My daughter turned 18 Sunday. 18. There are so, so many things that run through my head that correspond to that sentence. I mean- The first is, She is 18; she is an adult! But then my mind goes a little crazy, ya know? Like:
- She is 18. I can kick her out anytime I want with no consequences.
- I just blinked and she is 18!
- She is FINALLY 18.
- She is damn lucky she made it to 18.
- My baby is 18???
- I am old enough to have an 18-year-old?
- Really? I am really old enough to have an 18-year-old?
And that is where I sit. Obviously, 18 has been coming. I know how to count. We have been preparing for this for the last 18 years.
It really sunk in a few weeks ago, when she and I went to a doctor’s appointment. Lately, she has been going into the appointments by herself. It’s new, but no big deal. Less for me to worry about and more independence for her. This time when she returned to me in the waiting room she had one of those sh*t-eating grins on her face and proudly announced she had gotten her tetanus booster during her appointment. While I was in the waiting room. And I hadn’t heard any screams or cries.
She had gotten a shot allbyherself. This child…oh man…this child has helled me over the years with shots. She has been DEATHLY afraid of needles and has gotten herself so worked up and hysterical that half the time I had to BEG the doctor/nurse/C.N.A/ whomever had the needle in hand, to perform the procedure and get it over with because said doctor/nurse/C.N.A/ whomever had the needle in hand was so freaked out by her reaction THEY didn’t dare administer the injection.
And that was barely 3 months ago when she had her wisdom teeth out.
When McKenna was 2 she fell off the jungle gym and broke her wrist. At the ER, they tried to give her a shot for the pain and she was so strong she shoved two nurses off of her. One was just starting the injection and wasn’t prepared to be hefted aside so easily. The nurse dragged the needle down the side of McKenna’s thigh as she was pushed by that angry 2-year-old. She still has a scar!
Back to present day injection completed. Sh*t eating grin meets WTF? face.
“How the hell did you manage that?” I asked incredulously. She shrugged and said, “Well, I told myself I couldn’t be 18 and still need my mom to hold my hand while I got a shot.”
That was when it hit me that I have an 18-year-old. This child…this child whom I can still feel inside me, rolling around kicking, all the time kicking, and whom I always imagined was always just bursting to GET OUT into the world and start – This child who was almost literally pooped out in the toilet just yesterday, is 18.
Ahem. Pooped out in a toilet? Yup. She was born almost 2 weeks early and almost in the toilet. I didn’t know what childbirth felt like. I just knew I felt like I needed to poop. So by the time I got to the hospital, I couldn’t imagine why I needed to poop SO BAD and WHY wouldn’t it just come out already!!?? Then imagine how upset I was to learn my carefully written birth plan, which included an epidural, was null and void because my baby was already crowning!
And I had been trying to poop her out. Nobody tells you that stuff! Am I right? Except now I do. If you are pregnant and I halfway know you, I will tell you. Because no one told me and look what happened. I almost had my baby in the toilet.
Then I think. Holy sh*t. She is almost 18. She is leaving for college in New Hampshire in 7 months. and counting.
Did I say that out loud? Now I feel guilty again. *sigh* You just don’t understand. Let me explain. McKenna has been a little challenging. We joke about it now. She and I. Corey and I and just about anyone who sits beside us at an athletic event. Or at any event. Or in line at the grocery store. Or anywhere really. Sorry strangers. We aren’t really crazy. Or bad parents. I don’t think…We just TALK about it. It’s like our therapy.
There was this time when she was about 3 or 4 and she broke down a wooden door when because we put her in time out. Yeah, she kicked it. It cracked right down the middle. She had temper tantrums like that. Really bad ones and the only way to get past them was to wait it out with her in time out, in her room, with us holding the door closed. Really tight. Sometimes for a REALLY long time.
When she got older she would stay in her room for time-out, but she would scream bloody murder at the top of her lungs. Sometimes she would throw stuff at the door or the wall. Really big stuff cause she was always really strong. It’s a good thing we live in the boonies because people would have called the cops. They would have thought we were killing her. Sometimes I felt like killing her, but I never tried. Really. Corey and I would walk to the end of our driveway and wait. Sometimes for a really long time.
She has always been very persistent.
Our biggest challenge came elementary school. It was a different kind of challenge, though. McKenna began struggling with crippling anxiety. There were days she wouldn’t go to school or get on the bus because of the noise. There were MANY days she would call me with headaches because the anxiety would manifest itself into a migraine. She didn’t want to leave me at all. (And frankly, some of the school staff were a**holes. That didn’t help!) Ultimately, we had to go through tons of testing to make sure she was experiencing anxiety and didn’t have a brain tumor or something else medically wrong.
It was a terrible, horrible time for all of us. And I am thankful I had an understanding employer and a wonderful psychologist friend who snuck us to the top of her therapy list. Through individual therapy and family therapy, we got through it.
And we learned that McKenna struggles with anxiety. Once we knew that, we knew how to get through it and life got a little easier. We had strategies and support.
Over the years, I have viewed that experience as a defining family moment and probably McKenna looks back to see it as helpful as well. I think she has learned to adapt in her life to see that despite feeling anxious, if she does [whatever she is concerned about] she will get through it and be ok.
She continues to manage the anxiety. It has bubbled up in pockets. The fact remains that she is still a teenager and a pretty high-strung one at that. I haven’t fantasized about kicking her out because life has been perfect. I mean, she is perfect on the outside. And sometimes I will share some of our challenges with people who know McKenna and they will be shocked. She saves her ugly for us because we are the safe space for her. That’s a good thing.
Doesn’t make it any easier for us when the ugly comes out.
But the fact remains. For all intents and purposes, my kid is perfect. It cannot be denied. She is a gifted athlete—Softball is her sport and last year she won every award in her conference Pitcher of the Year and Player of the Year. Then she was chosen as the top softball player in the state. Her team won their state championship trophy for the second year in a row. She is going to college and will play softball at the Division II level and plans to be a Dermatologist. She plays other sports and excels in those. She is also an excellent student who ranks 4th in her class. She has a 4.0 GPA. She is in National Honor Society. She volunteers. She holds down a part-time job and pays for her own gas for her car, all of her own extras like food or fun. She has never gone to a party. In fact, her kind of party is to have her friends over HERE to have a fire and play Manhunt on the back lawn. She has never had a speeding ticket. Or a detention.
Oh, and she is beautiful.
And we argue like crazy. I am the task master. I make her do her chores, hold her accountable, ask her questions. And what teenager likes that?? I can’t help it. I’m the mom and that’s my damn job. But why is it when I ask her a question she can’t just tell me the answer? Why do I get snapped at when I ask innocent questions? Why can’t she just do her chores without me having to nag? Why can’t she turn off the lights or put away her clothes or pick up her trash?! Why does it feel like she is only nice to me when she wants something?
Why? Well, she is a teenager for one. And she is just.like.me.
There. I said it.
She is just like me. She looks like me, she acts like me, she gets stressed out like me. Her baseline disposition is like mine.
Why is that a problem? Because most days I have to convince MYSELF to like myself.
So, when she walks in the door demanding someone go outside and plow the driveway cause, hello? It’s snowing! I look at her and think, “who the hell do you think you are?”
Or when she is doing her homework at the dining room table and she insists the entire house be quiet because SHE is trying to concentrate, I look at her and think, “who the hell do you think you are?”
Ohhhh, I know. Me. I remember being that teenager, the strong-minded, verbal, everything revolves around me personality full of emotion and ready to fight. I remember expecting everyone to adapt everything they were doing to make my life work. HELL, I kind of do that now.
When she walks out of the softball dugout, dirty, sunburnt, and pi*sed off because she knows she could have played better and she is crying even though they won the game, I look at her and think, “who the hell do you think you are?”
Oh, I know. ME. Every missed shot or attempt and competitive bone in her body. I can have experienced it. It’s why I yell so loudly on the sideline. Because it’s the only thing I can do now to contribute. I feel the grit, the sand, the anger when she misses. I want to kick the dirt, the bag, the chair. I want to cry with her because I have been there. I want to yell, “CRY! Go ahead! Jump up and down and scream. I completely get it. Kick that glove across the field. That girl should have totally caught that ball!”
But I can’t, because I am her mother, and being a team player is more important. Losing with grace is more important.
When she tells me how she spots drivers texting and driving on the highway and purposely drives past them and calls them out by making the universal sign for “shame on you” with her fingers or how she “mothers” her friends by scolding them on their poor choices.
I know. Every time I know. I am there in every moment she is speaking and demanding and mothering everyone. It is me. She only got it from me. I want to say, “You are so right. They are making poor choices and let’s call their mother.” Or “Honey, you aren’t their mother and they are going to resent you for trying to be.”
But I can’t, because I am her mother and she needs to learn how to communicate and navigate her relationships.
18-year McKenna doesn’t yet have the life experience of 45-year-old Denise. Her edges are a little bit sharper. Her tone a little bit tougher. But that’s ok. When I was 18, my edges were also sharp. I learned as she will learn and I grew as she will grow. All those edges and hard lines will soften. Because one thing she has learned is she can do anything she puts her mind to. That’s not something I taught her. That’s a lesson she learned all on her own.
What she doesn’t know is that SHE has been my gift. Watching her struggle and learn and conquer and become the adult that she is now and will be has been the ride of a lifetime. Oh, I know I crab and I bitch and I cry about all the things that make me CRAZY, but that’s in the moment. In the moment, things are different. In the moment, every edge is sharper. It is in the moments of reflection that I really appreciate the complexity of McKenna.
Those who truly love her also appreciate her complexity.
McKenna is perfection. McKenna wouldn’t be the same if she wasn’t all of herself packed into her great big personality. McKenna is beautiful. Inside and out.
Yup, I have an 18-year-old.