I realize there are countless challenges associated with raising teenagers but, for me, one the hardest is not ignoring them.  Because at some point after our children’s little arms are long enough to reach around and wipe their own tushies, most of our interactions with them are judgment calls.  We spend our emotional energies deciding when to step in and engage – and when to butt out and let them do for themselves.  And in the beginning, most of us favor interacting more often than not, as our fear of their failure is equal to the high probability of them failing and the epic potential of such fail.  As they get older, all three of these numbers decrease exponentially to the point that they achieve those magical words every parent of a toddler longs to hear:  self-sufficiency.

Still, I remember those younger years vividly, being invited to a family friendly social gathering and following my toddler boys closely around other people’s homes, watching the parents of older children and turning green with envy as they relaxed and chatted away while their offspring entertained themselves somewhere completely out of eyesight.  I couldn’t wait for that day when I wouldn’t have to worry about where my kids were and what they were doing.  I thought that milestone would never come.  But it did and now I find myself each day spending less and less time within eyesight of my sons.  Has this evolution made my life easier?  Absolutely.  Has it made parenting harder?  Of course it has.

Parenting is one huge karmic joke.

Just when you have expended every ounce of physical energy the Universe has given you (about the time your youngest reaches age 6.85 years), you level up to a new reality.  In this reality, you don’t have to move your body at all to care for your kids, but your mind is running a marathon a day.  It is then you realize how great you had it when it was completely obvious that you needed to step in and assist, engage, support, or correct your child.  You didn’t have to wait for an invitation, a sign from God, or blue smoke signals to offer advice.  You just gave orders which you were pretty darn sure were 100 percent correct.  These days I’m batting about .500.

To wit, this past holiday weekend, my mind took off running to a destination we hadn’t visited in some time.  The place was called:  Quality Time.   Dave and I were sitting in the bleachers at Chase’s 8:00 a.m. Saturday morning basketball game and I determined that it had been quite some time since we had been to the Zoo.  (Of course there is a REASON for this that has less to do with our busy schedules and more to do with the age of my children – but somehow, that was lost on me as I was waking up in a middle school gym.)  I don’t think it was lost on Dave as he did not display the enthusiasm he once almost did for this family excursion.  After almost 18 years of marriage , he knows better than to completely diss my quality time schemes.  So he countered with a trip to the Aquarium.  I agreed.

Because I am so in tune with the psyches of my sons, I told them they could each bring a friend, which they did – and we were off.  As further recognition of our their advanced age, we let them go off by themselves as Dave and I strolled through the exhibits, observing the countless young parents pushing strollers, carrying cranky kids, and lugging huge diaper bags full of sippy cups, cookies, changes of clothes, and hand sanitizer.  Weren’t we soooooo lucky?  All we had to do is tell the boys to meet us at the café in 90 minutes.  Life was good. 

Ten minutes later, they were done.

The older boys had viewed the entire aquarium.  The sharks.  The penguins.  The stingrays.  The octopus.  The minnows.  Everything.  Ten minutes.

“Did you stop and LOOK at anything??”  I asked.

They shrugged.  I gave them some money and told them they had another hour at least – and off they went again.

“Go find some girls for God’s sake!”  (This advice did not actually come out of my mouth.  It hit the back of my teeth before I clamped up.) 

The younger boys did a little better but after an hour – and about $200 in admission and food items — everyone was ready to go home.  I know deep in my heart that it was our last trip as a family to the aquarium.

Was suggesting this outing a major parenting mistake on my part? Hardly. Aside from wasting a few bucks and facing the ridicule from my family for suggesting it, no children were hurt in the making of this day.  But I know now I could have inserted myself into their lives a better way than dragging them to New Jersey to see a bunch of fish.

And so another lesson learned.  It won’t be the last.  As I look at my calendar in the next year, the following scenarios are already scheduled:

Should I comment on his Facebook page?
Should I insist on meeting his friends parents?
Should I give him my opinion on that girl he likes?
Should I let him go on that ski trip without us?
Should I just let him alone for the rest of his life?
The list goes on.

Parents of little ones, take note.  The truth is the day when you don’t have to worry about where your kids are and what they are doing will never come.  The difference is – as they grow – you lose your prerogative to stick your nose into their lives and find out if there is anything to worry about.  For now, I think I will err on the side of engagement, even if it means wasting some money and time now and again. 

I hear the Zoo is lovely in March.  I hope someday they will forgive me.

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