Working up the courage to write a book, after months of feeling rudderless and without direction, felt nothing short of transformative. I was like a convert: I can do this! Hell, I will do this! Then, when I discovered the book I wanted to write had already been written, I hit my first wall and only managed to pull myself over with the help of our magical horses.
It lasted four days.
Because as it turns out, the second book idea has also been written, and not just once, but multiple times. Worse still, the assorted authors consist of three M.D.s, six Ph.D.s, two M.S.s, one Ed.D., and one M.Ed. Oh, and a New York Times prizewinning journalist, just for good measure.
It reminds me of being a parent.
Why do I feel the need to dish about the travails of having teenagers in the house? Because what goes on in the hours of my life that are not spent on this project center almost entirely around my kids -- their actions and behaviors having a profound impact on the fabric of my daily life as they stagger toward adulthood in fits and starts.
I do love these kids more than life itself. If a train or a bullet or a bus or a horse were charging in their direction, I would step in front and gladly take the impact. If our house were on fire and I had to choose between saving my beloved husband and our best dog on the planet—or my teenagers—I would grab the teens and run. I can’t even explain why I would make that choice, since the dog and the husband adore me wholeheartedly, while the teenagers probably wouldn’t notice if I disappeared from the planet. But there it is. I could no more unravel the love I have for my kids than I could fly to the moon with my arms.
Having said that, there are moments I have felt overwhelming despair at the hands of my children.
When they were small I used to count the days until they would turn eighteen, assuming if I could just make it to the graduation finish line, I would earn the right to transition from overly-strict-authoritarian-who-never-understands to the role of respected peer and trusted friend. On would share a meal and a glass of wine, trading confidences and insights as the sun set slowly behind the mountains.
Yes that naïve version of myself makes me snort-laugh——good thing I swallowed my coffee.
My oldest child glided through the teenage years relatively smoothly, partly because he was a full-blooded introvert and partly because I was distracted, a single, working mother struggling just to keep things going—the cooking, the yard work, the laundry, the bills—getting everyone off to school on-time was my daily achievement. With a few exceptions, my oldest son made it through the teenage years with barely a ripple.
I assumed this had everything to do with my above average skills as a parent.
When he went off to college and survived the first semester I believed I could finally sit back, relax, and wait for the respected friend phase to commence. Three years later I am still waiting. In the time since my oldest left home, the phone has rung exactly once. I do not talk with him unless I call, repeatedly, for weeks, and I do not see his face unless I call, repeatedly, for months, and schedule something far in advance. Although he lives less than two miles from my home, I can count on one hand the number of visits we’ve had, and none of them involved sunsets. Yes, he is still an extreme introvert and I probably should not take it personally, but quite frankly it hurts—that’s all there is to it.
Over the past year, my middle son has decided that he too will vigorously disprove the theory of my stellar parenting. I will spare you the gory details for the sake of dignity, but suffice it to say I have wept more tears over that boy, felt more fits of rage, and despaired to the point of depression that he will emerge into adulthood as a decent human. Despite knowing to my core the he is only behaving like a normal teenager (just like I did) which is to say self-centered, shortsighted, rash, and immature, I still can’t shake the feeling that I am failing. With mounting terror I watch my words of advice and wisdom fall on ears that might as well have the word IRRELEVANT flashing above them.
Lately, the youngest, and final teenager in our home, has commenced her own version of pulling away by spending every waking moment behind a locked door—preferring online conversations with friends to anything family related, leaving me to feel, once again, irrelevant.
In my current situation there are limited options:
1. Give up and admit I can't write this book while being a parent
2. Send the teenagers to boarding school in Switzerland
3. Move to Switzerland myself, taking only the dog and the husband
4. Get a grip
Since #1 is downright embarrassing and #2 and #3 are wildly expensive, I’m sticking with #4, although the first three are likely to linger in my imagination for the duration.
As for exactly how to get a grip, I have some ideas. For starters, I will stop noticing how many initials trail along behind another author’s name and I will stop reading the jacket covers that highlight their astonishing/unattainable/mind blowing achievements. Next, I will stop taking the actions of my teenagers as personal affronts and continue to nudge them toward adulthood with as much compassion, patience, and respect as I can possibly muster. I will continue visiting the horse barn, continue writing, and continue to remind myself there is value in what I am doing -- I just don't know the ending yet.