Posts Tagged ‘parenting a teenager’

Dropping off the college freshman

August 27, 2012

I thought I would cry when we said goodbye to Daughter in her dorm room, but I didn’t.

I  was too exhausted.

Move-in day came after a week of visiting various family members back east. I love them all, but three different houses in nine days — two beach communities and one city — is a lot. Then there was the expedition to Ikea in New Jersey followed by two separate trips to a three-story Bed Bath & Beyond on the Upper East Side that made our little Oakland BB&B look like a malnourished Dickensian orphan. It was the biggest BB&B I’d ever seen.

(Until we ended up at yet another BBB downtown that was even bigger, but I’ll get to that later.)

I’d never pictured taking a child to college in a taxi, but in true New York spirit, that’s what we did. Sunday was move-in day not just for Daughter but for approximately 5,000 other NYU freshman. Considering the numbers, the university did an impressive job of organizing things and keeping order, with move-in times allotted by floor number and vast hordes of cheerful house elves – oops, I mean student volunteers — directing people where to go. But it still took three trips by elevator to get all Daughter’s stuff up to her 8th floor room, with a twenty-minute queue for each elevator trip, preceded by a queue to get her room keys, and followed by another queue in a building about eight blocks away to get her student ID.

Sam with our daughter’s Stuff / Photo by Ilana DeBare

I had worried that Daughter was bringing too many clothes and would look like a spoiled princess to her roommates. But it quickly became apparent that her Everest of stuff was just an average mountain, or maybe even a foothill: We weren’t toting any microwaves, coffee makers, cross country ski poles, big screen TVs or wheeled duffels the size of Great Plains bison.

But there was time to remedy our failings. NYU was running continuous shuttle buses from its various dorms to the nearest Bed Bath & Beyond (yes, the downtown mother ship). And these weren’t little vanlike shuttles – they were inter-city-size Greyhound style buses, the seats filled with freshmen families and the luggage compartments jammed with their BBB shopping bags.

One of the buses from NYU to Bed Bath & Beyond / Photo by Ilana DeBare

The buses turned out to be so crowded that we couldn’t get on, so we hopped another cab to get last-minute necessities like a shoe rack and a bin for under-bed storage. The BB&B was festooned with Welcome NYU Students banners, purple-and-white balloons and baskets of free candy;  signs announced that it would stay open until midnight; employees had been drafted from corporate headquarters to help handle the swarm of parents and students. We scrambled for our merchandise and joined the columns of freshman families trekking across Greenwich Village with big plastic shopping bags of stuff. It felt like ants leaving a picnic. It felt like a middle-class looting spree. It was a vast, decentralized transfer of millions of cubic feet of housewares from Bed Bath & Beyond to 5,000 individual dorm rooms. It was the free market at work.

It contributed to a bizarre day. So much frenetic motion, buying, schlepping. So much high emotion swirling through the throngs of parents and freshmen – 18-year-old excitement and nervousness, 50-year-old heartache and pride. Toasters and shoe racks became surrogates for care-taking: Our children will be on their own in the big scary world, but at least they will have buttered toast and orderly shoes. 

By the time we returned to Daughter’s dorm and assembled the shoe rack and filled the underbed storage bin and made one final shopping run to the Strand bookstore for old National Geographic magazines to decorate her room, all three of us were ready for Sam and me to leave. We were utterly exhausted. Daughter wanted to hang out with her roommates. We said a quick goodbye. We didn’t take a photo. I didn’t cry. (Sam did.) We retreated to a nearby gelato store and collapsed in a corner and devoured about 1,200 calories of creamy fortitude.

My friend Ellen was dropping off her daughter at college over the weekend too, and wrote as her Facebook status, “Labor pains.” It’s an apt metaphor. I spent a lot of the past year anticipating this separation – thinking “this is our last soccer tournament,” “this is our last Halloween,” and so on. Just as my body took nine months to prepare for Daughter’s arrival, my mind was taking nine months to prepare for her departure.

Then the past week felt like the end stages of pregnancy, when you are so physically uncomfortable that you just want the damn baby to arrive already. By Sunday, after a week of seeing relatives, Daughter was desperate to be around teenage peers.  Sam and I were desperate for our own bed.

Labor pains, yes, but also relief on both sides that move-in day was finally here.

Now after a 3,000-mile plane ride we’re home, minus one child. Things are different but they’re not. It’s easy to imagine she’s simply away for a day or two: The house is quiet right now, but she’s out with friends and will be back late tonight. She’s at sleep-away camp for a week. She’s upstairs in her room with the door closed, happily ignoring us. 

But tonight after dinner, there was no one to unload the dishwasher, which had been her chore. I can’t count how many times over the past few years I had to badger her to unload the dishes, or growled at her sudden disappearance and grumpily unloaded them myself. But in fact, the vast majority of the time she did unload them. And it made household life a little bit easier.

Sam and I looked at each other over the racks of clean dishes as it hit both of us: Now there is nobody except us to unload them.

Not even anyone to badger or growl about.

My garden of Eden

August 3, 2012

I suspect I veer a bit too heavily into angst in this blog, so let me tell you about an afternoon that was a little garden of Eden.

Teenage Daughter had taken it into her head to make a very complicated “neapolitan” cake that she saw on the FoodPornDaily web site. There were six layers of cake in three different flavors (vanilla, chocolate, strawberry), plus jam filling and frosting. So she basically had to make three separate cakes plus frosting from scratch. She did all the grocery shopping herself — thanks to her newly-won driver’s license — yesterday afternoon and made one cake last night. She made another this morning while I was at work.

Friday is my half-day at Audubon, so I was home by 1 pm, in time to watch the completion of cake # 2. Daughter’s Boyfriend also came over to help.

Meanwhile, the Wild Turkey family that has been hanging out on our street showed up. For about the past ten days, a mama turkey and eight or nine little ones have been strutting and pecking their way through everyone’s backyards. The chicks are adorable and the mother is quite devoted, standing constant guard and looking around for threatening cats, humans etc.

So I hung out in the kitchen watching the turkeys strolling in and out of my zucchini bushes while Daughter and Boyfriend baked.

The turkeys were undisturbed by my presence. Daughter and Boyfriend were undisturbed by my presence. Everyone was happy in their respective pecking and stirring. The lion lay down with the lamb.

(Almost literally — our cat came to the back door but didn’t seem to perceive the turkeys through the glass and just sat there washing himself.) All was right with the world.

This is the way life should be all the time.

Oh… the cake turned out amazing too.

Without even the slightest little taste of apple.

Photos by Ilana DeBare

Communicating with the modern college student

July 30, 2012

With three weeks until C-Day, I’ve been thinking about how we’ll communicate with our daughter once she is away at College. With today’s broad range of technology and its equally broad range of parenting styles, the options are wide open.

I know one couple who made an agreement with their son to talk by phone once a week. Well, more often than not, the appointed day of the week would pass without a call. Maybe two weeks would pass. Maybe three weeks. They’d call, not get answers. The mom was not, shall we say, pleased. Eventually their son did a study-abroad unit in the wilds of South America and they didn’t talk to him for months.

Then I have another friend who texted with her daughter multiple times a day. This was mutual, not just a hovering helicopter mom. Daughter would text mom on a regular basis about her classes, how she was feeling, whether to buy the grey or blue sweater, etc.

I’ve been trying to recall how I communicated with my parents in college, and can’t remember anything at all. This was long before the era of cell phones and texting, so it would have been by land line or snail mail. Were there telephones in our dorm rooms? Or pay phones in the halls? I can’t remember one way or the other.

I doubt I told my parents much about what I was doing as a freshman at college. The conversations were probably more like, “How are your classes going?” “Fine.” “How are you getting along with your roommate?” “Fine.”

But somehow I’m hoping for more from Daughter. Maybe I’m just an over-involved 21st century yuppie parent. Maybe I’m used to having at least a partial sense of what she’s doing in school and with her friends. (For a teenager, she’s been pretty communicative.) Or maybe when you’re looking at tuition and room/board costs that top $60,000, you feel like you deserve something more than “Fine” every two or three weeks.

The other day I mentioned the parent-child communication examples that I describe above. I had barely uttered the words “call once a week” when Daughter’s eyes widened and she emitted a loud “Noooooo!”

It felt  like the sound someone would make in a horror movie when the alien predator that they had assumed was lying dead in a pool of goo suddenly recomposes itself and resumes its attack.

This feeds my suspicion that, with this generation, texting multiple times a day is less intrusive or threatening than a weekly phone call.

It will be interesting to see what we manage to work out.

How much bigger is an empty nest?

July 21, 2012

All year I’ve been moaning in this blog about Daughter’s impending departure for college. Loss, separation, passage of time, reminder of mortality, and so on. But in fact, I also spend a fair amount of time thinking about all the things I’m going to do once she’s gone.

Measuring a bird’s nest in the tundra / Photo by U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service

I’m going to cook kid-unfriendly vegetables like kale and cauliflower and cabbage. I’m going to sign up for a boot-camp program at my gym from 6 to 7:15 on weekday mornings. I’ll go to movies. To synagogue. To First Friday art walks in Oakland. Sam and I will bike from winery to winery in Sonoma. I’ll go on countless Audubon field trips….

Above all, I’ll return to revising my novel. I’ll work like a maniac, like life is one non-stop writers’ colony, and resolve all the plot and character problems, and bang that sucker out. I thought about it a lot this spring when I found myself the underachiever of my writing group, feeling guilty for not producing new drafts or rewrites: Just wait until September, then I will be amazingly productive….

It occurred to me the other day that September — the empty nest — has become an Emerald City. It’s shimmering in the distance at the end of the road. Magical things will happen. The Scarecrow will get his brains, the Tin Man his heart, the Lion his courage. Ilana will get the time and focus to finish her novel.

So then I started to wonder, Just how much more time will I actually have? 

It’s not like Daughter is still four years old and needs me to play with her and bathe her and read stories at bedtime. In fact, most of the time  she’s out with friends or in her room with the door closed. She makes her own lunches and does her own laundry. I don’t even need to drive her around anymore, since she got her license last month. Some days we hardly say twenty sentences to each other.

How exactly is she keeping me from working on my novel?

The critic in me says that she isn’t keeping me from the novel; I’m keeping myself. Revising is hard, I feel stuck on certain things, and she’s simply providing a good excuse not to deal with those challenges. I already have a relatively ideal situation for writing — a half-time job, and a beach house “retreat” that we share with friends and thus have access to every third week. Why aren’t I writing my little fingers off right now?

But in fact, I do believe that having a child at home tends to consume one’s attention, even if that child is an independent teenager.

Having a child — particularly for women, I think, but maybe for some men too — colonizes part of your brain like some alien Star Trek spore. A whole section of your brain is roped off with “seat taken” signs. When your child is nearby — even shut in her room texting friends — millions of your neurons are firing away non-stop on autopilot, vigilant for sounds of distress, sounds of happiness, sounds of misbehavior. When all this is going on, it is hard to summon up the level of concentration needed to work on a novel.

What will change when Daughter is gone:

  • I’ll feel free to spend four-day weekends at the beach house. With Daughter here, I don’t like to be away overnight. But once she’s gone, I can join Sam there on weekends and then remain there writing by myself on Mondays and Tuesdays.
  • I’ll have uninterrupted early mornings. I can wake up at 6 a.m. and get right to work.  No half-listening for sounds of showering, dressing etc. No need to remind anyone that they need to be out the door in ten minutes. No driving anyone to BART. By 9 a.m., I can have three hours of work under my belt.
  • I can work evenings without a chunk of my brain hovering down the hall to see if homework is really being done, chores have been completed etc. (This is after Sam and I eat our kale-cabbage casserole,  of course.)

So yes, I think I will have more time for writing when she is gone. Or at least more focused time for writing.

But still, I wonder if I am heaping too many expectations onto September. If I’m slipping into a bit of magical thinking. The Emerald City shimmered from a distance but the Wizard turned out to be an ordinary man with no special powers.

How many ambitions can one empty nest hold?

La Miserable, c’est moi

July 20, 2012

I’m walking around with quiet sadness as background music, with Daughter going off to college in less than one month. Then every so often — rarely, but still sometimes — something happens that makes me want to hurl her out the door with her suitcase flying behind her.

On Thursday night, we took Daughter and Boyfriend out to see the 25th anniversary touring production of Les Miserables. I love that show! It is one of my two far-and-away favorite musicals of all time, alongside The Threepenny Opera. (Clearly I like musicals about social misery.)

Sam and I saw it on Broadway back in the 1980s, and for two decades I have continued singing the tunes.

Red — the blood of angry men —
Black — the dark of ages past —
Red — a world about to dawn —
Black — the night that ends at last —

So when I heard last winter that Les Miz was coming to San Francisco, I rushed out — well, rushed to my computer, to be accurate — and bought tickets.

For months I looked forward to this. I bought the soundtrack for my iPod. I borrowed the Victor Hugo novel from the library and read all 1,400 pages of it, adding forays into Wikipedia to try and puzzle out 19th century French politics. I imagined sitting with Daughter and Boyfriend at dinner before the show, summarizing the plot and the context for them so they would get the most out of it.

(By now, you know what’s coming, don’t you?)

Flash forward to night of show. Lovely dinner at a Brazilian restaurant near the theatre eating feijoada and balls of fried something-or-other. I offer to summarize the plot, only to hear, No! Don’t give it away! Earlier I had offered to share the soundtrack with her, only to hear, No! I don’t want to listen to it in advance!

Then we watch the show. It’s a middling production. Kind of rushed, and not as grand as I remembered. But then, things generally aren’t as grand as you remember them 20 years later. The music is still fabulous. At intermission, I turn to her and ask the fateful question, “What do you think?”

Shrug. “I wish there was dialogue and it wasn’t all music. And it’s not really my kind of music.”

I turn to Boyfriend. Another shrug and a nod of agreement. “Not my kind of music.”


Why does this always seem to happen? Les Miz. The Threepenny Opera. Bruce Springsteen. Erich Fromm. The movie Reds. The movie Nashville. Casablanca. Or dinners that I look up in cookbooks, then carefully dice and blend and bake.

It feels like I offer a small, carefully wrapped gift box to my child — a little gold box with a satin ribbon holding a part of my heart. And then she dismisses it with a toss of her head, or rolled eyes. Doesn’t want to bother with it. Or goes along but doesn’t get it. Doesn’t really care.

And why does this push my buttons? There are many times that Sam hates a movie or book that I love, and it doesn’t frustrate me this way. But there’s a different emotional weight when it’s your child. You yearn to give them beauty, delight, joy. Isn’t it your job to show them the beauty in the world?  And you try so hard! You plan! You care! You anticipate!

And then it doesn’t work out.

Okay, I know this is totally normal. Daughter will discover her own sources of beauty, delight and joy. Probably discovering them on her own — rather than being led to them by a parent — is part of the delight and joy. And she’s not ungrateful. She even thanked us for buying the tickets and dinner last night.

In fact, when I consider things rationally, there are lots of times when she has appreciated some beloved cultural icon of mine — Phil Ochs, Leonard Cohen, Lord of the Rings, the BBC Pride and Prejudice, Esther Averill’s The Cat Club. Even Springsteen, a little.

Still, who wants to be rational? On Thursday night, boy, was I ready to throw her out of the house.

Leaving nests, literally and figuratively

May 27, 2012

A Peregrine Falcon pair have been nesting and raising their young on the 33rd floor of the PG&E building in downtown San Francisco.   I’ve written in my other blog for Golden Gate Audubon about the nest cam that let viewers watch the chicks on the Web, and the “fledge watch” volunteers who are monitoring and helping the young falcons as they master their flying.

Here I wanted to write about their first flight.

Think about it. Their nest is 33 floors up, over concrete streets and sidewalks. For the first month or so of their lives, the falcon chicks hang out on the building ledge while the parents fly to and fro bringing them food. They walk back and forth a bit, stretch their wings, flap a bit.

Then one day they push off the ledge. Just like that, an unforgiving 33 floors up.

PG&E building, where falcons nest on the 33rd floor / Photo by Sara Skikne/KQED

We talk about our kids “leaving the nest” all the time in a figurative sense, but I’d never really thought about what this means literally for birds like those falcons.

Human development seems so incremental and safe in comparison. Our infants start to move by crawling, pushing one arm up at a time. If it doesn’t work, so what? They collapse five inches onto the floor.

When it’s time to stand, they pull themselves up on a coffee table or chair. They have something to hold on to. And if it doesn’t work, they  plop right down on their fleshy bottoms.

Even other birds have an easier first flight than those falcon fledgelings. Sam and I went to view Great Egret nests today at Audubon Canyon Ranch near our Stinson Beach house. There is a colony of dozens of egret nests high in a single tree, a kind of apartment complex of egrets. But the nests are resting above a thick canopy of branches and other trees, so if a fledge (first flight) goes wrong, the young bird only falls as far as the next set of branches. Not so for the falcons.

The human activity that feels most comparable, at least right now, is teaching my daughter to drive. She’s had her learner’s permit for about three months and has had two professional driving lessons plus a lot of time in the car with me or Sam. She is a very cautious and thoughtful driver. She doesn’t speed or take risks. And I know that almost every adult behind a wheel today was once a beginning driver, and they all learned and turned out fine. (Well, most of them!)

But every time I drive with her I am terrified. Any single mis-step could bring disaster. Is she too close to the wall as we drive through a long tunnel? Is she going to pay attention and turn the wheel as we approach a curve on the freeway? 

There is this potential for disaster with any driver — cab drivers, bus drivers, friends of mine, even Sam. Once you get going fast enough, any mistake becomes the equivalent of a 33-floor drop. But I take safe outcomes for granted with most adult drivers and don’t picture imminent death in each freeway curve. With my daughter, though, I get terrified. I try not to show it. But I feel it.

But even learning to drive is less all-or-nothing than a falcon fledge from a 33-floor skyscraper.

Does the young bird realize what it is undertaking and what is at stake when it spreads its wings and pushes off from the ledge?

Do its parents?

Mother and son Peregrine Falcons in downtown San Francisco, May 2012 / Photo by Glenn Nevill
You can find more of Glenn’s falcon photos at .

Do-it-yourself empty nest blog post

April 15, 2012

This week it became apparent that the end had arrived for my 17-year-old Camry station wagon, the mommy car I bought when my daughter was 18 months old. 

The blog post seemed ready to write itself: Another sign of transition to en empty nest. Feelings of sadness, astonishment, mortality. Et cetera.

But I feel like I’ve written this same post about a dozen times so far this year. First rule of blogging: Don’t be tedious or whiny. 

So I figured: If people know what I’m going to say already, why not let them say it for me? Here goes — fill in the blanks to create your own empty nest blog post —  

Yet Another Empty Nest Blog Post

As a young adult, I fantasized about little flashy sports cars like the _________. As a good environmentalist, I drove little high-mileage cars like the __________. 

But when I became a parent, I needed a vehicle that was more ________. I envisioned ferrying bevies of children on field trips to _________  or camping trips to _________. With only one child, a minivan seemed like overkill. So we bought a white Camry station wagon, the kind with a back area that could be turned into two rear-facing seats to carry a total of seven passengers. 

The Mommymobile, almost old enough to vote / Photo by Ilana DeBare

It was huge. It was bulky. We nicknamed it the Great White ___________. The first few weeks when I looked at it in our driveway, I couldn’t believe who I had become. I was suddenly a suburban ___________. I wasn’t a person anymore, I was a Parent. And that felt so wrong! I was supposed to be someone who HAD Parents, not someone who WAS a parent.  That big white stationwagon was a symbol of all the _______  I felt about the transition to parenthood. 

Well, I got used to it and the station wagon did a sterling job for 17 years and 140,000 miles. Field trips, ski trips, camping trips. Trips to the Oakland Zoo, Fairyland, the Monterey Aquarium, Marine World. (That’s before Marine World got all __________.) 

Then last week the computer that runs the _________ gave out. I was told it would cost $3000 to replace it. That crosses the border into “time-to-buy-a-new-car” land. 

And since B. is going off to college in four months, the next car won’t be a station wagon. It will be smaller. Probably a _______ or maybe a _________, since I remain the good environmentalist.

I can’t help thinking that this is the first in a series of downsizings over the next couple of decades –- smaller car, smaller grocery bills, eventually a smaller house and someday leaving houses entirely for a _________. 

The parenting period of my life is ending.

Even scarier, the expansion period of my life is ending. 

I don’t want to be morbid, and I know there are lots of upsides to this transition, but I still feel __________.

The failed fable of the overpriced greens

February 20, 2012

As part of a rushed round of pre-weekend shopping, I bought a small container of sauteed greens at the Pasta Shop, our local gourmet deli. When I got home, I looked at the label on the container and my jaw dropped:

Photo by Ilana DeBare

That’s right, click to zoom in on the photo if your middle-aged eyes can’t handle the small print.

Twenty-one dollars for a pint of greens! Based on a rate of $38.95 per pound!

Even Dean & DeLuca in New York wouldn’t charge that much.

Needless to say, it was a mistake. I took the container back to the store the next day and the clerk acknowledged adding a digit. The price was supposed to be $8.95 a pound, not $38.95. They refunded my money and all was well in the world.

Later in the day, I felt compelled to turn this story into a fable with a moral for my daughter. “You should always double check the receipt when you buy something,” I said.  I handed the plastic lid to her. “I didn’t do that, and look what happened.”

I knew full well what I was doing even as I started  through this futile exercise. With barely six months until she goes off to college, I feel compelled to cram every last little bit of life-lesson into our remaining time. Read your receipts! Floss your teeth! Don’t neglect your female friends just because you have a boyfriend! Don’t put wool sweaters in the dryer!  

Six months from now, she will be out on her own in the world, with nothing to shield her from imminent disaster except a few inebriated dorm advisors and this stockpile of motherly aphorisms.

And of course she won’t hear or remember a word of it.

It’s not just about being a teenager. It’s about the nature of our memories. Ninety-nine percent of the things we see or hear in a given day are forgotten almost immediately. The things we remember are those with some emotion attached to them — surprise, fear, excitement, joy.

I may — may — remember this encounter with the overpriced greens a year from now because I was so stunned. It was a visceral response, a combination of shock at the price and then embarrassment that I hadn’t noticed the overcharge while checking out. For my daughter, though, it’s just a story. She didn’t have that direct emotional connection. I reflexively tried to make it a little more vivid by thrusting the plastic lid at her, like some elementary school teacher trying to make the Miwok Indians seem real by passing around a grinding stone. Fat chance.

There was an old Gary Larson cartoon that I loved. It had two frames. The first was labeled, “What we say to dogs,” and it showed a man scolding his dog:”Okay, Ginger, I’ve had it! I’ve told you to stay out of the garbage! Understand, Ginger? Stay out of the garbage, or else!”

Then the second frame was labelled “What they hear,” and the dialogue balloon coming out of the man’s mouth went: “blah blah Ginger blah blah blah blah blah blah Ginger blah blah blah.”

Or here’s his cat version of it:

Cartoon by Gary Larson

Sometimes that’s how I feel talking to my daughter. She’ll absorb about as much of what I’m saying as our cat will.

I don’t hold it against her. I know it’s not personal, it’s just human.

But still, that six-month college departure date is hanging out there. I keep talking.

Am I my daughter’s laundress?

August 24, 2011

That’s a rhetorical question, and of course you’re all going to tell me, “No! At 17, your daughter is old enough to do her own laundry.” And you’re right.

But… it’s complicated.

Today is Daughter’s first day back at high school as a senior. Last spring, I decided it was time for her to do her own laundry. Since she was in the throes of finals and SAT prep, I figured wait until the start of senior year – a nice, clear delineation point.

Why have I been doing her laundry up until now, though? Plenty of teens do it themselves. If we had a larger family – if I were like my friend Janine, with three children and an hour-long commute each way to a corporate legal job in Silicon Valley – my daughter would have been doing her own laundry for years. I know what Wendy Mogul and all the other parenting experts say about the need to give teens responsibility, not coddle them, not be helicopter parents, and so on.

But here’s the thing: Doing her laundry has felt like love to me.

My own mother did everything for us. Granted, she was a stay-at-home mom in a pre-feminist era, but she did everything! She did our laundry, made our lunches, dusted and vacuumed our rooms, I think even made our beds until we went off to college. It was excessive. My sister, brother and I should have been given more responsibility. But none of us turned out spoiled, selfish or slovenly. We felt loved and cared-for.

Now an adult myself, I want to do things for the people I love. With Sam, I reflexively look for little ways to help — pick up his dry cleaning when he has a busy week, save the science section of the New York Times for him when he’s traveling. He does the same for me. When it comes to laundry, we both do each other’s. One shared hamper, throw it all in the machine, dump the clean clothes on our bed to sort and fold. It works well and we pretty much end up doing an equal amount.

So it’s felt weird over the years to think of NOT doing Daughter’s laundry too.  Particularly with an only child, it felt like sending a message of exclusion: “Sam and I will take care of each other, but you’re out on your own.”

One solution might be to bring Daughter into the mix and have her take a turn doing the whole household’s laundry. Great idea – in theory. In practice, it would mean one more task to nag her about and fight over. I don’t want my clean underwear held hostage to the riveting social life and general procrastination of a teenager.

So I’ve done her laundry. But last spring, as we started looking at colleges, I realized it was time to stop. I didn’t want her to show up in her freshman dorm not knowing how to turn on a washing machine.  It’s like making our pre-schoolers learn to dress themselves and tie their own shoes. Doing laundry for her may = love, but forcing her to learn how to do her own laundry also = love.

So, okay. Resolved. It’s day one of senior year and time for me to retire as laundress.

But I have this feeling of dread. I picture piles of (dirty? clean? indistinguishable?) clothes on her floor and wails at 6:15 in the morning, “I don’t have any pants to wear!”

And as she becomes ever more independent in so many other ways, I already miss this one little way of still taking care of her.

The push and pull of parenting a teenager

July 7, 2011

When I started this blog, one of the topics I intended to write about was parenting a teenager. But that’s turned out to be nearly impossible, since I want to respect her privacy. I did one blog post back in January about an ill-fated escapade of hers, and somehow she found out about it and was furious. Rightly so. I removed the post.

But I do want to say – if I can do so without embarrassing her – how I have been spending more and more time feeling sad about her leaving the nest.  She still has one more year of high school, so it’s not imminent. But the signs are all around.

When she attended her school’s graduation in June, we were all thinking that next year it would be her turn. As I organize a weeklong camp for her soccer team later this month, I’m aware that this is the last summer it will happen.

My neighbor Leslie Laurien painted this picture of my daughter and her son at Stinson Beach when they were little. You can see more of Leslie's work at Copyright by Leslie Laurien, 2001.

I look out the living room window at the horde of five-, six- and seven-year-olds playing catch and riding bikes on our street and I feel nostalgic. I think about  the things I assumed we’d do someday – like renting an RV and driving to national parks – and realize that the window has closed. At least for doing those things with her as a kid.

I feel like I’m in a mild state of advanced mourning. I’ll probably stay in this state for the next year. No matter how close we’ll be as adults, we’ll never be as intimate as we have been for the past 17 years – living under the same roof, eating the same meals, cuddling when she was little, driving her around now that she’s big but still unlicensed. I wish I could turn back the clock to ages four to eleven, probably my favorite time period as a parent

And yet this week, when she left town for six days, it was such a relief to have her go.

We’d entered into one of those ruts where we were both driving each other crazy. I felt like she was constantly sullen. She probably felt like I was constantly nagging.

 Mom: Want lunch? Come on down. We’ve got great leftovers.

Daughter (entering kitchen): What is there? 

Mom: I made turkey curry. There’s leftover prosciutto. Leftover sliced turkey. I got some little salads at the market. Fresh melon and blueberries. Lots of great stuff.

 Daughter (opens refrigerator, peers in, makes face, goes to cabinet and pours bowl of cereal, goes upstairs with it silently).

One thing that drives me crazy is preparing food and then having it rejected, or eaten grudgingly. Fortunately Sam is always appreciative – we would have divorced long ago if he weren’t.

So I’m delighted this week to be cooking exactly what Sam and I like, without worrying about the taste buds of the younger generation. (Catfish! Lamb! Arugula!) I’m delighted to have the house to myself during the day. I’m relieved not to be nagging anybody, and feeling their anger at being nagged, and then getting angry at their anger, and so on…

Weird. I’m crushed that she’s going to be leaving us next year. And I’m delighted that she’s gone right now.

The parenting books talk about how teenagers have a conflicted push-pull going on – wanting to break away and be independent, yet at the same time not wanting to leave the nest.

I think I’m experiencing the parental version of that teenage push and pull.