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I had never planned on being a single mother to two kids but I’ve been doing it for seven years, ever since my 16-year marriage went south and the man I wed at 20 was for all intents and purposes out of the picture. And in less than three months, my firstborn, the boy who still makes me smile at the mere thought of him, will graduate high school. And I’m a mess.

I’m a mess because it’s been a long ass road. Being a parent means sifting through all your baggage and issues to make the best decisions for your offspring, and creating a life with meaning, purpose and potential for them. And I have a lot of baggage. A sexually abused girl who married young, was disconnected from her mother and then had a husband with his own mental health issues which came to bore on one truly traumatic day. After which I had to be the sole breadwinner, cheerleader, disciplinarian, and guardian of all that was important for my two little loves. I did not do it perfectly. Some days I did it downright poorly. But I showed up for them every day and kept the lights on (okay there was that one time…), food on the table, conversations going, doctor visits happening, parent/teacher conversations in swing, homework checked and now he is graduating and going to college. I didn’t do this alone–my village is strong. But I did this. And while it’s not really the finish line, I’m ugly crying across the mile marker.

I’m a mess because the idea of him starting a new chapter, of semi adulthood settling in is both utterly thrilling and utterly terrifying. I know he is a good person, with good values and a good, mostly sensible, head on his shoulders (he chose a small SUNY college for accounting after weighing cost, grades and earning potential–who is this kid??). But he is a teenager, and they are all subject  to stupid decisions. I have had many a conversations (too many for his taste) about decisions about sex, drinking, and drugs. And associations and friendships. And personal responsibility and morality and society. And he is also a Black man, with all the prejudices and problematic situations that may mean for him. His beautiful thoughtful mind, affable nature and articulate speech are certainly wonderful gifts that can help him go far but they are not enough to shield him from someone else’s preconceived notion or a series of actions that can end up hurting him. And while I’ve come to terms with that while he’s navigating around our town, the thought of sending him into the wider world snatches a bit of my breath away sometimes.

But I’ve decided I’m going to own this entire emotional experience. Because at some point this moment will pass and become just a memory. Like when he first learned to walk. Or talk. Or started school. Or learned to drive. All those milestone moments that consumed my world but then got left in the rear-view as we sped on to the next thing. I will revel in all these emotions and be on the lookout for which of the moments in this experience I will get to snapshot in my mind. Which of these moments will come back to me when I’m holding his firstborn or when I’m aged and infirmed. Which will make the catalog of memories, joining the likes of the first day I sat in a ray of sunlight with him in the rocker in his room and snuggled his head tucked under my chin. Or how he used to mispronounce the word ¨flowers.¨ Or his many wild goofy boy moments. Or the way he now bends down to kiss my forehead and hug me. Sure, I will go through it with my daughter and her experience will have its own unique qualities, as the complicated mother daughter relationship would. I will revel in all that because it too will pass.

But give me this moment to be in full mom-ness. I’ve earned it.

This morning I read a funny, poignant parenting piece  on the Huffington Post that pretty accurately conveyed the constant state of doing and being one feels as the parent of a young child. After smiling my way to the end, remembering being there last about 13 years ago, I wondered why there just aren’t that many similar parenting blogs/posts from parents of teenagers. I mean, the kids are still funny, complex, exasperating, all-consuming creatures. And there are whole worlds of new firsts to be experienced, joys to revel in, and lows to withstand. But I think those lows are why most teen parenting blogs are more in the vein of how-tos and self-helps.

We see our babies in these almost-adult bodies, still possessing every amazing quality you cherish, yet also poised to make some ridiculously bad choices. Or they’ve been replaced by your child’s doppelganger, who you really dislike them for long periods of time, and you live for those all-too-brief flashes of the person with whom you enjoy spending time. Or you find that you now live in a household filled with moody, easily offended people who you have to coax into letting you help them unravel the offense and let it go. Or you fight with them constantly because you haven’t figured out how to calmly do what you need to do to teach them and keep the peace. And all of that shit is scary. And we want to fix it. We desperately want to the magic bullets listed in an easy step-by-step. (And to you folks’ whose kids have unblemished teen years, mazeltov. And stop judging the rest of us.)

And yes, there’s also the fact that older kids have something to say about you sharing information about them but there are ways to do it while respecting their privacy.

It just feels clear to me that whereas over the last 10-15 years we’ve created an open forum for parents of young children to feel comfortable sharing their foibles and finding support in a community of other parents who can admit they’re learning as they go along, when you have teens somehow you are expected to be experts. On some level it feels like, well you’ve had this child for 15+ years, you should know exactly what to do. And if you don’t, go ahead and feel like a failure. But if you haven’t tried to rear a teenager before, it is still new. (They do say it’s just like having a toddler again but since you didn’t have to deal with possibility of your toddler having sex and any ensuing pregnancies, I’m going to go with no, it’s not exactly like that.)

Yes, you have layers of skills built up and you have a great understanding of your child but their changes and changing needs are all new and once again your parenting choices can feel like very much like well-educated guesses. And as terrifying as that is, that’s okay. Because more than likely they will be fine,  they will leave and they will be on their own. And then, a whole new set of worries and concerns will set in. Because it never ends. But how about we prop each other up in that realization and laugh our way through it all? Whenever I get to talk to another parent of a teen and hear that they are dealing with the same thing I am, there’s an insane measure of relief. Because I realize, especially as a single parent, I’m faking the funk half the time and hoping I’m getting it right, alternately patting myself on the back and doubting my strategy. So yes, finding another working parent who asked her teen to text her a pic of the clean room/empty garbage/finished project they claimed to have taken care of before they could leave the house can feel immensely gratifying. Let’s try to do that for each other more often, okay?

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