Being 17 is ridiculous and stupid and brilliant and heartbreaking.
It’s wearing too-short skirts and baggy flannels over tube tops. It’s heavy eyeliner and going to Indie concerts, it’s ghosting that mean girl on snapchat, and crying for weeks because your boyfriend broke up with you anyway. It’s hating your hair and loving Netflix, twelve hours straight. It’s making a profile on Tinder and deleting it three hours later because your best friend’s brother swiped right. Creeper.
Midnight in San Francisco, and I’m sitting in my over-sized suburban SUV, parked in front of the Bill Graham Civic Auditorium. Waiting.
Hannah is inside with her friends, crunching or grinding, or whatever it is they do these days, screaming loud for a band called 1975.
She’s 17, my little girl.
Doors swing open and hundreds of fans spill onto the street. Drunk people, scantily clad people, dancing people, making-out people, all kinds of young people parading into the city streets, squeezing onto sidewalks and into cars. Heading home.
Hannah and her friends, they get into my car, smelling like weed and cigarettes, and that concert sweat that glistens from all-night dancing in the pit. Eyeliner smeared and smoky, all of them laughing and story-telling so loud it hurts my menopausal bones.
This is the Best Part of Parenting.
OMG they were so a-mazing OMG that song tho I just can’t OMG! Windows down, freeway rush, blasting their smartphones with tinny-sounding replays, all of them singing at the top of their lungs.
And suddenly it feels like every other carpool run. Swim practice, dance auditions, late night sleepovers. Listening in on who they are becoming, hands on the wheel, don’t say a word.
And somehow, sitting next to me, she is 17, and 16, and 15…
She is 14, walking invisible with her super-neutral backpack into freshman year
She is 12, dancing ballet in the Nutcracker for the first time, beaming
She is 9, celebrating big with her Amazing Race Birthday party, feeling cool
She is 8, screaming out tears, body folding into herself, mom and dad splitting up
She is 6, carving pumpkins over piles of old newspaper, up to her shoulders in pulp and seeds
She is 5, stomping into Kindergarten with her bright red cowboy boots, and Minnie Mouse lunchbox
She is 3, tripping on the asphalt in her salt water taffy sandals, knocking loose her two front teeth
She is 1, scrunched up on my lap with her old-man face, and a furrowed brow, still bald at 12 months.
17 years, smashed together so fast it hurts.
Because these moments are far and few between for me now. My daughters drive themselves most places. Show up home and they’ve already eaten dinner with friends. They tell me when they’re out of shampoo. Out of gas. Out of chia seeds and almond milk, because sometimes they’re vegan.
Now, I’m the filler-upper.
Turns out, this is what parenting feels like for most of the teenage years. They push through the front door with their worries and excitements and frustrations, or a whole lot of don’t talk to me . . . Ever.
Being 17 is coming home depleted, exhausted from trying on the world, learning who they want to become. They take everything they’ve got and spend it all, in random places with unpredictable people.
So at 50, I get primed and pumped with an afternoon nap and a double espresso so I can do the midnight pickup shift. I drive them to wherever. I pay attention when they walk in the front door. I keep making street tacos for dinner, with fresh guacamole and chips so we can sit around the table together and talk about anything.
Being a parent is showing up and standing calm, ready to be their filler-upper.
So don’t give up. You’ve already survived thousands of sleepless nights, a living room full of fisher-price plastic furniture, endless hours of ER drama and broken bones, middle-school hygiene arguments, and everyone’s period on the same damn week. Keep going. This is family.
Here’s to you and me, and filling up our 17’s and our 3’s and all the love in between. To late pickups in the city, chocolate cake after midnight, and always saying yes to carpool.