My teenager flipped me off.

I know, right?

How did this happen? And why would I tell anyone about it?

Because whether or not we want to admit it, or whether or not it happens in front of our faces or behind our backs, these are the kinds of things teenagers will eventually do. Teenagers take risks and test their limits, sometimes in ways that threaten to send us parents into a rage of how-dare-you with a splash of punch-you-in-the-face and a pinch of I-brought-you-into-this-world-I-can-take-you-out-of-it. Or something along those lines. 

When our oldest daughter (the middle finger throwing one) was born, I set lofty goals to surround her in a protective cocoon that would keep her as pure and innocent as she was the moment she entered this world. I wanted her head to stay downy, her eyes to stay full of wonder, and her skin to stay smooth and soft with that fresh baby scent I would spend hours inhaling every day.

In the beginning, I thought I was doing everything right. I read the books, Googled the research, and put together the plans. I knew the right ways and the wrong ways. There was the mom I wanted to emulate:  Annie from 7th Heaven; there was the mom I wanted to avoid:  Roseanne Connor from Roseanne. In other words, I was stuck somewhere between the unattainable and “oh shit, don’t go there”!

Stress doesn’t even begin to describe the burning fire that would engulf me when that sweet, innocent baby turned toddler would throw a demonic, earth-shattering tantrum in the checkout lane at Target. I would break out into a cold sweat and briefly exit my body. My heart would threaten to explode through my chest. Adrenaline would ravage my bones. But, I would try to play it cool, hoping no one would notice how my blood was boiling beneath my skin as I tried, panic-stricken, to recall Harvey Karp’s rules he set forth in The Happiest Toddler on the Block.

Many times (many many many many times) I would find myself in a pool of tears once I reached the car with my nervous system a complete wreck. I had imagined already everything that must have been going through their heads:

‘What a terrible mother!’ thought the checkout lady.

‘What a spoiled rotten child!’ thought old woman behind me who reminded me of my grandmother.

‘What a terrible mother!’ thought the guy sticking cold hot dogs on skewers in the hot dog machine.

My late-twenty-something self would harness my daughter into her carseat while she fought against the belts and my hands. It was like getting one of those springy snake-in-a-can’s back into the contents of it’s belongings. I would unload the groceries from the cart into the back of the van and melt into the driver’s seat completely and utterly defeated.

Baby number two came not too long after, followed by baby three just a few years after that. At one point in my life, I had a five-year-old and a three-year-old and a newborn…at home with me…all day…all at the same time.

With the recent arrival of our surprise fourth baby who came with a seven year gap between him and our youngest daughter, I look back on those years and think, ‘How in THE HELL did I survive all of that?’ We did, somehow:  myself and the children and the husband and the dog and the cats and the hamster.

The only solution I can come to is that it was all a part of the process:  all of those years of exhaustion and terrible twos and too much caffeine and not enough sleep in order to prepare me for the teenage years.

Because, let me tell you, while toddlers have the uncanny ability to hurt your ego in front of a bunch of strangers, teenagers have the uncanny ability to hurt your feelings—in your own home or in your car—when no one is watching. And, as far as I know, Karp didn’t have a follow-up title for the teenage years. And, Lord knows, by the time we have teenagers, we have already figured out that no expert has ever been able to get it right. In fact, we have learned by now that WE are the experts, which means that childrearing is a process of give and take, push and shove, that will probably never end.

So, you may be thinking:

Where is your ah-ha moment?

When are you going to tell me what I need to do when my child reaches this milestone of crude behavior they learned from You Tube…or from a movie…or from school…or from, God forbid, me when I wasn’t looking?

But, guess what? I have no answer for you. Neither does your mom, your grandmother, your neighbor, or Harvey Karp.

Because, guess what?

There is no kid ever on the face of the earth who has ever been exactly like your kid living in your house with your certain set of circumstances and your ways of doing things. All children are unique in their own way, and no one knows them quite as well as you do. Considering that, the only real advice I can give is to just hang in there, and to say,

Hey, you’re not alone. We’re all in this together. And, just as generations before us, I’m pretty sure we will all survive.

As for my own teenager,

I know her well. She’s a magnificent, brilliant kid. She studies hard and makes good grades. She has a great head on her shoulders. We have the best conversations about all sorts of things, and we have a strong sense of open communication where anything goes. I know her and her life and her friends. And, I actually like her! A lot! She’s a pretty awesome kid.

Still, she’s a teenager, and, like I said earlier, teenagers test limits. And, teenagers can sometimes do things that really cut deep into the core of their parents’ membranes.

The teenage years are the years when we see them fleeing the nest a little more every single day. And, every single day, our hearts ache a little bit more to once again smell the sweet scent of their downy heads, or calm just one more temper tantrum in the checkout lane at Target.

The teenage years are the years they are searching for independence. They want to go to movies with friends and go to parties. Eventually, they will climb into the driver’s seat and head out on their very own while we sit on the edge of our reading chairs under a dim light with our eyes half open, still missing too much sleep worrying about whether or not they will be OK.

But, as parents there is one thing we must always do:  We must NEVER stop worrying and caring and reading and researching and loving, so hard.

Loving so, so hard!

Because, one day, that middle finger throwing teenager who makes you want to crawl out of your skin, will call you up on the phone with their own brand new baby. They will cry and ask questions, as generation after generation often does. One day their own kid will flip them off in the car because they are feeling things they don’t quite understand. And you will remember, in that moment, what it felt like when that grown child once did that to you. And you will tell them:

It’s all a part of the process. Take away some privileges. Talk about what happened. Don’t take it too hard. And, as the years keep rolling by, never ever let go.