Dealing

April 23, 2017

I’m the parent of a 13 and 16 year old.

It recently occurred to me how much time i waste looking at old snapshots of my kids, tripping down memory lane.

Every time i see Colin or Katy, anytime between the ages of two or ten, in a random picture, I grieve a little. The chubby, flushed cheeks. The easy smile for the camera. The giggle just below the surface, and the memory of the easy hugs, the non stop conversations at dinner, during which I would count the moments till they were in bed.

Then there is the time spent where I reminisce with other parents, friends, or any random tired strangers approximately my age standing in line at Target with a cart full of slim tampons or Axe body spray, about when we were young. There was no Instagram, pot was mostly worthless, porn was Playboy, and everybody played outside. In those days, teenagers didn’t spend all of their time looking at screens. while making really bad choices and posting pictures about the entire experience.

How much time have I wasted missing my own children, albeit the smaller, less complicated versions? Yes, preadolescence is really cute. Everybody under 12 looks adorable, especially to the people that met them as tiny, pink faced, noisy blobs of anger and insatiable demands, wearing silly tee shirts, tiny socks, and the most necessary underwear ever, diapers.

Even the tortured debates- karate or saxophone? Hip hop or girl scouts? Do they stay at the table till they have eaten at least three brussels sprouts or do they go to bed without ingesting anything with nutritional value at all so I can take a bath before Sex and The City? Even in the middle of these meaningful conversations in my  head,  I knew I was playing house.  My policy on vegetable consumption was as meaningful as the decision not to enforce the pants with zippers on holidays rule.

I’m sure both my kids have spotted the look on my face, peering at an earlier versions of them, in photographs carefully placed in CVS frames. They know I miss the days before pimples, charger wars, intelligent arguments that refuse to end because I say so. They can tell there are times when I see them as taller, paler imitations of my babies, my children.

Shame on me.

If I was so entranced with the early years, and not prepared to step aside to celebrate them in all the horrible glory of early adulthood, then I should have signed up to be a preschool teacher and skipped the rest.

As for the rest of it… yes, times have changed.

There is the internet. A million tv channels. Kids have their own damn phones and we don’t have to share one line.The porn is ruder than it ever was, I think, or it’s more easily available.

My kids are growing up and in the present, they can record everything stupid thing they do while the world watches.

I can mourn the way they were and the way things used to be or i can step up.

These changes, and the crazy stuff going on in the world, have given me a thousand opportunities to talk to the beautiful aliens across the kitchen table. They aren’t always in the mood, but sometimes bribery, in the form of expensive chocolate or a trip to an outlet store, works. Sometimes, they take their plates up to their rooms and the phrase ‘thousand opportunities’ seems as outdated as Mister Rogers and Peace on Earth. And sometimes we linger, night falls, our voices carry out over the radio. Sometimes, we listen, while the other one speaks.
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If I continue to wallow in old snapshots of tiny toddlers, or vague memories of simpler times when I had to cross the room to turn the channel, I’ll only be looking over my shoulder.

Chances are I’ll get hit by a train, a tangle of smelly laundry, a bag of hula hoops and sidewalk chalk, or a thousand pairs of outgrown cleats and basketball sneakers.

I’m better off looking forward- leaning into the hugs and the angry debates, ducking the garbage and ignoring the hormones, and looking ahead].

I’m scared to death and I can’t wait for what’s next.

It’s Monday night, the night after Christmas. In case you didn’t see the family photo tagged with our location, we traveled over the holiday. I told the world and myself I wanted us to have a chance to reconnect as a family. Truth is, it was all about spending some time with my boy, my sixteen year old son.These days, he walks out the door more frequently than he walks in. I spend too much time wondering every time I hear a car drive by or a siren shriek.

I’ve finished unpacking, almost finished unpacking, well, I’ve started unpacking and can say that all of my shoes are where they belong.

I’m scrolling thru Facebook, and I see all the happy family photos. My heart swells with pride at the likes under ours taken by a very kind, patient hostess. We are standing in front of a fireplace, arms linked, smiling.

It wasn’t really like that at all.

Well, parts of it were. There was tubing down Cranmore with C, legs linked, tires spinning. I screamed, he laughed.

There was s’mores by the fire after a sleigh ride. My daughter sat next to my son. He went into the lodge and got her hot chocolate.

There were the moments before we had to leave for the sleigh ride, when his dad had to stuff his feet into his brand new boots because he didn’t want to go.

There were arguments over phone chargers, pillows, homework, bad language, and whether or not one should stay in a jacuzzi for an hour at a time.

In other words, it was like being on a vacation with a toddler that has far more words and muscle at his disposal when he wants to take a stand.

On our way home, we stopped by the outlet store. He walked over to me, held out his arms and pulled me close. He said- “I’m glad I came. I had fun.”

He finds joy in a Nike store, and bliss when he knows that moments after we leave he will be swaddled in a new Nike sweatshirt and sweat pants.

I’ve probably crossed the line here, but I’m giving myself a pass this time.

I’ve decided it is time to stop rambling on about the challenges we face.
They are his challenges now, He deserves privacy to be who he’s going to be and figure out what he needs to figure out.

I will take a step back to find my place in the audience while my son goes about becoming a man.
It won’t be easy.

I remember wondering if things would have been different if I’d read him more bed time stories or made him join Boy Scouts.

You reminded me that one less chapter of Harry Potter, or four more camping trips probably wouldn’t have made a bit of difference.

Some of you let me know you are dealing with some of the same problems; and that you are as lost and confused as I am.

Sometimes it’s incredibly easy to feel totally isolated, in a room full of people, in a community of millions, at the dinner table with family.

We are as connected as we allow ourselves to be. We are not alone.

Neither is he.

I hope he figures that out.

Here it is, the Friday of July 4th weekend. It’s raining. I’m home alone.

My fifteen year old son is at the mall. Instead of being happy he’s not in the woods, all I can think about is that he’s decided to expand his career as a juvenile delinquent to include shoplifting.

My twelve year old daughter is at a friend’s house. She knew I was staying home this evening to take care of some homework, so she made me dinner. Then she spoke with me at the dinner table. I call her my little miracle.

After explaining to me for the fourth time that nothing had happened at camp all day, and that she thinks we should never, ever discuss Donald Trump during a meal, she picked up my take home exam for Writing for Communications. It’s due on Tuesday, July 5th. Yup, the day after July 4th weekend. Did I mention it’s the Friday before July 4th weekend?

Tomorrow night, we are packing up and going to the woods for a week. We will have a cabin with four beds and an old fashioned grill, the kind that uses charcoal, by the front door. We will share an outhouse with the thirty other campers. We will keep our food in coolers that will swallow ice like it’s beer at a ball game. The perishable food will  get warm  quickly so I need to pack a lot of granola bars. And peanut butter. And bread.

That’s the thing. I need to pack.

My daughter pointed this out to me while she gazed with horror at my exam. It consists of about five different assignments to cover everything we discussed in class.  I need to transform four newspaper stories into thirty second radio spots. Next on the list is to explain what it takes to write a good proposal, and I’m pretty sure he’s not looking for something that would work on the Bachelor.  Before I’m done I need to create a cover letter as a person applying for job as a Student Employment Director. (I am not thrilled with the cover letter portion. I don’t want to be a student employment director, not even a little bit and I’m afraid my lack of enthusiasm will show.)

Did I mention it’s Saturday of July Fourth weekend and I don’t even know if I own a flashlight and we are going camping for a week?

For the grande finale, I need to write a complete story- not a partial story, a novel, a comic book, an article, a Facebook post, a tweet, or an epic poem- a complete story. It must contain the words mentor, autonomy, conflagration, enigmatic, pithy, contrarian and pedestrian. (I’m surprised he didn’t give us the option to turn it into a radio show, my professor does seem a bit partial to radio.)

I’ve been writing stories for a long time now, and I like to write them in my own voice. My own voice is not pithy. It is everything but pithy. This is why I stay away from Twitter and people that like to tell me to get to the point.

Let’s  take a look at enigmatic as a place to start. To be clear, I love enigmas. I love being around enigmatic people. They tend to lurk in shadows wearing mysterious cloaks or impeccably cut suits, have perfect eyebrows and great back stories they’ll share if they have enough expensive whiskey in their system. But enigmatic people aren’t really crazy about me. I’m not pithy enough and I can’t afford even cheap whiskey. Even if I could, I wouldn’t buy it. Cheap whiskey is kind of gross. So I don’t think even the kindest of enigmatic souls would give me enough material for  a whole story and since they make me nervous I don’t want to ask.

I might be able to write a story in my own voice about being a pedestrian or I could talk about the beginnings of a conflagration I found in Colin’s bedroom the other night.

I walk a lot of places, and have rather strong feelings about pedestrian rights.   I, as a pedestrian, have the right to cross into the middle of the street into oncoming traffic if a. I successfully make eye contact with the driver, b. it is either under thirty five degrees or over seventy degrees, fahrenheit, or c.) I am wearing heels higher than three quarters of an inch.

That would be a pretty unpopular story, even with me, because the majority of us are drivers most of the time. Walking out into oncoming traffic is pretty stupid. I wouldn’t make a very sympathetic narrator.

I can’t talk about the fact that at one thirty in the morning I was woken with a very strong feeling I was overseas in Amsterdam, I think. I dreamed I was perched on a bar stool in the middle of a bar that had been open without closing for business since 1987. As soon as it became clear I was actually in my basement in  Milton, Massachusetts, I crept upstairs to investigate.

My son was holding a pipe with a bowl big enough to fit a baby’s head. It was overflowing, a tiny bonfire of sorts, and he was lifting to his lips when I opened the door. Until he gets a little smarter, or a lot older, he hasn’t earned the right of anonymity in my stories, photographic absence from my Facebook page on the first day of school and allowing me twenty four access to his cell phone. “This is not the path to autonomy!” I whispered to my son and his friend. I didn’t want to wake up the dog. The smell of pot makes her chase her tail and bark at the rug. This would then wake my daughter who was sleeping with the dog.

Even though he hasn’t earned any rights to privacy, I’ll respect them anyway and leave that story out.

The word that really concerns me is contrarian. I have always defined myself as a pacifist, so I’m not really comfortable with the contrarian point of view, though I guess one could be contrary and peaceful at the same time.

My son might disagree, basing his opinion on my position on mobile devices. According to my son, every other teenager on the planet has their cell phone available at all times-while they are in the shower, during final exams, at Aunt Margie’s funeral.

I am also a party of one when I insist he put the phone inside the phone case. According to Colin, it shouldn’t matter that the device cost seven hundred dollars if the teenager has a strange and steadfast position about not needing a phone case. Other parents don’t make their teenagers use phone cases, ever. It wouldn’t bother other parents at all if they went out and spent thirty five dollars on a phone case the girl at the Verizon store with the really cool tattoos, pale pink hair and bubble gum heels recommended.

It bothers me.

Why did I believe this unusual expert in retail telecommunications? I believed her because I am firmly convinced that everyone in the world knows more about my son than I do.

I bet he would have bought and used the case if he’d gone to the Verizon store without me. He would have listened to her.

I bet he’s a pot smoking, rule breaking, dirty clothes under the bed hiding, community service avoiding teenager because he saw me jay walk so often when he was a child. Actually, I’d grab his hand and and drag him across the street, while he squeaked “Mom, shouldn’t we wait for the light?”

Next time I have the urge to parent someone, I’ll mentor a cat. I think it’s pretty safe to say most of them are already screwed up, or at least they are so enigmatic, no one will be able to tell if I do any damage.

I’ll visit the online Quincy Animal shelter after I write this story. I think I could  use a cat.

Did I mention I need to pack?

I’m a jaywalker and a procrastinator.

Considering that I was his role model, I’m lucky he’s nice to animals, does well in school and talks to me from time to time. He’ll even discuss politics over dinner.