01 January 2005

Single...With Children: Don't Miss The Opportunity To Acknowledge Good Behavior!

Teen-age transformations come about too quickly

Single... with Children


Publication Date: 10/25/00

When people find out that I share a house with two dogs and four cats, they nod amusedly. When they discover my son has a reptile obsession and that, in addition to the above mentioned family friendly pets, I also live in a home that contains a pair of chameleons, a bearded dragon, newts, frogs, a handful of tortoises and a few snakes (all nonpoisonous!), I get puzzled stares accompanied by furrowed brows. Nothing however, is more telling than when they learn that I am also the mother of a teen-age daughter and son. Forget the amused nods, furrowed brows and puzzled faces - the looks I get shoot straight to sympathy.

When Katie and Justin were toddlers - and I felt as if my plate was full trying to keep Justin out of electrical outlets and Katie from climbing to the highest peaks our furniture allowed - I'd dream of the day I could walk into a room without fear of broken bones and electrocution.

Older, wiser, more experienced adults would quickly remind me that this was nothing. I was told that I would someday look back on those danger-filled afternoons with fondness and longing. I was warned that nothing compared to the fears and pitfalls I would face shepherding my two children through the abyss of the dreaded, feared, potentially angst-abundant teen-age years.

I admit it. With each passing birthday my children celebrated, I would experience a little more trepidation, realizing crunch time was mere birthday or two away. I wasn't exactly certain as to what was awaiting me, but I could only surmise that it must be scarier than a thousand Alfred Hitchcock movies. I'd watch my kids and wonder if evil plans were being hatched in wait of the day they turned 13, when I'd find myself hanging on for dear life and turning gray overnight. Even though there were no telltale signs of mischief in the making, as they innocently went about the business of growing up, I couldn't quite discount the fact that the very people who had warned me of the future certainly seemed to know what they were talking about. They'd been through it, after all.

Lo and behold, I find myself right in the thick of it. I'm still the mother of Katie, my 17-year-old daughter and Justin, my 13-year-old son. In the time between their "childhood" years and their present age, a lot has happened. Their father no longer lives in our home. In fact, I've been divorced for more than three years now. I used to be afraid of "co-parenting" two future teen-agers, with two "in house" adults fortifying the home front. With their father living about a thousand miles away, I find I'm now the chief pilot/navigator/ flight attendant/baggage handler. It's fortunate I didn't know this would be the situation 10 years ago because I no doubt would have driven myself clinically insane based on rumor and a few unfortunate case histories.

Judging from the wide assortment of my kids' friends that I find playing video games in my family room, channel surfing in the rec room and/or raiding my refrigerator at any given time, I have to say that, overall, I'm nothing less than impressed with the teen-agers popping in and out of our front door. They have a wide variety of chances to fall off the beaten path, and the reality is that most of them don't. Any parent with a memory and weathered yearbook doesn't have to try too hard to recall that the transition from adolescent to adult is not the easiest of passages.

I've come to realize that I'm not always so forthcoming with a compliment when they do something right. I always tell them when they forget to toss the clothes in the hamper, but I rarely remember to acknowledge when they clean the kitchen without being asked or surprise me with a pitcher of iced tea. A warm hug and a kind word can mean the difference between a good day and a bad day for anyone. Even teen-agers. Especially teen-agers.

A few weeks ago I was reminded of the need of rewards and tangible expressions of trust when my daughter attended an outdoor concert in a huge arena. That part wasn't new. She'd been to concerts before, but, of course, I'd been right there with her. This time, she approached me with the request to attend a Counting Crows/Live concert with her best friend. I knew this would happen, just like I knew she would someday graduate from a Big Wheel to a bicycle and then to a car, but I wasn't quite prepared for the reality until it was staring me in the face.

At that moment, the face staring at me, pleadingly, was Katie's.

After careful consideration, I could find no reason why she couldn't attend the concert. At least these particular rock groups required no parental warnings on their CDs. It was time to loosen the apron strings. Katie and I both took a huge step toward maturity. Katie attended the concert with my permission and came back home the same Katie that I'd held the hand of through tentative first steps, first pedals on a two-wheeler and first miles in a car. Sure, she saw a wide range of frenzied fan behavior, some of which she no doubt knew I would never approve of, but she stayed right on course and returned the same person she was when she left, albeit a little dreamy eyed from hearing her favorite band and of course, with the requisite T-shirt.

Of course, all of this conjures up bittersweet emotions for me. Sometimes I wish we could keep our kids in our own little bubble, somehow protected from all that being an adult entails and in control of who and what they come in contact with, but that's not realistic. As I complimented my daughter on returning home from her concert at the exact time she had promised, I couldn't help but notice her palpable sense of achievement. She had successfully maneuvered a steppingstone into adulthood. She demonstrated responsibility and had proven herself worthy of my trust. She was beaming.

I remembered that look from when she was small and I would ask her to pick up her toys, clean up her plate or wash her hair. It was the same look of satisfied accomplishment. Regardless of how old our children grow, compliments are always welcome, and good behavior should always be acknowledged. Doesn't everyone long for that elusive pat on the back? It's just as important at 17 as it was at seven.

Readers can e-mail Susie at Susiewrites@gmail.com or write to her c/o Amarillo Globe-News, Features Dept., P.O. Box 2091, Amarillo, TX 79166.

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