The dawn of a new era

If forced to keep it to a single word, these days, about how life is, or how the kids are, or how I feel in general, there’s no question that the most explanatory word I can grasp is WEIRD. Life feels weird. I feel weird.

Visiting a bunch of college campuses made it all real, I suppose, except it didn’t make it any less weird. Chickadee is a senior. Monkey is a junior. After years of just-get-through-today we are now firmly in plan-for-your-future mode and it should be GREAT, yes? It is. There were times I didn’t know if we’d ever make it to this point, so it IS great, and we celebrate (quietly, without any sudden movements, so as not to scare anyone or upset whatever deities were kind enough to see us through to this point), but it still feels surreal. It’s easy to talk about a mythological “someday” and even if it’s all you ever wanted, it’s still strange for “someday” to become “right now.”

So, the good: Seeing Chickadee think about her future with excitement. That is VERY good. Seeing her passionate about goals—which, to be honest, is something that’s been missing for her for years—that’s awesome. There is nothing but excitement and pride for me in getting to watch her figure this stuff out. It’s not 100% smooth sailing and there have been and will be disappointments along the way, but that’s exciting, too, because she’s dealing with this thing we call NORMAL LIFE and figuring out how to ride the waves instead of just rolling over on her back and floating or (worse) shrugging and resigning herself to drowning. She’s swimming, swimming, swimming, and I don’t know that it’s fair to want any more than that.

The continued sticking point for us is this whole mother-daughter dance that we do, and I think I’ve been pretty honest about it over the years, so it shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone, least of all ME, and yet…. It is. I’m surprised, every time we clash.

This is a normal thing for mothers and daughters, I think, but I have no “normal” for comparison. My own relationship with my mother as a teen was fraught and fragmented, and as a result I left home feeling independent and capable, but not particularly lovable. That brought its own set of baggage along into my young adulthood. As I try to navigate my relationship with my daughter, now, even before things reached crisis point for her, my touchstone has always been to provide the care and assistance I felt (fairly or not; I make no absolute claims) my own teen years were missing. I’ve overcompensated, I’m sure, and her difficulties magnified that tendency for me, too.

So now here we are: She is a senior, and she is okay, after years of being… not okay. Sure, she still has issues to handle. She has, perhaps, more triggers and concerns than your “average” kid, but she is, overall, stable and capable. And I can’t even type that without tears stinging my eyes, because it doesn’t matter how many years you hope and pray and silently barter with the universe—I will give up anything, I will do whatever it takes, just let her be okay—once you realize it has happened, it’s one part pure jubilation, three parts stunned relief, and one part clenched fear that it cannot possibly last. And that’s just my perspective; I cannot even begin to quantify what it must feel like for her. It’s complicated, is my point.

Life is weird, because she’s okay, but still we dance with and around and against each other, chafing and clashing, trying to figure out who we are to each other, now, and how we navigate this last year together. I am trying to pull back from my knee-jerk inclination to manage her life, and sometimes I fail. She is trying to be grateful for my help while taking on more responsibility herself, and sometimes she fails. We are both stubborn. We are both easily wounded. And it is perhaps my biggest shame right now how often a “conversation” with her gets louder and louder until Monkey stands and flees the room because our arguing causes him pain. I know when that happens that I’m failing both of my children, but still I argue my case while she argues hers, and even as I remind myself to be the grown-up, model good behavior, I know I’ve fallen down the rabbit hole. Again.

This past week, I spent an inordinate amount of time doing for Chickadee, in various ways. I don’t say this to say “oh look how great I am” or to imply she’s a burden (of course not!), but simply to demonstrate that a lot of time was invested (willingly!) in things which were “special” for her, and the good times abruptly came to an end with a misunderstanding wherein she felt I’d overstepped and I felt she was quick to blame and ungrateful. The resultant blowout was… spectacular, with both of us furious at the other’s unwillingness/lack of capacity to understand. She does not yet know how to balance asking me to do for her (which I do, happily) and asking me to back off (which I would also do happily, if she would ask in a way that doesn’t imply I’m forever ruining her life), and I am still figuring out her love language (gratitude and remorse are both complicated for her) and where I can leave her be and she will manage (because sometimes it’s anguish at being left to her own devices, and other times it’s “LEAVE ME ALONE, I’VE GOT THIS”). Seventeen years together, and we’re still learning each other’s language.

That skirmish was resolved, eventually, but part of it involved me doing the whole YOU WANT X, BABY, I WILL GIVE YOU X ridiculousness that makes me want to punch myself in the face afterward when I’ve calmed down. In this case it was “If you can do it all yourself, fine, do it all yourself. Don’t come to me with your college applications. Don’t expect me to remind you of deadlines or ride you about it. I’m not looking at a single essay. I am not helping. You got this? GET IT YOURSELF.” (Yep. Mother of the freaking year, that’s me!) And of course later when I tried to soften that particular bit of overreaction, I hit a stone wall of NO I WILL FIND SOMEONE ELSE, YOU SAID YOU’RE NOT HELPING and I floundered, trying to figure out how I proceed. It’s fine for her to do it on her own (or with someone else’s help), of course. She doesn’t NEED me for this. But if she wants me, I want that to be okay. And I know from experience that this has the potential to become a narrative of abandonment and disinterest with me as the star villain; I dislike that for myself, of course, but I don’t think it’s particularly good for her, either. I don’t know how this one will end, honestly. I guess I just wait and see.

So it’s weird. There is happiness mixed in with trepidation and annoyance and a lot of second-guessing about my role in her life right now. Weird.

And in the middle of it all—we headed out last week, me asking her if she was nervous, her assuring me she was not (in spite of the fact that many of her friends required several attempts and this would be her first), paperwork, an interminable wait, and then she left me for what seemed like an even longer wait. When she returned, I lifted my eyebrows in question, and she nodded, slightly, ducking her head to hide the grin that flashed across her face unbidden, then she lifted her head again to pull a funny face before sliding into the chair next to me. We waited a few more minutes until her name was called, and then I handed $10 across the counter to the bored woman behind the computer and in return, Chickie finally—triumphantly—collected her driver’s license.

Today is the first day of Band Camp, and we said good-bye to both kids bright and early as they went off without us, Chickadee driving my car like it was no big thing at all.

But it is a big thing. It’s all big things. No matter how weird it all gets, I hold to that: they’re all big things, and so no matter what else, I’m grateful. I’m so proud of her. She’s on her way.


  1. Lucinda

    I want to say something profound but I have nothing. All I have is that this parenting gig is hard. I continue to admire the honestly with which you pursue it both for your family and for your lucky readers. Congratulations to Chickadee for all her successes!

  2. Katie in MA

    It is the biggest and the happiest and the best for so many of us who have cheered and supported and wished so hard for our Chickie through so many years. What a year this will be!

  3. StephLove

    Congrats to Chickadee, for everything, to you, too. I am trying to imagine what it must have been like to watch them drive off together. My older one takes the younger one on the bus, but that’s not really the same.

  4. Beth R

    Nothing to say other than congratulations to Chickie and HUGS to both of you.

  5. AlisonC

    This is wonderful to hear.

    As always best of luck and good wishes to you all.

  6. Mary K. in Rockport

    A complicated post. All I can say is, “I know exactly how you feel.” Especially the one part dread.

  7. Lisa Olsen

    Parenting is so hard and sometimes so lacking in rewards. My 19 yr old is home for the summer and seems…lost & sad. He doesn’t volunteer information and, even when pressed, doesn’t talk much. I’m sure he’s feeling that awkward independent but still-need-your-mom dichotomy. Good luck to all the parents because sometimes you just have to cross your fingers and hope that you did the right thing.

  8. HG

    I have had that argument this week. And apparently you and I are reaction twins. Eesh.

  9. Ani

    Thank you for your honesty and for your willingness to share. We’ve recently come to an Aspie diagnosis for our teen, and I’m going through everything that you are going through. Your words help so so much. As the say in the movies…the kids are all right. It’s us moms that sometimes need to know we will be as well.

  10. Otto

    As I wait for the beginning of the ninth season of Mir, Chickadee and the Monkey to start, I keep wondering when the plot twists will run out or the characters will start repeating themselves. After eight years of character evolutions, this plot has to slow down eventually, right?



    • Brigitte

      Ha, too much!

    • Karen

      …and this is why we all love you so….

  11. Julie

    One year from now, you’ll be in my shoes, counting the days until she flies the nest and trying to slow down the time. And it will be happy and heartbreaking and glorious, all at once. You’ve got this.

  12. Headless Mom

    Yay Chickie! I know you guys have your ups and downs but I’m pretty certain that in the grand scheme of things that she totally gets it. You’re a great mom Mir.

    Yay for band camp too and back to a routine. I’m almost there and I can taste it.

  13. Jeanie

    She has come so far! Is it weird (there’s that word again) that a total stranger is also proud of her? And I think your insight is astounding, so you should be pretty proud of yourself, too. I hope it makes you feel a little better to know I still, um. ahem, offer suggestions to my daughter who turned 48 (yikes!) last month.

  14. Mom24_4evermom

    I’m so happy for you. Boy did I need to hear this too. Hopefully we too will get there eventually with our youngest boy.

    Also, fair warning, friends swore to me, and sadly I have lived it twice, that they become so obnoxious the summer before leaving for college that you almost get to the point where you’re ready for them to go. Hang on for that ride.

  15. liz

    YAY Chickie!! And (((Mir))) My son is only 13, but I’m guessing that if you show her this post she will understand that you really didn’t mean it, even if you felt it in that moment.


  16. BKC

    As you describe Chickie’s ups and downs and reactions, I see myself, vividly, 10 years ago. I can only marvel at the fact that maybe my mother was feeling like you describe. I wish I could have given her more credit back then, but it’s only after I’ve become a mother that I suddenly found my hidden reserves of empathy and perspective. How cruel that time only works in one direction.

  17. K

    Having traveled down a similar path (and also finding ourselves finally in that miraculous “she’s OK” space), this post fills my heart with joy for you and your family!

    The other day, my husband and I looked at each other and said, “Yikes, this ‘normal’ teenage stuff is hard too!” But man, we wouldn’t trade it for the world. Normal is Weird. and we love it.

    I so get what you mean when you say “it’s all big things”. For a while, we weren’t even sure we’d get here. And while I wouldn’t wish teen mental health crises on anyone, ever – it sure does give you perspective on what matters as you emerge out the other side of the abyss.

    I so hope that you (and Chickie?) do someday write a book. There are so few good resources for families to navigate all of this. Your story provides hope and humor and reassurance and compassion that it’s all gonna be OK, in the end. Weird, but OK. :)

  18. Leigh

    Hi Mir, I’ve been reading along time. I’m glad that Chickadee is doing well. I wanted to chime in and suggest a college apps counselor for you two. My daughter is heading to college in two months. I have no doubt that she would be doing so regardless of whether or not we had had one but the tenor of our relationship through the whole process was so much better than if I had had to guide her through it and “nag” her. We paid what I felt was a very reasonable price so that I could let go of the process and still know it was getting done. I also want to agree with something you said in a previous post about not ruling out private colleges and universities over cost because they may be able to offer merit scholarships that will reduce your out of pocket to be similar to your public schools. That was the case for us and some very expensive private schools would have cost the exact same as what we will pay for the public school she decided on. Enjoy this time with her. It is very exciting!

  19. Aimee

    I don’t have words for how much joy this gave me. Not the fighting parts, but you’ll get through that. The rest of it, though… oh my goodness, the rest of it! xo

  20. Rachael Worley

    So hi, I’m a mom of a 17-year-old senior. Male. Driving me nuts some days with the, “Mooom, help me’s” and the “Back off, ma’s,” me never knowing which side I’m gonna get. So I’ll just nod my head in agreement and sigh yes. I get it. And to think, I get to do this seven more times after this. I have a senior, 8th grader, two 7th graders, 6th grader, 4th grader, 2nd grader, and finally, my last, a kindergartner. (That’s eight, right?) At least I have a four year break in between before we tackle the next one. And then it’s going to be crazy after that.

  21. Chris

    Chickie – Congrats on the driver’s license!!!!

    Mir- it is a journey not a straight and perfect path- sometime we can only try and we can always try again the next day. In the end, Chickie (and mine) will have to make their own way – my hope is my errors will have taught them something along the way (even if it is the people aren’t perfect lesson) and my successes will be somewhere in the mix

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