“What a cute pumpkin hat,” I said to the woman holding the toddler behind me on line at the grocery store.
“Thanks! My friend knit it for her,” she beamed.
“Enjoy it while you can still dress her without a fight. I haven’t been able to tell my teenage daughter how to dress since she was 2,” I confessed.
“Ugh! I dread my kids becoming teens,” she rolled her eyes and pulled her baby a little closer.
Her words fell between us like the steaming pile that teenage years represent to many parents: the dreaded tantrums, drama and anxiety. And that’s just from us adults. My friends with older kids warned me that bigger kids bring bigger problems, with only the briefest reprieves of sanity and decorum to remind us that our teens are not full-blown monsters.
Before I was able to respond to this mom, her toddler squirmed out of her arms, grabbed a balloon off the display, and knocked over some candy. She wailed as her mom tried to wrangle the candy she snatched, and then threw herself on the filthy floor kicking. The germ alert siren went off in my head, but I silenced it, relieved by the realization that this wasn’t my problem–just my mommy reflex kicking in. I smiled smugly (hopefully the “smug” took place inside my head), and congratulated myself on surviving the terrible toddler years, which most definitely prepare us for what lies ahead. “Threenagers” are toddlers whose behavior closely resembles our image of teenagers: attitude, crying fits, sassiness–you get the picture. For many, the “threenage” stage pales in comparison with the real portion of the teenage show. As for me, I’ll take teens over toddlers any day. Here’s why:
1. Whether or not they choose to use their words appropriately, teens are capable of sophisticated communication.“Use your words,” we tell our toddlers ad nauseam. And even after those terrible twos grow into terrible teens, it seems we’re still begging them to replace door slamming and tantrums with words. My natural inclination to swoop in and have an immediate discussion is often rebuffed (to put it mildly) by teens who just don’t feel like talking at the moment. I know they’ll eventually come around, and that my needs must simmer (while I have a glass of wine).
In a former life, I must’ve been a spy with a background in psychology, which really rounds out my resume as chauffeur and chef. I’ve learned to bide my time, read between the lines, listen without interrupting (OK, I’m still working on that one), and approach each of my kids differently. The stuff they share on their own terms is a goldmine, but the true gift is the feeling I walk away with after one of our talks. I’m fascinated and enriched by their perspective on life. For that alone, I’ll take my teens over toddlerhood any day.
2. They can be relatively self-sufficient. No, really. They can. I’m that awful mom who didn’t love the nightly production that turned our bathroom into a water park. I couldn’t wait to clean the sticky kitchen, so we could read and do puzzles or board games. I was that cerebral mom who craved knowing what they were thinking, and couldn’t wait for them to become verbal. I don’t miss the hours of planning just to get out of the house, and the additional endless moments of buckling into leftover snack-filled car seats. When my kids were finally old enough to bathe themselves, get dressed and get going, I felt as though I was awarded a windfall of quality hours with them. I celebrated when they were old enough to ride in front with me–we’ve had some of our best talks sitting captive together. And it’s amazing what they’re capable of in the kitchen when you’re not home. Who knew they are completely proficient at self-feeding?! (Now we’re working on the definition of “proper cleanup.”)
3. Fewer tantrums over clothes. One morning when my daughter was two years old, she advised me that she’d be picking her outfit that day. And every day that followed for the rest of her life. We argued about the necessity of socks with your sneakers (still do), a jacket when it’s cold (still do), and shorts when it’s not warm enough (still do). But she developed her own unique sense of style and I learned to butt out (I’m still learning to not make a face).
Let’s face it, how important is this battle? I try to remind myself that they probably cannot contract pneumonia from failure to wear a hat and scarf. I’m just relieved to no longer have to hold them down to get their shoes on, and bribe them with stickers on the behavior chart.
My mother will be very upset when she reads this article. She’ll be convinced that I’ve now jinxed myself by portraying my teens as relatively normal, and that her precious grandchildren will turn vile at midnight. Lest I unleash that evil b*tch called karma all over myself, I hereby declare (and knock on wood three times) that I fully recognize we’re not out of the woods yet. My teens are 14 and 18. We have a long way to go.
“What if I publish this and you turn into a beast?” I half-jokingly asked my teen daughter.
“Then you’ll have to remember that you’re a moody beast, too, at times. We forgive you, and it doesn’t last forever,” she said without hesitation.
Touché, my darling.