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Taking on teens changes life in many ways

January 16, 2011

Over the holidays Chris and I accidentally adopted teenagers.  This is not another column about stray kittens under the porch; I’m talking teenage humans.  Two of them.

The kids and their younger brother have long been fixtures around our place and we love them like crazy.  I say we accidentally adopted them but that’s not quite right.  At ages 18 and 19, they join our household sans paperwork; they are old enough to choose to come.  And luckily for all of us, Chris and I are old enough to welcome them.

Chris and I have been together since 1986, and we made a conscious decision not to have kids.  Some people think it’s selfish not to have children, others think it’s selfish to have them.  I’ll just say we knew it wasn’t for us.  We’ve never even had a momentary qualm of regret.

But now, approaching our 25th year together, we can take the long view.  Our kids (we’ve called them that for years) have been through a lot.  Brother and sister, their roads have run different courses but each has faced traumas and struggled through dramas Chris and I never could have imagined when we were teens.

We are learning a lot.  Chris and I are experiencing the full spectrum of teen behavior from sweet, funny and willing to pitch in, to sad, sullen and full of hurtful recriminations —- and of course that’s all one kid in one afternoon.

I wish I could have five minutes with my late mom; just one month in a quasi-parent role and I see that I have a lot to apologize for.  On really hard days I try to laugh and call it Millie’s revenge.  My mom would have loved these two kids, and I know seeing me in my current role would have been hilarious to her.

Being newly responsible for the material, educational, emotional, nutritional, recreational, financial and circadian needs of two humans is an adjustment.

It’s a good thing we remodeled our upstairs last year or someone would be missing a bedroom.  Some of our new roles are an easy fit.  I already know how to drive, so why wouldn’t I spend my days and nights using that skill for the benefit of others?  Same with shopping.

Other things are more esoteric.  For example, how much is a reasonable amount to pay for your teen’s attorney?  And what do you tell your new teen who says, “I hate the east side”, and complains (erroneously) that your 9th and 9th neighborhood is populated solely by white people.  (We went with:  hey, you think this is a white neighborhood, get in the car, we have a few places to show you.)

Some things are not set up for our kind of family.  The application for a family pass to the community fitness center, for example, requires us to present a tax return showing we claim the kids as dependents, which we don’t.

I wanted to say, how about if I present my receipt for the $400 community college fee not covered by financial aid, the laptop computer, the $485 traffic ticket, the outfitting of two teen bedrooms, three teen Christmases — counting their younger brother’s — and, of course, that astounding attorney receipt?  Does that make us a family?

But no.  What really does make us a family is we look out for one another, we encourage one another, we talk about hard things together, and we love one another.

Chris and I will get our quiet life back.

It might be a year or two, but in the meantime we’re giving something to our kids that they almost missed, and that’s worth doing.  Plus, they’re giving us something we almost missed, and that’s cool too.

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Barb Guy is a regular contributor to these pages.


 

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