“Mom, the dog has paint all over her butt!” my teen daughter texted me, followed by a series of emoji that I interpreted as “I’m really sorry, please don’t be mad, I love you.”
The thought of our 4-year-old husky mix leaving a Jackson Pollock on my carpet would usually send me into a tizzy, complete with a diatribe about responsibility and lectures on other topics parents of teenagers seem to dole out on a loop.
Parenting teens is tricky for various reasons you’ve probably heard before. Cough — hormones — cough.
But add a pandemic into the mix and the challenges of raising a teen seem significantly magnified, except with glaring sun shining through the glass, which as you probably know, basically sets everything on fire.
So when my 16-year-old — who’s now getting the sleep she needs and is not up until 1 a.m. doing homework — leaves piles of art supplies on a kitchen chair and forgets to open the windows so that the smell of acrylics doesn’t knock me off my feet, I’m hardly bothered.
Actually, I’m almost grateful. Her final two years at a private school have been traded in for home-schooling and courses at our local community college. That means missing out on things like prom and maybe even a graduation ceremony, a loss I imagine she’ll grieve at some point.
But it also means way more time and brain space for the things she loves — like art — that had taken a back seat when she started her high school career.
And in seeing her dive headfirst into a pile of colored pencils and gouache, I’ve been inspired to pick up an old, and rather serious, hobby I had as a teen: ballet.
For all the difficulties COVID-19 has dished out to parents like me — home-schooling four kids, working full time from home, cooking or food prepping on what feels like the Scrambler ride at an amusement park — I have found that surprisingly, I have more time to myself.
Yes, some of that is courtesy of my old pal screen time, but there are also fewer activities and practices and games and commutes and commitments that require my attention. I can’t be the only parent who quietly breathed a sigh of relief when we were told only one parent could attend sporting events and no parents could watch practices.
So I’ve decided to spend an hour a week in a local ballet studio, in a mask, plieing and pirouetting, or at least trying.
It’s not the five hours a day I spent there as teen, with dreams of becoming a professional dancer. But it’s exactly what I’ve needed to distract myself from the stresses of being almost literally everything to my kids.
When I started taking class a few months ago, my technique came back almost instantly, but I could barely lift my leg to a 45-degree angle without it shaking. So much for all those stationary bike workouts.
But now I can hold my leg for a few seconds at 90 degrees, sometimes even higher during grand battements. My jumps are almost back where they used to be, except now I need a quick bathroom break before petit allegro.
And I even bought myself pointe shoes, which I’ve been wearing for 10 minutes every class before I start to question why I thought standing on my toes at 44 was a good idea.
Truth be told, I think it really is a good idea. Even though my calves are burning for almost a full 24 hours after class and my knee audibly crackles when I bend it, I’m experiencing a youthfulness that I haven’t felt in a very long time. While I’m nowhere near as svelte as my 15-year-old self, seeing my post-four-kids body wearing a leotard and tights, staring back at me in all those mirrors, has given me a newfound appreciation of my curves. And there’s just something so freeing being with a group of women, some my age, some older, who are experiencing all of this with me.
There’s something about being able to shed all the monikers we parents have all had to take on this year for just an hour, where I get to focus completely on myself, or at least, not hurting myself, and experience again something I loved. Who knew nostalgia could be so invigorating?
I can’t say that rekindling a love for an old hobby makes parenting easier. That might be a stretch. But during a time when self-care as a parent really needs to be a radical act, spending time doing something I love that’s mine and mine alone has allowed me to be a little more present and a little more tolerant.
And it’s made me appreciate how much that time is important for us to have. And for our teens to have. Even if it means I’ve got to wash the paint out of my carpet.