When my kids casually take my hand as we walk, I wonder just how long the sweetness is going to last. They’re nine and ten, and my, how they’ve grown. I’ve introduced them both the the joys of deodorant. We had “the talk” some time ago, and I’ve been frankly answering their questions ever since. Mary is fully versed on the up-and-coming matters of womanhood, and just today Ethan asked me to check out how manly his arm hairs are becoming.
There’s one bit of growing up that we’ve gone over many times: at one point or another, they’re going to feel like they can’t stand me. One natural frustration of being a teenager is the desire to leave the nest, coupled with an autonomy-defying dependence on one’s parents for a few more years. It happens to the best of us.
Today I got a tiny taste. There was a wreck on the highway on the way home from school, and I wasn’t about to take them back to witness the carnage, nor drive through the resulting traffic jam. So we decided to take another direction and go look for halloween costume ideas instead. I had one errand to run first, but while we were at that store, Mary broke our Cardinal Rules of Shopping.
The rules are simple: Don’t disrupt the other shoppers, the merchandise, or displays; don’t cause danger; and, unless I’ve given specific permission otherwise, always stay close enough that we could reach out and touch each other’s hands. Really, both kids broke the rules this time with an impromptu game of tag-and-go-seek. Sigh. But Mary broke them thrice, even after two warnings. So as we checked out, I told them that sadly, I would not be able to take them to the Halloween store.
Mary shot me the most disdainful look she could muster. I reached out my hand and said, “Let’s go, sweetie.” She did take my hand, but made it very clear that she did not want to touch it. She held one of my fingers by only her finger and thumb, as though it were a stinky diaper, looking away and turning up her nose up as well.
I suppose a better mom wouldn’t have laughed out loud at this display of disaffection: that, of course, made her all the more angry. She ran to her room the moment we unlocked our front door, and successfully avoided me for the better part of the afternoon. I passed her once in the hallway, and said, “I know you’re really mad at me right now, and I’m frustrated, too, but I want you to know I still love you no matter what.” Her face was turned away, but the eye-roll I couldn’t see was so dramatic I may have nearly heard it. (This picture is from another occasion, but I assure you, today’s expressions were every bit as sour.)
A few hours later, though, all was well again. I’d been talking on the phone to one of my friends, and when I hung up, she ran to me with her arms wide open and nearly tackled me with her embrace. I’d forgotten about our earlier tiff, frankly, but she was ready to make amends. In the process, she handed me a sticky 3×5″ index card that said, “I will always love
I didn’t even think about her addressing me by my first name (she always does it in print, but never in person), because the first question on my mind went something like this: “Thanks sweetie, but why is it so sticky?”
“Smell it.” And I did. “Does that ring any bells?”
“Is this your new deodorant?”
“Yeah! Smells great, huh?” Her first “perfumed” letter was for me.
Tonight, I hugged my kids and wondered again to myself just how long this sweetness to melodrama ratio would last. Maybe I’ve got three years; maybe just three days. Ethan cuddled with me, reading over my shoulder as I blogged this. Mary also read it, giggling and consenting to my publishing this little story (though she would rather I call her a “pre-teen” than a “tween” — “To me, tween sounds something more like twerp.”)
“What if we never do turn into ornery teenagers?” they asked.
“It’ll happen. Maybe not for long; maybe not for a long time. But you can count on two things: it WILL happen sometime, and when it does, I’ll still love you.”