The Tweens You Don’t Hear About

I was called a tween this week: the in-between years of parenting your own kids while taking care of your own parents. It sucks every bit as much as middle school.

The night before, we received a phone call at 2am. It was not the first time.

My mother-in-law woke disoriented, fearful of the man in bed next to her. She could only be calmed by my husband, who roused from a deep slumber to drive across town and coax her to swallow a sleeping pill. Instead of tucking sick kids back in bed, now we’re roused by sick parents.

The following day, my husband cancelled two of his clients so he could grab shut-eye, while I drove the school carpool, a brief pause in the busy stage of building a career and family. We’re in the thick of life and unprepared for additional demands on our time.

The wave of guilt and selfishness is unbearable. We alternate between petulant tantrums and silent grief. Mostly, we just want to be parented ourselves a bit longer.

I miss the days my mother-in-law stashed twenty dollar bills and secreted them to us like a spy in an elaborate hand-off. I miss the days she took our youngest to the zoo and McDonald’s and brought sticker books. There were signs even then, as each week produced the same sticker book and our 5-year old had to navigate to the zoo. I miss her visits overseas, her confidence and adventuresome spirit carrying her across oceans to see us. I miss walking into the kitchen to see her and my husband sharing a cup of coffee and a good conversation, him being mothered.

For all the ways one misses a good parent and grandparent, I miss her. How cruel that she is here, but not. How maddening that we can’t say goodbye, that we missed the moment the curtains closed on clarity as days oozed into weeks, as function and memory trickled away. How heartbreaking to see my husband grieve her loss every time he sees her; that our kids barely remember the grandmother she was.

If I’m honest though, the grief too often gets buried beneath the frustration. Deep. These days, it seems we are more likely complaining. How can we manage their needs and our own?

These middle years are unfamiliar, unchartered territory. We’ve been careened into this stage with fits and starts, rebelling against reality, resistant. Solidly, we do not want to be here. We would rather be anywhere but here. In the same way that my 12-year old struggles to embrace her changing body and grieves her passing age of innocence, I also struggle to transition into a new phase of life.

As any angsty and insecure tween would do, I am debating a signature statement. Last week it was a nose ring. The week before, tattoos. Something to anchor me in a youth that reigns in spirit, if not body. If I’m going to be pulled into the second half of life, I’ll do it on my terms. It is also probably just as much an attention-getting, shock-value move as any skilled adolescent would know. Look here, in-laws! I’m still young and shouldn’t be at this stage and don’t forget it!

Good Lord.

These are the messy days that no one told me about.

The mess of conflicted emotion. The mess of putting my sweet husband in the middle, again*. The mess of creating healthy boundaries that are continuously crossed or renegotiated or shifted. Did I mention I don’t want to be here?

Lord, take my mess and make me Yours. Take my shortcomings and meanness and impatience. Take my lack of love and replace it with grace still wafting your scent. For all the days I am here, may I be with You.

*This entire post is with his permission.

Beth Bruno is passionate about issues of injustice and a global sisterhood. Often, this looks like curating the stories and work of incredible women and calling her two teen daughters at least once a day to “come watch this.” Married for 23 years, she and her husband share a love for dark chocolate, dark coffee, and bold wine, among other passions. Their son is headed to college so Beth is not thinking about it by nursing an obsession with Turkish hot air balloons and European villages on her Instagram feed.