How I Rediscovered My Teenager

On an evening stroll along the Marina on Paradise Island, my son reached out and took my hand.

He was 13.

At the time the move, so natural and without hesitation, caught me by surprise.

“You’re holding my hand,” I said to him.

“I know. I’m just having such a great time with you. Is it okay?”

It was absolutely okay.

We’re at a tricky stage, my boy and I.

I started my travel writing career because of him. I was pregnant with him when I happened across an advertisement for a new pregnancy spa in Texas. I pitched the story to my hometown paper, offered up myself as guinea pig, and began the most incredible career I could’ve imagined. If not for the pregnancy, I wouldn’t have read that advertisement in Fit Pregnancy magazine. If not for him, I literally wouldn’t have been in this gorgeous place.

Over the years, we’ve traveled together often. Along with his dad and younger brother, Cameron, we’ve explored dozens of cities around the globe.

But, I can count on one hand the number of times we’ve done a “just us” trip.  Every time I do one, I vow to remember how important they are.

That time away–one on one–with each of my kids always nets surprises and it doesn’t matter how far away or how close to home we stay. Our time together has included movie dates and trips to distant lands. The results are the same. It’s the time away together that does it; not where we go.

And I think I’ve figured out why.

In what is perhaps one of the cruelest tricks in parenthood, your kids grow up right in front of you and yet the ways in which they are changing are still so easy to miss. You’re so fixated on school lunches, permission forms, the right time to talk about the birds and the bees, and “What is that smell?!?” that it’s easy to look up after a week or two and feel like you’re looking at a stranger.

For years, I’ve felt like we were working on borrowed time; that things would change once he was a teenager. We’d lose him to school dances, friends’ cooler parents, and hormones. I’ve dreaded it while also knowing that life is like that.

And so I tread with caution when inviting him on this weekend away with me. I braced myself for the “no thanks,” and told myself it would be no big deal when it came.

But he said “Sure!”

And over the next few days as we took in local tours, explored new foods, and made new friends, I remembered that my kid isn’t just “a teenager,” he’s my kid. Just like your kid is yours. Sometimes hormones will mask it, but at his core, he’s the same guy.

A guy who will charm his way into extra ice cream, jump at the chance to hit a water slide and, when the mood strikes, slide his hand into mine when the moment calls for it.

Heather Greenwood Davis is a contributing editor at National Geographic Travel and the founder of 

January 19, 2017