I woke up this morning to seven teenagers in my house – and only two of them were mine. With three daughters, slumber parties have long been a tradition for birthdays. Girls love that sort of thing. But this was not a birthday slumber party. I would also like to point out that this was not a planned sleepover, rather, something that “just happened.” But, in our house, this qualifies as a normal Wednesday night.
Before I walked into the kitchen I knew what I would find. Sure enough, it looked like a swarm of locusts had passed through, leaving nothing but empty Pringles cans and candy wrappers in their wake. My next stop was the basement, where sleepovers always take place. As expected, it was littered with sleeping bodies. One group was huddled on the couch like a pile of kittens. Others were on sleeping bags. And one was dozing contentedly on the carpet, wrapped in a blanket. Soon they would be awake – and demanding breakfast. It was not going to be a restful day.
I always wanted to be the cool mom. In my mind, the cool mom was the one that all the kids liked. She had the house where everyone wanted to hang out. She always had the best snacks. She was the one who the kids could come to with their problems – even when they weren’t her own kids. She was the one that kids would flock to at school functions. And she always had cool clothes.
Seems easy enough, right? From early on, I thought I had it all wrapped up. I had my kids earlier than many of my friends, and subsequently, many of the parents of my kids’ friends. This meant that I was the “young mom” and for a long time, I figured that automatically qualified me as “cool.” I mean, I never, ever wore mom jeans. I joked around with my kids and their friends. I knew the music and could sometimes even sing along. I tried my best to stay up on the latest gossip. They invited me to be their friends on Facebook and Instagram. I even acquired a nickname that all of my kids’ friends used so that I could avoid the dreaded “Mrs.” title in front of my last name.
This was all fun and games when the music is the soundtrack to Annie and the gossip involves who chased who around the playground because they had a crush. But then something happened. As my kids have become teenagers, I find myself more and more often turning into my father, saying things like, “How can you listen to this noise?!” And the clothes? Here I was thinking that ironic t-shirts were still hilarious and my kids were walking out of the house in dresses that I would have worn as a t-shirt. Now, if that’s not irony, I don’t know what is. But it wasn’t hilarious.
Most of all, the conversations shifted. The gossip suddenly involved topics that caused me to have an instant and compulsive need to lecture. At length. Suddenly, the things that my kids and their friends were struggling with seemed very grown-up. And I wanted them to stop, rewind and stay little kids forever.
I have always encouraged my kids to have friends over. I like having them around and I like knowing where everyone is. But as the teen years overtook us, it was no longer a group of girls playing “Just Dance” in the basement. Once I started hearing more about what was going on behind the scenes, it didn’t take long for me to stop feeling cool. In fact, every fiber in my being wanted to pack the whole lot off to a convent. Or Siberia. It didn’t really matter which.
At some point, line between being the cool mom and a responsible parent becomes very fine. I don’t know if it has to do with them getting older or with me getting older, but our ideas of what was “cool” started to shift pretty dramatically. And with this shift comes a huge responsibility.
It’s easy to think that being the “cool mom” means you are the laid back, chilled out, nothing ever freaks you out mom. Or maybe it means being the mom that lets the kids have free reign, whether she’s home or not. But in fact, I think it’s the exact opposite. Being the mom that everyone wants to be around, the mom that always has an open house and an ear to listen to everyone’s problems, actually requires more parenting than ever. Being the cool mom doesn’t mean having a house where no one acts like a parent; instead, it means having the house where you are the parent to every one. It’s actually the hardest, least laid back thing I’ve ever undertaken. Who knew?
My job as a mom, to my kids and any one else who comes through my door, is to know things. I have to ask questions. I have to lay down the law. I have to know what these kids get up to. I’ve heard the gossip from my own kids and from other kids that come through. In fact, I sometimes feel like a priest who listens to confessions – I hear from one kids something about another and vice-versa. And none of them know what I know about anyone. And while I never want to close my doors to any one, because that’s not what cool moms do, I have rules. My house is always open. It’s the place where “Just Dance” can be played until all hours of the night. But it’s never going to be the space where rules get broken without consequence. I will always have an open ear, but you’d better be prepared for the lecture that follows.
What I’ve come to realize is that being the cool mom does not mean chilling out and letting “kids be kids.” Instead, it means staying up as late as they do to check in and make sure everyone is still where they’re supposed to be. It’s cancelling weekend plans with your own friends because you need to be home so that your friends’ kids can come over. It’s making extra trips to the grocery store so that you do, in fact, have the best snacks. It’s also being able and willing to listen anytime, anywhere – even if that means that just as you’re falling asleep, your daughter’s friend climbs in bed with you, sobbing, because her boyfriend broke up with her. You simply sit up, turn on the light, then offer your shoulder and your love.
At the end of the day being a cool mom is not any different from just being a mom. But it also means that your family will grow far beyond the limits of the children you gave birth to. It means that you will have a home that people will want to come to, not because they can get away with anything, but because they can’t. It means that any one who walks through your door will feel safe. They will feel loved. And they will know that, as long as they follow the rules, you will always have their back. No matter what.
As I looked down the basement stairs at the piles of teenagers accumulated there, I knew that I would have a little more work ahead of me that day. I would have more dishes to do. There would be blankets and sleeping bags to put away. And chances are, I would spend the majority of my day sorting out rides home. But I smiled anyway. Ultimately, I am only responsible for my own kids. But by opening my home and my heart to these roaming flocks of teenagers who eat all of my food and destroy my couch cushions, I am gaining an even larger family – and that’s the coolest thing of all.
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