Earlier in the pandemic, I found myself numbly scrolling through my Facebook feed pausing briefly at the sweet baby and silly puppy pictures smooshed in between the exhaustive, political slants shared by “friends”. More puppies, please. Lost in a stupor, my fingers absently landed on the memories feature of the app. I feel it is appropriate to note that there is a LOT that is NOT great about social media—we are all aware of this– but that memory feature is most assuredly not among them. That lil’ fella is a burst of sunshine for my heart. But now we are raising teens in the middle of a pandemic.
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Captured in the video before me is my wild-haired, ever-opinionated, 20-month-old daughter clicking her tongue at her two-month-old brother laying on our bed. Donning her “big sister” shirt and training panties, between clicks of her tongue she is holding up her chubby little fingers and saying “See me, bab bro. See me?” An unprocessed slice of our life candidly gifted to me on an app. Watching this memory, I am filled with a rush of longing to kiss all over their sweet, baby faces, breathe deeply their tiny human smells and have their little hands wrap around my fingers just one more time. What I don’t seem to notice is the exhausted mama, piled on the bed with all her children, sitting between heaps of laundry to wash. One boob out, halfway between nursing and a very hairy right leg propped to keep the 20-month-old from plummeting off the bed to the hardwoods below. Thankfully, time has a way of smoothing the rough edges of our memory.
In the video, my daughter is holding her arms out saying, “see me, bab bro” but what she really means is “come see me, Gabriel.” I will never tire of toddlerspeak. She wants to hold him and has her arms out so he will come to her, which clearly, he can’t yet. Gummy grinning, he is flashing her his brightest eyes and she is all about. Me too, sister. Me too.
Those same two kiddos are now 13 and 14-years-old. The Ferber Series and Happiest Baby on the Block have been replaced on my nightstand with The Teenage Brain and Untangled. Same information seeking Mama just trying her darndest to keep up and never feeling fully prepared. Gone are the days of said bossy sister reaching to snuggle her little brother. The laundry is bigger and somehow dirtier but at least now there are bigger hands to help fold (or in my son’s case, cram in his drawers and hope Mom doesn’t notice.) Out sight, out of mind works for me, son. Those baby days were exhausting and ridiculously hard, but goodness were they sweet. Now everything has changed.
Pandemic living taunts me in the dark parts of the night, awake and anxious about the well-being of my children. This year was supposed to bring so much excitement. The start of high school, the beginning of 7th grade sports, the opportunities to move from the uncomfortable insecurities of tweendom and “glow up” to something far more confident. Yet now all these compacted losses, are just permeating our home space and we are all together stuck in the muck of it all. All of us, wishing it could be different.
But there is a difference. I am an adult. If I am dysregulated (because who isn’t these days?!), let’s pause and think about how confusing it is to be a teen right now. My frontal lobe is fully formed, I have lived through challenges and seen them through to brighter days and I am able to think outside of myself more often than not. Our teens though? Not the case. Developmentally, that is completely where they are supposed to be.
Unfortunately, a pandemic was dropped in our lives and we are all scrambling to find our footing. Our unhappiness leaked through the cracks of our everyday living and it got very ugly for a while. Life quickly unraveled to all the screen time, way too late bedtimes and pajamas all day. There was sneaking of phones in the middle of the night, screens off during virtual class and asynchronous time naps on the regular. My only interaction with my children was to air my grievances and disappointment with their behaviors… all complaints and no solutions.
Until it hit me.
Just like the pudgy fingered kid saying, “See me, see me”, is this hormonal teenager before me desperately seeking connection but weary and socially anxious. Instead of acknowledging all the flaws, I should have been offering support, structure, and solutions.
It is never too late to instill positive changes, Mama. We live and we learn. Bedtime came back. “Phone curfews” were negotiated with teen input. A little later than parental preference but a lot earlier than it had been. The expectation was set for better self-care. We take daily family walks to see the sky. The return of routines was a healing balm for us all. Seeing my teens means putting myself in their world. I downloaded Snapchat and TikTok. While I continue to think they are ridiculous and flawed, my children have been the “experts” to teach me the apps. This carved out some opportunities for them to feel smart and confident again. My daughter now sends me a picture every day in the app. Tiny effort from me and she echoed with more communication and the gift of little check-ins. In her own teenspeak of snapchat. Why was toddlerspeak welcomed but teenspeak pushed away? We have started some hobbies together. My husband and son are learning the guitar together on YouTube. All they have mastered is the theme song to “The Office” but it has filled our home with music and their laughter again. “Virtual” friend movie nights, google hangouts and shared Minecraft worlds are more intentional, coordinated with help of the parents, because as great as I know that I am, my teenage kids do not want to hang out with just Mom and Dad. I needed to be okay with that. I am now.
Our lives are far from perfect. Especially in a pandemic. We still argue, feel frustrated with this pandemic and weary of the world right now. There are some things, that even your greatest efforts cannot erase. Hard days do not mean you are failing. Our familial resiliency is growing. I see it in the ways our teens engage with us in an activity; the ease they share their opinions of the world and the forgiveness they accept following conflict. My children feel better seen these days. And while it isn’t through the face of a wild-haired toddler holding out her arms my direction, the tug on my heart is just as strong.