Monday, December 7, 2009

For my Teen-ager on her Birthday

I'm terrified. The day I have dreaded since I peed on a stick and saw a "+" sign has finally happened: I am the mother of a teen-age girl.

Today is my daughter's 13th birthday. God help us.

Fortunately, Kelsey is an amazing, intelligent, wonderful young lady, and I'm delighted she's turned out so well in spite of having a mother who breaks out in random dance moves in the grocery store. But even the best teen-age girls are a daunting species.

As she and I embark on this journey together, I must remember the basic guidelines for contact with hormonal adolescent girls: Look them in the eyes; show no fear; and if that doesn’t work, drop to the ground, curl into a tight ball, cover the head and face, and pray for the best.

Or, wait. Isn't that the advice for a run-in with a bear? Eh. Pretty much the same rule applies.

Let's face it: adolescent girls are weird. I taught seventh graders for several years, so I have some experience in the care of the pubescent species. Thirteen is such a tender age: new teens are caught in that odd, bewildering space between childhood and adulthood. One day, they want to snuggle with you on the couch like a toddler and be coddled; the next, they are aloof and too "cool" to acknowledge your presence. And good luck arguing with them: they can throw a temper tantrum that rivals any two-year-old but surprise you an hour later with the debate skills of a seasoned attorney.

Like anything fragile, teens are best handled with care. (If that doesn't work, I can always lock her in the basement until she turns 30. Don’t think I haven't considered it.)

The next few years won't be easy, I know. I shudder as I remember my teen years. I would elaborate about all the sneaky, stupid things I did, but my parents read my blog, and I don't want to be grounded.

Although my daughter is off to a fine start, I naturally dread many hurdles we're sure to face in the near future: the mood swings, the arguments, the unsupervised outings with friends, the boyfriends (yikes!) and the many temptations to come her way.

I also fear the distance that is natural at this stage between a mother and a daughter. As she seeks to find her own way, she will have to pull away from me a bit. It doesn't mean she won't need me, but she needs some space, too. And I will have to find a way to give that to her.

Although part of me truly celebrates this exciting new stage of Kelsey's life, I can't help but yearn for what has passed.

I remember her first full day with us, how snow swirled outside my hospital window as I held her against my chest, marveling at her tiny fingernails and soft, downy curls. I recall how baby Kelsey would growl at a silly monster as we flipped through one of her favorite board books or erupt in deep belly laughs if we made her favorite doll dance for her.

I'll never forget how, as a toddler, Kelsey would run down the driveway to give her daddy "neck squeezes" when he came home from work. Or how she couldn't fall asleep for years without the bedtime prayer and lullaby I made up for her when I rocked her as a baby.

An immensely creative child, Kelsey also had a bevy of imaginary friends, the most notorious of which was Bee. Bee arrived when Kelsey was two, and the winged friend never left her side for the next several years, including one very memorable vacation with my parents, when Bee nearly met his demise on a playground.

Granddad was happily entertaining three-year-old Kelsey at a small park. She wanted to play on a slide, so she kindly asked her grandfather if he wanted to "care for Bee."

Granddad thought Kelsey said, "Care for tea?", so when she handed him her tiny imaginary friend, he took it in his hand as if it were a teacup, lifted it to his lips and pretended to drink, making elaborate smacking, gulping and swallowing gestures as he did so.

"Mmmm. That was delicious!" he declared, rubbing his stomach.

He didn't understand why Kelsey's brown eyes filled with terror, or why she suddenly screamed bloody murder.

"Granddad ate Bee! Granddad ate Bee! Granddad ate Bee!" she sobbed hysterically, frightening all the playground parents, who scrambled to get their children away from the mad man who was eating insects and making children cry.

Of course, my dad recognized his mistake and coughed Bee up promptly. Bee was soggy and seriously irked, but he agreed to stick around Kelsey another two years. Kelsey bid farewell to Bee shortly after she enrolled in kindergarten and made real friends, but I like to think he's still buzzing about and watching over her.

Like Bee, I'm not planning to go anywhere. No matter how much she tries to push me away the next few years, I'll keep watch over Kelsey as long as she'll let me. Truthfully, I'm already enjoying some of the grown-up girl things we can do together: snuggling on the couch and watching chick flicks; shopping for clothes and giggling in the dressing room; or sitting in the window at Starbucks sipping coffee and hot chocolate and making faces at the people who walk by (Don't judge. You know you always wanted to do that).

She's a beautiful young woman with so much promise. But no matter how old she gets, I will still see the little girl with the big brown eyes and pigtails, doing somersaults down a grassy green hill and giggling the entire way.

As we celebrate a new phase of her life today, I pray that laughter follows her as she rolls along. I'll be close by, should she ever need a hand to help her over the hills.

Happy Birthday, my beautiful teen daughter. Forever hardly seems long enough to love you.


  1. Would you be insulted if I said your writing reminds me of Erma Bombeck? I hope not. I used to read her books because they made me and my mom laugh out loud. Beautiful sentiment. I'm sure Kelsey is as proud of her mom as you are of your daughter.

  2. what a beautiful post, jenn... the teens are tough; i'm not going to lie. but, i know you and kelsey will get through them swimmingly!
    happy belated birthday to your lovely girl!!!
    much love,
    dani xxxx

  3. Ginny: Thank you! I'm not at all insulted, but Erma might be rolling over in her grave. ;) When Mom wrote about us, she was always compared to Erma, too. In fact, someone once sent Ms. Bombeck a collection of Mom's columns, and she was sweet enough to send an autographed book to Mom with a personal note. (Thanks, too, for the note about Kelsey. I hope she is!)

    Dani: Thanks for all of your sweet comments and the birthday wishes for Kelsey. Don't be surprised if I turn to you for advice. You & Katherine are a shining example of how to make the teen girl/Mom relationship work!