I have two teens. 15, and almost 17. And I spend a lot of time with them. Mostly because I like doing the things that they like doing. And they are willing to hang with me because I pay for shit. And neither of them has their license yet, so...I am still included in the plans because I have the cash and the car. Believe me, I know that my being invited is going to drastically change once they are both employed with wheels of their own.
I was sitting at Hurricane Harbor yesterday, taking a break from the water slides while they went on one particularly crazy one without me and I found myself reflecting...
I really don’t feel all that different from my teenagers. I know this might not come as a shock to anyone of you who read this daily, but it did to me. I mean, being single in middle age is a lot like being a teenager again. I mean the motivation is different, but I think on some level both age groups are fighting for freedom. It is just a different kind of freedom...
Teens are seeking freedom from childhood. From having parents who control and direct their lives. They think (we laugh because we know better) that being independent is going to solve so many problems for them. That they will FINALLY be able to do what they want. Free of us parents at last, and life will really be good.
And, of course, they are right and wrong at the same time. Life does get better once you graduate and head off to college or work. But it also gets harder because now you are an adult and all the consequences are your own. And we parents are free, we don’t have to pay for anything anymore if we don’t want to, or can’t. We are not responsible for these kids anymore. I mean, the feeling never leaves, but the legal liability does. And so does the requirement that we provide them food, shelter and cash.
For me being single and middle aged is a different kind of freedom with some of the same perils. I mean, I am having to find my way in the world with no support. And by that I mean, there is no one to fall back on. I don’t have a partner to help with the child rearing, the bills, the saving, the working, the home chores. It is just me. All by myself. Now this is not to say that I haven’t had help along the way: my parents and Maria helped me with all of the above. But there is something fundamentally different about helping and being responsible. I am the one that is responsible and those that have provided help, can always choose not to...
So here I am in middle life. Unattached and currently unemployed. I have resources and that has provided me with the ability to take some time, a gap summer if you will. Take a few months off and reorient myself. I achieved freedom from married life and now I am grappling with how much that freedom cost and how much it didn’t just immediately make life better.
I have had to work hard for the better. Just like my kids will have to work hard for their better. It isn’t magic. There is actual hard work involved...
But I will say, and I guess own, that I love this time. This time where I feel as kid like as I can again. We roamed the park yesterday, my daughter and I both scoping out the boy/man landscape. Her pointing out eligible dads for me, and me pointing out cute boys to her. It is a thing we do. Something that if I was still married, we would have missed. And maybe some would argue that would be better. But being single, and looking, actually helps me relate to her and my son better. We are not looking for the same thing, but the search is similar. Their search new and exciting and mine somewhat older and definitely more tired. And of course, we are not looking for the same thing. My kids just really just want to talk to someone hot, well text and snap someone hot. Me, I do not really want to text or snap anyone. I am still holding out hope that someday, I will meet someone who I want to talk and walk with forever.
Perhaps I would still be the mom who took off time and goes to water parks with her kids, riding all the rides, running around in a bikini if I was still married. But I don’t think so, I felt so much older when I was married, and I am actually older now than I was then but feel so much younger. Like life is new and fun and exciting in a way that it just wasn’t while married. Now this is surely not everyone’s experience...but it was mine.
So I will admit that I enjoy, actually relish this time where I am teenage adjacent and included in their fun. I like riding water slides, roller coasters, shopping, beach days, concerts, impromptu dance parties in the kitchen. I like clothes shopping and helping them decipher cryptic text messages from the other sex. I like the excitement and aliveness of being around young people. And I am not confused. I am not a young person and as much as I enjoy some of the same things, I wouldn’t trade places with them even if I could. Being a teen is hard. I see it. The struggles, the fear, the loneliness, the pain. I see it all and while I am grateful to be close enough to feel like I have some sort of handle on it, I know that it can turn dark and ugly on a dime.
Middle age single is also exciting and unpredictable but it is far less dramatic. Even though people tend to see you the same way. I am sure my parents have scratched their heads at my dating choices, my RV buying, my clothing choices. I am sure they do not get me still a great deal of the time. And that is ok. Mostly because I am not asking them to finance my decisions and the consequences are mine.
So I am enjoying this second adolescence. This time where I get to run around like a teen, while I am nothing close to being a teen. It is fun to see the world through their eyes. To be in their stupid Tik Toks. I am sure I would be horrified if I had the ability to find all the videos I am in doing stupid shit. But I lack the ability to do that and that is likely for the best. I am not even sure you can find it either. Their generation seems to really enjoy the lack of preservation of evidence of past recollections recorded. Snapchat drives me nuts! I am too old to have a conversation just disappear in seconds. I haven’t even begun to process it before POOF it is gone...
And perhaps that is my whole point. Adolescence feels like that, POOF! And it is gone. But I have found, at least a good substitute. Parenting them while having no adult partner to remind me that I am actually a grown ass woman, allows me to participate in the fun, the good times and the activities with at least a passing belief that I belong there. And I get to kind of re-live it without actually being a teen again.
Being teen adjacent makes me feel more alive. It is also totally exhausting. Because I am not 15, I am 52 and though I have a lot of energy, after 8 hours at the water park, I am ready to be home and in bed. I felt no need whatsoever to Tik Tok, Snapchat, text or Insta anything to anyone all night long.
And that appears to be yet another privilege of age: the ability to go enjoy the freedom, to love the life, do the things and then turn it all off. Walk away from the fray and go inward to a place that is calm, safe and serene. While I would never claim to have it all figured out, I am not 15 and struggling with finding out who and what I am. I know. I know exactly who I am, where the work is to be done and how much I want to work at this whole living thing. I want to work on it a lot. But I do it with the freedom of already having survived my own adolescence. I am not still finding myself, except I am. And I get to do it with the teens, and all the fun that brings but with the security of a career, a vocation and a self concept that isn’t as changeable as the days or weather.
I may be running around with them, acting at times like I am one of them, but I make no mistake in that arena. I know that I am only teenager for a day, or an afternoon. That adulthood is not something to be escaped for long. It is only my mind that leaves, the body always remains tethered to my chronological age no matter what fantastical stories my mind whips up. I am 52 and there is no getting around that.
I don’t envy them their youth. I had mine and while it almost killed me, I also had a very good time, in a very self destructive way. And I guess that is why I am enjoying the time spent doing all the teen things now. Because I can enjoy them without all the internal dialog that made me feel so less than, so imperfect and insecure. Now I walk with my head held high, happy to be this version of myself while knowing that I needed every second I spent in the prolonged first adolescence to arrive at this place in middle age to be happy, secure and to know that I am indeed the best version of myself that I have ever been. And that it is crucial, vital even that I spend as much time as I can with my teens and their friends giving them the benefit of my experience, strength and hope.
Now most of the time I only get to do this while standing in line waiting for a turn to ride a water slide or roller coaster. It is a very tight window of opportunity. They do not want to hear it at the dinner table, in fact, I don’t think they can hear it at the dinner table. I am super clear that I have to be the one that meets them where they are, and allow the sharing to just happen naturally in the wild, their wild.
Lucky for me I am just a teenage girl encased in this middle aged woman. Lucky for them that most of the time, I see the difference. And for those times that I do not see the line and go way past it, well, check out the Tik Toks...if you dare.