By Vincent O’Keefe
“How’s it feel to be a teenager?” I asked my firstborn from the front seat. It was the morning of her 13th birthday.
Silence from the back seat. When I glanced in the rearview mirror, I saw the reason: ear buds. That’s how it feels for both of us! We are now one degree further separated from each other, I thought to myself. I made a mental note to pierce the fog a bit later with a text message reading “Look up n answer ur father plz.” That usually works (and annoys her in the process).
As for most parents, my oldest child turning 13 has been bittersweet for me. We seem thrust into the middle of so many endings and beginnings. Especially as a stay-at-home father, I lament that our ears are not the buddies they used to be. There is less talk of card games and bike rides, more talk of make-up and what not to wear.
I know our bond remains strong, however, even if it may need to hibernate for a while. I also acknowledge that after many years of at-home parenting, the exhausted part of me has longed for this day. Speaking of exhaustion, one of my daughter’s friends perfectly captured the contradictory nature of thirteenhood when she commented on the girls’ odd trend of wearing mismatched socks (or not wearing matching socks, I guess): “Wow, I must have been really tired this morning. My socks actually match.”
Turning 13 has also brought my daughter closer to her mom, as all those body questions have inevitably arisen. Recently at the dinner table, I listened politely for a while to their talk of various feminine products but eventually tried to change the subject. At that point, my ten-year-old daughter cackled, “Dad, you’d make a horrible mom!” Given how many times I’ve been dubbed “Mr. Mom” or its emasculating equivalent, I welcomed such mockery of my maternal skills.
One of the most gratifying moments I’ve experienced since my daughter turned 13 was when she learned how to play a song on the piano from her parents’ wedding years ago. I do not read music, so it was already a thrill to watch my daughter surpass my knowledge in this area. But when she learned “All I Ask of You” from The Phantom of the Opera, my wife and I had to hold it together. Life had come full circle; what more could we ask of her? That earned her a few sleepovers.
The most dramatic line from the song reads: “Anywhere you go, let me go too.” Hearing that line decades since a date with my future wife in Toronto, I couldn’t help seeing the paradox. When my daughter followed me around the house as a toddler, that could have been her anthem. When my teen now leaves the house, a small voice inside me echoes the line. Well, not every minute–I’m no helicopter–but more times than I thought I would.
Another of my daughter’s friends recently quoted Dr. Seuss in her 8th grade graduation speech: “Don’t cry because it’s over. Smile because it happened.” I think every parent in the audience fought a lump in their throats for a moment.
Before going to bed on my daughter’s 13th birthday, I noticed my first grey eyebrow hair. What the pluck? Coincidence? I think not. My mustache has started with the grey outliers, but I was hoping the rest would take more time. Alas, there is no magic formula to stop the turning of the world, our kids’ ages, or the color of our hair. Well, there is that formula for grey hair, but I’d look ridiculous (and further embarrass my teenager).
Vincent O’Keefe is a writer and stay-at-home father with a Ph. D. in American literature. His writing has appeared in The Huffington Post and The New York Times’ “Motherlode” blog, among other venues. He is finishing a humorous memoir about a decade of at-home parenting. A chapter on colic is currently titled “Take This Onesie and Shove It.” Read more of his work at www.vincentokeefe.com or follow him on Twitter @VincentAOKeefe.