Israel | 16

My little baby that made me a mama turned 16 today.

I think that means we’re right in the middle of the teenage years, and here’s the surprising thing: I sort of love it. 

Having a teenager has not been awful. (I feel I should be knocking on all the wood I can find and crossing my fingers and toes and holding my breath and maybe not writing this down but just continuing to whisper it quietly to myself as I have been the past few years.)

But so far, it’s been very, very good.

I’ve always loved kids (small, cute little toddler-sized kids) and I always told everyone  (including the high school students I taught) once my kids approached their teen years I’d thought I'd give them to someone else to raise or send them to boarding school.

But now? Mostly I find myself trying to figure out how I can always have one of these teenaged people around. Days when I’m drowning in work, often without being asked, Israel will make dinner or take the baby or clean up.  He’s smart and interesting and good company. His friends are, too.

Of course I like to believe this kid of mine is some sort of gift of karma, like at some point I did something really good and in return, rather than a lot of teenage trouble, I got Israel. 

I know better, but I’m willing to accept the good luck. And if the next few years get rough, I’m still thankful for the past few years we’ve had.

All those clichés about how quickly time passes? All true. But what’s really hard for me is not thinking about how quickly my kids and I keep adding  years to all the ones we’ve already had together, it's realizing how few childhood years we have left. I didn’t ever cry about sending kids off to kindergarten. But that first day of high school? That was a little tough.

Somewhere in the last few years things have shifted, and I realized one morning (in a panicked sort of way) that I’d spent all these years thinking about how I wanted to raise my kids and things I’d like to do together or how our life should be arranged, but all of the sudden I wasn’t just starting this parenthood thing anymore and more of his childhood was past than still remained. Much of the parenting was done. I wasn’t sure how it had happened so quickly, but, for better or worse, the childhood part seemed to slip right past me while I was still getting ready for it.

I don’t ever tell people I wish my kids were still small. I love them small and I love them a little bigger and I love watching them figure out how they’ll take on the world at each new stage. I don't ever want them stuck and not moving forward, but thinking about how they’ll take on the world once they’re no longer coming home each night to tell me about it? That’s hard.

But it’s exciting, too. I think in a lot of ways, for Israel, being an adult will be easier than being a teenager.

He’s already good at many things successful, happy adults need to be good at. He’s a great worker. People noticed this the past few summers and he has more offers for employment than he has time for. He bought his own car a few months ago; he pays his own phone bill.

He spends most of the hours he’s awake learning new things.  His obsessiveness to figure things out occasionally drives me crazy, and his quirkiness sometimes baffles me.   (How many high schoolers do you know who leave the house each morning with a James Dean pompadour and a red Member’s Only jacket?) But he doesn’t sit around much wasting time and he doesn’t need anyone to find him things to do.  He’s engaged with the world around him.

He already gets all the big picture stuff right, which is really what I hope for my kids. He’s kind and patient, and he was better and conversation and caring for people by the time he was three than I was by thirty.

Of course the day-to-day details continue to make us both crazy.

Do your schoolwork. Pick up your clothes. Keep your bedroom and bathroom clean.  And DO YOUR SCHOOLWORK. I feel like I’m repeating the same couple things over and over. It’s all very basic. And it's never done. 

But it's understandable see how those things are all such a low priority which you are so focused on figuring out the science of deduction.

It’s also problematic because I’m still figuring out the parenting thing, and I feel conflicted when I redirect him. Things he's not doing really do need to get done, but rarely are the things he’s doing in place of his obligations bad.

Stop teaching yourself the violin, you have math homework to do.

Please stop writing, and get to work. You’re failing English again.  (Because of all that writing you’re doing?)

No more playing with the baby…your toilet needs to be cleaned.

Put your phone away and get to work. You don’t need to be googling . . . the new recipe for dinner?

It’s all very confusing this obligation to be the responsible adult. 

I have a few other kids who will be teenagers before I know it. I’m pretty sure most of their teenage years will be little more complicated than the ones I’ve lived through so far.

But while I figure out how parents survive and navigate all that, it’s good to have Israel around.  At least until he is pulled away by the possibility of getting rich. It sounds like his next purchase is gold panning equipment. 

It’s always tricky to know where a dreamer with ambition will end up next.

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