Learning to love
Teenagers need family. They may not say it. In fact, their outward actions seem to defy this. Their eyes are always on their phones. They hide in their rooms, binge-watching Netflix, while still texting in five group chats at once.
Sometimes, I think I’m really having a good conversation with them and I realize they didn’t hear my last verbal montage.
Instead, I catch them tipping their heads to the side, taking another selfie to Snap.
A month ago, my father-in-law passed away. He was 93. His parents were Polish immigrants. He put himself through medical school on the GI bill. He saw the devastation of world war — including the hydrogen bomb — through the eyes of his camera lens. Yes, he was part of the unit flown over to Nagasaki to film the aftermath of the bomb.
He was among the Silent Generation.
He was also my kids’ grandpa.
When we lived in California, just a three-hour drive away from the grandparents, we went regularly for weekend stays. It was part of the norm to have holiday meals together.
Then we made a few job changes, which resulted in moves that eventually landed us in Minnesota. Our weekend visits turned to annual ones.
When Grandpa passed, he received much-deserved military honors at his graveside service. I watched my grown teenagers — the ones that often respond to my questions in snorts and mumbles.
My daughter held tightly to her grandmother’s hand through the entire service. They were locked in a full squeeze that held through shock of the 21-gun salute, the handing over of the folded American flag and the sobs that shook Grandma’s body.
I watched my son, who used his gift of warmth and communication to sit at tables with distant relatives he’d never met and engage in 30-minute conversations.
With all the moves we’ve made, I’ve often wondered if I haven’t created enough of a community around my kids.
We’ve been gifted deep friendships in the places we’ve called home. I’ve always been lucky enough to have just the right neighbors present for each stage of life and parenting.
Good friends (for us and our kids) often took the place of family who couldn’t make it over the holidays.
Over the years, our many friendships — gained and stretched apart again because of distance — have taught my kids how to love deeply wherever they’re at in life (geographically and developmentally).
They’ve also learned how to value and cherish family whenever they get the chance.
We just got back from a family wedding on the East Coast.
Over the years, it hasn’t been easy to connect with my or my husband’s extended family. My brother’s position in the Army only made it harder as he was moving his family around the country, too.
We never seemed to be near the same part of the country at once. We made it work when we could, of course, but not nearly as much as either of us would’ve wanted.
So as I watched my brother’s teenagers with mine, laughing and jumping into the waves of the ocean, I was surprised and delighted.
They screamed with joy, they laughed fully, they connected with the pulse of the sea.
My heart was full.
Savoring the moments
Time changes not just our age and the way we look, but also our circumstances: Our kids go from our laps to young adulthood so quickly!
But it doesn’t change the depth of love in our hearts meant for our families — even among teenagers.
What time (and growing up) does do, is refine that love.
Sometimes, I wonder where my teens are at in their development.
There’s so much going on in their heads that doesn’t make it out. It’s like they’re mini factories, churning and chugging, and we’re on the other side, impatiently waiting to see what the process of maturity finally produces.
I still worry so much, as I think other moms might do.
But I think our kids are showing us something really amazing: They’re capable of great love. They embrace with arms open those times they get with distant family, and it’s like they know how to absorb years of love in just a few days.
The things my teenagers may not verbalize, instead are demonstrated in their actions.
It reminds me to be content with where the path of life has taken us, and trust in the steps they take as their paths veer off far ahead of me.
Jennifer Wizbowski lives in Excelsior with her husband, and daughter and son. Send comments, questions and story ideas to firstname.lastname@example.org.