March 26, 2021
By Ekta R. Garg
This week I got a blip from the past.
On Monday, after months of a hybrid online/in-person school schedule, Twelve went back in person for good. I dropped her off that morning with what I presume was a huge smile on her face. Her mask covered her mouth, but I could hear the excitement in her voice.
When I went back to school at the end of her day, she did this weird hobble-hop movement to the car. Her tone still held the excitement of the day—the fact that she could see her classmates and teachers face to face again; going to her locker; not having to whine about internet issues—but she informed me that she sprained her right ankle. Apparently, the teachers thought it was a good idea to take advantage of the beautiful weather in the afternoon and took the entire middle school to the enormous field behind the building to play Capture the Flag.
It actually was a fantastic idea. Twelve, though, couldn’t enjoy more than five minutes. That was her estimation, anyway, of how long she chased after one of her friends when her foot twisted in a strange way and she fell to the ground.
I don’t think she absorbed what a sprained ankle meant beyond the fact that she couldn’t put any weight on it whatsoever. We got home, and I instructed her to stay put as I trotted around to the passenger side of the car. With one arm slung across my shoulders for support, she hopped from the garage into the mudroom. I trotted back out and grabbed her school things from the car.
The short version of this story is that Twelve spent Tuesday and Wednesday at home attending school from a comfy chair and ottoman set. By Wednesday afternoon, she could put some weight back on her right foot. She was limping, but she was mobile.
She was also antsy.
“I have to go back to school,” she said Wednesday evening. “I can’t stay home another day. This is driving me crazy.”
The longer version of this story is that for a couple of days, my baby girl needed me again in a way she hadn’t in a long time. After school on Monday, I supervised while she butt-scooted up the stairs to her room so she could change out of her school clothes and into her PJs. I watched her as she made her way back down the stairs the same way, and then I became an animate crutch for her across the first floor of the house whether that meant going to the kitchen for a snack or hopping to the bathroom in the opposite direction.
On Tuesday morning, for the first time in probably five years, I helped her out of the shower. Granted, I kept my eyes closed when the shower curtain scraped open that morning (Talk about mad mom skills. Have you ever tried to help a kid stand up from the tub and coach them on how to get out of it when you can’t see what they’re doing? Not exactly the easiest task in the world.)
Once she was comfortably standing on one foot, I turned my back to her, opened my eyes, and kept talking to her as we discussed her day. I had to hang around to help her hop into her bedroom so she could get dressed and then supervise yet again when she did the butt-scoot to go downstairs. Then it was hopping all the way across the house to our home study where she settled herself with her device, all of her school books and papers spread out around her, and an ice pack for her ankle that her daddy had wrapped in an ace bandage before going to work.
Throughout the day I checked on her, and she tolerated my hovering with a great deal of patience. I think, though, that it bothered her a little bit. Twelve doesn’t like being the center of attention, and she really hates asking for help. That quality can be a double-edged sword. On the one hand, she’ll never sit around waiting for other people to make things happen for her. On the other, if she’s in a tough spot and can’t manage something on her own she may refuse to acknowledge that. She might not even recognize it.
For the first time in a long time, Twelve needed me on a physical level. I’d forgotten, almost, how that felt: to care for a child’s tangible requirements. Bathroom stops; meals; packing up a bag. As is the case with all kids, at some point both Fourteen and Twelve started doing most of these things for themselves. Eventually they’ll take over all of them.
Their needs now are different: emotional; mental; psychological. Especially in this last year. When they were babies, I thought, naively, that nothing could be as hard as waking up night after night for 3 a.m. feedings/diaper changes or trying to figure out exactly what they meant when they were crying and couldn’t talk yet. Now I know that while those things were physically demanding, the physical demands have their own place in terms of how hard things are. Raising teens and tweens is a whole different level of difficulty.
Of course, this is Twelve. My wiggle-worm. Even she jokes about how she can’t sit still for long, and that extends into her independent mind and spirit. By late on Tuesday, she started pulling away from me, wanting to hop all by herself across the house. I don’t know if she was embarrassed that her mother had to help her, or she was impatient to get better again. Maybe she wanted to get over this little hurdle so she could course correct and go back to school in person. It’s probably a mix of all three.
I get that and I don’t. We hear about people having babies or I go to a store and see baby clothes, and I’m truly astounded that my children—my 5’6.5” teen and my 5’3” tween—could ever have been that small. Surely not them, I think. It feels like they came to us fully formed with their humor and snark and maturity that pops up at the most surprising of times.
With all the challenges that parenting poses and how this last year has pushed us, at times, to our limits, it was kind of nice to have to think only about the small things this week. To only have to worry about refilling an ice pack or moving a rug out of the way so Twelve didn’t slip on it. Little things that, as young parents, meant the world would end if we didn’t get them right.
Now we know better, of course. Now we can make jokes about these challenges, even chide Twelve not to move too fast when she went back to school yesterday. And she can give me an eye roll and a “I know” with a tinge of tween angst and remind us that they don’t stay little for long.