Remember how our kids, when they were little, got the pint-sized, rose-colored explanations and answers? However “age appropriate” they might have been, they were a yawn. They were cute and gentle and nurturing, and most of all, they were fulfilling.
But that was then; this is now. Responses now, while fulfilling for totally different reasons, are borderline slightly inappropriate. Now, it's finally getting interesting.
As much as I miss the little, squishy versions of my children, the clinging hugs to my torso, face burrowed into my neck, feet wrapped around my waist as if we were two pieces of an ancient human Pangaea that occasionally snaps back together for loves, tear-drying or carries up to bed, I don’t miss having to filter, edit and otherwise push the “safe answer” button when it is time to communicate.
With two teens and two “almost-theres” under one roof, communication is becoming something that not only moves information from Point A to Point B, it’s a source of entertainment—for everyone. I love that I can use the sense of humor I was born with, (yet not the same one I use when they’re not around) and I am thoroughly enjoying seeing a sense of humor develop in my kids. It’s a great day when one of them makes me laugh out loud. It’s a better day when I make them laugh out loud. Not that it’s easy – they have pretty high standards when it comes to what’s funny. Luckily, mine aren’t so high.
The transition between kid-friendly responses to their questions and factually correct, non-watered down responses began a few years ago. I recall the night I sat the three little princesses down on my bed and began The Talk. Before I could even begin, one asked why I had a piece of paper and a pencil. Then, without saying a word, I drew a picture. Of a woman. Down there.
“What’s THAT hole for?”
“That’s exactly what we’re here to talk about!”
The picture made it fun for me. Turns out, it was fun for them also. I refrained from drawing funny weenie pictures, but it wasn’t easy.
I’m also glad that I can stop lying to them, saying stuff like, “Oh, everything will work out,” or “Those striped tights and that polka dot skirt look so cute with that soccer jersey.” Now, I can do a little more tactful truth-telling. The truth is, things don’t always work out. The secret to navigating the tough times is knowing you can handle whatever comes along – good or bad – you’ve got the power.
Just the other day, looking for shoes with my 11-year old daughter, she picked up a shoe off a rack at the shoe store that in my opinion, had clearly been run over by the ugly train.
“Mom, look at these!” she said with the enthusiasm of a diabetic kid in a candy store who just found out they discovered a cure for diabetes. I could not, would not, let her wear those shoes in public. I had to intervene. My daughter knows, even gets irritated with me when she asks me what she should wear, what color she should color the clown’s pants, etc., because my answer is always the same: I can’t make that choice for you – choose whatever makes you happy. This was different. There exists a code among women – women who truly love each other – to tell the truth when it comes to wardrobe choices.
“Okay, when we look at things, there is a difference between my opinion, if I like something, and if something is right for you, okay? Um, these shoes are for women over the age of 70.”
“Thanks, Mom. I’m glad you told me.”
Then, we promptly went over to the section for ladies without canes and she found a pair she loved and I didn’t have to say a word.
Perhaps the most striking difference between parenting pre-schoolers and pre-teens lies in the delivery of not just important truths and honest life lessons, but funny stuff. And by funny, I mean rude. I mean, how does a parent actually get mad at an 11 year old girl with a smiling comeback like the following:
Dad: Hey, sweetie, don’t forget to grab your lunch on your way out the door.
Daughter: Stop telling me how to live my life!
Then, there’s everyone’s favorite, the somewhat hostile, “Your Face” one-liner.
Me: Honey, please push your chair in when you get up from the table, kay?
14 yr. old boy: Why don’t you push YOUR FACE in!
I can’t help it: It cracks me up every time. It’s a little like diffusing a bomb: he doesn’t want to be nagged, and can’t honestly say, “Stop nagging me” or he knows I’ll hurt him (emotionally of course, never physically, in case we’re counting me pinning him to the ground and sticking my finger so far into his armpit I can’t see my hand). With this routine, we make each other laugh, while at the same time communicating our extreme distaste for what has just been said.
“Hi Mama, what’s for dinner?”
“Really Mom? Really?”
“I’ll tell you what’s gross….YOUR FACE!”
“Mom!” my daughter yells, unable to keep from laughing. I got her!
Other times, it gets slightly more heated when I select “sarcastic reply” from my menu of options. Especially with my 14 year old son. He doesn’t get sarcasm.
“I can’t get the liner in the trash can right.”
“Keep trying. You’ll get it.”
“No, really, I can’t get it because it is SO STUPID! One side pops up when I pull the other side over the edge!”
“Stupid is a strong word. Apologize to the trash can now.”
“Mom, STOP! I….can’t…..get…..itaaaaaaaaaaaahhhhh!!! Stupid trash can!”
“Your Grandpa always said you have to be smarter than what you’re working with.”
“Seriously, Mom! It’s difficult!”
That’s when I keep the sarcasm, but lose the funny-ha-ha tone. Now I’m getting annoyed. He’s missed the window of opportunity to make light of a frustrating situation and he’s going to pay for it.
“No, Jackson, Climbing Mt. Everest is difficult. Calculus is difficult. A trash can liner is not difficult.”
“Dad says calculus is easy.”
“What’s that mean?”
Later that night, we’re assembled at the dinner table. This is where I get the slightly inappropriate stare-down most of the time. I can’t help it though. Making dinner is hard and by the time it’s over, I need a little comic relief. My husband does the nightly "check in."
“How was everyone’s day?” The three girls answer first.
“I don’t know.”
“Dad, mom told me you’re easy. What’s that mean?”
All at once, three little girls’ faces spring to life, staring right at Dad, like little birdies in a nest, waiting for the worm. Since they know me, they know this has the potential for being borderline inappropriate, like the other night when one daughter asked me why we moved our desk out of our bedroom and into the loft area. I told her that a bedroom isn’t a place for a home office. “This is where the magic happens,” I said, raising my eyebrows up and down. She clammed up tighter than a nun’s knees and tried to look like she didn’t know what I was talking about. I think she actually left her body for a moment. My husband, complete with hands on hips and disapproving tilted head, said, “Really, Lisa?”
“Well, Jackson. What mom means, when she says I’m easy, is that I’m just a very agreeable person. I’m easy to get along with.”
“Nuh-uh, that’s not what it means. She would have told me that.”
“Man, you are good,” my husband replied to my son, shaking his head.
“That’s what he said….”