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Parenting Teenagers Is a Delicate Dance of Holding On and Letting Go

November 12, 2023
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After three long years, it finally happened — the boys’ soccer team toilet-papered our house. This annual ritual, in which the boys’ and girls’ soccer teams toilet paper (yes, that is a verb) at each other’s houses late at night, is a long-time tradition in our soccer-crazed town.

We have been dreading this night every fall for the past three years. From the day my daughter joined the varsity soccer team, we heard hyped-up stories of extreme toilet-papering flour spread on lawns, eggs thrown at cars, gardens trampled, calls to the police.

As a mother, I hold hope and dread in my heart as my daughter grows into adulthood. (Photo Credit: Oona Metz)

We were alerted that the kids were coming to toilet paper our lawn

The alerts came in via text and Snapchat. “The boys are out papering; they are coming your way!!” Then, a little later: “They are at Ella’s now, and her dad almost called the police!!” The tension and excitement mounted as we sat near the living room window, peeking out (but not so close that anyone could see us — because that would be embarrassing).

My daughter’s phone pinged again. “They’re right around the corner!!”

The boys pulled up in three cars, and we heard shouts of laughter. The way those boys threw the toilet paper rolls, you would think they were baseball players. We knew they were finished when we heard their tires screech away.

When we went outside to assess the damage, we saw toilet paper strewn three stories high over the trees and bushes lining the sidewalk and the front yard. The boys left partial rolls in the street, then flattened them on their way out. And, of course, they got it all on video to delight in later.

Being targeted meant we had been chosen

Honestly, though, I hadn’t only felt dread about this prank. I’d also secretly hoped our house would make the list. After all, being targeted means you have been chosen: You are included, you matter. There is an honor in being the victim of this particular prank.

As a parent, I’ve become familiar with holding hope and dread simultaneously. I feel both the hope that my daughter’s soccer team makes it to the championships and the dread of the aftermath if they lose. The hope she will get into a college she loves and the dread if she doesn’t.

The hope she will get her driver’s license, the dread she won’t make it home one night. The hope she will be independent, the dread she will move far away. The hope that her generation will be able to fix the problems we have foisted on them and the dread that it is already too late.

Parenting is learning to balance holding on and letting go

Because parenting a teenager can be stressful and challenge us to the core, it’s sometimes hard to remember all our work to lay a strong foundation for our kids. Even though I’ve done this before, I’m relearning the delicate dance of simultaneously holding on and letting go. I remind myself that I’ve faced different versions of this dance — helping my daughter learn to walk, sending her to kindergarten, and dropping her off at summer camp for the first time.

I try to remember how I have taught my daughter to be safe and independent. If I can manage my anxiety, I can turn dread into trust — and armed with trust, I can enjoy the hope and the joy just a bit more.

We need not have dreaded the toilet papering

After the boys’ soccer team left their mark, all the toilet papering dread wasn’t necessary. No flowers got trampled, no cops were called, and no neighbors were offended. The cleanup didn’t take long. We’ll have to wait for heavy rain to wash the rest of the toilet paper out of the highest branches of our trees, but every day, another few strands float lazily to the ground.

We salvaged 17 partial rolls of toilet paper left behind when the boys made a hasty departure. I’ve saved them all and will be sure my daughter takes them with her next Saturday night when she and her teammates go out for a ride around town. I wish them luck staying safe while exacting the sweetest kind of revenge.

More Great Reading:

When Parents Cannot Say No to Their Adult Children

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