I had coffee with a college friend the other day. We hadn’t seen each other for years and the conversation was kind of like a debriefing of our last 10 years of child-rearing. It wasn’t one of those conversations where we tried to one-up each other over the accomplishments of our children. It was more of a deer-in-headlights meeting where we wondered over the quirks and idiosyncrasies of our teens and how to figure out these last years of their childhoods.
I remember when a male neighbor once asked how old my toddler daughter was and I said 21 months. He said, “Why is it parents always say their kids’ ages in months? Why don’t they just say a year and a half or something? Or almost two? Why do they need to tell us their children’s age in months?”
Well, mothers know why we do it – because every month is different. When kids are toddlers, every month brings a change and yes, 21 months (1 year 9 months) is different from 18 months (1 year 6 months). There are milestones at 18 months and 21 months.
But who ever thought teens would change so rapidly? For instance, I thought it would be a good idea for my youngest daughter to start drivers’ education at 15 years old instead of 15 ½. In Washington State, 15 year olds can get a waiver for their permit if they are enrolled in drivers’ education. My oldest daughter’s drivers’ ed teacher suggested it when I was sitting in on one of the lessons. Then they have to drive a whole year instead of just six months.
I thought it was a great idea, so I signed her up. Turned out the driving instruction was a traumatic experience and after it was over, I couldn’t get her back in the car for six months. I didn’t realize it then, but now that she’s willing to drive again, I see she wasn’t mature enough when she was 15, but maybe she would have been at 15 ½.
When I think back on that 15 year old, I am surprised at being able to notice the change in her maturity level now that she is 16. When she first started driving, I was the parent instructing her. It didn’t last very long because she claimed I was yelling at her. I tried explaining to her I was using a firm, no-nonsense voice, I was not yelling at her. But I handed the responsibility over to her father, who is not as easily rattled as I.
Now, a year later, I am the preferred driving parent because of my decisive personality. She can’t decide where to turn and concentrate on steering the car too.
Talking to my friend and thinking back on our children’s milestones, it occurred to us that we could still measure our kids’ lives in months. My daughter wasn’t ready to drive when she was 15, but when she turned 15 and 10 months, she was ready.
My oldest daughter wasn’t ready to give up the idea of hanging out with the high school band when she was 18 and 2 months, but by 18 and 5 months, she was ready to immerse herself into college and let go of high school band.
Our children depend on us to help them negotiate their way into adulthood, the least we could have, as parents, is the freedom to use those extra months to explain why our kids may seem to be lagging behind, “You know, my daughter is only 16 years and 1 month. I don’t want to rush her.”
Gretchen Leigh is a stay-at-home mom who lives in Covington. She is counting the months and wondering if it would work for husbands too. You can also read more of her writing and her daily blog on her websitelivingwithgleigh.com or on Facebook at “Living with Gleigh.” Her column is available every week atmaplevalleyreporter.com under the Lifestyles section.