I’m Afraid Puberty Will Ruin Everything

I’m in awe of my kids. My son, the youngest, is 7. His twin sisters are 9. My oldest child, also a girl, is 11. They are still in awe of me, too. We are comfortable with each other and we don’t embarrass each other. We need little else than a snack and some conversation and we’re fed by each other that way, in love and admiration. Yes, at the end of any given day I’ll be desperate for them to stop talking at me, but the very next morning, and then again when they hop off the school bus in the afternoon, I’m hungry to hear about all of it. Who played with who on the playground and why a certain classmate has cooties, or whatever today’s cootie equivalent is (a first generation iPad instead of a mini, maybe?). Each day they bring home new knowledge, and bugs in jars, and scraped knees, and they want to share all of it with me.

We discovered this peaceful, pleasurable co-existence during the preschool years. That’s when my little baby-faced children became little baby-faced people. They had ideas! They made plans! They made jokes that were truly un-laughable, because they didn’t really get nuanced humor, but their interest in lame knock-knock jokes was proof that something big was happening. There was a sea change brewing in the swirly ocean of their brains. I was finally past the toddler years, a time when I felt like I was living on emotional credit. I was in debt to them, paying them off with diaper changes, and by enduring public tantrums and sticky floors under their high chairs. I hoped that equity would finance a nap (mine) once or twice a year. Better yet, maybe the pain and suffering of the toddler years (helped some by their love of cuddling) would mitigate the eye rolls and the “but everyone’s going, mom” that I imagined I would hear during the teen years.


But now, a big something looms, another transition, and it scares me, maybe more than it scares my 11-year-old. Puberty, that inner monster that’s been lying in wait for a decade, is slowing creeping into our lives. It’s likely to cause a lot of door slamming around here. Theirs and mine.

I see puberty peeking out from my oldest child, and sometimes the twins, when I look at them and think, They are 9 going on 19. I can imagine what life with pubescent teens will be like. Maybe, in the near future, even my still-childlike son will come home and go right to his room instead of walking through the house, announcing, “I’m home! Do we have cookies?” Someday that will be my son, a boy turning into a stinky teen. Homegrown stink that comes up and out from his feet or his clothes. Sweat and something else, something that smells like another sea change.

It’s already happening with my oldest kid, from time to time. Some days she’ll be intensely concerned, seemingly out of nowhere, about her hair or her clothes. She’ll want to play with my makeup and it’s not because it’s dress up time, she’s just trying to peek ahead at her future self, a person she’s suddenly curious about, and a future person who, even though she doesn’t really exist, yet, has silent, unfathomable opinions about the girl my daughter is now.

I worry that things will get uncomfortable. For me and for them. When they have woken up on the other side of puberty, will topics slide off the table, no longer up for discussion? Questions like, “How was your day, honey?” might be met with noises instead of words. Emotional sounds that may mean “fine,” or they may mean the other kind of “fine,” but they both mean “stop asking.”

I sometimes sorely miss my cuddly toddlers. I’m trying now to store up the earnest kid conversations we are having now, to remember them for when there are silences between us in the teen years. I’m still here, living with kids who like being in this family, in company with me, in league with me. But sometimes my oldest isn’t really all here, and sometimes my youngest seems so far away from baby. So I pine a little for the creatures they were.

As they grow and I feel them slipping into the time I knew would come, the time for growing out and away, not just up, I wonder if I missed something, if I haven’t laid the right groundwork for the next decade to go as well as the last. I worry that they won’t fit with me anymore, not hand-in-hand or heart-to-heart. I worry that they’ve outgrown the invisible cuddles that kept us connected. I realize that once upon a time I felt a sense of ownership over them. Now, it feels like they are repeating, without saying a word, “I don’t belong to you.”

Why is it that I’m so aware of where they begin and where I end? Have we always been different people? I could swear there was a time when we were a part of each other.

I feel like they are preparing to leave, not just me, but the childhood we built together. But I also know that we are still in it and most days they want a hug. But I can see the later. I hope that in the later they’ll come into the kitchen from time to time, looking for a hug, or to play cards together, like I taught them to play when they were 8. Or they’ll want to go to a movie with me or have lunch or share a laugh. I can see that the people they are becoming were never mine anyway, not to keep, only to grow up and out alongside. And those people aren’t leaving, they are becoming, which isn’t the same thing, and which isn’t really about me, after all.

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