I have three daughters, all born within a busy five years. This means they’ve moved through my life in a phalanx, though not a very cohesive one. When I had a baby, a three-year-old and a five-year-old, for example, they were pretty differentiated; babies had somehow gotten easier since my first one, the middle one just followed the big one and the big one loved to watch TV. It was, in retrospect, a pleasant time with simple, usually physical problems that could be solved by me, Big Bird or a piece of toast.

At ages five, eight and ten they were also pretty fun. I’d already done five twice before, so that was straightforward, it was my second eight and the ten-year old liked video games. While it might not always have been lemon-squeezy, it was often easy-peasy.

Now they are 13, 16 and 18. While your mileage will, of course, vary, my experience is that previous results are zero freaking guarantee of future success. Furthermore, each 13-year old is different, so any tips you’ve tucked away from the earlier kids will simply irritate the living crap out of the next one. In fact, a lot of things you do will irritate them. 

THE DIFFICULTY OF TEENAGE YEARS

One notable and consistent feature of my teenage daughters is the way they express anathema. That word, as we know, basically means something you hate. But did you know (I didn’t until recently) that anathema also means a formal curse from the Pope excommunicating or condemning someone? THAT is the version of anathema my daughters express should I suggest, for example, they might want to take up physical exercise, or learn to crochet. Anything I deem worthy or interesting is immediately banished from their kingdom, having instantly become repellent. 

Now, maybe this wouldn’t have mattered so much if I hadn’t thought of myself as a cool, fun mom up until that point. The sin of pride being what it is, I had always relished coming up with entertaining things to do, or having Cheerios on hand, or changing the channel. I was competent. I’m bored/hungry/curious, they used to think, let’s see what Mom has to offer. But now I am completely and deeply useless. And cheesy. And a little bit … old.

This single change made me so mad and deeply peevish that I have wanted to kill them all at different times. A much better writer than me suggested it was sharper than a serpent’s tooth to have a thankless child, so I know I am not alone in this experience. Plus, at the exact same time they no longer want your advice or opinion on anything, they actually — for the first time — have to make decisions and choices that matter. And they’re freaked out about it, because everyone else is freaked out about it, and they need input and guidance and comfort but the last person they want it from is you. 

It is not in any way, a barrel of laughs.

But through it all you love each other, and make each other laugh, and are kind to each other, and respectful and interested and appreciative, it’s just that those moments are fewer and further between and the moments of rudeness and despair and genuine dislike for your own child or your own parent seem more common.

WRITING A BOOK IS GOOD THERAPY

So, all of this to say, that’s where my head and life were at when I started writing I Was Told It Would Get Easier. Writing is essentially a selfish act, at least for me, insofar as I need to vent my thoughts and ideas somewhere, and people leave me alone while I do it. I was deep in the process of college applications and debates with my eldest child, and so were all the other parents who’d been in Mommy and Me Music classes with me, and preschools, and summer camps. We all had the same expression, as if we’d been hit around the head with a fish. I thought maybe this shared experience would fuel a book, so I plunged in.

I decided to write the book in alternating first person from both the mother and daughter’s points of view. As they’re taking a week-long tour of east coast colleges, in the company of many other parents and kids, they have to talk and compromise with each other. A lot is going on for both of them outside the tour, and the tour itself isn’t free from drama, so there’s plenty to deal with. My goal was to show how strong the mother-daughter bond can be, but also how deeply stressed and torn it can get during these years. Teenagers are supposed to reject their parents, it’s a biological imperative. Parents are supposed to take care of their children, also a biological imperative. That basic conflict fuels the character development, while the action of the narrative propels them through an experience that will change them both.

My kids still drive me nuts, but I’m beginning to see how wonderful having grown kids will be. I imagine I’ll write about that too, assuming I survive the next five years.

I Was Told it Would Get Easier is now available for pre-order.

Photo © Leanna Creel

Abbi Waxman was born in England in 1970, the oldest child of two copywriters who never should have been together in the first place. Once her father ran off to buy cigarettes and never came back, her mother began a highly successful career writing crime fiction. She encouraged Abbi and her sister Emily to read anything and everything they could pull down from the shelves, and they did. Naturally lazy and disinclined to dress up, Abbi went into advertising, working as a copywriter and then a creative director at various advertising agencies in London and New York. Clients ranged from big and traditional, (AT&T, Chase Manhattan Bank, IBM, American Express, Unilever, Mercedes-Benz) to big and morally corrupt (R. J. Reynolds) to big and larcenous (Enron). Eventually she quit advertising, had three kids and started writing books, TV shows and screenplays, largely in order to get a moment’s peace.

Abbi lives in Los Angeles with her husband, three kids, three dogs, three cats, a gecko, two mice and six chickens. Every one of these additions made sense at the time, it’s only in retrospect that it seems foolhardy.