Friday, November 19, 2010

I'm so glad I'm not 13

It's so hard to be a teenager. This week has been a hard week for my daughter.

On Tuesday I picked her up at school and had her to the dentist by 2. Last month she had several teeth pulled for round two of braces, and one little portion of a root remained behind. Tuesday's checkup was to check on that root. We were done by 2:20, and in reading her demeanor, decided she needed a little time with me prior to going where she normally goes the afternoons I'm teaching, so we went to Starbucks. I try to do that at least once a week with her, because it provides a neutral space to talk about what she's thinking about without her little sister around. As we sat there, she started to talk about some things that had happened at school and she started tearing up. I asked her if we needed to go sit in the car, and she nodded yes, so we moved from inside to outside and sat in the parking lot awhile. As time passed, I realized that she had a lot on her mind, and was pretty emotional about it all, yet my time frame to be with her was growing shorter, so I asked her if she wanted to go with me to class rather than where she normally goes. She immediately said yes, so we started the journey, which takes about an hour. She talked the whole way.

We talked about her dad, her stepmother, things happening at school, etc... She's dealing with a lot of stressors. One of her biggest stressors is the fact that she's smart, and others are belittling her, including saying things like, "I hate you!" when she figures things out quickly. There's much, much more to this conversation, but suffice it to say I had some major alarm bells going off. I know enough about adolescent development to not brush off what she is telling me. In her world, these things are significant, even though I know that they will eventually pass and things will get better. Telling her that, though, is not really listening to her, or giving her the support she needs. And I know enough about development to know that my offering her solutions is frequently counterproductive. About all I can do is say, "I completely understand."

I suggested she talk with her aunt and uncle about things going on with her dad and stepmother. My days of influence with her dad are long gone - I forfeited that in the divorce. She's not sure that's what she wants to do, but she did say repeatedly that she loves going to her aunt and uncle's house, because they feel more like home than her dad's house. Geez, it's so hard not to react when they tell me things because I get so frustrated listening to how things go when they are with their dad. They had just come off a weekend with them and her wounds, whether real or perceived, were very fresh in her mind. I did help her understand one of the things her dad talked to her about, but she is convinced that she can't talk to him about what is worrying her. That it doesn't matter or do any good....

In class she enjoyed writing on the board and got all of her homework done. She later informed me that my class was boring, to which I told her she didn't know what she was talking about. Of course she was bored - it didn't make any sense to her. She talked to me the whole way home, too - this time she talked more about things going on in school, and read to me the poems she wrote during my class. In one poem, she talked about suicide. Now I know that she wasn't threatening it, but my heart caught in my throat, yet I remained extremely calm as we continued to talk on the way home. The poem was more about understanding why people would take their own lives, but it was also filled with so much anger. I told her I remembered feeling the same way at 13... how it seemed at the time that would be easier than dealing with all the crap at school... how much I hated junior high and was so glad when it was behind me. That life gets better... I asked her if she had listened to P!nk's song "Conversations with my 13 year old self" - she said yes, but it had been awhile. She also talked about how she hated that she was making life difficult for me... to which I replied she wasn't making my life difficult at all - that my favorite part of life is being her mom, and that, among other things, means being there for her when she needs me.

When we got home, she came to me immediately and wrapped her arms around me. I held her for a very long time, and whispered to her that I love her and she has no idea how much joy she has brought me and I couldn't imagine life without her. A little while later she crawled into my lap and I held her in a near fetal position while her sister was getting ready for bed. I suggested she take a long hot bath, and she did - that perhaps it would make her feel better. And while she was in the tub, my youngest crawled into my lap and burst into tears, too. Telling me that her day had been awful....

My oldest decided to restart our conversation journal. She wrote to me prior to bed, and now it's my turn to write back to her. We did this right after the divorce, and it seemed to help her process. Her anger pours off the page. I have no idea what I will respond back. The anger is directed toward "everybody."

Through all of this, there's not a moment that I wish for anything different. While I would love for my children to not be feeling such pain, I am beyond thankful that they feel safe enough to talk to me and to curl up in my lap. Nothing else mattered on Tuesday. Not the class, or anything else. All that mattered for me is that my children consider me a place of refuge.

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