My son tells me he may have a girlfriend; a young lady from Canada he met on a Minecraft server he frequents. The two of them chat all day long in a Discord channel and are just beginning to exchange photographs. He has mentioned this young lass a few times over the last week and during this time I slowly came to attention, realizing this is a very important milestone in his life. He’s had many girls interested in him in the past, since he was very little. This is the first relationship that has been reciprocal, although of course it is a very sweet and very simple one so far.
My children’s relationships with romantic partners I can chalk up to good parenting, or at least decent enough parenting. My experience was decidedly less wholesome. By the time I was thirteen I’d had boys at me, and spent far too much unsupervised time with a few of them (thanks to public school and semi-neglectful Baby Boomer parenting). My bisexuality quickly became a tidily kept secret after humiliating and scathing accusations; also, too, meanspirited shrieks of “dyke!” as I embraced a beau in the hallway. Into the closet I went! Safer (so I thought, incorrectly as it turned out) to stick with boys. Unfortunately the boys I found had horrible idea about girls.
You know the story. Unutterably wearying to me, today.
I count it as a success that Phoenix’s first beau is still friends with the family – friends with Phoenix but also with me! – and is the sweetest young man. Phee’s second beau came from a stricter family so we saw her far less, and haven’t seen her since we stopped having meetups at the rural school she attends. The last two years have been awkward as Phoenix attempts to avoid attention from the students in their college classes – all too old (another example of an intelligent boundary held by my progeny). Phoenix, like Nels, has several deep (and occasionally romantic or at least not entirely platonic) friendships online. Another difference from my own upbringing. The internet wasn’t a thing then! Hard to comprehend.
Parenting teenagers takes more finesse than parenting young ones. Parenting young ones is like molding hot clay in the hand; teenagers, like folding an origami boat for turbulent waters. Only a little here and there to be done, but with great care indeed, pressing the creases and then setting this delicate craft on turbulent waters. All that work you put in when they were younger, it comes to pay off – or comes to plague you – and if you are intelligent you will simply recognize this and back up just a half a step, ready to help when asked and hoping your child comes to you from their best self, not from a desire to please you or to receive approval.
It snows again; I sew up a little linen dress. I cut the exact and pleasing curved shapes for swimwear, in a severe black and white 30s style geometric print. I come upstairs for more coffee during the day, as much to warm my hands as anything else. My oldest tosses themselves across my lap and asks for me to stroke their hair; anytime I sit down it is a child, or a cat – and occasionally a husband – who lays across my body and asks for attention.