A lonely, steaming plate of fresh waffles topped with warmed maple syrup, a dollop of melted butter and three delicately sliced fresh strawberries sat on a bar all alone this morning near it’s companion, an ice cold glass of milk. I waited. I paced slowly, sipping my coffee and trying not to lose my temper on an otherwise beautiful Sunday morning. Then I lovingly beckoned, “Breakfast is ready my darling boy!” Still, the waffle sogged and the butter congealed as one minute and then ten passed. Quickly cooling under the ceiling fan, the spritz of whip cream also dissolved.
I made my way into the dark room where I knew he was awake. I mean, it was at his request that I made the damn waffles in the first place. He was texting, covered up under a mountain of blankets, snuggled in for the long haul…which reaffirmed to me that he was at least three steps (pee, put on pants, make a cup of coffee) behind the stage in his morning where he would actually sit down and eat. I decided instantly that I would never cook for him again!
He saw me sending him the laser eyes and exclaimed, “What? It’s been like two seconds!” I turned and left, saying nothing, but speaking volumes. Several minutes later, I heard him call from the other room, “Thank you for breakfast, Mom. It was good.” Only I know that it wasn’t.
I wrote this piece several months ago and was a bit surprised, if I’m honest, that I received very little feedback from it. There were zero moms commenting, “Oh, I know, RIGHT? Kids can be so rude.” Nope, I got none of that from anyone. I decided that perhaps I was the only one who would take such dismissiveness so personally.
It wouldn’t be the first time I’ve been accused of over-reacting.
Moms, we can all be petty, right? Naggy. You know…bitchy-whiney and over-sensitive. I admit that I pick at metaphorical scabs that could and should be better left alone sometimes. I can lace my threats with sarcasm and foreboding when I’m asking my son for the third time to cut the grass. I hear myself. I don’t like that person either, but when I realize I am asking something simple of him and he is literally ignoring me and rolling his eyes, I get testy. Then he gets testy.
This weekend, I discovered him doing some homework, a paper related to politics…my expertise. Excuse me, that’s what I do for a living…I teach politics! Yet, not one word came from him seeking my advice or help with his assignment. He never pulled up to our bar to chitchat with me about something that I could certainly help him with. The kind of evening I dream about. Wouldn’t that hurt your feelings?
So when is he sweet to me? When do I see my 16 year old at his very best? When is he most polite? Most generous? You can guess.
When he needs me for something. When he needs me to pay for something. That’s when I hear how much he appreciates me and what a good mom I am.
He told me once, “I can’t wait to move out.” Now, I’ve raised him his whole life to be this independent. I have no one to blame but myself, but he pulls that resolution out and uses it on me like a sword every time I issue a curfew that’s too early or I tell him he can’t use my car. Isn’t this the equivalent of a husband telling a wife, “I just want a divorce!” and aren’t couples NEVER supposed to say things like that to each other just to be mean?
So, I’ve decided that this is one messed up relationship. If you applied all of these behaviors to adult men and women, and your best girlfriend was telling you that her husband behaved like this, we would all be whispering, “Girl, he is an ass. Don’t put up with that.” But our kids get a pass on acting like total jerks.
The couple stays gone all the time, working and attending ballgames and whatnot, while the house falls apart, while the laundry piles up and the toilets get grimy. You start to fight over who emptied the dishwasher last. Score tallying and jab-taking between people who love each other but sometimes don’t like each other, that’s the mark of a tired and weathered relationship that needs some rejuvenation. But I have this with my child. I don’t like him sometimes. He’s selfish, and sarcastic, and bossy, and demanding, and entitled, and spoiled. He says things that hurt my feelings and he makes me cry. He ignores me when I just want his company and he would rather stay in his room in the dark and play on his phone than come share a cup of coffee with me. Why do I let him treat me this way? Am I over-reacting? Is this just OUR house? What did I do wrong?
Am I imagining that I am the only parent who is ever super pissed off at their child? Well, he tells me it’s true, and that I am the only one who is so tightly-wound.
And what about that? What about when he is in trouble? Our dynamic deteriorates even further. To sense the tangible funk in the air when I’m angry at him about something, and to know I just made the divide between us worse by telling him “NO,” it wrecks me. I want him to like me. I need him to think I’m awesome. But these years since he became a teen have stretched our bond to its limits. Everything I ever heard about this horribly difficult stage has come true and I miss so much that gentle little boy with the big green eyes who wanted me to hold him all the time even after he weighed forty pounds. What happened to him? When did I stop being the center of his universe and why?
Doesn’t this sound frighteningly like a woman complaining about the deterioration of her marriage? It does kind of feel like that. I have nothing to compare this to, no daughters who can give me a frame of reference, no older friends with grown children telling me it will get better once he’s grown. I guess maybe it will and I fear maybe it won’t. My parents were strict like me (well, duh), and I remember telling my mother I hated her. I will never forget that day. I was 16, too. I know this is all kind of normal, in a sick and cruel way. Now, in my forties, of course I love my parents deeply and that part of our damaged teenaged-angst relationship healed, but I rather easily separated from them emotionally when I left home.
I was never one of those children, even being a daughter, who needed or wanted to live right near home. I don’t talk to my mom and dad on the phone but perhaps once a week. What made me that way? Was it something they did wrong or did I separate from them because I’m designed to?
Now, are the trigger points in our relationship going to lead my son away from me, too? Is he designed to grow away from me already? Should I do something to stop his walk down that path and into his own life so soon? It’s a choice I grapple with constantly when I ask myself, “Is being his friend something that is more important to you than being his parent?”
I haven’t figured out a way to do both, but I’ve answered my own question. The reason I put up with him when he’s ‘being 16’ is the same reason I will let him figure out what my role will eventually be in his life, even if it leads him away.
Unconditional love. I love him absolutely unconditionally.
In the meantime, if you have some clingy children you can spare, send them my way in a few years.