I’ve never been one to let a loose thread lie.

It’s true that a snooty groomer put me off professional dog haircuts, but it’s also true that I can’t let a tangle or clump alone. With the dog it’s more of a collaboration; he will stop in his tracks if a stick or leaf gets stuck on his undercarriage, so short and sassy is practical. But when the fur gets in his eyes, or our old cat starts looking lumpy because she’s too busy enjoying her golden years and doesn’t feel like grooming, out comes the comb or shears. Neither animal is a fan of this attention, though there’s nothing nicer than a non-lumpy cat. Accomplishment!

Remarkably, I’ve learned to let the kids’ actual threads mostly alone. I looked around and realized they’re all dressed like Billie Eilish or Madonna or a Fortnight character I can’t name, and it dawned on me that these styles are precisely engineered to push my buttons. Fine! If your butt is covered I say nothing.

Which is not to say that I don’t pick at their metaphorical loose threads.

My husband has the gift of steering clear at the first sign of turbulence, which can be a kindness. I am learning from Jay, and trying to avoid needless conflict. But I think there is needed conflict too. Sometimes my can’t-let-it-go meter sounds. The other day a sharp look or jolt of a word got my dander up, and I took the bait. “Hey, you can’t talk to me like that!” The resulting teen explosion of feelings was like a giant cartoon bubble you gently touch with your finger. Pop! And Blam! Molton lava yelling, crying, a walk outside, then… everything calmed! This storm was just what was needed.

I guess I’m sometimes like an emotional Dr Pimple Popper. You might not be glad to see me coming, but you’ll feel better afterwards.

There was a helpful article by Lisa Damour in the New York Times about what teen emotions look like and how to help them. They have big feelings that are intense and change quickly. It helps them to express it, but it doesn’t always mean what we think. “I’m quitting basketball” might signify a lot of things, but often has nothing to do with continued participation on the team. I’m trying to learn to respond to the feeling, but not get tangled up in the literal content. (Damour’s book Untangled: Guiding Teenage Girls Through the Seven Transitions into Adulthood was a lifesaver a few years ago, and I’m looking forward to her new book.)

Damour suggests that the very inconvenient timing teens have for wanting to talk — not at the dinner table when I have a great question ready, but late at night when I barely have a brain cell left firing — is connected to their ongoing quest for independence. They don’t want to just respond to our cues, on our timing, but want to direct the conversation, set the agenda.

Both my kids’ growing autonomy, paired with their inability to drive, have Jay and I as the chauffers on call. This is both boring (long stretches of nothing to do) and demanding (we’re ready right now!). It’s also a kind of ingenious prep for the empty nest. What do I want to do with more free time as it comes? When (God help us) they’re driving themselves, or when they’re living on their own?

What indeed to do with the time that’s coming!

Beyond a good book and the occasional yard project, I don’t have big answers yet. But I can feel myself shifting from panic and grief about this slowly coming change, into a kind of acceptance. Even a pleasant anticipation. What will I do with myself, for myself, as the kids practice for, and then really do fly the coop?