I get it, growing up is painful and icky and they’re probably questioning everything their dad and I ever told them. And that’s okay.
We’ve bought them the body books. We’ve had the uncomfortable talks and we’ve established an open-door policy. One thing I wasn’t prepared for, though, was my reaction to their unbridled emotions. I knew they’d probably slam doors, roll their eyes, stomp away and mumble things under their breath that they’d never say if they knew I could hear them.
But I didn’t know that when these things happened my chest would tighten, my head would cock to the side and my eyes would squint. That I would feel anger, even though rationally I know that these are normal adolescent behaviors. I’ve been there, so I should be able to understand what they are experiencing.
The truth is, though, that there is no preparation for what it feels like for someone half your size to push you to the point of almost losing control. For someone whom you would jump in front of traffic for to get mad at you because you suggested that they may want to put on a shirt that doesn’t smell like they got it from a barnyard. These are the people I nourished in — and with — my body. For them to turn around 10 years later with the unmitigated gall that comes with puberty is, well, galling.
The same little people who cried in the middle of the night for a diaper change now think you are the most intolerant and unfair person in the universe. Parents’ love for their children is often unmatched, unconditional and unfaltering. But pretending that is the only emotion we feel toward our offspring (hello rage and sadness) puts everyone at a disadvantage. Sometimes I have to walk away, sometimes I have to count to 10 (15 times) and sometimes I just have to breathe really deeply and remember that I let my abdomen be sliced open so this person with half of my DNA could look at me with pure disdain.
I swear it was yesterday that they were chubby-faced toddlers who squealed as I chased them through the playground. Back then, their emotions came in three varieties: happy, sad or mad. I was prepared then and I knew what to expect.
Over the past year, though, things have slowly started to shift and I don’t think I’ve adequately prepared. How am I, a well-rounded and reasonable adult, supposed to soundly reason with someone who has the life experience of a gnat?
The world has prepared me to expect, and help them deal with, pimples, ill-fitting clothing, new yet mysterious smells and the declarations that their lives couldn’t possibly get any worse after we’ve taken all their electronics. I’m ready for all of that. Subscriptions to period boxes, overpriced preteen hygiene products, special one-on-one time and the knowledge that I’ve been in their position all help me navigate these uncharted waters.
But where is the specially prepared box of wine and chocolate to calm me when my daughter decides that it’s okay to shoot fire from her eyes because I don’t agree with her clothing choice? Where are the products to soothe my nerves because my 10-year-old son believed the slogan on the deodorant that says “good for up to 48 hours,” and opted to apply deodorant every other day? How do I rationally approach these seemingly ridiculous issues without losing the small amount of sanity I have left?
Many things about raising preteens are sticky, messy and anxiety-inducing. There are days filled with rage, sadness and confusion on all sides. Those days often end with me frustrated, wondering why someone hasn’t come up with a one-size-fits-all manual to hand out at birth because I can’t possibly be the only one who doesn’t know what I’m doing. These are the days when the beautiful journey of motherhood collides with life, creating a mess I’m not sure I’m equipped to clean up.
Lately I’ve been seeing glimpses of my own uncertainty reflected in their eyes. They have never been through puberty before, and I have never guided kids through puberty. These future adults aren’t equipped to handle their emotions, and this current adult is still working double time to figure out how to handle my reactions to those emotions. Some days I feel like we’re being swept up in a tornado, while other days feel like the calm before the storm.
I love my kids, but I won’t shed a tear when this season ends.
Akilah Harper lives in Atlanta with her husband and their three children.