My youngest daughter turns 11 this week. This is only significant in the sense that, with two teenage sisters ahead of her, she is my last bastion of childhood. Basically, she is all I have standing between me and a house full of teenagers.
But lately, I have been noticing more and more that, while I still refer to her as “the baby,” she is anything but a baby. Maybe it’s the new obsession with doing her hair. Maybe it’s the increasingly long showers (or the fact that she’s willing to take them at all). Maybe it’s the fact that I can no longer buy clothes for her, because she has suddenly formed an opinion on fashion. Whatever it is, I don’t like it.
The other day, I caught myself telling someone that I couldn’t be somewhere at a certain time because I had to get my “little one” from school. She’s five-feet tall, taller in her wedge sandals. That’s not little. And it makes me sad.
The teenage years sneak up on you. One day you’re planning a Build-A-Bear birthday party, the next minute all they want is tickets for Fall Out Boy and you don’t even know who that is or why he fell. It happens fast and without mercy. I remember being approached by tired, haggard looking strangers, usually when my toddlers were throwing tantrums in the middle of Target, who would stare at me from hopeless eyes and say, “Just wait until they’re teenagers,” then slowly shuffle away. Now I know what they meant.
With that being said, having teenagers isn’t the worst thing in the world. It’s just…different. So very, very different. And these years come with their own set of challenges and rewards. (I’ve been told that them going to college is the reward. I will let you know ASAP.) I’ve thought a little bit about what exactly it means to have a house full of, in my case, teenage girls and I’ve come up with a list of things that if you’ve had teenagers, you’ll be able to relate to. If you don’t have teenagers, then trust my tired, haggard appearance and believe me when I say, “Just wait…”
Signs that you have teenagers living in the house:
- Your Netflix “suggestions” are unrecognizable.
On those rare occasions when I actually try to watch TV, my Netflix account is convinced that I want to watch any movie about cheerleading, every romantic comedy ever made and all 472 seasons of Grey’s Anatomy. For the record, I don’t. In the meantime, Downton Abbey is buried so deep in the watchlist that it will most like never see the light of day again.
- The smells. Seriously.
Now, as I mentioned, I have girls. I have been told that boys are even worse. I can only imagine. All I know is that my house smells like hormones and feet – with the occasional waft of Bath & Body Works. That’s what my kids will remember about their childhood. Hormones and feet, with a little Japanese Cherry Blossom thrown in for good measure. I am not proud of this.
- The socks that cover every available surface…except their feet.
Socks seem to appear magically in my house every time I turn around. And not clean ones at that. I can only assume that this accounts for the “feet” smell. I find socks everywhere…All. The. Time. I find them on the stairs, on the bathroom floors, in the couch, under the couch, next to the couch, under the covers of unmade beds (including my own…and they’re not my socks), and today, I found one sitting next to the household computer on the kitchen desk. Just one sock. One, lonely, dirty sock next to the keyboard. Why, you ask? Because teenagers. That’s why.
- I buy extra food for the weekends, knowing that at any moment, I could have one extra child or a lacrosse team to feed.
And I love doing it. I really do. But sometimes I wish they would make dinner reservations. Some are vegetarians, some have allergies and some only eat Oreos. This means that just to get through the weekend, my fridge has to have more variety than most grocery stores.
- But by Monday morning, my pantry looks like a swarm of locusts has passed through.
I start most Monday morning shouting, “Are you KIDDING me?!” as I try to put milk in my coffee at 6am only to find an empty milk carton in the fridge. The lemonade is long gone, the pantry is a dietary wasteland and the counters are covered with a cookie packet containing a half-eaten cookie, Goldfish crackers crumbs, and approximately six tortilla chips. School lunches on Monday usually consist of five pepperonis, an old cheese stick that doesn’t look like it’s expired, and most likely, the tortilla chips.
- My data plan costs more per month than my first car.
Granted, my first car wasn’t much. But still. The data. Unless my kids are actually participating in Congressional hearings via FaceTime, there is simply no other explanation for the amount of data we go through in my house. And yet….
- My kids know everything. Except when they don’t.
Try telling my kids anything about anything and they will promptly remind you that they know everything. They know more about life, the cosmos and being an adult than anyone else on the planet – according to them. But ask them when their English paper is due, where they left my debit card or who is going to be at the party they want to go to on Friday night, and suddenly they have early onset teen dementia. It’s a thing. Maybe not medically speaking, but it’s a thing. I promise.
- For such know-it-alls, they manage to make incredibly horrible choices.
They don’t need lectures on social challenges, boys, the importance of grades, or the value of a sensible pair of shoes. They already know this stuff, apparently. Which makes it really, really hard to understand how they get themselves in the situations they get themselves in to. But on the bright side, I do find an intense, redemptive satisfaction in saying, “I told you so.”
- And yet, I still ask for their advice.
I don’t go out often, but when I do, I always find myself swallowing my pride and sheepishly asking my kids if my outfit looks ok. It’s like watching a Project Runway team spring into action. Someone is in charge of shoes, someone does jewelry and, the other day, I got a 15-minute tutorial on my eyebrows. I’m still confused. But apparently my eyebrows looked amazing. Which is not something I was aware eyebrows were supposed to do.
- I sleep less now than I did when my kids were newborns.
Sure, you hit that sweet spot in the early years where kids go to bed at 7pm and don’t wake up again until 7am. And don’t get me wrong, teenagers, too, will sleep for 12 hours. But they’ll do it between the hours of 1am and 1pm. Between waiting up for kids to get home at curfew, shrieks of laughter from the living room at 2am and kids who wake me at midnight on a Wednesday and ask if I could get them up at 5am (as if I’m just going to be hanging out looking for something to do at that hour) because they “forgot” they needed to make a poster for biology, I haven’t slept in years. Years, I tell you.
- Their lives are lived in a constant state of hyperbole.
After five full years of teenagers, my emotional barometer is absolutely shot. I mean, how many “BEST FRIENDS…EVER” can someone possibly have? And don’t ask how their day was, because it will either be the worst day in history (which will make you question everything you thought you knew about history) or it will be AMAZING, which will make you wonder why they are not happier people in general.
- They use all of the dishes, all of the time.
I brought at least fifteen dirty dishes up from the family room the other day. Some of them had science experiments growing in them. I am not sure what I did to make my kids think that they could not reuse cups, that plates and bowls can’t be washed, or that spoons are disposable. The only thing I can figure is that they eat their cereal in the morning, promptly throw their spoon in the trash, then toss their dirty bowl in the family room on their way out the door. There’s no other explanation.
- I wonder how someone so beautiful can emerge from such living conditions.
Based on the condition of their rooms, my children should look like hobos. And I mean the 1940s, eating out of tin cans, train-hopping, harmonica playing hobos. And yet, these beautifully manicured, lovely smelling (see “Bath & Bodyworks” above) people come downstairs every morning before school to see if the lunch fairy has, once again, made their lunch. It’s like watching the Phoenix rising from the ashes. It would be awe-inspiring if I hadn’t already asked them 15 million billion times to clean their rooms, because the health department could show up at any point – and it’s not going to end well.
- I see more and more of myself in them – and it’s not always flattering, but it keeps me going.
Whoever said that imitation was the highest form of flattery did NOT have teenagers. As these quasi-human personalities start to evolve, I see them struggling to straddle childhood and adulthood with increasing frequency and all too often, the meltdowns, short fuses and quirks are not too far off of my own. (I did just say “15 million billion” in the previous paragraph after saying that my kids exaggerate everything. I get it. That one’s on me.) But if they are watching and learning, then it’s not too late. Maybe, just maybe, the more I model the adult I want them to become, the more they will follow my lead. And that right there is all the motivation I need to keep going.
Really, teenagers are just toddlers with a little more freedom. They over react when they’re tired (which, P.S., is always), they eat too many snacks and don’t want dinner, and most days, they need a nap. But just like a toddler, they will keep you from the brink of despair with a well-timed hug, an unexpected “I love you,” and if you’re really, really lucky, occasionally they will even pick up their toys without being asked. They are exhausting and infuriating and will make you want to scream most days. But I have to admit, there are few things more exhilarating than watching a teenager gracefully stumble their way into adulthood. Teenagers will make you laugh, they’ll make you think, and they will push you to be the best version of yourself – whether you like it or not. So as tempting as it is to want them to stay little forever, I’m going to savor this part of the journey as much as I can. They’ll get their wings and fly soon enough and something tells me I’m going to miss them when they do.