When one of my children was a preschooler, his dad and I went to a parenting class. The topics were mostly along the lines of behavioral management, and we were also given information on developmental stages. Kids can pour cereal at this age. Kids can hang up their towels at this age.* Logically, you cannot hold them accountable for tasks they are not yet ready to do.
The thing that seemed funny to me then was that new teens actually LOSE some of their executive functioning skills. They literally can no longer hang up the towels they hung up* just a few months prior. This is the effect of hormones and a change in perspective toward the outside social world.
I no longer think this is funny, but it’s good that I learned it! Thus I can try to hold my tongue about the fact that my oldest child, the one I depend upon to be reliable, has suddenly become utterly helpless and confused, rather as though she had dementia, spoke another language, and had never met us before.
This morning I awoke a few minutes late, actually awakened by this sweet child who noticed my alarm was too quiet. However, there was still enough time to groggily grab coffee and embarrassingly drive her to middle school in my pajamas like I always do. So far, so good! Good morning! I doled out kisses all ’round and beamed encouragingly at all the children.
As she sat on the ground, petting a cat, I pointed out the girl child hadn’t yet brushed her hair–oh, such a briefly mastered skill–and she nodded an “oh yeah.”
When I was at the coffee maker, she walked past me, hair still unbrushed, and I remembered: “Oh, will you grab your soccer stuff?” Looking vaguely confused, she nonetheless nodded, which I allowed to fool me into relaxing.
Pouring my coffee and inhaling its sharp scent, I was greeted by the return of the child, who held a large and seemingly empty soccer bag. “I have my shin guards and those shoelace things,” she said apologetically. Oh no! Are all the soccer things at her dad’s house? I wondered in confusion, calculating at what point we would need to have figured that out by. “I think my other stuff must be in the dryer,” the girl said. I was still doing a mental review of when her last game was–Ages ago, I think at my house–and then calculated another string of data and said, “We’ve done a ton of laundry since your last game.” The soccer clothes can’t be in the dryer. Wait, why is she doing laundry right now?
I gulped some coffee and went toward her room, following the miserably shuffling preteen.”Mom, can you play Corn Hole with us?” begged a cute boy, but I told him, “I have to help.” He sighed.
We could still be on time if the soccer clothes were in sight. I picked up a nearly empty bin of underwear to look into a sock bin under it, mysteriously containing about 2.5 outfits that go in drawers. “What are these doing here?” My daughter peered in, clearly mystified and looking as if she had never seen those clothes in her life. “OK then,” I said, moving on.
My husband, home sick, peeped in. “I can drive her and then bring the boys.” Grateful, I smiled. I could start work sooner!
I picked up another bin, confusingly also containing underwear, to see the entire soccer crate filled to the brim with clean, available soccer clothes. “They’re right here.” I pointed, and she looked mystified at the appearance of the same old soccer crate that always has had soccer clothes in it.
Leon said, “OK, are you ready?”
Suddenly sounding near tears, she announced, “I am not dressed yet.” What? I looked at her pajamaed body in confusion. “I washed my clothes too late.” What? Maybe I haven’t had enough coffee. Her drawers and closet do have garments in them, I reassured myself.
“Here, I will just wear these.” She plucks the garments from the mystery bin. I say a little prayer that they are clean and no pets have peed on them.
Outside of her room, Leon had started to fret. “I don’t know if I will get back in time to bring the boys.” My heart sank. I lurked around her door.
An astonishing amount of time later, my dear one had emerged. Her hair was poorly brushed, mostly just one side of it brushed at all, but it would do. There might still be time! Leon and Selah drove off, and I played Corn Hole with the boys, killing time until one of us drove them. We threw bean bags; they bickered.
Leon texted, “Can you set Selah’s phone aside?” She had forgotten it and needed it to receive school pickup information. Apparently she freaked out when she realized. For my mental health, I chose not to wonder what else stayed home.
I was so hopeful and naive. At the age of 12.7 years, she was finally–after all the eons of reminding, bickering, sighing–ready to go to school with her entire hair brushed when it was time to leave. Wearing clothes. She knew where we kept soccer clothes. She rinsed the cereal from her bowl. She would often finish in time to read a bit. But at the age of 12.99, all has once again been lost.
*Oh, baloney. Children cleaning things up is just an old wives’ tale.