Tag Archive | teenagers

Looking Toward the Empty Nest

The other day, I said something that felt extremely weird and kind of freaked me out. I was talking to someone at work about my kids, and I said “My son is 14, and my daughter is almost 18.” It was the first time I’d said it aloud that the girl is going to be 18 soon and the reality sort of smacked me in the face. I know I’m not the first to say how fast they grow up and all that, and it’s true, but it’s more than that. If nothing else, I don’t feel old enough to have an 18-year-old!

I don’t wish they were little again. I very much enjoy my kids as older people, and I think I’m a better mom to older kids than I was to toddlers and young kids. I do wish I’d had more patience when they were young. I wish I’d taken more videos of them. If I could travel through time and visit their younger selves for a short time, that would be delightful, but I don’t want to do it all again. I think it’s more that you get to this point as a parent and realize the biggest part of your job is almost done, and just when they get to be really cool, interesting people, they leave you.

Then you start to question yourself: did I do it right, or right enough at least? Did I give them a happy childhood, fond memories to look back on? Do they have the skills they need to become independent, responsible adults? Will they be okay on their own?

I feel confident that she does have the skills, and she will be okay. I’m excited to see where she lands next, and watch her do all the exciting college things. As another parent told me, this is what’s supposed to happen. It’s a good thing, a happy thing.

But we all know there’s a thread of sadness too. I enjoy her company very much, I enjoy us as a family very much, and to know that we’ll see her so much less is a hard pill to swallow, even as I tell myself that it’s a good thing. She wants to go out of state, so she might be four hours away, or she might be ten hours away. Wherever she goes, she’ll be able to come home for visits. And I want her to go out into the world, to have the courage to venture away from home and try new and exciting things. I’m the tiniest bit jealous of the adventure she’s embarking on.

I am so very happy for her. But I am a little sad for me. I will miss her, if for no other reason than she’s more chatty than the two men in the house and she keeps me company.

However, a little is okay. I feel more optimistic and excited than I feel sad. But I also I think I’ve been in denial so far this school year. I thought I’d be a mess, crying at every “last” event, but it hasn’t happened…yet. Maybe it’s because we haven’t had that many true “last” things yet; most of them will come this semester. Maybe we’ve been so caught up in all the day-to-day stuff, all the college application stuff, that I haven’t had time to consider what it all represents. But I feel it looming. The college acceptances are coming in, the choices are getting narrowed down, that big birthday is coming closer. An empty nest is not that far away. I have primarily been Mom for the last 18 years. Who will I be after that?

I confess, I have entertained thoughts of life after kids, and they’re not all bad. The husband and I have talked of traveling a bit more (especially if we can get one of those grown-up kids to dogsit for us). We’ve talked about moving to a house that’s not a fixer upper in an area that’s not determined based on the local schools. We’ve thought about what paths we might want our careers to go, once we’re not quite so constrained financially. So yeah, it’s a little exciting for us too, for me. That’s what I’ll try to focus on as we move into this last stretch of senior year.

I don’t usually do those “pick a word for the new year” challenges, but it seems pretty clear that this year’s word is “Bittersweet.”


Oh, my girl

I am so in awe of my daughter. She is so strong, stronger than I ever was at her age. She has this passion for music, this talent for flute, and it has become an intricate part of her life. I can’t think of flute without thinking of her, and I often can’t think of her without thinking of flute. They are intertwined. She has worked hard over the last seven years and grown into a gifted musician, and she’s seen a lot of rewards from that work. She’s earned spots in district bands, state band, honor bands. She’s earned top ratings at competitions and played solos without a hitch.

But with every bright spot, there is a bit of darkness hiding. There is so much competition in this world. She hasn’t succeeded at everything she’s tried; she hasn’t gotten every first chair or solo she’s wanted. And to try so hard, to practice and work so diligently, and not get the results you want, must be incredibly disheartening at times. I can’t say for sure, never having been in anything so competitive. But I imagine, and my heart aches when it happens.


It happened yesterday. We went to District Band auditions. After an early bout of nerves a couple of weeks ago, she was feeling confident. She was practicing, working new tricks from her flute teacher, and getting good results. She felt good at the first audition, felt good after the callback audition, and we settled in to wait without too much anxiety. But the callbacks ended, and the wait stretched to 45 minutes, an hour, 90 minutes, and the stress built. What could be taking so long? 27 flutes for 13 spots (including the two honorable mention spots), surely it couldn’t be that hard to sort it out?

Each musician is scored during their audition, and the scores are tallied at the end. The drama comes if there are ties, and the judges have to come to an agreement on who gets which chair. Many flute players also play piccolo, and if they earn a chair on both instruments, they’re given the choice. If they turn down piccolo, the judges move to the next piccolo, and so on, until the piccolo spot is filled. So if you’re sitting waiting, and you see other flute/piccolo players getting called back to talk to their director, you know the results are coming soon. We did our best to stay patient and positive.


It took almost two hours after callbacks ended for her to get her result: second chair in the district band. That’s an awesome result. It really is, to get second chair out of all the flutists in the area who auditioned. And given how long it took to get results, it must have been an extremely tight competition, coming down to the smallest of details.

But. Last year, she had first chair. And when you’ve had that, and you think you’ve earned that again, second chair is bittersweet. I understand it, even as I know how wonderful second chair is. Like I said, it’s a competitive world. She’s been competing against the same musicians for the last couple of years, so it feels a little personal. You don’t just miss out on the spot, you see your competition in that spot. I can imagine how sharp and sour that must feel in your chest.

Plus her experience as first chair last year wasn’t all she wanted it to be. First chair typically comes with a certain spot in the band; the first chair flute is next to the edge, right beside the piccolo. And the first chair flute is given any flute solos in the band’s music. But last year, the district band director decided to switch things up, and he flipped the seating so that she was in the middle of the band, and had the entire flute section play all the solos. So while she knew she was first chair, she didn’t get to experience the perks that usually come with it.

So this year she was, is, disappointed. Sad, frustrated. She knew she’d done the work. She knew she’d improved. So why didn’t her spot show it? It’s hard to remember that even as you’re growing and improving, you’re not doing it in a bubble. The others are doing the same thing. You have to remember that there is some subjectivity to each audition, and something like first and second chair can come down to very small differences. It reminds me of Michelle Kwan when she won silver at the Olympics when everyone expected her to win gold. They’d ask her, “How does it feel to know you lost the gold?” And her answer was, “I didn’t lose gold. I won silver.”

That’s what my girl did yesterday. She earned that second chair. And she’s learning that you have to take each setback and use it as an opportunity for growth, without getting distracted by what everyone else is doing. She still gets to audition for All-State Band, and I think it’s likely that this will motivate her to work even harder to perform as well as she can.

And that’s why I’m in awe of her. Every time this happens, she finds the strength to rally. She sits back and feels the disappointment, and then she stands up, puts it behind her, and goes on to the next great thing.


I am immensely proud of her results yesterday, as I am every time she auditions. I can’t wait to see how it goes at State. But the greatest thing for me yesterday was watching her interact with the middle school musicians. She works with the 7th and 8th grade bands at the middle school, and she’s built lovely relationships with these kids who admire her and look up to her, and she found so much joy in encouraging them. She called them her “babies” and kept notes of who got what results, and she hugged them and cheered them on, and it was so sweet. She is going to be a wonderful teacher. I love that not only will she create beautiful music herself, but she will also help create future musicians. To have such a gift and be able to share it with others, that must be the most wonderful feeling of all. And how lucky I am that I get a front row seat.


P.S. There was a LOT of knitting happening yesterday, what with over eight hours in one building. That post will be coming soon!

What I want my daughter to learn from me

I don’t know if I can write this post.

No, that’s not true. I can write this post easily. But I don’t know if I can publish this post.

Author Sarah Dessen recently had an essay published on Seventeen’s website. It was about a teenage friendship with an older boy. To me, it was about a need to please. It was about powerlessness, a lack of independence and confidence, seeking validation in others when you don’t know how to find it within yourself. I liked her essay. I liked it a lot. It resonated with me.

When I was young, I had this friend. We met in third grade and quickly became Best Friends. We did everything together. We had sleepovers every weekend, passed notes in school, talked for hours on the phone. She even called my mother “Mom” sometimes. We were going to be the crazy old ladies in rocking chairs on a porch someday. We were the kind of friends they invented those broken heart necklaces for. It’s a funny thing, how those necklaces are such a prominent symbol of those kinds of friendships. How often do those friends end up breaking your heart? Mine did.

When we were 15, I met a boy. I liked him, he liked me, all was good. We dated for a year, my entire sophomore year of high school. He got along with my friend, too, and we hung out together a lot. He and I talked about the future, where we’d go to college and what we’d study, how many kids we wanted and what we’d name them. I loved him. At the time, I really really loved him. Then he went off to a summer camp, a church-related thing, if I remember right. Funny thing: my friend went to the same camp. Even funnier: when they came home, he broke up with me. Most hilarious: he and friend started dating shortly after we broke up.

Haha, yeah, I was cracking up. Okay, not really. Okay, yes, I was, but not funny haha. I was a mess, as you can imagine. I was devastated about the boy, of course. I was blind-sided by this, since I’d thought we were happy and had a future together. (I was young. Forgive my naivete.)

But. My friend. I cried more tears over her than I ever did about the boy. I’d known him for a year. Her, I’d known for EIGHT. I thought she and I knew each other inside and out. I trusted her implicitly. I was so wrong.

I never said what I wanted to say, which was, “HOW? How could you possibly choose him over me? What did I do to deserve this? Yes, you deserve to be happy, but how can you be happy when you know I’m miserable and heartbroken?” I never told her, “How can you be so selfish?” Heaven help me, I never said, “Does it make you feel better to make me feel worse?”

What did I say? I don’t really remember. I remember crying a lot over the next several months. I remember throwing a bowl against the wall in my bedroom. I remember vomiting when I found out they’d slept together. I think I did ask the boy, “Why? Why her?” but apparently didn’t get a satisfactory answer. Something about how they had a lot in common, I think. Sure, I understood that. That’s why the three of us had a good time together. She and I had a lot in common. More than I realized, clearly. But why did neither of them have that internal switch that might have made them stop and say, “Hey, is this the right thing?” Why did neither of them decide they could consider someone else’s feelings too?

Oh, I remember teenage love. Boy, do I. I remember how deep and intense it is. You think it’s perfect and will last forever and nothing else matters. And I never want to deny anyone a chance at love. But at the very least, the barest minimum of concern for your “best friend” would suggest that you give her a bit of time to heal from the breakup before you start dating the boy. You might even check with her, say, “You know, I really like this guy. I think he might be someone important. But you’re important too, so I want to make sure you’re okay with it first.” For whatever reason, that never happened.

What happened next? I stopped talking to both of them immediately and moved on to my other friends. Ha. Nope. You’d think. I wish. But I didn’t really have other friends. I’d always been shy, and up to that point, that friend was all I wanted, all I needed. I was friendly with other kids at school, but I didn’t hang out with any of them. These two people were my support system. So what does a 15-year-old girl do when her support system is the thing bringing her down? In my case, she tries desperately to keep it going. Yep, I accepted them dating. I stayed “friends” with both of them and never confronted my friend. I could lash out at him, but never her.

I shouldn’t say never. It happened once, when she lied to him about something she had done and blamed it on me. I yelled that day. Loud and fierce. And boy, did it feel good.

I wish I’d kept that feeling. But I didn’t. I kept the feeling of “I have nobody else, so I better hang on to these two. They’re the best I can get.” I kept that feeling for my entire junior year of high school. The boy went back and forth, dating both of us at different times. He’d give us enough attention that we wouldn’t leave, then switch to the other girl. We split proms: I went to his Senior, she took him to our Junior. The friend drove me to school in awkward silence. Other people talked about us. A few girls tried to get me to walk away, and I shrugged it off. I tried to move on a bit, dating a couple of boys, but it wasn’t right. The best part of those dates was how jealous it made the boy. It always made him boomerang back to me. I liked it. And I hated that I liked it.

There was part of me that knew the whole situation was messed up, that I deserved better, that I’d be happier if I could remove myself. But I couldn’t bring myself to do it. It was too scary to do that when the alternative was such an unknown.

Was I being selfish too? I don’t know. Maybe. Should I have been the bigger person and walked away to let them have their shot? Maybe. It would have been the better thing for me, that’s for sure. But I didn’t. I couldn’t. Not until the pattern was broken.

He went off to college, and I started my senior year. I was active in a lot of fun things at school, newspaper and theatre and choir. I loosened up and started hanging out with other people. Other boys started flirting with me. Not just one, but a few. It was refreshing how free I felt. I felt amazing. I was doing cool things, finding cool people, all on my own. I could be me without worrying about whether I was the right “me” for the friend or the boy.

That’s when the magic happens, isn’t it? When you come into your own? Another boy started flirting with me. This was a boy I’d noticed before, but we were never single at the same time until now. We started dating and it felt so right. It felt exciting and safe, comforting and warm. It felt happy. He liked ME, just me. And I liked him. I liked him so much that I happily broke a date with the other boy one weekend. He’d come home from college and we were supposed to go to a movie. But I wanted to see the nice boy instead, so I cancelled. I said I didn’t feel well. He didn’t believe me. I didn’t care. Oh, he found out eventually, yelled at me, cried at me, begged me not do anything but kiss the nice boy. I laughed at that one. His power was gone. I had finally found my own power.

I think most teenage girls have a similar experience in their past, a time we all wish we’d been stronger sooner, a time we wish we had valued ourselves more than another person. Maybe we all need those experiences to get to the point where we can value ourselves. Those are the experiences that stick with us. Here it is, over 20 years later, and I can still vividly remember those emotions. It’s not really about the boyfriend. I don’t miss the boy at all. Really, once he went to college, I never missed him again. I married the nice boy and 20 years later, he’s my person, my other half. It’s not really even about the friend, though I do miss her. Or rather, I miss that first deep friendship, that innocent, all-encompassing devotion. That’s long-gone.

My friendships now are different. I don’t trust as easily. Loyalty and compassion mean more to me now. I have less patience for liars and fakers, and make a point to spend my time with people who are genuine and kind.

I’ve told my teenage daughter variations of this story several times, each time emphasizing whichever part is relevant to her struggles. I wish I could keep her from going through what I had to go through. I want her to be the strong version of herself without having to go through that valley of weakness.

Why say all this? What’s the point of this post? I can’t say it better than Sarah did in her essay: “What do I want? To teach her to be wary without being fearful. To know that she can trust her gut. That if something feels wrong, that’s all the reason you need to get out of there. Don’t worry about being nice, or hurting someone’s feelings: they’ll get over it. Or, they won’t, and so what? You don’t have to wait, I want to tell her, until you have no choice. You have more power than you know. So say no. Say it loudly. Say it twice. And then get out of there, and come home.”

I don’t miss my babies

Earlier this week, I was at the doctor’s office with my mom. There was a woman around my age with a toddler and a new baby. There was also another older woman who kept telling the young mother how much she should appreciate them when they’re this young and they grow so fast, you know, all that stuff. The baby started crying while my mom was back with the doctor, and when she came out, she said, “Someone out here has a baby! I’m jealous!” The other woman chimed in, “Me too!”. I hesitated, then said, “I’m not!” And it’s true. Mothers of young kids, it’s okay to want them to grow up a little bit. It’s okay to look forward to the days when they’re not so young.

I loved my babies. Seriously. They were adorable and sweet and lovable…except when they weren’t. I haven’t forgotten how hard it is to have young kids, how much work it is, how much of yourself you have to give up in order to serve these tiny humans. They’re delightful, and demanding. They’re cute, and crazy. It’s rewarding, and repetitive. There’s a lot of joy, and a lot of tears. I mean, come on, colic? teething? Middle of the night projectile vomiting? Potty training? Temper tantrums? Playing the same game over and over? “MOM MOM MOM MOM MOM!!” It’s a hard job.

I’m so very glad I had kids. There was a lot I loved when they were young, and I do miss the sweet hugs, the excitement whenever they saw me, the cuddling, the innocence, the delight in each new development.

But guess what? Now I have actual people! I have an 11 year old and a 15 year old, and the last three years have been so much fun. I have these two great individuals who can take care of their own basic needs, who can verbalize their aches and pains. There are still tantrums but they’re few and far between, and I can actually reason with them now (to some extent). They’re smart, and I can hold interesting, intelligent conversations with them. They’re discovering what their passions are, and I love seeing what I can share with them, and what new things they can introduce me to. I marvel at the skills and talents they have now.

I watch who they’re growing up to be, and I know that I had a part in it. That’s more rewarding than anything else I’ve experienced up to now. Yes, of course, what I did when they were babies was part of it. It’s a whole long process, and I’m finally seeing the payoff. I have wonderful, wonderful kids. They’re kind, thoughtful, generous, still loving at times, sympathetic toward others.

Oh, they’re not perfect. They’re normal kids. They can be selfish, thoughtless, disrespectful, lazy, sloppy, and clueless. They get snappish and cranky with me, they forget to feed and water the dogs, they leave their shoes EVERYWHERE, and quite often they don’t smell so fresh. I still wake up earlier than I’d like, but only on school days, not every day. It’s still hard.

But then they thank me for driving them around, or they spend their own money to buy me a birthday gift, or they decide on their own to make me a card for Valentine’s Day, or they clean the kitchen without me asking. Any of those feel just as good as, if not better than, a hug from a toddler.

So moms, yes, appreciate the time you have with the little ones. But don’t fret about it going too quickly. It gets even better. IMG_4333