Mom to Mom: Apples and autumn attitudes parenting through transitions
With gray clouds looming and a distinct chill in the air, I set out for a late-afternoon run in my typical harried fashion. Trying to squeeze a few minutes of “me time” into an over-packed schedule often ends up feeling like more of an effort than a reward. This day was no different.
After making the quick switch from work clothes to running clothes, I sprinted out of the parking lot only to find myself struggling to breathe just a minute later. I have to make a conscious effort to slow down sometimes, and a lack of oxygen is one of the best ways to accomplish that. I slowed my pace, forced myself to breathe deeply, and settled into a comfortable rhythm.
As I crested the first hill, I saw the apple tree on the left. Heavy with fruit, it was a sure sign that fall is here even though the calendar says otherwise. Fat, round apples hung from the branches above my head, and the long grass at the base of the tree was littered with “drops.” Those apples got me thinking about school … and kids … and fall … and transitions … in the way that a long run on a dirt road in Vermont will do on a crisp autumn day.
My two oldest are in high school. I’m not sure how that happened. I contemplate the passage of time every September as we start a new school year. This year I’m feeling lucky. Countless friends are now fighting back tears as they send their children off to college. I’m not there yet. Other friends find themselves sitting anxiously in the dark waiting for teenagers to come home and dreading the conversations that lie ahead. I’m not there either. I’m in a sweet spot, and for that I’m grateful.
Something has transformed my eye-rolling, foot-stomping, sassy-mouthed teenagers. They have morphed into ridiculously funny, quasi-responsible, somewhat-motivated young adults. I don’t know how this has happened, and I’m almost petrified to admit it lest the bubble burst — but I like what I see.
These kids are smart. They’re not just “social media savvy.” They know important “stuff.” In a span of two minutes, they will discuss Syria, Vermont Yankee and twerking. They rattle off the Greek and Roman names of gods and goddesses. The sentence “Solve this equation using the quadratic formula” actually seems like a logical request to them, whereas it makes me sweat and gives me a headache as I try to remember what the quadratic formula is and why it’s important. When did this happen? I used to help them with their homework. Now they ignore my ineptitude and help each other.
However, they don’t always ignore me. They have learned to engage with irreverence and a touch of sarcasm. They are practicing what I preach, and I am now forced to appreciate their skill. After freshman day at the high school, I asked my daughter the typical after-school questions: “What was for lunch?” “Did you do drugs?” and “Did you have sex?” My parental self-preservation tactic is to just lay it all out there in a shocking and humorous fashion in an effort to disguise my deepest fears.
My daughter deadpanned. “A chicken wrap, and yes … both at the same time.” Unruffled, I persisted. “I hope you didn’t smoke pot. That’s a ‘gateway’ drug, you know.” Without missing a beat, my daughter replied, “No worries. I went straight to heroin.” I smiled and breathed a sigh of relief.
Twisted? Perhaps, but it’s working for me. The girl has a sense of humor. She’s edgy, but she knows where I stand. I love that she can give as well as she can take. I like her. I mean I really like her. I would hang out with her if we were allowed to be friends.
She’s quick to remind me that we are not. We are not friends. I am the parent. She can quote verbatim a lecture I delivered at some point along the way about my job not being to be her friend but to be her mother. So, there will be no “bestie” love for us. I just hope that she doesn’t change too much in the next decade. I want to be her friend when it’s allowed again. She’s pretty cool.
Cool kids. For now I’m lucky, and I know it. I also know that time is fleeting, and everything can change in the blink of an eye.
The apple tree on the side of the road is a subtle reminder. They all start out shiny and red — hanging high on those branches — but it takes only a gentle wind to drop them to the ground. I’m not foolish enough to think that those shiny red apples can hang up there forever. I am all too cognizant of the fact that one little shift in the wind can make the sweet spot go sour. I just hope to remember, when the time comes, that every apple has a purpose. Those scars and bruises come from life experience. Every tumble from the tree builds character. It’s autumn. They’re all “good apples.”
Relish the shiny red moments, and celebrate the resilience of the “drops.” It takes all kinds to make the sweetest pie.