Some things are universal. Teen angst. Back to school angst. Angst about angst. August is Angstus. While still technically in summer slog mode, we careen toward the regularly scheduled frenzy.
We plan for anti-angst at the end of summer. Extra hugs. Full attention. Getting to stay up a little later. Squeezing in more yesses when appropriate. Excursions. Back-to-school shopping was tended to a few weeks ago, and we shall hold our breath and wait to routinize until we absolutely must.
I ask a lot of questions though, as craftily as possible. Are they feeling prepared? Worried? Anxious? Excited? Are they hydrated? Do they need a new water bottle? Can I get them a snack?
They’re apparently fine, mom.
I eye them like mad, looking for any clue that they’re not fine, mom. Just in case. I know they’re all pulling away at various paces, individuating and growing and groping around this world for a new handrail. Teetering into the world.
I ask a ton of questions, like some sort of over-concerned cross-examiner. Anything you want to talk about? Do you have questions about middle school? Are you staying away from vaping and bullies and looking for small ways to make someone’s day? Are your friendships solid?
We’re fine, mom.
My husband and I took the kids to the zoo last week. This was met with extreme excitement by my youngest – a budding zoologist and all-around adventurer, and with muted irritation by the tweens. There was some eye-rolling and appropriately expressed frustration that perhaps the zoo was for babies.
I listened, nodded, and made them join us. The pushback lasted until the parking lot.
Then the magic hit. Maybe because it’s a lot of walking. Or the wonder of the biodiversity. Or the fact that the “swamp” house and some other habitats are stinky as hell. But we all unclenched.
I looked at some of the animals, in these vast artificial habitats and wondered: Are they happy? Do they realize they cannot roam as much as they’d roam on their own? Do they realize they are safe? Are they safe? Do they feel like the world is gawking at their every move? Do they ever want to wander over and get some Dippin’ Dots?
Then I looked at the kids and wondered the same.
Maybe part of their zoo joy was seeing a lot of themselves in it all, amidst the wonder and the hot dogs and the peacocks and geese roaming the grounds. There’s beauty and tenderness and safety and fairly rigid boundaries and everyone really wants them to be safe and happy. And they feel like a lot of people are gawking at them. They are curiosities whose camouflage isn’t 100%.
I know they’re fine. And they will be. Fine doesn’t mean without struggle. It means capable of handling it. Capable of asking for help. Capable of doing the right thing no matter what.
Fine also sometimes means mom buys you Dippin’ Dots. Because it’s still summer.