My teenager’s alarm goes off at 3:30 a.m. This is her first alarm, followed by two more designed to eventually ease her out of bed at 4 a.m.—if “ease out of bed” and “4 a.m.” can be used in the same sentence—in time for her to report to her summer job by 5 a.m. She’s a lifeguard at a local city pool, and some days, she has to do her duty and take the early shift when die-hard swim teams are at the pool ahead of the general public.
My brand-new high school graduate sought out, applied for, and landed this job entirely on her own, before her dad and I even thought about mentioning summer employment to her (and in any case, we would not have mentioned her working this much). She impressed her interviewers (they told her so), filled out out all her paperwork (with a little help on her tax form from her dad), completed two brutal days of literally life-or-death training, and started working before the pool even officially opened for the summer. She works most days of the week for six or seven-hour stretches at a time and never has two days in a row off.
I’m proud that my daughter is so industrious, but I miss her
I’m proud of my daughter for taking the initiative to find a job, for putting in the hours, for wanting to make her own money rather than always asking her dad and me for a hand-out. I’m proud of her dedication and work ethic.
But I miss her.
Most days, when my teen is done at the pool or before she has to work, she goes to the gym. She’s a dancer with a strong physique that she’s honed over the last several months—after she worked with a personal trainer she paid for herself to learn how to properly use the equipment.
She’s at the gym for hours at a time and was once asked by a guy who was working out nearby (she reported to me he had a girlfriend, so she didn’t think he was just flirting) if she was a power lifter. She’s not…but his question did boost her confidence. I’m proud of her determination and commitment.
But I miss her.
When my rising college freshman is not at the gym or at work, she’s usually hanging out with friends. They meet to watch The Bachelor or go for the Boba tea they’re crazy about or just sit around and talk. She’s feeding friendships she’s carefully built over the last few years, with friends she’ll seldom see in person again, come fall. I’m proud of her loyalty and intentionality in nurturing relationships.
But I miss her.
This summer is not the one I envisioned
All this activity is so good—mentally, physically, emotionally, financially—for my
teenager. The isolation of Covid hit her hard, as it did most of her peers. But her job/gym/friends rotation is also creating a different kind of summer from the one I
envisioned for us, even if I didn’t realize I was envisioning it.
It’s not that I expected my daughter to spend her last summer before college hanging out with me every waking hour. But I did think I’d get more of her than in-between, coming and going moments.
I pictured movie nights…but she either goes to bed early ahead of that 3:30 a.m. alarm or, when she’s working a later shift or isn’t working at all, stays up with friends. I pictured family weekends up at a lake cottage we’re blessed to be able to use…but her days off are never consecutive.
When I mention that perhaps she could ask for some days off, she gets defensive. I pictured leisurely talks about the year that’s been and the year that’s ahead…but our conversations are mostly snippets when she’s headed out the door or into the shower.
I responded to my own sadness by pushing my daughter away
I responded initially to missing this child before she’s even fully left by turning stony. My instinct was to try to close off part of my heart now so it wouldn’t hurt so much then. I was sad…but as is usually the case with me, my sadness looked like anger at her.
When she finally called me out on it, I admitted as much. “I understand,” she told me. “But if you push me away, I won’t fight you.” Ouch. So I had to reset myself. I had to choose to be thankful my teenager is healthy and motivated and spending her summer doing good, meaningful things.
I had to quit taking for granted the relationship we’ve forged all these years, which I trust will carry us into a new season of life together. I had to decide to make the most of whatever moments I can carve out with her, not because I’m groveling but because I’m grateful.
I had to realize that pushing my big kid away now isn’t going to make it any easier to let her go; it will only heap regret and self-recrimination on top of hard new adjustments to come.
And so if I have to set my own alarm for 4 a.m. some days so I can look at my beautiful lifeguard’s face for a few minutes and maybe make her a smoothie for the road, I’ll do it.
This summer might not look like the version I had in my head, but it’s still a summer we have together. I don’t intend to miss it
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