What a boon it was for this old, souring, satirical, sarcastic and therapized mother with boy and girl teens who allow me the privilege of living under their roof and in their kitchen—whew! Breathe. Yes, what a revelation to me when I read in at least two parenting books, that parenting teenagers is seriously crazy-making for adults, possibly even more so than exploring teendom is for their puberty-stricken progeny. Wow!
For the last 3 or 4 years, I thought I was the only one. On this semi-sacred holiday whose commercialization misses its origins in feminist history, when we all try to smile, nod, and exchange pleasantries for the time we’ve had together, it is an epiphany to experience that I am not alone in my frequent feelings of ineptitude as a parent.
The hallelujah in this post, is “I’m not a bad mother!” I’ve got it in writing. It doesn’t matter that my daughter hysterically tells me otherwise. Not long ago she screamed at me to intervene on her behalf, because my son threw her off Netflix while I was at my writers group. By her report, after she’d watched only one show he took the controller, even though he got to watch 4 shows the night before, because she was absent. “It’s not faaaiieerrr!” she howled. “Where is a sane mom who would not let him get away with this [heinous crime of excessive technology use]?”
When I gave her the Are you f’ing kidding me look she retorted, “You swung too far the other way Mom! Do something!”
Six months ago I turned off the WiFi by turning off the router every night, and she cried that I was punishing her for the sins of a brother 4 years her junior. She entered counseling only for the privilege of “telling on me.” I gave up on complete WiFi shut downs.
“What do you want me to do, Loveheart? Handcuff him? Call the police? I can’t physically make him stop.”
“Mom, you suck. You are a b…h and I hate you!”
Because I’ve been therapizing, my mindful meditation storage-units kicked in and I didn’t scream back at her, but my son, not having practiced the 3-step technique (sit up straight, focus on your breathing, notice when your mind wanders and bring it back to your breath), retaliated against her, perhaps to protect me, perhaps to appease a guilty conscience, or simply because his reptilian brain got carried away.
“Shut the f..k up, Loveheart! You never let me watch what I want! You never agree to watch anything I say! It’s always all my fault, Loveheart. Yea, it’s just all my fault!” he shouted with disdain.
Of course with my aging, I don’t remember the scene word for word, or precisely, but this is a typical outburst in our happy healthy home that is wired with computers and iPods and Facebook and all the modern conveniences. Yes, our Facebook pages have sweet photos and worthy quotes and my kid is an honor student at “our school is better than yours” in small town America though I don’t sport the bumper sticker. But the self-help/parenting books are validating my daily experience that confirms that parenting teens ain’t necessarily “fun.”
If I’d only known this during labor or those breastfeeding days, when I thought What could be harder than this? I could’ve started reading Be Here Now then. Had I known it even 2 years ago I would’ve been so much more forgiving and accepting of myself and 2 years of mindfulness practice would’ve already trickled down to my offspring.
So, I’m posting this on my blog with the hope of injecting some practice of honesty into our culture. That, and because when I searched today for amusing and entertaining blog posts on old, tired, imperfect mothers, all I got was young moms writing about their 4-year-olds, and that is great. But I want some humor and even fun on this Mother’s Day, and I am the most likely to succeed at giving myself that gift.
Jennifer Senior wrote that very few parenting blogs are about teenagers, because parents don’t want to betray confidences and vulnerabilities—their own and those of their teens. I say, “Forget the guilt! Let loose the cannons. The truth shall set us free!” We’re all doing the same thing, trying to figure out our distress, and trying to love our own flesh and blood while wondering how the aliens came to inhabit them! They want our respect. We want theirs. All of us lack awareness of our addiction to thoughts and the power of our fight-or-flight old brain left unbridled.
Let’s talk. Let’s be honest. Take off the masks. Tell each other in the bleachers and auditorium about the hell your teens give you and your own imperfect parenting. Don’t be ashamed. The mom you confess to might top the most embarrassing parenting story you hate to recall, and if not, she’ll love and support you with a choir of angels’ sympathy. She’s right there with you in this free-for-all, expletives not barred, R-E-S-P-E-C-T-deprived, 21st century.
BamBam picked up Loveheart’s Virals book the other day.
“Stop!” She used her delirious catastrophe responder voice. “You can’t read that. It’s OUT OF ORDER. You have to read the first one in the series.”
“No I don’t,” he said, continuing to read the book’s beginning page.
“Yes you do! You can’t do that,” and she grabbed the book from his hands.
“Then bring it to me.”
“It’s in my room,” she said, not budging from the kitchen chair.
He airplaned his arms and flipped her the finger bilaterally.
I thought of Richard Nixon caricatures, raising 2 fingers in each hand, and stating, “I am not a crook. I am not a crook.”
BamBam has frequently displayed the kind of attitude that makes middle school teaching jobs high turnover positions.
“Oh, and Mom. I need eleven dollars for the book fair.”
Carefully I respond, “No. I haven’t bought a book for myself in months. I get them from the library.”
“But the library doesn’t have anything!”
“You haven’t even looked,” I counter, thinking of the few times he’s accompanied me to the public library the whole year, and remembering him sitting in front of their computers, not perusing book shelves.
“Yes I have! I’ve looked multiple times,” and he huffs off to the kitchen calling me names that my hearing loss can’t decipher and that I don’t want to hear anyway.
Loveheart takes the stage. “Aahhhhhh!” grates on my ears. She drops her fork on her plate and covers her mouth with both hands, impinging on my sense of respectful table manners.
“Your mouth, Mom. There’s gross stuff all in it, and don’t you see that mold, Mom?”
I continue eating my beautiful fresh green salad, with chopped dried apricots, walnuts, white cheddar bits, and creamy balsamic vinegar. I prepared it for myself, knowing that she looks upon fresh salad with uncontrolled repulsion, and he would decline it unless there was nothing else to eat. I have a few multigrain crackers to compliment the salad. Remaining detached from her drama I pick up the roll of crackers and shove it towards her for her inspection and wonder how peaceful it might be to eat without a teenager acting like fine food is “gross.”
“Oh, well I guess it was some kind of optical illusion,” she says with disbelief after examining the evidence.
She eats cold mac and cheese that she made a few days before. He eats some of my “moldy crackers” until I stop him, saying “there are plenty of salad fixin’s. You can’t just eat all the crackers.” Next thing I know, he’s slurping a bowl of purple milk and frozen blueberries with some grape nuts sprinkled in.
It ain’t all bad, and I can’t remember the worst of it. I try to remember and be aware of the seemingly miraculous stuff that happens…the smiles, the knowing looks, the grins in the rear-view mirror that seep out even in the midst of a full-fledged reptilian brain reaction.
They are growing up, and even I continue to do so. Loveheart amazed me when she understood my angst one day. I told her that a part of my soul felt shrunken and hidden behind my breast bone. I’d been in a conference where I hadn’t felt comfortable or confident enough to say all I wanted to say, and hours later my monkey mind was preoccupied with feeling still, small and stupid.
“I know exactly how you feel, Mom. I remember stuff from 8 years ago and still think about it and wish I’d done something different. The best thing is just to realize you did what you thought was best at the time, and you can’t know if something else would’ve been better, and you can’t change it now.”
And BamBam sat in my lap and hugged me today when I started tearing up about the complexity of human communication and honesty in our schools and our world.
“Are you crying, Mom?”
“Yes,” I said, “but crying is okay. It changes our chemistry and helps us to heal. It’s okay for me to cry and you can too.”
He gave me a kiss as he got up to leave. “But not on Mother’s Day, Mom. I’ll think some more about what you said, and you think more about how I can earn $20 today. Okay?”