What to Expect: The Teen-Age Years by Cati Porter

What to Expect: The Teen-Age Years

A distant echo, like fruit belched up from breakfast,
I remember how it felt to house your body in my body,
how it knobbed up to meet the palm of my hand,
how every gas bubble even before you could
was a kick. Then, you grew. Plop, you fell out of me
like a menarche clump of red cells except you
were pink and frail and required oxygen.
Then, suddenly, you were pushing up to standing,
then walking, running, playing Matchbox cars,
and now here you are, only a toddler, with your own
car and license and my time is my own again
and I don’t know what to do with it.
There was nothing to prepare me for this.
I read The Baby Book until the spine cracked
and pages leaked out like my nipples oozing milk
whenever you cried. I read What to Expect When…
each stage a fresh new hell, except, once you hit
puberty, there were no guidebooks to tell me
how to teach you to drive, how not wind up in the ER
after a drinking binge, or how to make you love
poetry, or me. That book doesn’t exist, but I imagine
if it did it might begin with a chapter or two on mourning
who you’ll never be, and accepting that.
Forget college. Forget the golf scholarships.
Never mind that homework. I forgive you for giving up
on me not giving up on you. Instead, I give you
the freedom to fail, and my unwavering love
as I watch you clamor at the guardrails,
pulling yourself back up, up, and then off again,
while I sit here barely daring to sip my glass of wine,
phone beside me, volume high, waiting, waiting.

by Cati Porter

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Editor’s Note: The conversational tone of this poem makes it easy to read fast, much like the shocking distance from infancy to teen years, but by the end, the aching worry of parenthood is firmly fixed in the mind.