Baffled by the White Van of Life

Friday Letter to My Kids

Dear J, J, L and L,

Do you remember that white van we owned? The gutless wonder that could barely make it up an overpass without overheating? The one little L christened on our first road trip by barfing all over the middle seat? The same van big J ran over the high school parking lot curbing with and blew out two, or was it three, tires in.

Ours didn't look this bad on the outside. The problems were all mechanical.

Ours didn’t look this bad. The problems were all mechanical.

Yeah, that one.

It had all sorts of fun problems. The muffler issue comes to mind lately. The world could hear us coming in that vehicle from a good half mile away. Not sure why we didn’t replace or repair the muffler. Actually, I’m pretty sure we didn’t have the money to fix it for a while.

When either of the J’s would finally come home from wherever you’d been, work, a friend’s house, an unapproved “date,” we’d definitely hear the van coming. That is until one of you thought you’d figured out we wouldn’t hear the unmuffled engine if you turned it off before coasting around the corner and into the driveway.

Problem was we’d still hear the van coming from further out in the neighborhood, before the engine was turned off. Also, that sort of parking style raised some eyebrows from neighbors who were out and about late at night who mentioned it to us. We should have come down harder on you, grounded you from driving. Seems like most discipline had little to no effect on you.

Go figure.

The most infamous sneaking about done by any of you came from little J.

You climbed out your second story window onto the strategically placed garbage bins below the roofline and out to frolic in the middle of the night. The funny part happened when you couldn’t climb back the way you climbed out and had to ring the doorbell to get inside the house at, what was it, three a.m. Your story that you forgot your key after “going for a walk to be alone” missed the fact that we had a deadbolt lock on that door that could only be locked with a key.

You gotta love the logic of teenagers whose brains haven’t quite yet fully developed.

Honestly, you all know at this point that true logic doesn’t really even exist in a teenage brain. It’s all hormone driven coupled with the “logic” of a three-year old.

I’ve been hanging out with our favorite three-year old lately and she reminds me so much of each of you as teenagers. The main themes are as follows:

  1. I want it.
  2. I want it now.
  3. No I can’t wait.
  4. I need to go pout and feel sorry for myself if I can’t have items one through three and I’ll make your life miserable until I get what I want.
  5. The way I see the world is reality and nothing you say will change that. If I say a dinosaur lives behind the desk that’s the truth of the matter.
  6. Why?
  7. Why not?

Pam, from Oklahoma, used to say about teenagers. “You don’t like them very much for about five years, but you still somehow manage to love them.”

That stage lasted longer for some of you than others.

Honestly, you all weren’t horrific all the time. You each seemed to need to take your turn being difficult to live with in one way or another. And I hate to lump you all together in one crowd because you’ve each behaved so differently from each other.

speed bumpsI remember big J saying you’d bring your friends over to the house if only we had a VCR and a decent TV. So we scrounged and sprung for both and you still didn’t bring your friends over. Much later we learned the real reason you didn’t bring your friends over. Still shaking my head over that stuff.

Little J had such charm and charisma I’m afraid she got away with way too much on cuteness alone. Changing clothes after leaving the house and “losing” your pager come to mind as just a couple of minor sneaky things you did.

Big L used to purposely incite skirmishes with little L out of sheer boredom or revenge. It didn’t matter than I begged you not to bother the sleeping giant, you did it anyway. And yes, I can still hear your revengeful heh heh hehhing in my head.

Little L you provided the final exam to my parenting experiences with the other three. Since I’d learned a few things by then, you had to pull out some never before seen situations that I’m still reeling a bit from. Your need for TIGHT bed covers that never were tight enough and your other need for an always spotlessly clean and organized house, which I failed to provide, come to mind.

Sorry, I didn’t measure up.

Most of what I feel about all of your teen angst and rebellion and mistakes is regret that I couldn’t save you from going through it. I’d have given anything to keep you safe from your own teen dingbattedness. Somewhere I fell short with each of you and that, oh man, that really stings.

And yet, what makes me smile, other than the fact that I somehow managed to get through those parenting years without scarring any of you too badly, lies in the promise that each of you will get to experience parenting teens yourself.

Heh, heh, heh.

I was no saint as a teen. Oh my. Not. At. All. So I probably, well okay, definitely, deserved the thrashing I got from parenting all of you through those same years. You’d think I’d have done better, seen the warning signs, been harder on you, or gentler, as needed. My own experiences should have taught me to be a better parent than I managed.

Didn’t work out that way. Dang. Turns out being a teenager does little to prepare you for raising one.

To quote Pumbaa who’s misquoting Timon, “Ya gotta put your behind in the past.”

So what did I learn from not applying what I’d learned as a teen to my parenting career?

  • I wish I’d been more direct with each of you.
  • There’s no such thing as balance between parents. There needs to be agreement. One parent’s hardness can’t be softened by the other parent’s squishiness. And vice versa. Bad cop, good cop only works on TV shows and the movies.
  • I’m the grownup in the relationship with my kids.
  • It’s okay to expect the best, but I should have been more eyes-wide-open about reality. It’s not easy reconciling the two. It can hurt, big time.

If all parents learned from the mistakes they made as teens, we’d have a perfected society by now. Obviously, we’re all slow learners.

I take heart in seeing what kind, patient (mostly), generous, optimistic and loving adults you each have turned into. Ya’ll came preprogrammed with some great stuff that sat latent for a while. Now look at you.

I couldn’t be more proud.

engine interior

It may as well be Greek, engines baffle me.

That white van reminds me of teenage life. It got us where we ultimately needed to get to, most of the time, but not without some bumpiness and noise, breakdowns and mind-boggling struggles. I can’t tell you how often I stood before the open hood of that van completely snookered as to what went wrong and what I could do to fix it. Same goes for each of you. I’d stand there looking into your face and wonder “what the flippin’ heck can I do to make this work?”

I wish you well in your personal parenting adventures, especially the teen-fraught years. I hope your own version of a white van serves you better than mine did.

Good luck with that. I’ll be praying for you.

 

All my love,

Mom

photo-23 copy 5

 “Don’t worry that children never listen to you; worry that they are always watching you.” ~ Robert Fulghum

 

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