Thirteen

As of 5:22 this morning, I am the parent of a teenager.

That went fast.

I keep a set of pictures in my wallet. They’re of my children. One wallet-sized picture of each of them from every school year. I’m not even really sure when or why I started keeping them like that. No one seems too interested in school pictures anymore. I casually asked Henry if he wanted a set of this year’s photos to trade with his friends and by his absolutely bewildered reaction, I’m assuming students no longer do this. Just another industry killed by millennials or Facebook, I’m guessing they’ll say. But, on a moment’s notice, I can make the march of time tangible by pulling out the thin stack of photographs from my wallet, laying them all in a row, and marveling at how my kids have changed through the years.

I can see how my bespectacled kindergartner has become a bespectacled middle schooler. How he still, begrudgingly, after all of these years, agrees to wear the one collared shirt he owns on picture day. How he looks the same and yet so very different. How I think I can get a glimpse of what he’ll look like when another eight years pass. How I sometimes feel like I only know him in the present and have completely forgotten how he was in the past.

At thirteen, Henry has become a kind, interesting, funny, sporty, and (somewhat consistently) respectful adolescent.

I’ve found myself over the past several months asking other moms who have parented teenagers what the journey is like. I’m afraid I ask questions of them like I would the big cats caretaker at the zoo – a mix of earnest curiosity and inherit fear. The answers I receive are frequently mixed. For every, “It’s not so bad,” there’s a, “No comment.” One parent will speak fondly of the time while another just looks off into the distance, a little battle-weary. I’m always left with the impression that the teenage years are something to survive rather than relish.

And, we have many, many years of survival ahead of us. During a particularly challenging parenting moment a few weeks ago, when the dust from the frustration and the anger was settling all around us, I looked at Bob and said, “We have a full DECADE of parenting teenagers ahead of us. We didn’t really think this through when we decided to have three of them, did we?”

It’s strange to be beginning this journey. It makes me feel old in a way that turning forty never did. I’m old enough to have a teenager! I still remember being a teenager. It all feels like the start of something but also the end of something. Fun and exciting but also destined for frustration and heartbreak. But, that could describe every stage of parenting.

I suppose teenagers are just a different kind of difficult.

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In A (Mini) Van Down By The River

Remember that one time? When I mentioned that my kids weren’t interested in extracurricular activities? Well, they changed their minds. All of my kids. Changed their minds. All at the same time. My kids are doing all of the activities now. There are no activities left because my kids are doing them all.

Henry recently decided that Sports is his thing. It wasn’t for a long time. Now, it is. Doesn’t really matter which kind. He will gamely try them all – in a row. This past fall, sensing our reluctance to let him play tackle football, he asked if he could join a flag football league organized through the city’s rec department. We agreed that it was a good way for him to try the sport while not risking a traumatic head injury so we signed him up. The teams were well organized, the coach was super nice, and Henry really seemed to enjoy himself. I liked seeing him participate and try new things.

That’s how we added flag football to the schedule.

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When flag football wrapped up, I was looking forward to a long winter of sitting on my sofa in front of the fire not having to drive anyone anywhere. Then, Henry asked if he could try basketball. I explained that I felt like we had already sported so much and basketball overlapped a little with flag football and are you SURE you’re up for that commitment and it gets dark at, like, 4:30 in the afternoon now and there are so many good things on Netflix have you seen all of the good things on Netflix and even as the words were coming out of my mouth, I could see my future and it did not involve my sofa.

That’s how we added basketball to the flag football.

Charlie wanted to participate in flag football this past fall because Henry wanted to participate in flag football this past fall. Why not, we thought. In for a penny, in for a pound! Charlie doesn’t share Henry’s passion for the more technical aspects of the game though and was mostly in it for the shenanigans. Namely, chasing the other players around on the field without grabbing anyone’s flag. Which, as Charlie’s coach was apt to point out, WAS NOT THE POINT OF THE GAME, CHARLIE.

Shortly after Charlie’s stint as troublemaking team member began, it became clear that sports was maybe not the right match for his skill set. Around that same time, Charlie found out that a bunch of his buddies were in Cub Scouts. Much like tackle football, we had some reservations. But, since Charlie basically spends all of his free time each weekend hiking, fishing, hunting, and carving those statues of bears out of tree trunks with a chainsaw in the garage, we thought, hmmm, some sort of outdoor-centric club might be just the ticket for this kid.

That’s how we added Cub Scouts to the basketball and to the flag football.

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Millie had talked about taking gymnastics classes with enthusiasm for awhile but we had always discouraged her from pursuing her dreams because it seemed like it would really add to our workload. I mean, at this point, we had gone from zero (0) activities to four (4) activities. Where would this fresh hell fit in? When we discovered her in the basement one afternoon, constructing her own balance beam out of half-empty paint cans and a discarded two by four, we decided we had better enroll her in some sort of tumbling program. We can still really play up her hardscrabble beginning with the paint cans though when she films her Olympic team intro video.

That’s how we added gymnastics to the Cub Scouts and to the basketball and to the flag football.

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I feel like I haven’t sat down since September. Unless you count sitting in my minivan as sitting. Then, I’ve sat a lot since September. In my minivan. While I wait for my kids to do their things. I wrote this entire essay on my laptop from the confines of the driver’s seat of my Honda Odyssey. I basically live here now. I’ve got blankets and canned goods and extra power ports. I just drive from one parking lot to another. If the weather were nicer, I’d set one of those pop-up canopies down and chat with other parents who are also waiting aimlessly in parking lots.

In fact, I had to drive Henry to a neighboring town for a practice this week and my friend happens to live close by and I thought to myself, I should tell my friend to meet me in the parking lot, where I’m sitting in my minivan and we could catch up. She also has three kids in activities and even though I bet you’re thinking it would be weird to hang out with your friend in their minivan, she would absolutely not think it was weird. She gets it. I was disappointed when I hadn’t thought to bring a little wine or maybe some snack cheese.

I suggested to Bob that we get one of those gas tanks installed on our property – like the ones they have on farms – so we don’t have to worry about where and when to fill up our car’s constantly empty tank but he didn’t think that was a wise use of money. Whatever. That idea has legs for sure.

I have no succinct way to wrap this up other than Henry is done with practice in about ten minutes and then I have to drive my minivan home and look longingly at my sofa on my way to bed. If you need me for any reason in the coming months, just come find my minivan. Basketball is done in February – I think.

Wait, what comes after basketball season?

Some Thoughts On My Recent Hospital Stay

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Four days in the hospital is approximately three days too many. The first day, you’re all, HECK YEAH, I can watch this TBS marathon of “Friends” from the comfort of this Craftmatic adjustable bed while this lovely lady from food service delivers me french toast that I neither had to prepare nor have to clean up. Then, day two arrives and everything is terrible until the minute you are discharged.

If your first IV gets kinked, a nurse will place a second IV. If your second IV is infiltrated, your hand will swell up like a baseball glove and a nurse will place a third IV. If your third IV blows within just a few hours, they will call a nurse from the intensive care unit’s special “IV Team” to place a fourth IV. When it is all over, you will be able to rattle off your IV stats like a sports analysis: four IVs placed out of six attempts.

If there are no beds in the regular recovery section of the hospital, they will place you in the cardiac care wing which, demographically, skews a little older. They will choose your roommate carefully with a nurse explaining that they found a patient for you to bunk with that was, “a little closer in age.” That patient will turn out to be… 60. Also, when your kids visit you, their glowing youth and vibrant health will ensure they are treated like Golden Retriever therapy puppies by everyone in the halls and they will, therefore, be hugged extensively by strangers.

You will discover, tragically, that narcotic pain relievers do not sit well with you thus shattering any dreams of a narcotic-fueled life of crime on the run because you would have to pause to vomit every 30 minutes and the police would surely catch up to you.

The very minute you start to think, hmm, our health care flexible spending account still has a balance in September. That’s pretty remarkable. CONTACTS FOR EVERYONE THIS YEAR! That very minute – the very minute! – when you think of all of the things you’re going to buy with your extra FSA money – NAME BRAND CHARACTER BANDAIDS – is the exact moment when your appendix will burst or your kid breaks an arm or your diverticulitis flares up.

You’ll start to resent everyone that can just… walk around on their own. Logically, you know that the person in the hall wearing regular shoes instead of non-slippy socks isn’t, like, showing off or anything but it still feels like they kind of are. You’ll start to mutter to yourself, “I bet that lady over there doesn’t have a headache.” Or, “That dude over there doesn’t look nauseated.” The ability of others to exist without crippling pain will bring a not insignificant amount of irritation. ESPECIALLY when your 60-year-old roommate gets discharged before you and she is wearing regular clothes and no amount of french toast can make up for that kind of jealousy.

You will be given so many different IV antibiotics that you begin to get to know each of them. Not by name but by how they make you feel when they’re administered. The one shrouded in brown because it shouldn’t be exposed to light is especially terrible. You suspect the one in brown is responsible for your super duper heightened sense of smell which, by the way, is just the absolute worst superpower to have. Especially in the hospital. It’s almost like you can smell the very molecules in the air around you. Your new super smell capabilities means you will accuse your husband repeatedly of having very bad breath which will give him a little bit of a complex. He does not, in fact, have very bad breath and you will apologize profusely for the false accusation once you are home and off of the IV antibiotics and no longer able to smell each atom of matter that surrounds you.

The nurses will be amazing and their kindness for your condition will make you weepy and when they finally send you home, you will be a little sad that no one brings you french toast anymore.