After their volleyball game this afternoon, this trio decided they should work on their math project at our house. I’d already shot a bunch of images at their volleyball game and was pretty sure I had something for “the photo of the day”, but when I heard them out in the back yard, looked out the window and saw the deck strewn with protractors, compasses, rulers, scissors, needles and thread, the three of them sprawled across the wooden platform, I retrieved my camera from where it was sitting ready to upload to the computer. They were working on a legendary project that every seventh grader for about the last 30 years has had to do called, “string-art”. No one yet, to my knowledge, has ever been able to figure out how it warrants consuming at least a month of math class. Never-the-less, it persists.
In general, my kids like to ignore my camera, or put a book in front of their face when I show up with it. If their feeling irritable, they might flip me off or tell me to leave, so when they have friends over and start mugging for me, I’m all theirs. This means I oblige them by shooting numerous frames of the requisite airborne “en-masse” shot as they jump off of the nearest platform; and they oblige me by letting me photograph them “just being kids”.
This was the last frame of the afternoon. The mugging was over; the dramatic expressions finished; we’d done the wind-blown look, and the model look. By the time we got to this last frame, all that was left was authentic happy 13 year olds.
Watching them goof around, I was suddenly struck by the fact that they too are on a threshold. A year from now, they will know where they are going to high school. In the mean time, they are trying to figure out what it means to be no longer little girls, but not yet comfortable in their adolescence. They try on different looks and different parts. They back up two steps and step forward one or vice-versa, on a daily basis. They are learning to navigate new terrain.
I’ve always loved these stages in my kids lives. Certainly they are not easy, but the active engagement with the inevitable natural forces at play in growing up has always both intrigued and awed me. They do grow up. Their bodies do change. They can’t stop it and ultimately they accept and embrace it. It happens repeatedly. There’s always that period of chafing and frustration that comes before a growth spurt or the learning of a new skill, the thrashing about on the threshold; then, its as if they fall into the next stage of development. They don’t begin it, they are in it.
I was talking to another stay-at-home mom at the volleyball game today. We both have daughters who are still small for their age. We were comparing stories about being that age and being small, ourselves. Then comparing stories about being this age with children the ages that ours are. Of course the topic of my blog came up, and the idea of the threshold, because, of course, its on my mind. I think that’s when it occurred to me that these girls are on a different threshold. But later is when I started thinking about how we continually reach thresholds throughout our lives, and that all have that element of discomfort with what lies on the other side. We thrash about for a while, and then, with greater or lesser degrees of grace, we fall into the next stage of life. Sometimes the transitional period is longer than others, and some transitions more challenging than others. Maybe its just because I’m in the middle of it, but I think that this is a big one.
Maybe its due to the whole “40 is the new 30, and 50 is the new 40” thing, but I think that for women like me, and maybe men too, that the next stage is much more nebulous than it used to be, in a good way. I’m not sure that a generation ago, very many women my age would have considered pursuing dreams that had been dormant for 20 years. I definitely don’t remember many of my mother’s peers tackling new careers or finally discovering what they had longed to do throughout their child-rearing years. I think this is both exciting and intimidating. Its like being a 13 year old and never having been around high-school students. We have few models for how to do this.
My son too, is about to step onto a threshold at the end of junior year in high school. With a sister in college, he has an idea of what that next step can look like, a person who represents that next stage of life on whom he can focus. The 13 year olds will focus on their older siblings in high school or those of their friends. I’m still looking for my role model for the next stage of my life as I thrash around on this threshold (and in my blog), trying on different hats, testing them to see if they fit, and figuring out how to manage wearing more than one at any given time.