I’m floating down the river on my daughter’s 14th birthday. Why am I so excited to be leading this group of teens? Why am I so happy?
I float back…
For as long as I remember, teens have felt like foreign creatures. Not foreign like “these kids have weird style and taste in music” strange, but this odd sensation that they were older than me, even though I’m double or triple (!) their age. I’ve known why…I was a teen biologically, but never developmentally. No, in high school when my friends were planning who was going to flirt with whom at Zoo Lights, I was frantically wondering what I could cook my six siblings for dinner, racking my brain for dinner options in our scarcely-filled fridge and roach-infested pantry. I may have shared my peers’ biological age, but that was it.
When my oldest entered the tween stage, it was disorienting and unfamiliar. It felt it more threatening than being unable to soothe her as a colicky newborn. Her drive to individuate surfaced stabbing pain, each interaction reminding me of what I lost, what I never had.
And oh yes, it’s not just her. I have three of them back-to-back-to-back, 7th, 8th, and 9th grade now (and the little one in 4th), three teens going through adolescence at breakneck speed, that developmental stage that Jenny was never allowed to have.
I’m back in the present, floating forward down the river. I don’t feel any of this anymore.
When did this change?
Oh, yeah it was four years ago. Four years ago, when I met Eric Gentry and started learning how to pair exposure with relaxation. Since then, I’ve had thousands of reparative experiences. As they’ve entered middle school and now high school, I learned how to regulate in the present, regulate around the typical things that any normal parent finds exhausting or annoying.
Thousands and thousands of times over, I’ve regulated in the present, not knowing that I was healing my past. But as I sat there flowing forward it hit me: No longer do their opportunities trigger my deprivation. No longer does their joy and freedom trigger my sorrow. It’s gone. Reciprocal inhibition has desensitized a lifetime of severe neglect. That teen who wasn’t allowed to be one has grown up right with them, and she is willing to be the responsible adult now. My biology and my development match.
I’m floating Forward-Facing down the river, and I’m following the two in front of me. They don’t know it, but they’re leading me. They’re leading me with their unfettered joy, and the thousands of experiences of shared joy have provided a depth of healing I never knew I could experience. I’m not a begrudging adult, sacrificing so they can have fun. No, I’m in the unfettered joy with them.
I can experience that shared joy because it’s no longer a threat.
I’m floating Forward-Facing down the river, and three teens are following my lead. I lead with strength, humility, regulation, and fun. With several hundred yards in between us, I soak in the beauty. I get to experience a full transformation of experience without anything external changing.
It’s glorious. I’m free.
And that’s why I believe in Forward-FacingⓇ