Let the kids grow up already

for The Brooklyn Paper
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New Years is upon me, bringing thoughts of change and self-improvement. I am overwhelmed by suggestions to lose weight, be a better father or increase my happiness next year. The obstacles between me and my personal upgrade are formidable, things like chocolate chip cookies, and how far away the gym seems on a cold morning.

I certainly think my kids would benefit from some well-thought-out resolutions (keeping their rooms clean, getting to bed on time, doing their homework neatly come to my mind). But as teenagers, they’re changing all the time, in spite of me and the other adults around them.

I make it hard for my children to grow and evolve into their next phase of being. I resist their mutations. They become stuck in my head a certain way and I’m unable to see the evidence of their transforming identities.

My younger daughter loved the color yellow when she was 3-years-old, maybe longer. Everything yellow — stuffed animals, food, paints. I found this wonderful and endearing. She called it “lellow,” which was so cute and made us all ask her if she wanted “lellow” candy or “lellow” clothes.

She’s 13 now, and “lellow” is not her favorite color anymore — but you wouldn’t know that from me, her mother and her grandmothers. We still look at her as if nothing has changed, in spite of the evidence: she is now taller than five feet and able to pronounce that color just fine, thank you very much. We still give her yellow clothes and bring her yellow toys. I can be alone in the house, saying “lellow” to the dog and, magically, it’s as if that little girl is in the room with me again.

It’s how family myths get created and formed into legends, becoming truer than the flesh and blood people in front of us.

This same daughter got labeled “indecisive” many years ago, a quality cemented into our family lore due to an unfortunate incident at a candy store in Saratoga Springs. She’s stuck in my mind at that moment, unable to chose between fudge and ice cream, dissolving in tears under the pressure of picking, finally being dragged, empty handed, to the car.

Since that day she has made thousands of decisions but I know, years from now, I will introduce her to my chums in the nursing home as my indecisive child and begin to tell them this story as justification for my opinion. Of course, she may have decided not to speak to me by then.

My mother opined, many years ago, that I’m secretive and refuse to express an opinion to her. I was a teenager so, of course, she was right. Now, I get frustrated speaking with her because she’s never been able to see me differently. One evening, my family was in the kitchen and the phone rang. When I hung up, my wife asked who called. Both my daughters immediately said it was Grandma and they could tell because I don’t talk to anyone else the same way. At 48, I feel like a teenager whenever I talk to my mother.

For my teenagers, today is one moment in their lives. My New Years resolution is to let them keep changing and growing and not to freeze them at a point in time forever, even if I say “lellow” once in a while, just to myself.

It still makes me smile.

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Reader Feedback

Louise Crawford from Park Slope says:
I am enjoying your column very much. This one in particular has a lot of truth in it.

From Smartmom
Dec. 27, 2010, 11:08 am
OhioOrrin from Wburg says:
sounds like a nuclear family issue. as a single father raising 2 teen girls, ive not had time to freeze them. in fact, i pushed them hard in academics, athletics, getting a job, & contributing to the household. i wanted them to grow-up & found their middle school yrs tedious & wanted it to end. i gave em boundaries but also rope to hang themselves & saw them as the maturing young women they are.
Dec. 27, 2010, 3:27 pm

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