I’ve lived in the same Brooklyn neighborhood for more than 16 years and my daughters have gone to the same school their whole lives. So I’ve known most of their friends since kindergarten, when they were all so small and so cute.
Guess what? They’ve all grown up into teenagers and they do all that messy stuff teenagers do and I don’t want to know about it.
When I walk past my daughters’ school I keep my eyes on the ground or my cellphone because I don’t want to see which of their friends has a cigarette in their hands.
On weekends I walk the dog early so I don’t run into high schoolers I know stumbling down the dark streets. If my girls have friends over on a Saturday night, I plant myself in front of the television with the volume up loud so I won’t hear things I don’t want to.
These are kids whose birthday parties and Bat Mitzvahs I’ve been to, who I’ve cooked breakfast for when they stayed over, some who I’ve shared vacations with. And it makes me feel sad when I have to acknowledge they aren’t so small or cute anymore.
Parenting is a cycle of gain and loss. You lose a baby but gain a toddler, giving up that special, unique bond with an infant for the excitement of a new being that moves and is curious. Then you lose the toddler for a school-aged kid, again missing one type of relationship while getting something new.
I’ve had to put away the picture books I read over and over and over to my girls and watch their bookcases fill with novels they read on their own — and that I’ll never share with them.
With my girls, there is always the next stage to look forward to. But some of their friends that I’ve gotten to know are now fading out as (gasp!) adulthood fades in.
When I see one of them heading to a party with a bottle of vodka poking out of a backpack, or buying condoms at CVS, I don’t want to face the fact that these are the same kids who I took to a tea party at American Girl Place so many years ago or who ran around soccer fields in oversized uniforms.
It’s not as if I want to freeze these kids in time, but where I have to face my own children’s growth and change, and let them go on their own, their friends simply disappear from my world. If I’m only going to keep them around as memories, I’d rather remember them from earlier, more innocent times of life rather than as messy teens.
In the end, it’s not up to me. I don’t get to pick who my children’s friends are, who they bring home, who’s backpack becomes a fixture in my hallway or who’s sitting at my table every weekend. And I have no control over when they disappear from my life.
It’s just that those other kids, sometimes I miss them.
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