This month Andrew and I became the proud parents to a happy and sweet teenager! Oh man, who would have thought, right? I thought we were all babies, but we are proven wrong. We are so proud of this girl, I genuinely forget at times how much this girl has lived through, how her life view is colored by more loss and fear than most people you’d meet. I forget because I know her, because I get the honor of being her mom and seeing her bright light each day.
I remember transitioning to becoming a teenager was hard for me, as it is for many people. You don’t have the cuteness of a child, nor the confidence of an adult, this is also a time when many parents aren’t sure how to stay invested in their kids and the child can feel very alone, but not know how to ask for help. All with the added stress of intensified social pressure, rising school demands and puberty confusion making them feel awkward or like an ugly ducking when looks are championed. So rough.
All birthdays are special, but there is just something about becoming 13. I wanted to mark and commemorate this time. From the earliest Maria got home, we have made a date, her and I, for her 13th birthday; we’d go somewhere special, get a hotel and watch movies, get her ears pierced and create a moment–together, she and I, where we’d celebrate her growing up, a transition of sorts that shouldn’t be overlooked. Have the talks we need to have, important things in life, and non-important things, you can decide where Taylor swift and becoming a strong, dignified, fully loved woman fall on that scale. All within the freedom of ‘being away!’
She has brought it up each month, “Mama, remember how for my birthday we’re going to…” smiling ear to ear.
“Oh girl, you know I remember!”
That day, we zipped up our suitcases, headed out, and kissed all our boys gooooooooodbye!!! We even stopped at Starbucks on the way up, a REAL treat for us, we were pretty fancy, don’t mean to brag. We drove up the coast, sipping our drinks, her grinning sitting next to me as we talked about school stuff. I feel like in many ways Maria is better than most, but it’s no secret that junior high aged kiddos are not stellar at the art of conversation. Andrew and I have worked in a couple different high school and junior high youth ministries over the years, and we’ve gotten better at it and learned some skills, and here’s the overall truth:
Just because they may be bad at it, doesn’t mean they don’t want to connect. It doesn’t mean that they don’t want their hearts to be pursued, and it doesn’t mean that a connection to their parents isn’t one of the things they want, and need, most. Seriously, honestly, all of them, even when it seems like they don’t. They want all of that, don’t have the ability to ask for it, then they don’t have the skills necessary to maintain it once they are getting it, so here’s a little cheat sheet:
1. Embrace the awkward. You get some weird, random, one word answers, sometimes that don’t make sense? Or a strange, over or under enthusiastic story and you find yourself falling asleep putting everyone’s life in peril? Embrace it, we’re all ok. Calm eyes (no panic eyes), serene smile, and calm responses. (No, “WHAT!? I DON’T GET THIS!” or “Hello!?” just maybe a, “That’s great!”) Calm, serene, inviting more, undaunted by any weirdness, or hyperactivity. Embrace all that mess.
2. Hone your listening skills. Listen, maybe you could care less about what the exact characters in their favorite show or book are doing, or feeling, or just who won the dodgeball game, or about the best kids website at school for news, but focus on this: You’re child sharing their heart with you. That is the most important thing happening. You listen to them now, and you have a much better chance of them sharing with you when they are older–and things get real quick. You act like you don’t care, cut them off, or worse, tell them you don’t care by saying it, or getting lost on your phone or other distraction? Well, they will get that message, and they will protect themselves from that kind of rejection. I know, it’s fun talking to adults about things we care about, but it’s not always about our wants and needs, our kids have real needs from us, from you and me. One of the biggest? A real connection to them with our hearts. You don’t even have to be good at it at first, you just have to show up. The secret to connection? Listening, really, actually listening. You don’t need to go overboard and be like, “THAT’S THE COOLEST THING I’VE HEARD ALL DAY!!!!” Just be available, present and kind. The more you do it, the better it gets, anyways, so take it as an investment in even better conversations that will, undoubtedly, be mutually beneficial one day.
3. Don’t give up. You ask a question and it falls flat. You feel weird or annoyed. You want to give up? Just don’t. They don’t have the skills, you do. Don’t give up on them. You are an adult with all sorts of positive outside satisfactions and influences. They don’t necessarily have that. So shake it off, and keep pursuing. They will appreciate it, they will feel your effort and see it as a sign of love, even if they don’t show it right away. Again, it’s an investment. In their heart, and your relationship with them. Would you rather be the parent who got mad and turned away, or the parent who may feel a fool for a moment, but persevered and finally did make that connection? Ask yourself and see. It’s never, ever too late to start over, even after failure.
Many of us are so caught up in our own feelings of self consciousness and fear of rejection, that we don’t see the others around us suffering the same feelings. It takes one person to make that bridge to free everyone from it.
We arrive at the hotel with a postage stamp parking lot, and I was sweating trying to pull into a 15 minute spot to check in. But, I did it, wahoo! We parked, and rolled our suitcases right up to our room. It was small, just so close to the sand. “It’s your weekend, what do you want to do first? Pool, beach, walk the town?” She chose the beach first, we walked down the sideway and there we were!
First we walked to a deck and I took a picture of us overlooking the water
until we got shooed away,”Um, you can take this pic, but a bunch of cougars reserved this deck to drink pink drinks and show off their belly chains.”
“We’ll keep moving,” I told him (Those weren’t his exact words, just more exactly what ended up happening)
So we rolled out our warm towels on the soft sand along the beautiful curved beach, the sun making the world iridescent and dreamlike in our eyes, light dancing in small crystals along the curved shore, filling our minds in a peaceful trance.
“I’m ready to walk the town!” she smiled, eagerly.
“Well, then, let’s go!”
We got dressed and walked the town, stopped at little beachy bead store, clothes shops, just whatever the heck we wanted. No small minions trashing the place, having strong emotions about everything, just the two of us, enjoying our time. She requested sushi for dinner, so we popped in and made a reservation at a local spot.
That night we walked all around the down town. Laguna Beach is an artist town, and we were able to visit about 20 galleries, one gallery even offered me wine. We talked about the paintings, I always asked her what she noticed in each painting, we saw some amazing pieces, and some strange ones (Cats in a school house playing poker? Just kidding I’ll pay whatever they want! No, really, it was terrible) And we headed back to the hotel where we only got one channel, the Disney channel and we watched some shows like ‘Jesse’ and ‘Austin and Ally’. It was a special treat because we don’t have TV at home. She cackled in delight, and I thought, “What does it take to be a Disney channel actor? Loud voices and clothes to start, and loud one liners…”
We’ve had talks about becoming a teenager, and an adult, and sex many times, but we had a really good an special talk that night about it. I’ve had many sex talks with teenagers before so I’d rather dive in than avoid it, embrace the necessary, and it will be good! I told her that all of her choices in life are her own, she will be making them. My hope was to give her enough truth and education about facts to help her in those decisions, she nodded along. That lots of teens are looking for love, and don’t get the info they need, and can end up with hurt hearts. The theme was her worth and value, and how sex is being pushed on people and kids in every media outlet, because it sells. That it will be normalized and championed. I also told her how God is the one who created sex, and that he made it great!! A special gift he wants for people to share with the person they are married to. I told her about how if handled poorly, there can be many physical and emotional consequences of sex, and that biology isn’t kind to women in that regard. I told her that she is more than her body, that she is a soul and a heart, that she is powerful and filled with God’s holy spirit and will make so much impact on her time here on earth. I told her how many people loved her, and how it’s so important to invest in friendships when she’s young, and not single out a specific boy friend to be awkward with and create expectations with until she older, and ready for that kind of thing. We talked about pornography, STI’s, heart issues, how boys are wired differently than girls, and that’s totally OK and normal but to guard her words and conversations with them, and I told her that we’d be talking about this often, and will tailor it to her age as she gets older, and that she can talk to me, or daddy, at anytime, no matter what, that we would love to.
I remember hearing this cool pastor saying how when you don’t give your kids, “The Teeth Brushing Talk,” and check it off your list, “They’re good now.” Same with sex. Our culture is saturated with sex, for better or worse, and I told her soon her friend’s voices in her life may be louder than her parents, and in many ways that’s normal, but I told her our love for her will be the biggest, that we look at the long term for her life, and we would love to be a voice for her heart.
We read of out proverbs and both went to sleep happy. Such a special night.
The next morning we swam in the pool, got breakfast and relaxed. No school, no chores.
We found a Claire’s, and got her ears pierced. She was SO nervous, but the lady did it before she even realized and BAM! She had her earrings in. I told her she was officially a young woman now after this weekend, and she grinned. It was official, marked and celebrated.
She’s so cute 🙂 She picked out two little diamondy crosses and cleans them every day, she looks so cute with them in.
I feel like Maria and I are still living in the good results of our weekend. Oftentimes as parents we can see our kids as ‘tasks’ “Homework, food, sleep, hurry…” but this weekend I wanted the message to be, “I want to spend time with you ’cause I like you. You are important to me, and I enjoy you for you!”
I am one lucky mama, no doubt.
Thanks God, for this girl!
Cheers to 13! Teenagers are cool!