When I first started writing young adult fiction I was the mom of two young children. My understanding of teens came from my memories of being a teenager. It was easy to write about the sullen teenager talking back to her mom when I had 2 sweet little kids at home who still thought I hung the moon.
But now I have 2 teenagers. My daughter is 13 and my son is 16. And oftentimes they are those sullen teenagers talking back to their mom.
Back when they were small it was easy to write intimate kissing scenes and swoon-worthy dialogue between my 16 year old characters. But now that I have a 16 year old son there is a part of me that pictures him in that scene and it makes my skin crawl. Or I picture some guy trying to make out with my daughter and I want to punch my computer screen.
To put it mildly it makes things a little more challenging for me in my job.
However, it’s not just challenging for me in my writing life. The truth is I’m struggling with my kids getting older.
When my kids were little all I wanted was some alone time. It was what I longed for more than anything else in the universe. I mean, let’s be real, as a mom of young children you can’t even use the bathroom without a kid following you in there. At that point in my life I would’ve given my right arm for an hour by myself. And hearing the word “mom” made me want to gauge my eye out with a dull spoon. Because I heard it a million freaking times a day. My kids followed me around, they crawled on me, they hung on me, and played with my face like it was play-doh. It was the worst.
And it was the best.
Only I don’t think I fully understood that it was the best until now.
They say you don’t know what you have until it’s gone, and in this instance I can vouch for that. I still remember the first time my son didn’t give me a kiss when I dropped him off for school. Eli was always my affectionate one. When I would drop him off at kindergarten he’d prep me in the car.
“Mom,” he’d say, “Today I want 10 kisses. Hear that? 10 kisses. I have to have 10 kisses before you can leave me.” Then he’d count each kiss as we stood in the doorway of his classroom. And he wasn’t kidding. I really wasn’t allowed to leave until he got all 10. One day a group of kids were snickering and pointing at him while he was giving me my 10 kisses. So he marched right up to them, puffed out his chest and said, “Hey, I love my mom and I love to give her kisses.” That was my Eli. He loved his mom and he loved to give her kisses, not just in kindergarten but for years afterward.
But one morning in fourth grade, he hopped out of the car and raced down the walkway without giving me a kiss. I sat there perplexed, sure that he had simply forgotten. In fact, I sat there for several minutes, worried that once he realized his mistake, he’d come running back to the car. It was him who needed the kisses, after all. But the minutes passed, and pretty soon the bell rang. That’s when I realized it wasn’t a mistake and he wasn’t coming back.
Kayleen was the one who loved to hold my hand when we were in public. She’s always been a little shy and nervous in new surroundings, and I was her safe place. But when she was in fifth grade we were out and I reached for her hand. She immediately yanked her hand out of my grip and hissed at me to not ever do that again. It should’ve been easier since I’d been through all the rejection with Eli, but it wasn’t.
Now I’m the one who begs for time with my kids. And they’re the ones who ask to be left alone. The tables have turned and the truth is I don’t like it. I wish I had cherished those moments more. The moments when they crawled all over me. When they wanted endless hugs and kisses. At the time it felt that it would never end. That it would go on forever. But it didn’t. Time passed quickly.
And it’s weird because in my mind they’re still my babies. My son is still that little redhead boy with the lisp who held my face with both hands so he could kiss me. The one who crawled into the kitchen while I was cooking, wrapped his arms around my calf and said his first word, “Mama.”
Kayleen is still the blond haired little girl with her hand tucked in mine. The one who used to jump between her dad and my faces when we tried to kiss because she didn’t want to be left out.
But those kids are gone, and they’re not coming back. It’s something I’ve had to come to grips with lately. The fact that I’ll never have those moments again. I’ll never see those children again. Eli will never demand 10 kisses again, and Kayleen will never use my body as a jungle gym again. And they shouldn’t. It would be weird…and a little inappropriate.
And I guess that’s my point.
Life has moved on. My kids have grown up. It’s the way it’s supposed to be.
But lately it makes me sad. It makes me sentimental and a little emotional. And it causes me to take a few too many trips down memory lane.
Mostly, though, it makes me determined to savor my time with them the way I wish I had done when they were younger. Back when I was a frazzled mom who wanted nothing more than to be left alone. So I’ll snatch every moment I can. I’ll savor every stolen hug. I’ll draw out every conversation. I’ll save every text. I’ll sit through any stupid teen show and listen to way too many Justin Bieber songs. Anything to be close to them.
But I’ll also enjoy my alone time in the bathroom, because having older children does have its perks. 😉