On Teenagers

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Coming to terms with the fact that my children are growing older and hitting their teen years has actually been really hard for me.  On some level I feel like I myself just came out on the other side of adolescence so the thought of seeing the kids begin to enter this phase is, for whatever reason, a little emotional for me. 

When I was a kid, my biggest fear was growing up. I LOVED Peter Pan and the whole idea of Never Never land. If only that were actually a place! Probably because I was so lucky and had such a good and happy childhood that I never wanted it to end. Every now and again I’d find myself up late at night as a little kid, worried that one day my family wouldn't all be together, my sisters would leave the house and go to college and get married and my parents would get older and eventually die. The tears would roll down my cheeks and onto my pillow case until I fell asleep. I remember getting hit with waves of anxiety when I was away from home, at a friend’s house or a sleep over. I never really got into birthdays either. I even remember being a little sad when I hit the double digits, and then turning 13, 16, and finally the big one eight. I had friends who couldn’t wait to get a bra or have their first period or drive a car and get out of the house and go to college. But not me. I didn’t want to talk about it or think about it and conversations with my own strong, feminist, “be proud of your womanhood” mother were mortifying for me. I still remember how she wanted to throw some kind of women’s circle ritual party for me when I got my period and how embarrassing that was.  I would have been just as happy hiding under a rock. But I’d go back and take that party in a heart beat today if I could. 

I would have put off growing up forever and I guess in a way I sort of did by jumping into it all over again so young and raising kids. Whether I like it or not, or am ready for it or many of the children are quickly turning into little adults and I have finally come to the realization that I don't have much choice in the matter. Sometimes it hits me when I look at a photo, or read an essay that they wrote, or when they ask me a question about something that I had no idea they even knew about. But slowly as I’ve gotten over the fear and have begun to acknowledge that all of this is indeed happening, I’ve been able to come to terms with it more.

People always ask if I ever worry or think about the kids having relationships with each other and every time I feel my body tighten and tense a little. The question makes me uncomfortable and gets me fired up and defensive. I mean, no one wants to think about their kids having a relationship with ANYONE, let alone another one of their own kids... Am I right? It’s weird to talk about and think about for anyone I’m sure. My reaction and answer is always, “No. They’re all brothers and sisters!” But when I stop and think about it even I can admit that the possibility is there and I guess maybe down the road it’s not totally out of the question, although I’d be surprised. There’s 40 of them and they’re not blood related and I know better than to say “it could never happen.” Fortunately for me, it just so happens to work out that the girls in the house are just a little bit older than the oldest boys and although they are definitely boy crazy and have crushes and everything else that normal 12-14 year old girls have, as far as I know they really think of the boys in our home as totally and 100% their “little brothers,” at least up until this point. If anything, they get annoyed with each other and bicker more. It’s the boys outside the gates of Kopila Valley that I worry the most about. (And boy do I worry.) There’s definitely some kind of universal cross-cultural world wide thing where every girl thinks there’s some sort of prince charming out there for her. I know I had mine all picked out at age 13.  To me it’s important, especially in Nepal that my girls feel empowered and dream big so I really try to keep the focus on that. As for the boys the most important thing I try to instill in them as they get older is that they value and respect, listen to and see the power in women. I try to surround all of the kids with as many strong male and female role models as I can.

What’s really helped in our family is having ‘big girls only’ meetings and ‘big boys only’ meetings.Last month I even did a “little boys” meeting and “little girls” meeting that they just loved. It works for us as a family because it creates a small and intimate but open forum for us to talk about fears, questions or concerns anyone might have. The girl meetings get pretty juicy; probably because I’m a girl and they can relate to me a little more and are less embarrassed. It’s really helpful for me to have them all the same age going through the same things and they’re all so close they tell each other everything!! I can’t imagine having an only child or having just one kid or two kids going through puberty alone. In some ways having so many kids is easier in that way. They’re in it together. They have each other and they’re less embarrassed about things. Sharing is always a good thing and if I could ever give any advice on raising kids it’s always to be as honest as possible and to create as much sharing time and space as possible. That’s why we do satsung every night and try to eat meals together.  As time goes by one of my top priorities is to create more space for one on one time with them.    

When it comes to getting older I really try to focus on the positives to ease my worries around the kids growing up. For example, our soccer games are getting much more fun because they’re all getting so good, we can get some pretty competitive matches going on in just about any game we play! They also have started to appreciate good music, they can dance and put on plays, watch good movies and get into a conversation about them. They can walk into town by themselves and have even started to run errands for me. They’re getting more responsible around the house. Best of all, they’re learning to read and write and express themselves. There is so much learning and growing going on and it’s so fascinating to watch them go through that process; learning to read the newspaper, surf the web, have an opinion about something that matters. Facebook and the internet make me nervous but on the bright side, it does give them a more global perspective and I believe in the importance of technology and computer literacy in this day and age. Plus, now when I’m away they can write me messages and communicate with past volunteers or appreciate funny movies on Youtube or Vimeo that I show them.

My absolute favorite thing is to watch them learn about love and compassion and empathy. It’s like the absolute best most amazing thing you can notice as a parent, or care taker, or teacher. That moment when your kid does something kind when no one’s watching or stands up for someone whose being picked on, or simply does the right thing in a sticky situation. It’s like an affirmation that you must be doing something right amongst all the self doubt and questioning and feeling like everything you could be doing or saying is wrong.

I never thought about ANY of this when the children were 5 and 6 and 7. I mean, I always knew in my heart that the whole point of what I was doing was so that they could grow up to be self sufficient adults functioning in society, raising families and helping to make the world better, but to actually see it all in action is just well, PRETTY DARN COOL. I’m totally buckling up and bracing myself for the teen years.  I know I have some challenges ahead but there’s also so much to look forward to.

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