickly.” It’s great advice, and almost always goes unheeded. How can you enjoy anything when you’re so tired and frustrated? Who enjoys sleepless nights, or potty training, or homework struggles? But this, THIS, I am going to try to enjoy. I’m going to practice my teen-parenting skills by telling my inner cynic to go to your room and stay there until I decide what to do about this! Summer is coming and of course, I’m going to let them stay up late, get dirty outside and spend entire days in pajamas. But the point is not just to let them do that, but to be present and do it with them. Because who knows how long I have before their little laughs and silly faces are replaced with eye rolls and heavy sighs? My coolness has an expiration date, and it should. I can’t be their friend AND the one who lays down the law.
So, here we are. In the halfway house. A place of transition. A nurturing environment to guide these little people from one stage of life to the next. And I am in the program, too, transitioning right alongside them. Working to be present, be silly, be in charge, and keep the roof on this halfway house.
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