As my kids turn sixteen, reflections on the then and now

By Francie Arenson Dickman
@FrancieArenson

In a month, my twin daughters will get their driver’s licenses. I feel about this inevitability the same way I did about their impending birth. Can I keep them inside a little longer? Not that I wasn’t eager to meet the beings in my belly. But, together on my couch during those dog days of summer, we had our routine, our roles. I’d eat and talk non-stop to my stomach. They’d eat and, as I chose to believe, they’d listen. We were happy where we were.

So happy, in fact, that my babies stayed in my womb past their due date. The doctor talked of induction, but I preferred to ride it out. If the water ain’t broke, I figured, why force it? Especially when you have no idea what awaits on the other side. Now, sixteen summers later, we are on the cusp of another breaking of water, a metaphorical one, the breaking of the boundary between childhood and all that comes after.

I’d like to think I’m being dramatic by defining adulthood in such a black and white way. But when your days commuting to school via a ride from your parent or carpool are over, when you have the independence to get up and go through the Dunkin’ Donuts drive-thru, as I used to do, without permission, you are, de facto, an adult. A new one, admittedly. Without a fully developed pre-frontal cortex, but an adult nonetheless. So if we could press pause on these dog days of summer, I’d be so grateful.

My kids’ first summer, the summer of 2002, was a hot one, which my husband spent primarily in LA due to work. My kids never slept. We were at the park every morning by 6:30 where I’d tell stories as I pushed them, back-to-back, in a single swing. When I put them in their cribs twelve hours later, I’d head to my back porch. I’d speak to no one. I’d eat nothing. I’d just rock in my chair and in my stupor, stare at Kelly Clarkson on the first season of American Idol. As exhausted and isolated as I was, however, I’d thank God. “It could be worse,” I’d tell myself. “They could be sixteen.”

I suppose I understood then that the rules of the parenting road would shift when keys landed in my daughters’ hands. For starters, when they were young, rule numero uno was talk to your kids all the time. Talking was so good for their development that I started before they were born, probably before they had ears. Now, apparently, it’s bad. Every time I read an article about raising teens, the first rule is don’t lecture. Some pieces go so far as to say don’t talk at all unless your advice is expressly asked for. Which is a real shame. Based on my daughter’s recent attempt to turn right from a left hand turn lane, a move that would have killed us had I not screamed, “You can’t turn right from a left hand turn lane,” it seems that now is the time they need to be talked to the most. The stakes are so high.

Why is it that license to drive seems to come with license to do so many other largely idiotic things? I suppose new-found freedom is to blame. I also suppose that I did the same when I was their age, and now I’m just old. But doesn’t age bring enlightenment? And shouldn’t I share it? Don’t get bangs. Don’t reverse a perm. Don’t follow your college boyfriend to law school. I’m a treasure trove of disastrous experiences begging to serve a higher purpose. After all, what is parenthood if not the chance to repackage our mistakes as pearls of wisdom? Yet now I’m being told I need to hold my tongue.

My father never did. He was and remains a chronic dispenser of advice. “You never know when you’re going to wind up in a coma,” he’d tell me. As a result, my teenage experimentation was somewhat tempered. I couldn’t think of anything worse than winding up in a coma. Now, of course, I can: my kids winding up in one.

On the day my twins were born, I was wheeled out of the delivery room in terror. With aliens on each arm and no idea how to keep them alive. Today, as I ride shotgun in terror with my daughters—who are on the one hand as familiar to me as my own reflection but also now possess an aspect of alien—my concerns are not much different. Less about how I am going to keep them alive and more about how they are going to keep from harming themselves. As I did upon their birth, I wonder, too, how I will survive. At the onset of adulthood, we are in so many ways, revisiting the days of infancy.

Luckily, after I left the hospital, I had a baby nurse, Nanny Connie, who spent a month at our house and introduced me to parenting. From her I learned the lingo. Mylicon for colic, swaddle for sleep. I learned to interpret the behavior of people who can’t yet communicate, to let them cry, to trust my instincts. Where is Nanny Connie now? I need a refresher or a Level 2 crash course. I need someone to teach me the lingo. Finstas are a thing now, as is Juuling—though I’m not sure what it is, other than bad. Undoubtedly something that could lead to a coma. I’d love some new help interpreting the behavior of people who no longer like to communicate. Gentle reminders to have faith and trust my instincts would also be nice.

Though I suppose it’s been mostly faith and instincts that have carried me this far, as they will continue to do as the calendar rolls into September and my daughters eventually roll out of our driveway. As I watch them, I may again rock in my chair and stare in a stupor, but in one form or another, I will keep on talking. And, as I have since the beginning, I’ll choose to believe they will listen.

Francie Arenson Dickman is a writer and for the next four weeks, she’s still the mother of twin girls. After that, she’s available to teach driver’s ed. Read more of here work at Franciearensondickman.com.

Leonid Afremov, Two Sisters

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