My teenage son must have fallen asleep very late, and without actually going to bed. In other words, keeling over in the midst of an assignment.
His door was open this morning, when I went to tap lightly at 7:30am, to wake him. His easel was set up next to his small desk – a self-portrait well in process. Books were scattered everywhere on the floor (as usual), dishes and bowls were stacked on the small table by his bed, and the dirty clothes (everywhere) were at a relative minimum, since I’d been doing laundry the evening before. He must have staggered to the bed at some point, where he was wrapped up tightly in his comforter, his now long and lanky body taking up the full length of the mattress on which he was once a tiny bundle. Yet it was the child’s face peeking out from under the heap of covers.
I haven’t had the pleasure of seeing that – my son, asleep – in a long time. It was lovely.
Less lovely was the realization that after several long nights and days (school work, tennis matches into the night in weather that is inappropriate, and a nasty head cold), my first instinct was to let him sleep another few hours, or miss school altogether. I know he has another match tonight, and I wanted to cover him in layers of blankets, set orange juice by the bed, and simply say “no” as I would have three or four years ago. But he’s almost 17. Those days are over.
Instead, I tapped again on the open door, heard him stir, and tapped a third time to wake him. He said “shit” and began to move, so I headed to the kitchen to make his lunch, and get on with the morning routine, even as I ran through the entirety of his possible schedules over the next few days: 12 hours before I’d be going to pick him up at the high school after his game, the need for an extra drink with Vitamin C, as much protein as possible in his sandwich, a bit of chocolate for additional sugar before the game or possibly after, as the team would be riding back in a bus from one side of the city to the other, returning to our local high school.
I thought about what I could do to facilitate his evening activities (school work), and the extra heavy sweater I needed to insist he take (he told me he was freezing last night during the matches). There would also be the need for the healthiest possible dinner when he comes home, and therefore I’d search through the freezer for the roast I bought, to defrost during the day. Last night he was not only exhausted and cold (and coughing), he was ravenous, and it was a carefully albeit quickly constructed meal quite late, to fill him up with the right foods.
Parenting on all cylinders, whatever the age
I believe that many of us are “full spectrum parents,” falling into a rhythm of covering as many bases as possible to support our children through their development – physical, emotional, academic, social. That rhythm changes – regularly, as they graduate without fanfare from toddler to little kid, to tween and then to teen. We are constantly running schedules and timeframes through our heads, daily, and adjusting throughout the day as needed. We assess their sleep, their moods, their nutritional requirements (given the days and nights ahead), the pressures and challenges they are facing, when they need to talk, when we need to listen, when we need to talk and be listened to.
The older they get (as they learn to tuck issues behind walls of insecurity, as well as necessary privacy), the more difficult it becomes to discern what they might need from us. But we keep at it.
Any given day with a teenager
This morning I could recognize what my teenager needed to eat, to wear, to do differently than yesterday. The fact of an open door suggested that he fell asleep while doing homework and may not have finished something critical (that was the case). That meant we might be late, that his head cold would be worse, that he would continue to be sick through the upcoming weekend, and these are all ripple effects we’ve been through before.
All of this processed in the passage of less than a minute, triggering a number of menu options and errands (cold medicine) churning through my brain, as well as constraints I would be putting on his activities for the next few days whether he likes it or not. I am anticipating his resistance; it will be unpleasant, but that’s part of parenting. Saying no.
Adults – self-care, well-being, and lack thereof
Then I thought about myself. About many of the other single parents I know – and married parents as well. Women, in particular, have a habit of putting everyone else before themselves: spouse, significant other, aging parents, boss and co-workers, compatriots in volunteer activities. And of course, their children. We do not “full spectrum parent” ourselves. Not even close.
I wonder what my life would be like if there were someone who asked me if I had eaten, or slept, or if I had enough vitamin C-laden foods in the house to combat the head cold, or spinach and red meat for the iron. I am an adult; I wonder why I rarely do these things for myself.
- Is it really about time at this point? I’m down to one teenager – busy, tiring, but not the craziness of years gone by.
- Is it habit? The habit of a lifetime of full spectrum attentiveness to the health and well-being of others, myself not included?
- Is it fatigue? If I’m going to expend precious energy in the care of someone in this household, it will be my son first, and myself, anything left over?
My conclusion (for myself): habit plays a far greater role than anything else.
What if parents could offer themselves even a small portion of the awareness to their own health and well-being that we provide our children without a second thought? Proper dress, nutrition, insistence on adequate sleep, even a 15-minute walk for fresh air in the lungs and moving the body around the neighborhood? In particular, I thought of the single parents among us – who have no partner to comment on our moodiness, our fatigue, our need for even the occasional measure of self-health focus.
I wonder what that might be like. I wonder if I know how to do that. Or if I could learn.
© D A Wolf