The Problem With My Teenage Son

He texts at 8:30 p.m. asking if it’s okay to stay the night at his friend’s house.  (I’m irritated that he didn’t text earlier in the evening, but remind myself that he doesn’t need to ask permission.  After all, he’s 19 now, and he’s asking permission to spend the night with a friend whose parents are home.)  I text back and ask if it’s okay with the friend’s parents.  He texts and says, “We already asked.  It’s okay.”

Then he texts, “Love you.”

 

I ask him to chop some wood and get us stocked up on kindling.  He does so without grumbling.  (I’m irritated that he doesn’t notice that we are out of kindling and that I have to ask, but remind myself that he was quick to get the job done.)

 

I ask him how classes are going.  We sip coffee as he discusses his frustrations with this new semester.  He mentions that his grades are good.  (I’m relieved and somewhat surprised that he checks his grades, and then wonder why I am surprised.)

 

I grumble at him for always being on his phone.  “You seem so disconnected from us,” I say.  “It feels like you don’t want to be here.”  He says, “I do want to be here,” as he goes off to his room to get ready for school.  (I wonder if I would want to be here if someone was always bitching at me about chopping wood and being on my phone.)

 

The day the bank statement arrives, we heatedly discuss his finances and whether there will be enough left in his account to pay for the next semester.  “I see how often you stop at Taco Bell.  Why?  Is that what all your friends do?”  He says, “I’m a homeschool kid, mom.  It’s good I have friends to hang out with.  We’re not buying beer and cigarettes.”

“I know I’m blowing through the money,” he says.  “I’ve picked up several job applications.  It’s all gonna work out.  You’ll see.”

He has said this before.

When I worried about whether it was a good idea to homeschool he said, “It will work out.”

 

The problem is that I worry.  I worry that I’ve not done my job.

Have I taught him financial responsibility?  Have I showed him what it is to be a good friend?  Have I taught him the importance of doing well in school?  Will he avoid the choices that get him in trouble?  Did I miss the window of opportunity to teach him the stuff he needs to know to be independent?

Did I do enough?

Is he prepared for the real world?

Shouldn’t he be here more so I can make sure we’ve covered absolutely everything?

Shouldn’t he be here …  more?

That’s the real problem, isn’t it?  The problem is that I’m not ready for him to leave.  It’s not about whether he’s ready or not.

I’m not ready.

 

The problem with my teenage son is me.

 

You Can’t Save Him

I’d left the kids with him at the house.  I wasn’t going to be long.  I’d forgotten something and had to run and get it.  When I returned with the thing (whatever it was) that I’d forgotten, my hands were full.  I was carrying my jacket, a large bag, and the item in one hand, and struggled to open the door with my free hand.  I was fumbling with the doorknob.  Finally, I’d gotten the door to open, but I was concerned about it opening too far. 

I hurried to enter, worried I’d taken too long.  Out of the corner of my eye, I noticed a ginormous spider had come in when the door was ajar.  They didn’t see the spider as it scurried along the floor at the base of the wall.  Its two sets of legs were freakishly hairy.  Three large hairy legs ran down each side of its body, and its underside had a cluster of six smaller hairy legs.  It was large enough to make noise as it scampered, yet he didn’t seem to hear it at all.

I yelled to warn them. “You guys!!  RUN!  A spider got in!  It’s huge!  Run!!”  I saw my kids jump.  They didn’t turn to see the spider.  They took my word for it and ran.

 

(Later, when retelling the dream, I described the spider as the size of one of those plastic Melitta coffee filters.  It was “Twilight Zone” disgusting.)

 

Maybe he hadn’t heard me?  Maybe he didn’t believe me?  I yelled again as I ran toward him.  “Really!! That spider is HUGE.  You gotta run!”

As I came up beside him he got on the floor.  He did the crab walk like we used to do in 4th grade gym class.  He deliberately, without any regard for the spider, crab-walked across the room, IN THE DIRECTION OF THE SPIDER.   I couldn’t believe my eyes.  After my warnings and yelling and all the commotion, he actually got down on the spider’s level and moved toward it!

I could see that he was within a foot of the spider now!  He could SEE the spider.  What was he doing?  I turned to run and join the kids.  As I left the house, I looked over my shoulder and saw him pick up the spider, with both hands!

 

The next morning, as I poured a second cup, I told Jen of my wicked dream.  When I described my astonishment at his picking up the spider, she interrupted me to say, “But, mom, you can’t save him.”

 

 

 

For the Single Moms on Father’s Day

When society tried to make you feel guilty for leaving and raising your kids on your own, you persevered.  You knew that the damage would be greater if you’d made the choice to stay.

When you worried that you couldn’t do both jobs, you did your best.  When other kids went camping with both parents or rode bikes as a family, you created your own traditions.  And years later, when your oldest said, “Hey, remember when we used to play badminton in the street.  We did that a lot.  Let’s do that tonight,” you know you managed to create memories that will sustain your kids.

When you only had a blurred notion of what it is that a dad does, because your own dad was rarely around, you read the books on parenting and observed the good examples and tried to fill in, in the best ways you could.

When you couldn’t do it all, you sat your kids down and explained that you wished you could do more, but that you are one person doing both jobs, and while you are doing your best, you can’t do it all.  Through tears, you explained how much you love them, and that you understood that they were angry or hurt or sad.  When you were dog-tired from doing it all, you found enough to softly explain to them that they would be fine and you would always be there for them.

When you raged at the Universe for putting you in this position, you woke again to be thankful for it all, even when it kicks your butt every single day.

When you think you can’t handle one more issue or fix one more problem or make one more dinner, you flop on the couch between your favorite people, turn on the TV and order a pizza.  You laugh hard in that moment and tell yourself that what doesn’t get done today will find you tomorrow.  As the three of you try to agree on a show, you sip some wine and remind yourself that it’s all about the journey and this journey is creating healthy, happy, independent, functioning people who know how to navigate storms.

When you have those days when you doubt that you made the right choice, you will step back and watch your kids thrive in this safe place you’ve created for them.  You will see them for who they are allowed to be.  Those moments prove that you made the right decision.  (p.s.  As the years go on, you will stop doubting your decision.  Trust me.)

Once in awhile, remember that your kids picked you to be their mom.  They have things to learn that they can only learn with you. (You have things to learn that you can only learn from, and with, your kids.)

You’re doing great.

This is how it’s supposed to be.

Happy Father’s Day.

 

The Girl in the Next Stall

She’s walking into the changing room with four items.  Three are from her usual color palette – shades of grey to black.  This time she found a pair of dusty pink capris in her size – 0.

 

She’s been talking of changing things up a bit.  She systematically cut all the long hair to shoulder length.  She didn’t cut it all at once, but over the course of a year, she had me cut two inches here, three inches there.  One afternoon, while listening to Pink Martini on Pandora, she had me cut six inches.  Between the two of us, Will and I always tell her she looks great, but I can see that she’s looking for other words.

She longs for words she’s heard before, only she wants them to come from someone who never says them.

 

Her style is all her own.  One day we were running errands and she mentioned Pastel Goth.  I had to ask her what that was.  She explained while we were stopped at a light.  I turned to her and said, “Is that what you are?”  She grinned and said, “Not really.  Well, maybe a little.”

She doesn’t dress like other girls her age.  That might have a lot to do with the fact that we homeschool.   Her style isn’t a copycat thing.

I’ve seen the girls at the skating rink staring at her.  As they pull their butterfly covered rolling backpacks over to the bench to put on their skates, I see them glance over at Jen.  I’d love to know what they are thinking.  “Her mom can’t afford butterflies and sequins.”  “Why doesn’t she wear pink or purple or teal?”  “How come her mom lets her wear black all the time?”

Jen told me of the time that a “Butterfly Skater” followed her into the locker room.  She stared at Jen the entire time Jen unlaced her skates.  The girl didn’t say a word.  Jen came out with a mixed expression – part fascination, part frustration.  “Mom, I think she was in there the whole time to make sure I wasn’t going to steal her stuff.”

Her choice in colors gets her looks.  She doesn’t always see the looks.  I always do.  I’m her mom.  I want to laugh at the other skaters’ moms.  They haven’t been the most welcoming group at the rink.  We don’t fit the type.  But when their daughters fall hard on the ice, mine is the first to ask if they are okay.

 

Which brings me to yesterday at the mall.  While Jen was in the changing room, I could hear that the girl in the next stall must have been on FaceTime as she changed clothes.  Weird, but whatever.

Times change.  Maybe this is the new selfie?

While I talk with my kids about absolutely everything, we all three respect privacy.  It’s been a lot of years since I was in the changing room with my daughter.  I browse the clothing racks as I wait, looking at business clothes I can’t afford.  I think of how many houses I’d have to sell before I’d ever even consider spending that kind of money on clothes for myself.  I see the clerk look at what I’m wearing, and realize I know exactly how Jen feels when the “Butterfly Skaters” are staring at her.

As Jen walks out, I try to read her expression.  “How’d it go?  Did you like any of it?”  She smiled her quiet smile, “Let’s go somewhere else.  The pants didn’t fit – too baggy in the thighs.  The shirt goes down too low in the front.  Sorry I’m so picky.”

“Don’t worry about it, honey.  We’ll find something.”

 

As we walk out of the mall I ask, “What was going on in the changing room?”

“A girl was trying on prom dresses in the stall next to me.  She was sending pictures to her mom and grandma and dad.”

“Too bad none of them could be there with her, but it is the time when most would be at work.”

Jen walked around to the passenger side of the car.  “She sent a picture to her dad and he said, ‘Oh, honey.  That’s so pretty.'”

I looked at her as I put the key in the ignition.  She looked at me and said, “Is that even real?”

 

Out in the Open

Hello!

Thanks for being here.

I’ve had a bunch of new posts churning around in my mind for several months – new posts for this new blog.  I’d given thought to starting out by writing something shiny and motivating and positive.  As much as I’d like to focus on that side of me, it’s just not where I am every day.

At least I’m honest.

I tend to gravitate to the intense or the darkly funny.  (I avoid scary at all costs, if I can.)  Sometimes I get on Pinterest and pin to manifest a new life by the beach with a stack of books and a beverage.  When I read, it’s most often about how to sort out the human drama and make sense of why things happen the way they do.

Recently, Jen and I were discussing the fact that humans are riddled with contradictions.  I’m no different.

I do like motivational quotes, but we’ve been force-fed those for so long that we become desensitized to them.  Maybe that’s just me?  Take a rock, a babbling brook, add a quote from some guru and magically your life will change.  I don’t think so.

I do know, that every day brings an opportunity to learn something that helps us along our way.  Maybe it’ll be something positive.  If we’re lucky, it’s an exchange with another who might be working to make progress along his or her own path.

Sometimes we’ll be presented with something funny.  Yesterday, I used the restroom at the ski hill.  A mom was helping her four-year-old use the potty and wash her hands.  Her daughter was resisting the process.  Each time her mom urged, the daughter replied by meowing.  The mom was clearly frustrated, and the daughter replied to her mom’s frustration by saying, “Meow, meow,” which clearly made the mom more frustrated.  As they turned to walk out of the restroom, the girl looked at me and meowed.  I meowed back.

 

It occurs to me that I could use that approach with more things in life.

 

This morning I read this line from J K Rowling’s, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix:

“He only knew that he did not want to see their looks of horror; that would make the whole thing seem worse and therefore more difficult to face.”

Immediately, I thought of children.

I thought of all the things kids might experience, and the hard decisions they make when figuring out which of those experiences they might discuss. Whether they choose to discuss with friends or family or their teacher, doesn’t matter.  If only they’d bring that stuff out in the open, they might get the support they need, or they’d learn that others are frightened by the same thing, and that they aren’t weird for being afraid.

And I thought of adults, who are really just kids with responsibilities.  I thought of the things adults refuse to discuss because they are afraid that if the light shines on what they have to deal with, they won’t have the strength to continue dealing.  How many are buried under the weight of stuff they think they can’t handle? Of course there is risk in bringing their stuff to light, but if they don’t, how can they ever be met with understanding, or an offer of help?

Maybe we need to be the vulnerable girl in the restroom who doesn’t care what anyone thinks.  We need to risk meowing to see if anyone meows back.

And, perhaps more importantly, when we hear a meow, we need to look up from our phone, put down the latte, and acknowledge the person brave enough to meow.

On that note, I’m going to meow at this messy house, and go back to reading Harry Potter.