Man, raising kids is hard. When they’re babies, and all they can do is blow bubbles, cry and excrete copiously, they are physically demanding little snots despite their extreme overloads of cuteness. Then they turn into toddlers who run all the time and need potty training, and they start talking a little.
As they get older they talk more, sometimes so much, and about such horribly uninteresting things, (uninteresting at least to the parent who has taken a hiatus from frequent adult interactions in order to raise his or her own spawn) that parents get that glazed fake smile thing going on. I’ve worn it myself – my eyes look like I’m one consumer complaint away from going postal and beating swans to death with a frying pan, but I’m smiling even though it looks like it hurts. Small bits of sarcasm will squirt out amongst my nurturing mom speak.
“Yes, dear, of course the Play-doh is changing color. That’s because you didn’t wash your grimy little hands before you started playing with it.” Then the maternal guilt gear switches on… “Let’s go wash our hands with the nice ducky soap Grandma gave you for Christmas and see if we can wash our way down to the prize inside!” And, silently, I’m thinking, “It’s a stupid whistle all clogged up with soap. I know this because these are the leftover duck soaps that I didn’t use when I was a kid, they all had the same damned useless whistle in them, and my mother never threw out anything. We’ll be lucky if we can work up a single soapsud with this damned Jurassic soap.”
Then they get older and go off to school and come home with special new words they learned on the bus, which I’d find out about over some holiday dinner. “Damn f*ckers!” said my five-year-old in response to not getting the sweet potatoes fast enough, “Summa bits!” He grinned, waiting cluelessly for the food to be passed his way as every single adult at the table stopped stock still in shock and horror, then collectively, in one grand, accusatory motion, their heads turned towards me, and they glared. There I was, holding a bowl of dressing in one hand, a spoon in the other, sweaty and distracted from cooking all day, and 14 of the people I’d grown up respecting, loving, and hoping to impress were staring at me, the world’s worst parent. And, being me, the only response that immediately came to mind, and which slipped unwittingly past my lips was, “Holy crap,” thereby confirming everyone’s implied criticism that the five-year-old had indeed learned his expletives at home.
The years have rolled on, teen years hit, and between home and school a modicum of socialization occurred, and my oldest kid learned to confine his obscene language to situations involving only other teenagers or a recently slammed door from behind which I frequently heard long, eloquent, unrestrained, sometimes very creative, emotional, offensive soliloquies. I chose not to fight that battle, as so many more presented themselves directly everyday. I have a cartoon on my refrigerator which has been there for a decade now and which is still applicable. It shows duos of one teen and one parent entering through a movieplex turnstile. On the theater wall is a huge poster declaring, “Bring a Moody Teenager and Get In FREE!”
And then we arrived at the late teen years. By this time my kid has more of a clue about what words are socially acceptable and which aren’t, and he does a better job of keeping the good ones more active than the obscene ones. I’d hoped, somewhere back in my optimistic head, that we’d be getting along better now, that we could start the journey towards being adult relatives who love each other and can be friends. I forgot that he’s still fighting the separation battle all on his own. I’m perfectly happy for him to take full charge of himself, but he’s still fighting his way out of his life as a dependent as if it were an arena filled with powerful trolls and evil magicians, and he’s armed only with a sharp wit and an even sharper knowledge of which of my buttons to push to make me cede the power he thinks I still have.
This morning after everyone else had left to start their days elsewhere, I was sitting at the table, knitting a little on my sock yarn afghan during my morning break that I take between the frenzy of hustling them all off to their destinations and before I start chores. Spawn meandered by on his way towards college for the day, and I asked him if he had put a lot of extra dishes in the sink last night, since they weren’t there last night and they certainly were this morning. He said, “No, I don’t do that. I’m not the kind of person who does that. I know who did, or at least I suspect who did, but you don’t want to hear that from me, so I’m not going to say another word.”
I’d have been happy if he’d stopped at “No,” but Button No. 1 had been pushed, so I said, “All I asked was if you did it. I didn’t ask for any speculation. You didn’t, I can figure out who it probably was by myself, thanks. And, stop pretending you can read my mind, I think that’s really annoying.” To which he replied, “I’m not pretending to read your mind, I just know that the last 1800 times I’ve told you who does that stuff, you haven’t wanted to hear it.” Button No. 2 elicited my responding with, “You’re doing it again. Go to school.”
He replied, “I’m going to COLLEGE now because I already know I’m right.” He wandered off, then wandered back and squirted the following through the doorway, “You just proved my point, you know.” I tried very hard not to bite a chunk out of my coffee cup. I waited until I heard the door slam behind him, because teenaged boys do not close doors, they slam them, then watched to make sure his car drove off down the street and let out a huge breath and said, “DAMNIT!” and “for the love of God!”
I don’t understand how or when I became the enemy who needed vanquishing on a daily basis, sometimes several times a day. I am heartily sick of it, though, and I wonder if his constant assaults on me as a person, as a parent, and as an adult are really necessary. I wonder if I’m still being too nice, dawdling along indecisively in an unhelpful way.
If we were birds, I’d have shoved him out of the nest long ago with no remorse or regrets. If we were badgers, he’d still have the scar on his back from my biting him ferociously when he sassed me on his way out the door of the family den for the final time.
I’m feeling a little crushed, an ongoing condition of parenting, I think, but different from all the other variations once again. I wonder how I’m supposed to go about teaching him to stop being an asshole to me without hurting him, myself, or our relationship in the process. I’m tired, down in my heart, of explaining things, of being patient, of setting my feelings aside in order to be a good parent who looks first for what my child needs rather than prioritizing my own needs.
And, while I really, really, really, in my reptilian brain, have a huge desire to say to him, “Shut up, asshole, you’re making me hate you,” I know I won’t. I wish I knew what to say instead, though.