Monday, April 2, 2012

Harbingers 2: Metal in the Mouth and Ears

I dished out 5k for braces three months ago and it was then, looking at my darling daughter that I felt close to the final transformation. Although she had definitely been developing her young woman's body for some time now. Fall 2010 marked the end of Santa Claus and the coming of "the monthlies" all in one week. So bittersweet. I felt somewhat accomplished in managing to have Santa Claus last that long, but the part that was hilarious to me was that she was willing to let go of Santa rather easily, it was the realization that the Tooth Fairy was not real that really stymied her. I suppose because her tooth fairy was so personal, responding to her notes, and visiting so often? I don't know. Perhaps teeth are personal. When the "jig was up" as it were, I brought out the box of her teeth. I don't know if I'm a weirdo mom saving all my kids' teeth, but it seems like an important part of who they were. I have a cannister of old shark teeth in my drawer, so why not my kids' teeth? In any case, M. was sweet for a moment toward her younger sister asking if she could be K's tooth fairy now. But that lasted one tooth and the job went back to me. It's ok, I like the role.

But, as I said, I find teeth to be very interesting, very personal. So when M. was 10 and running around outside and tripped on a black walnut and smashed her face into the sidewalk, severing her two front teeth in half, it was a moment of shock for me. She ran down to my office holding her 1/2 teeth in her hand and I looked at her and thought, "Now she's permanently broken. There's nothing I can do to fix this." I mean, I wasn't dramatic toward her or anything, they were just teeth. Lots of people have caps and such from accidents and injuries, but there was an overwhelming sense of a greater magnitude of not being able to protect her from permanent damage worse than broken teeth.

M's teeth are encased in metal now. Which in my own 14 year old self, while I hated the feeling of getting my braces tightened, my teeth felt "safe" in the metal. Safe from falling out as they tended to do in my dreams far too often. Braces are that strange passage but a kind of limbo, too. As long as there are braces on her teeth, she's permanently stuck in teen-dom. The peirced ears are another story.

That story starts with my own ten-year old self begging my father for pierced ears "because everyone has their ears pierced, Dad." Wrong answer. My father's wise parenting saw that answer as a huge red flag, so he said, "No. Not until you are 16." On my 16th birthday he woke me up and said, "Let's get your ears pierced." To which I replied, "No. I'm fine. I don't really want them pierced." And I didn't get them pierced until I was 22 and on my own dime and own whim. And that was great.

So am I not as wise a mom? I took M. to the mall on Sunday and she got her ears pierced. I had originally said 14, and capitulated to 13 as a compromise for not having a slumber party with fifteen 7th grade girls (the thought of that still makes me cringe.) But my feeling was that the ear piercing was a right of passage. Most of her friends have had their ears pierced since second or third grade, so it was not a peer pressure kind of choice. But it was an "I'd like to grow up a little" choice. And I felt that I could handle that. She couldn't understand what "the big deal" was anyway. And I said to her, "It's the piercing of your precious body. The body that came from me-- whole and perfect and now it will be pierced." These were my father's words to me, and the eye roll I gave him was well-matched by M's eye roll to me. And I was kind of kidding. But not really. The caveat is in place, however, "Any other piercing you should ever get in your life, you must pay for and sign for yourself." She said, "Oh no mom. I'm totally fine with just my ears." I suppose we'll see about that.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

The Post That Started All of This

A couple of months ago I had a particularly trying time with my daughter and needed to reflect upon the events in the best way, I know how, through writing. This post in my Eclectic blog resulted. I posted the link to my Facebook and was overwhelmed with the response from friends, colleagues and former students. I knew I had struck a chord and I knew that while there are many people out there with psychology degrees perhaps more qualified than me to talk about raising teenagers, I really do have a great deal of hands-on experience in this field. I mean, I've been dealing with teenage girls for over three decades at this point. I'm including dealing with being a teen myself, but then early on as a 20 year old camp counselor I started to work on a residential level with that age-group.  And since 1995 I have worn the zillion hats that boarding school teachers wear and have dealt with probably over a thousand different young women in a zillion different capacities. But while that experience certainly has informed and prepared me for the teenager under my roof, the reality still is this, no amount of preparation can simulate the reality. So the post, was my realization that the most interesting ride is ahead of me. Come along if you will and share with me your experiences, too. In the words of the cheesy High School Musical that my Class of 2009 freshman subjected me to on a daily basis "We're all in this together. . . . "

Harbingers Part 1: Tomboy Dies A Little Inside

     When my daughter was in kindergarten her teacher asked me at parent/teacher conferences if M. had teenaged sisters. I was a little taken aback because on some level my daughter grew up with 100 teenaged sisters, since she was born and raised on an all-girls boarding school campus. Her kindergarten teacher was remarking about both her incredible level of maturity but also her volatility. I thought, uh-oh, I'm in for it.
     Mostly the thing that frightened me (but also intrigued me) about the little M. was her absolute lack of fear and her utter independence. She could climb to the top of a tree, and did every chance she got. There is a huge metal pole outside of where my office was. It is at least 20 ft. off the ground and she regularly would climb that pole. I never forbade it, because as I said, this total fearlessness really fascinated me. I was always such a cautious scaredy cat as a kid. So the only stipulation was that she could only climb that pole when I was in shouting distance so I could call 911. I know, bad mom, but I never did have to call 911-- and there were only two broken anythings in this crazy kid's upbringing. Once she broke her humerus while at my sister's house hanging on the rings on the swingset. Did I mention she was hanging upside down on them. She landed right on her arm. But then proceeded to heal in like two weeks. Swimming the whole time with a makeshift bikini sling.
     She flew trapeze every summer from the time she was 9. She climbed to the top of every tree worth climbing, and rang every bell on any rock climbing wall we could encounter.
     Yet this summer, when we went to trapeze again, all of a sudden she panicked when at the platform. "Mom, I'm scared" she called down. And it kind of freaked me out. I had never ever heard her utter those words before. She managed to do her splits and flips, but it wasn't the usual joyous day.
     I remember reading Pipher's Reviving Ophelia when I first came to the boarding school. My younger sister was 15 at the time and it was if the case studies of young interesting vibrant girls turned brooding dark mystery teens was chronicling her life. But it's the alteration of many a teen. Boys and girls-- that moment when you realize you are no longer a kid. It's terrifying. It's "stand on the platform ready to drop" terrifying. And the frightening part for parents, is we can't always be the safety net anymore.