Somewhere on the streets of Heaven, my mother is giggling. She giggles because all that she endured when I was a teenager has been heaped on me two-fold.
Oh, how clever she was to say, “Just wait until you have children of your own. It’s not all snuggles and butterfly kisses.”
As a parent of two teenage girls, I must admit that I have never missed my mother more than right now. Sometimes I imagine what it would be like to chat with her about Grace and Anna over a big slice of her 7-Up cake and a cup of coffee. I imagine her soft blue/gray eyes framed with the lines of a mother who lived and survived the raising of her own teenage daughter. I can see her thin mouth twist upwards into a “knowing” grin as I seek answers to questions about sassy mouths, girl drama and topics concerning the allure of romantic notions.
I suppose that she would remind me of my own sassy mouth – cutting, actually. She would remind me that her silence during those moments was more wounding to me because I didn’t get the verbal fight I was looking for. A lesson to carry into adulthood: I don’t have to participate in every fight I’m invited to attend.
And girl drama? Well, she would recount stories of my own hurt from being picked on for having short hair, a gap between my teeth, and being a string-bean, studious “nerd”. Those girls don’t have boyfriends and they don’t get invited to sleep-overs; but, they do grow up to be kind to others and inclusive of people – regardless of their differences.
And those romantic notions? Well, she would have a lot to say there. She would remind me of a boy named Joe in 8th grade and how I dreamed that he would somehow notice me. She would tell of finding notes to Joe that I never sent because the fear of rejection was too much to bear. She would also tell me that hearts will be broken and that every frog we kiss brings us closer to our prince. She would put her hand over mine and remind me that figuring out love takes an awful long time.
Watching Grace and Anna navigate these years is difficult and fascinating all rolled into one.
I’m fascinated at how they are growing into their own women; that process of trying on different personas and versions of themselves until they find the right fit. The pain-staking steps in creating boundaries for themselves and others; deciding what you are worth and how much to let in and keep out.
Yet, these years are also painfully difficult to watch as well.
They have avenues of communication and connections that I never dreamed of in my youth. They are growing up faster than I did and are confronted with situations like cyber-bullying, sex, and drugs/alcohol at ages that are more destructive to their overall well-being. It is hard to watch your daughter fight to find her place in her tribe of friends and battle with issues of self-esteem while measuring her beauty against the others.
I lay awake at night and worry if I am doing enough….or not enough.
Am I letting go too soon or holding on too tight?
Have I laid a foundation strong enough to support the years ahead?
How will the divorce of their father and me affect them as adults?
Did I pray for the right things?
Time is really the only way for me to know.
Shortly before my mother passed away, I apologized to her. I remember the day well. She had had a series of small strokes and was briefly hospitalized before being sent home in her final few weeks under Hospice care.
On that particular day, I wheeled her down to the Radiology department for another CAT scan of her brain. We needed to see how much the cancer had progressed. As we waited, I looked at her and said, “Mom. I am so sorry for all that I put you through when I was a teenager. I was awful and so mean at times to you. I wish I could take it all back right now. I would give anything if I could.”
She took my hand and said, “The greatest joy of my life was being your mother. You have delighted me at every moment and I couldn’t be prouder of the woman you have become.”
The tears fell from my eyes. That unconditional love a mother has for her child – no matter what.
As I raise my own girls through this period, I try to remind myself that their fear of growing up and growing away must be a thousand times scarier for them than it is for me. They are moving away from the comfort and innocence of childhood into a phase of great uncertainty; couple having to do that in the world today. I’m sure I was equally scared and confused all those years ago.
How frightening it must be to know that in a few short years, the world will require many things of them. Things that they only have a small window of time to figure out.
One night recently, I was making my rounds to each girl before bed.
I stopped by Anna’s room and sat on the edge of her bed for a few minutes. She was in a tailspin over the latest disappointment inflicted on her by a boy. She really thought he was different than all the others. The questions poured from her lips and I could see she was fighting the tears that wanted to fall.
I listened for several minutes and said, “You know, Anna, love is a hard thing to figure out. It’s tricky now and even trickier when you’re an adult. These boys have a lot to learn, just like you. Be patient. Love doesn’t have to happen right now. You have you’re whole life ahead of you to get it right.”
As I bent down to kiss her goodnight, she gave me the lightest butterfly kiss – just like she did when she was a young girl. I needed that as much as she did.
In the next room, Grace made an unprecedented request. “Mom, will you snuggle on the bed with me for just a minute before going to bed?”
As I climbed under the covers with her, I thought to myself, ‘I would like nothing better.’
Raising teenagers is not for the faint of heart. It’s hard. It’s exhausting. It takes the patience of Job, the wisdom of Solomon and the love of Jesus. There are days when I have all three of these qualities; but more often than not, I am lacking one, at the very least. Throughout this time, I never want to lose sight of the wonderful woman that is tucked away in each of these creatures. A woman seeking to know who she is and how she will make a difference in the world and to those around her.
Sometimes, in a rare, unexpected moment, a butterfly kiss and a snuggle is present in our encounters as parent-child. They serve as a reminder that beneath the struggle to become an adult, is a little girl who just needs to know that no matter what, no matter the age, Mom is there to see them through to the end.