When we get out of bed today, there will be two teenagers in the house.

And just like that, I am a mother with a different purpose, trying now just to keep up instead of holding them by the hand. Video games, iPhone chats, friends whose parents I’ve never met; these things are all swirling them beyond the world we’ve always known together. I cling as I watch life lure them away, and pray the raft will hold.

When the early days were long I believed somewhat delusionally that the years would stretch forever. Now that the years are short, I see the delusion goes both ways. The only solution is to let the days and the years be exactly what they are, without waiting for anything to start or to end. And so. Welcome, teenagers.

In this COVID era, we spend most of our time together in a world that has shrunk to the four walls of our home. It’s easier to see them this way. I see them mostly growing longer, their legs sticking out from blankets on the couch, where they eat ramen and watch Brooklyn 99 with Mike. Today, the three of us are all exactly the same size.

I don’t know what living rooms look like in houses with girls, but ours has a lot of socks and power cords. When I come home from work, I find shoes piled by the door and gaming headsets on the couch. Some days, a Minuet sings from the violin and there is math homework spread over the table. Always, there is someone in the kitchen plowing through a box of crackers, or munching on uncooked spaghetti. When we lie four across in the bed to read at night, we don’t really fit anymore. Although I don’t want them to grow up too fast, I love all the things we can do with these active, growing kids.

Growing up means more discussions, and decisions that are not always peaceful. We try to explain why doing hard things is good for you, but the boys are at an age where at the end of the explanation, they still don’t understand. Mike and I are at the age where we make the mistake of believing that their worries are our worries, that their dreams are our dreams, and that what brings sense to the world for us will do the same for them. I think both of these things are what make teenagers seem hard.

But the age, the number of years, is meaningless when I still see their little boy faces the same as they’ve always been. I wonder if that is the gift of parenthood, to frame life from the very start while we ourselves are living closer to the other end? To see the beginning and witness the paths traveled, the slow settling of memories, that lend sense to where we find ourselves now? It is our children, or maybe grandchildren, that teach us to have compassion with past regret.

As parents Mike and I probably still participate too much, but this is the role we chose and neither of us want to change course now. In fact, as the world and its burdens unleash the fury of adolescence on my babies, the last thing I want to do is step back. We may not be the rudder through the storm anymore, but we will always be the safe harbor; the place to dry their wings and set them straight again.

Happy Birthday, Jake and Eli! We love you, now and always.