My life as a mother is somewhat skewed. Most moms my age are thick in the early years. They have elementary kids trying out for the school talent show and tweens begging for a first phone.
I have one each of those. But so, too, do I have two teenage girls under this roof. Nearly nineteen and fifteen. Each with undeveloped frontal lobes. I owe a huge debt of gratitude to the scientist who proved that indeed the teenage brain is not fully developed. I cite those undeveloped frontal lobes as an excuse every time I offer unwelcome advice and unappreciated guidance. Frontal lobes, I say, tapping my own temples. Most often my attempts to lighten the mood are met with eyes that roll so far back into the head it’s a wonder they don’t come unhinged and go permanently googly.
It’s lonely in this part of motherhood. Where once my babies ran to me with open arms and peanut buttery faces, they now retreat with headphones behind closed doors. And because most of my peers aren’t quite here yet, there isn’t a lot of relating to be done.
I was talking to a long distance friend on the phone last week. Her teenagers don’t permanently reside with her and so only infrequently do we get to swap stories from the trenches. When do they change back she desperately wondered aloud, describing behaviors I know all too well. I’ll let you know when I get there I answered, equally desperate.
In truth, it came as a relief to me that her kids, too, seem to have altogether vanished–temporarily replaced by strangers who are not entirely motivated or reasonable or generous. I have other descriptions, but even those are risky, should this post be widely read. The most mild of rebukes are liable to set off an emotional roller coaster the likes of which I avoid at all costs.
I can tell you that the person I was at sixteen is all but dead and gone. I was a liberal (and far more entitled that I’d like to admit) little thing back then, proclaiming justice from every mountaintop I had the energy to climb (which weren’t many or much, for the record). Life was a watercolor where fairness and equality and rights were the blurry strokes in a wildflower field. All sunshine and rainbows. Unicorns could even be seen frolicking somewhere in the distance. Of course, the rights I was so quick to promote had nothing to do with the ones that mattered then and matter still. Rather, I was inclined to fight for the “rights” of children everywhere. To set our own curfews. Make our own rules. Leave laundry undone.
In the here and the now I can’t help but feel panicked. That these beings who–like I mentioned before–aren’t entirely motivated or reasonable or generous–are permanent. But then will come the blessing of the tiniest flicker of who I know them to be and I focus my vision there, on the light seeping from those cracks. And I hope that the years to come bring not a wrecking ball on these foreign exteriors, but a gentle and guided chisel.
For whatever reason, I kept this “magazine” I “published” back when I was that different young girl. Its date in the corner reads: January 1990. On these yellowing pages with edges curled from time there is indisputable evidence of the brat I was. This entire thing was created solely for the purpose of thumbing a snotty nose at my parents. Most likely I conveniently left it in a conspicuous spot–daring enough for them to see it, but not quite daring enough to outright give it to them. That way, if my creative headlines like “Parents are Nosy” and “Parents Suck Eggs” got me into trouble I could claim an invasion of privacy.
I most assuredly didn’t mean it this way, but the magazine I wrote as a teenager is giving me hope, now. Ironic but true. It reminds me who I was then and what I was thinking. And assures me that even the most stubborn frontal lobes eventually will get there.