I swear. I know why religions perform exorcisms. They want to scare the smart-ass-ness out of their young people.
Take, for example, my kid. He’s possessed by emotions and hormones right now, consumed by what peers think and if he cut his Justin Bieber-style hair straight. (Yes, he thinks he does a better job than a trained stylist. I can’t wait until he sees these teenage pictures of himself when he’s older.)
I didn’t go through this with my older teen. For whatever reason, I was let off the hook. But this kid makes me understand why we need special laws for dealing with teenagers. (For instance, it should be okay to force your child to wear a sign that says, “Dangerous animal: stand back 50 feet.”) He’s also further proof that we are born with certain temperaments, and therefore have limited free will, especially during times when our bodies have hormonal surges.
Sometimes I wish I could yank my teenage self out of retirement so that I could communicate on his terms. “Oh yeah??? (eye roll) Well YOU are even more annoying than Miley Cyrus’ tongue. (eye roll, eye roll) And, like, YOU don’t understand and, like, you’re not funny either, and you don’t have a clue and your friends are really dumb, too.” Like, take that.
That would feel better, right? (Don’t worry, I won’t actually say this. It doesn’t make us bad parents to daydream about saying these things. I think.)
One of the things that never fails to amaze me is that the words said by your kid’s teachers or friends will be “cool” (actually, “sick and nasty” these days), but if you say the same thing, your words will be “stupid.” Like totally.
Every once in a while, though, there’s a break-through, a little sun peeking through on a cloudy day, and the kid is, like the sunshine, pleasant for a bit. Human. A saint, even, offering praise and thanks for dinner and help when I’m carrying even the lightest of things.
And yesterday, when I was driving the grumpy kid south through a town we haven’t been through in a while, I tell him a story of how I brought him there when he was little and he had asked me, “How can workers make these buildings so tall?” and “Won’t they fall over?”
He doesn’t roll his eyes or say “that’s so dumb.” Instead he asks, “Do you miss me and my brother being young?” (I know, not proper grammar.)
“Sometimes,” I say. “We used to have a lot of fun, the three of us. Traveling and dancing and laughing.” I remind him of some of the things we did together.
“We did a lot. I was really lucky.” Remembering his younger self and simpler times seems to lift his mood. There’s a chance I can say a little more that will not be deemed as totally dumb.
“But I also like you bigger, too, because I can talk to you, and I am learning about who you are. I like being your mom and watching you grow.”
For a brief moment, I remembered how hard it was being a teenager, wanting to be near my parents but also wanting to push them away. I remembered how painfully embarrassing I thought my mom and dad were, but also being afraid that they would die. And I remembered my mother always telling me, “This is a phase; you’ll outgrow it.” What she said was, of course, annoying, because it discounted my feelings. But she was also right. It was a phase. I did outgrow it.
So I have to choose my words and actions carefully now in these last few years that he’s in my trust. He’ll remember hurtful words and actions, even if I forget them.
It’s an hour-by-hour thing with teenagers. I never know when his mood will change, but I know that, by ignoring the bulk of his behavior, the sullenness will dissipate. Eventually. I just have to be my adult self and stay the course; otherwise, I’ll teach him how to forever be a moody, defensive, hostile teenager. He’ll grow old, but never grow up.
Thanks for listening to me whine today. If you have stories to share, please do.