She slept peacefully as I walked in the room this morning. The first rays of dawn cast streaks of light across her bed, stretching their fingers out to the floor. Her room, a room filled with glimpses of a girl in transition to adulthood, forced me to watch my step as I made my way to the dog kennel. I heard her shift position under the pile of blankets as I slipped Urvek, the latest Guide Dogs for the Blind puppy we are co-raising back into his bed.
“Good morning, Pumpkin-doodle, it’s time to get up.” I waited until I heard a groan, followed by a low “Morning” to let me know she was processing the time of day and request she join the living. Slowly, she started moving and I made my way back down the stairs to grab a cup of coffee. Before I left, I reminded her she hadn’t emptied the dishwasher before bed as I had asked of her and that I wasn’t sure what the consequence would be, but that there would be one as “forgetting” to do her chores had become a bit of a trend and an unwelcomed one at that.
I made my retreat downstairs and prepared the dogs’ breakfast and my coffee, but not in that order. The hallway upstairs was quiet, prompting me to think she had fallen back asleep. If you have or have had teens, you know how real this likelihood is. I called up from the base of the stairs. She had, in fact, emerged from her warm asylum and responded incoherently with a toothbrush in her mouth.
Still needing to ready myself for the day, I peeked into her room as I walked down the hall to my room. She was dressed, hair done, and ready to go, but something was wrong. I saw it in her face and her shoulders. I recognized the dark cloud that shadowed my daughter’s eyes immediately. I didn’t know the reason, but I knew the energy that belied her smile.
As a teen, my mother could read me so well. It drove me crazy, especially when I was trying to hide from my own emotions. I’d pass through a room and there she was with a simple, “So, what’s going on?” I never knew how she did it. Until I became a mother.
This morning, I comforted my 17 year-old daughter as she broke down in big sobs. She wasn’t sure what she was unhappy about or “why she was even crying”; life, it seemed, was just weighing on her, but she didn’t feel like she had anything to complain about. Sometimes, being a senior in high school isn’t as fun and easy as portrayed on TV. Sure, there can be good times and memories made that last a lifetime, and being a senior often brings new freedoms, but it can also bring new stress.
It’s easy to forget where we were when we were 17 or 18. The view we see in the rearview mirror might focus on a last football game, a prom, or another special memory. Faded from view are the fear and uncertainty often felt during that final year of high school. Being a senior is often overwhelming because one season of life will soon be over and another beginning. It’s the transition from youth to adulthood and with that comes an exponential increase in the expectations placed upon the shoulders of one still in their teens. The last year of high school brings demands most teens don’t anticipate (and parents long forgot): Where will you go to school? Do you know what you’ll major in? What are your scores on the ACT? SAT? Do you have enough extra-curricular activity, volunteer work? Are your grades good enough? Are you keeping them up? Are your applications done? Did you get your recommendation letters? Did you get into this school or that? And, by the way, make some time for exercise, your friends, and you might want to get a job. Just try to be normal and act like you have it together.
This morning she sat, and she cried. It didn’t matter if she knew why, I told her, crying is good for the body and the soul. I didn’t ask about career plans or test scores this morning. We didn’t discuss the failed chores or past due papers. I asked her about stillness; “When was the last time you stilled yourself and listened to your thoughts?” I queried. She didn’t know, she didn’t have time.
And then, I had an Oprah “Ah-ha moment.” I shifted on the bed and said nothing. In that moment, I realized I sat on both sides of the fence, I was both teacher and student, realizing she could pose the same question to me, and I’d have the same response.
Life as a senior in high school is busy. The demands and pressure to “get it all done” seem both overwhelming and unattainable on some days. Life as a mom, heck, as a woman, can feel overwhelming at times too, but I remembered this morning that I am the example my daughter looks to. How I manage my load, my setbacks, my victories, as well as the mundane will guide her in her choices today and in the future.
We sat on her bed, and her tears dried as the smile returned to her face. We hadn’t come up with solutions to any of the world’s conflicts, but we talked about the importance of making time to “be still in the midst of activity” and ways to quiet the storm building inside. I shared some ideas, and she shared hers. Life, we agreed, is about taking time to soak it all in, the good and even the bad, before it passes us by. The teacher met the student, and the student, the teacher. She’s a bright young woman, that daughter of mine, and a pretty amazing teacher.
Now, if we can survive the rest of her senior year….