smells like tween spirit
Col is skiing with a buddy, turned loose on the slopes without an adult. Rose is cruising downtown Durango with a friend, “window-shopping,” their hair swept into high ponytails, ears weighted down with hoop earrings, conflating perhaps, tweenhood with the 1980’s. I am at the grocery store, alone.
The woman in front of me in the check out line is simultaneously cradling a baby, loading groceries onto the conveyor belt, and putting down her toddler’s small revolt over bunny-shaped gummies. She apologizes for the chaos, for the extra time she’s requiring, but I am 100% charmed and have to refrain from advising her to enjoy this fast-moving stream of early childhood, because soon that bundled baby-daughter may be cavorting with her cronies, unsupervised, like an extra from a Cyndi Lauper video.
Col and Rose, ages 12 and 9 1/2, are inching ever farther from the home base of us parents, seeking their identity in the world, in their peers. They’re muddling around in popular culture, in dystopian novels, in PG-13 movies, trailed by the slightest whiff of hormones.
It’s wonderful, this growing up, watching the kids develop autonomy (neither Dan nor I alpine ski nor do we, er, window shop). And it’s terrifying, letting them slip into the stream of society, vulnerable to every passing marketing fad; trusting them with their cabinet of tween advisors, each with similarly undeveloped pre-frontal cortexes.
Last Friday night the kids picked up spontaneous sleepovers and Dan and I found ourselves unexpectedly alone in the house. It was lovely to spend time together (Scrabble, wine, etc, etc…) and also the house echoed strangely, loudly, with the absence of the children.
“I guess we’ll be getting used to this,” I said.
“Right, because it’s not like it’s going the other direction,” he replied.
So, we stand on the precipice of something new. There’s freedom and risk. The kids, like all of us, have a tremendous need for belonging, but will mistake ‘fitting in’ for true belonging several hundred times before it all comes clear. Their choices won’t be my choices. Rose’s lovely lashes have been coated in something dark and clumpy lately. If I get to drop Col and his friend at the rec center to play pool while I take a glorious, solo run on the river trail, then I may return to them snarfing something with 55 lab-made ingredients, dropped from the exotic mechanical arm of a vending machine. And I will say nothing, because autonomy is a like a bird; cage it and it withers.
Sometimes I picture handing the kids the baton of their own life and cheering them on as they run. But wait – there I am showing up a mile down the track with a refreshing drink and some protein. Because this separating is not exactly a flipped switch, but a certain forward motion. Or a dance. In which the children take two steps—sometimes graceful, sometimes stumbling—out into the world, and one step back towards home.
Everyone’s back from their adventures. We reunite with hugs, then the kids zoom into their shared room and crank the pop radio station. I make dinner, gliding around to my Pandora station, about 40 years behind the times. Rose comes out as Joni Mitchell sings: I remember that time that you told me, you said/“Love is touching souls”/Surely you touched mine ’cause/Part of you pours out of me/In these lines from time to time. Her words goes up my spine, into my heart and out my throat. Rose and I swoon over Joni’s holy magical voice; we dance together, and then she funnels like a retreating tide into the tween-den, called back by Rhianna, Justin Bieber.
This is the way of all things. Larvae to pupa to butterfly. Change and growth. Leaving, returning, and leaving again. You trade in the intoxicating feeling of being the very sun that your children’s planets orbit to something a little more, well, sustainable. Something like each family member harnessing their own planet, always in and out of each others’ gravitational pull.