Next Monday, God willing, I will have two teenagers. It's not so bad. The first one has been very easy as teenagers go. The second one has been acting like a teenager since she was 11, so we're used to it. Olivia only recently began showing signs of impatience with her parents. But when the teen-to-be is in the room, Nick and I can often feel our IQ levels dropping precipitously with each eye roll. Somewhere, my mother is laughing.
Since neither one is driving yet (more on that later), I think the hardest thing about these years is the letting go part. Actually, no. Not the letting go--the letting them do things for themselves even though I could do it better and faster without the mess part. The keeping quiet and letting things develop so they can work it out on their own part. Because they need to learn. Frankly, I've always struggled with this.
My friend Jeanne is great at this. When Olivia was a baby, about 8 or 9 months old, she wanted to drink from a cup, badly. She didn't want the sippy cup--she wanted to drink right from the edge. I struggled with my strong-willed child. I was worried about spilling, getting water all over herself and everything else, about her getting upset if she couldn't manage to get enough beverage from the open cup.
"Olivia's trying to drink from a cup!" I complained to Jeanne, who was already three children ahead of me.
"Cate," she replied, "That's the goal."
To be sure Jeanne--and I know she's reading this--likes to have a measure of control. She'd freely admit it. But she also has patience and the ability to project into the future. Recently her youngest son, also learning to drive, asked to take the wheel during a rainstorm. He only has a permit, so Jeanne would be in the passenger seat, but still, I said: "Oh sure, like you were going to let him do that!"
"Actually, it was a good idea," she replied. "He has to learn to drive in the rain. Better he should do it with me in the car."
I'm trying. When Olivia came home from driver's ed last Saturday, wanting to quit, overwhelmed by the responsibility of keeping herself and others safe when she's on the road, I wanted to avoid the tears and the struggle. But I took a deep breath and said, "No, you should keep going. You can do it. We'll just take it at your own pace. Little by little, you'll get used to it."
When Meredith stood poolside yesterday struggling to adjust the strap of her goggles, I mustered all my meager powers of self-control to keep from taking them from her and blurting out, "Here, let me do it." Eventually, she did ask me to help her.
I was relieved...and yet a teeny tiny bit disappointed. Deep down, I know they need to struggle so they can master skills. And I'm so proud when I see them achieve that mastery.
It's nice to be needed. But my job is to prepare them for life so they don't need me.
I just have to keep reminding myself, "Cate, that's the goal."