I always love the first week of June. Our son, Salvatore, was born on June 2nd. It’s a time of reflection. Of remembering the day, he was born, when we had farm animals in our backyard for his 3rd birthday, when he was obsessed with Pokémon. Salvatore turned 14 this June 2nd.
This time in quarantine with a teenager has had its moments, but I’ve treasured most of them. Teenagers are moody. They don’t like to talk. They are always hungry. I must be honest — when the school announced they were closing — I was a little worried. After all, I was used to our routine of school, work, homework, basketball practice and games. The quarantine meant being together 24/7. And by pure admission, I am a control freak and neurotic. Every sound, misplaced sock and even someone’s breathing bothers me. I was truly worried about my family’s well-being.
I’ve learned over the past three months that I do still have a moody teenager. Who is always hungry. But unlike our former “rushed” life, I’ve been able to eat breakfast and lunch with him. Chit-chat when he feels like it. Sneak a quick kiss on the head when he’s focused on an algebra problem. The greatest gift has been the ability to just “be” with him. Nothing fancy or planned. Just being with him day in and day out, helping him figure out some of his homework (not algebra), helping him work through his teenage angst and sometimes just leaving him alone to figure stuff out. The biggest gift has been the excess of time, simply the chance to be with him.
I’m a huge fan of podcasts especially Brene Brown’s Unlocking You. She recently interviewed author Celeste Ng, who wrote Little Fires Everywhere and Everything I Never Told You. Little Fires Everywhere was recently made into a series starring Reese Witherspoon and Kerry Washington. It’s on Hulu and Amazon Prime. It’s the story of a mom, Elena Richardson played by Reese Witherspoon, who is definitely a High Wire Woman and the mother of four. She is obsessed with perfection and doing it all, trying to balance her family life with her journalism career. Kerry Washington’s character Mia Warren is a complex single Mom with a varied past. Her daughter, Pearl, is the center of her life but they move around from town to town to support Mia’s art career.
Brene Brown and Celeste Ng talked a lot about watching their kids grow up on the podcast. How the days seem long but the years are short. Brene read this quote from Little Fires Everywhere:
Parents, she thought, learned to survive touching their children less and less. As a baby Pearl had clung to her; she’d worn Pearl in a sling because whenever she’d set her down, Pearl would cry. There’d scarcely been a moment in the day when they had not been pressed together. As she got older, Perl would still cling to her mother’s leg, then her waist, then her hand, as if there was something in her mother she needed to absorb through the skin. Even when she had her own bed, she would often crawl into Mia’s in the middle of the night and burrow under the old patchwork quilt, and in the morning they would wake up tangled, Mia’s arm pinned beneath Pearl’s head, or Pearl’s legs thrown across Mia’s belly.
Now, as a teenager, Pearl’s caresses had become rare—a peck on the cheek, a one-armed, half-hearted hug—and all the more precious because of that. It was the way of things, Mia thought to herself, but how hard it was. The occasional embrace, a head leaned for just a moment on your shoulder, when what you really wanted more than anything was to press them to you and hold them so tight you fused together and could never be taken apart.
It was like training yourself to live on the smell of an apple alone, when what you really wanted was to devour it, to sink your teeth into it and consume it, seeds, core, and all.”
I was putting on makeup when I heard the last line and it literally stopped me in my tracks. And made me burst into tears. It perfectly described how it is watching your child develop into a teenager. The natural rejection—no more holding hands, snuggling endlessly, the plea to read one more book—those things that seem like nothing but really are everything. The things that we are forced to let go, without any notice. We never truly know when it will be the last time we will carry our child to bed or read them a bedtime story. They don’t announce “this is the last time ever I will let you do this.” If they did, we would surely savor that last moment for a few minutes longer.
Instead, we’re forced to train ourselves to keep our distance, remain caring and empathetic, but don’t hug or kiss too much, especially a teenager. Hearing these words finally normalized my feelings. The feelings of a mother of a teenager—one who no longer asks for a bedtime story, the one who has a mustache and scrappy beard, who is taller than his mother and father. This mom will always want to consume the entire apple but has learned that being near the “skin” of the apple, 24/7 during a world pandemic may just be the biggest gift.