It was easy to write about my kids when they were younger. They didn’t have Internet access or iPhones, they weren’t interested in what I had to say on my blog (okay, in general, they’re still not — but they now have the ability to read about themselves if they so choose), and the things they did and said were cute and funny and innocent.
That’s not always the case now.
Now we have teenagers. And one of them in particular is hell-bent on making himself — and the rest of us — miserable.
I won’t mention which one.
It feels, though, like that familiar 2-year-old burgeoning toddler battle of wills. That verge-of-independence push beyond the limits. At two, it was about nose-picking and getting out of his big boy bed and boycotting potty training. As a teenager, it’s about his perceived “cool” factor and how much the rest of us are lowering his overall rating.
When he was a toddler, I worried constantly about keeping him safe. Doors locked? Check. Safety plugs in all the outlets? Check. Hot dogs cut into unrecognizable minuscule pieces? Check. Now that he’s spreading his wings, I worry much more about shaping his character, about letting him go just enough so he can learn to fly… without risking the nose-dive crash. It’s a much more precarious situation. Those items aren’t so easily checked off my to-do list.
At times, he can be charming. He’s funny and handsome and smart and engaging. At times, I am so proud of the human being he is that my heart all but explodes in my chest.
Then he becomes this ugly, hormonal mess of insecurity and anger. And the rest of us get caught in the wake of his testosterone-induced nastiness.
I remember a great deal about being a teenager. I remember wanting to be cool, wanting to be number one, wanting to be right. I remember the world revolving exclusively around me, the sun rising and setting because of my singular existence. I remember pushing back — especially to my beloved step-father who gracefully took the brunt of my anger and the heat of my perceived injustices. But I don’t remember being mean. I don’t remember attacking with such vitriol.
I understand that his nastiness has nothing to do with Chris and me, that his meanness isn’t really about his siblings. I get that his acting out is a result of his own insecurities, his own roller-coaster mind and body, a result of the tricky navigation from teenager to adult.
But that doesn’t mean it’s okay. Or that we don’t need to do something about it. Or that we’re not still responsible for molding his heart and his mind and his soul. And that right now, his heart needs a fine-tuning. And his soul could use a little Windex.
For such a smart boy, it’s shocking to me to witness his short-sightedness. And it also scares the shit out of me. When his mood turns on a dime, it’s easy to see how teenagers make stupid, split-second decisions that can alter the course of their lives. The decision to drink, to smoke, to drive recklessly, to have sex. When your view of the world is so internally-focused, it’s easy to lose sight of the greater good, the payoff that comes with patience and rationale.
There but by the grace of God…
We’ve all been there. Those of us who are older than twenty have traversed those slippery years. We all did it differently, but we made it. Those of us who are parents would like our children to learn from the mistakes and victories we once claimed as our own. But that’s just not the way this life works, is it? Each of us travels the path alone. Each of us has to determine whether we’ll take the high road or the low road, whether we’ll embrace or condemn, whether we’ll love or lash out.
The best Chris and I can do is walk beside him, encouraging the steps we’d like him to continue taking, discouraging the ones that lead him down the dark, brambly pathway — the one with the roots that will trip him up and the berries that will poison him. We won’t make eye contact with him, though. Or laugh too loudly. Or try to engage with his friends. Because that would just be HUMILIATING. Beyond humiliating. When did we become such an embarrassment?
I don’t know how best to keep him where he needs to be. We’ll try punishment, we’ll try reward. We’ll take away his electronics and his freedom. We’ll yell when we should be hugging. We’ll hug when we should be yelling. We won’t get it right.
Why? Because there is no “right” or “wrong” way. The path for each and every one of is different. If we make his easier, he’ll never learn how to navigate it himself. If we abandon him in his hour of need, he might never find his way back. If we lead him to Everest on his first go-round, we might never see him again.
And so, we’ll yell. We’ll ground. We’ll continue to be frustrated. We’ll wonder what we need to do differently, how we can open his eyes a little more every day. And on the good days, we’ll laugh till our sides hurt at his wit and his wisdom. We’ll marvel at the man he’s becoming.
Some days I’d like to skip this part of the journey all together. I’d like to fly over this twisted trail and get to the beach on the other side — the one with all the rainbows and unicorns where no one says mean things about their siblings and everyone thinks their parents are smart and pretty and ultra-hip. That place where all our iTunes playlists are not in constant dissonance, where we can acknowledge each other with love and acceptance and without fear that our social lives will crumble because of it.
That place exists, doesn’t it? Don’t burst my bubble just yet. I need something to encourage me through this dark forest, this booby-trap laden terrain. The fruits of this particular labor have to be rewarded someday, right? With precious daughters-in-law who love my sons unequivocally and trust me inherently with my hiccupy, sweet-faced grand babies, perhaps?
No matter the outcome, we’ll continue to hold him tightly (when we’d rather be choking him), we’ll lay down the law just enough (when we’d prefer to lock him in his dirty, stinky bedroom alone for the next 5 years), we’ll love him without limits (even though we’d consider, on the darkest of days, trading him in for a nice 2-seater convertible).
And we’ll continue to save our money so… in about ten years… when all our teenagers have morphed into kind, caring, respectful adults… we’ll vacation happily together on the island of rainbows and unicorns.
I’ll even buy the sunscreen.