“When it comes to generating writing material, teenagers are gold. Their world is a narcissistic, anarchic, paranoid hell of anxieties and stresses about how they look; how popular they are or aren’t; and how fast or slowly, big or small their private parts are growing […] Lifts and pocket money aside, teenagers crave privacy – the need for which hatches both swiftly and silently while we’re sorting out the laundry. It’s as if they suddenly wake up one day creeped out by the thought of all those years we wiped their butts and helped them put on their undies and they go into lock- down. They smoke us out, put up walls, close their doors, shut down their stories, and waft, earphoned, through our homes in a shroud of hormones and appetite. Their lives – in which, until recently, we participated with Too Much Information and gross oversharing – suddenly become ‘none of our business.”
― Joanne Fedler
As a newcomer to the parenting of teenagers, reading this quote made me feel so much better. Over the last two weeks, the ‘learning curve’ has temporarily knocked my feet out from under me. Those of you accustomed to the minefield that is the teenage experience may laugh, but I certainly am not seeing the funny side right now.
After dropping the bombshell that he would like to trial living at his other house full time, Master Z had the opportunity for exactly what he seemed to be craving: a wonderful, testosterone-filled five day sporting experience with other teenage boys playing hockey. Liquid gold for him.
It was a welcome opportunity for him to get away from me, thus escaping the inevitable guilt he felt at ‘declaring his allegiance’ elsewhere.
It also meant I could simmer and lick my wounds in (relative) peace.
Our lives for this past couple of years, particularly the last one, have literally revolved around Master Z’s sport.
While he has had a stellar year full of ‘kicking goals’ in terms of personal achievements, it has come at the expense of everything else. Family time, relationship time, milestones for the baby, sleep – we’ve sacrificed it all for our eldest athletically-inclined child. The other kids have been so very patient and understanding, spending hours of their lives at different sporting complexes, playing with other kids there and entertaining themselves at countless training sessions and games.
Not so different to how many of us grew up, granted, but it’s still a big ask.
We’ve done it happily of course because we love him.
I had booked our trip to the Sunshine Coast originally months ago when I first found out that Master Z was playing in the Hockey State Championships there. The idea was that, as usual, we would be the sideline warriors, supporting and cheering him on.
Fearing this time I would cramp his style, and not wanting to ruin his enjoyment by seeming tense or upset with him, I decided to stay away and give him the space he so obviously wanted. We watched one game only in the pouring rain, on the second last day of the competition.
I hated missing the rest, but for once, not everything was about him. I had other proverbial baskets that needed ‘filling’.
Swanning around an idyllic resort at Caloundra with my four youngest children was magical, and exactly the mental band-aid we all needed. It involved doing nothing but playing and relaxing with them (and a fair bit of hard work in between but we won’t dwell on that).
I could not have invested my time any better.
Spending time being an active, busy mum makes me feel good: playground visits, walks in the fresh air, scooter rides, rock pool exploration, swimming and beach walks – we did it all. I derive an immense sense of personal satisfaction from seeing my kids active and busy, their little minds ticking away with all the new, stimulating and enjoyable experiences I am able to provide for them.
In the frenetic pace of life we lead, I rarely do any of these things.
I do them so little that I didn’t even realise how much I miss them.
Or how much joy they bring to my little ones.
I’m realising all of a sudden that there’s no official ‘baton exchange’ in the transition between childhood and adolescence. We have such a relatively short space of time where our children cast us in the starring role as the centre of their universe.
There’s no neon sign flashing in your face to give you the ‘Heads Up’ that major change is just around the corner.
Nor is there a calm, sit down discussion outlining the changing parameters of the relationship between you and your offspring.
One thing is for sure and that is that the balancing act is the hardest part of this job. Maybe by the time I get to number five child, it will seem a bit less challenging.
In the meantime, I’ll just keep stumbling my way through in the hope that I eventually learn to identify some signposts along the way.
I most certainly won’t hold my breath for that neon flashing sign.