The Dreaded Teen Years

All I know for sure now is that I know nothing at all.

One of the weird gifts of having written a weekly blog for more than 10 years is that I have a record of so many of my kids’ milestones and phases and illnesses.

I’ve chronicled our struggle with head lice – for anyone just starting this terrible itchy journey, just get the prescription medicine right off the bat and save yourself months of frustration, combing, and wasted money – and Ruby’s first solo airplane flight. I blogged much of my pregnancy with Georgia. I’ve documented their first days of school and their various obsessions – ballet, Yo Gabba Gabba, corgis, roller derby. I’ve shared my thoughts on chores and allowance and sleepovers and cell phones and screen time. I’ve hyped sleepaway camp and lamented parent portals. I’ve shared thoughts on sibling rivalry and the good and bad parts of raising kids in this crazy city.

Sometimes, I think it’s fun – or maybe “fun” isn’t the right word; maybe “interesting” – to revisit something I wrote years and years ago in another context entirely, as is the case with the quote below, which I wrote in October 2009, when Ruby was just 2. 

“But just because I don’t yet have to worry about letting her go out into the world alone doesn’t mean that I’m not already watching her become more independent. We were at the zoo a few weeks ago, and Ruby was climbing up the rocks at Monkey Hill. She refused to hold my hand, and so I followed her up the rocks, my hands right behind her back, ready to catch her if she stumbled. Whenever she turned to look at me, though, I pulled my hands away quickly so she wouldn’t see that they were there. As we went up the rocks and down and back up and down again (and again and again), I realized slowly that I was going to be doing that, metaphorically and otherwise, for the rest of her childhood … and probably for the rest of my life. I was going to let her believe she was on her own while my hands were always hovering just behind her back, poised to save her before she slipped too far.”

Now that she is 15, this is truer than ever, particularly since she got her learner’s permit last week.

I’m not so naive as to think that I know everything that goes on in her life anymore. And as much as I wish it were true, I know I can’t save her from far too many things, can’t protect her from so much shit in the world. She will make – has already made – bad decisions here and there. I have to let her. I don’t want to. I want, so badly, in the short term to “prepare the path for the child.” I know, however, that “preparing the child for the path” is the best long-term plan, and the only way I can do that is to let her make her own mistakes and, I hope, learn her own lessons.

Nothing – not even head lice – has ever been harder than raising a teenager. I was emailing back and forth with a few friends who also have teenagers last week, and I wrote, “I think the hardest part is that we care SO MUCH, and this seems like the part where the stakes are the highest they’ve been so far, and yet it’s ALSO the part at which you stop being the center of their universe and knowing everything that’s happening as it happens. It’s like putting a soufflé in the oven. You know you followed the recipe, but now you have to just hope it’s rising because if you open the oven to check, you’ll ruin it all. Except instead of a soufflé, it’s the person you love most in all the whole wide world. And also THERE IS NO RECIPE.”

But even if there is no recipe, I know two things for sure:

1. I love her unconditionally. 

2. My hands are still here to catch her. 

I just hope that’s enough.

Digital Sponsors

Become a sponsor ...

Give the gift of a subscription ... exclusive 50% off

Limited time offer. New subscribers only.

Sign up for our FREE

New Orleans Magazine email newsletter

Get the the best in New Orleans dining, shopping, events and more delivered to your inbox.