He comes in and slams the door, face closed tight, ear buds in sockets, sweat patches under armpits, ready to repeat his daily moan about the heat, like a middle-aged menopausal woman instead of an almost seventeen year old moody teen.
“Hi. How was it?” I venture, trying to work out the color of the cloud above his head and win eye contact with this person who is my boy and yet a man, but his gaze barely registers me as he winds the ear buds around his phone.
“K” he fires back with the finality of a period at the end of a sentence – a warning to stop right there and go no further, but it is hard for a mom to stop. I want to reach out and let him know that I see him and so I stumble on.
“What speed did you hit today?” I ask about his driving lesson, but he does not want to talk and ignores my efforts to appease.
“Is there food?” he asks slinging his backpack down in the middle of the floor and heading for the fridge.
“There are bagels and eggs, or pizza in the freezer,” I reel off like a waitress pimping the specials, but I have made the most basic mistake that parents of a teenage son can make – that of not having food ready to fork into mouth RIGHT NOW and he scowls.
“Never mind” he says and shoots off upstairs leaving me with a sack of guilt playing to the tune of rumbling stomach.
I don’t know what his problem is. It could be any number of things. It could be that he was uncoordinated and overwhelmed by the driving lesson. It could be that his friends made fun of that zit on his nose. It could be that the teacher caught him sleeping in class and shamed him in front of his peers. It could be that the world is just too much today. It could be anything that, on any given day, turns him into a moody teen.
I make pizza and call him down betting on the smell of pepperoni to woo him from the man cave. He sits hunched over the bar with a red flashing “DO NOT DISTURB’ sign on his head and finishes the whole thing wordlessly, leaving the empty plate defiantly on the side as if to say “My stomach is full, but I’m still mad.”
I let him be, but I really want to shout out in frustration “Why are you in a bad mood? Talk to me.”
It’s at times like these that I need to repeat the mantra; “It’s not about me. It’s not about me.” It’s so easy to take offense and turn into your inner child, to bite back, to demand respect, to make it all about me and how I feel.
[More about parenting a teen, with this ‘Note to Self’ reminder here.]
It is not about me. It’s about my son and how the world is treating him today and where he can express that frustration. Here.
When he was small, his kindergarten teacher told me “He’s such a good boy. Is he like that all the time?” I paused in shock because at home he drove me crazy. He teased his sister mercilessly and sometimes violently. He jumped all over the furniture with vigorous destructive energy. He cried at the slightest unfairness and wouldn’t play by himself.
“That’s good” she had reassured me. “It shows he knows where to vent his frustrations, home is the right place to do it.”
Brilliant, I thought. So I should be grateful home is his punch bag. It felt like yet another parenting burden to be sucked up.
12 years on and we’re still taking the punches, but I’ve noticed something remarkable about that. Those punches, coming fast and strong and often personal now, leave no bruises, no indents, no scratches or holes. They are absorbed in a cushion of understanding and acceptance. They disappear into the endlessly absorbent sponge of unconditional love and compassion.
It is not about me and how irrelevant, useless or frustrated his behavior sometimes makes me feel. Those feelings are mine to deal with separately and are not part of his story.
It’s about him and how I can provide him with a safe harbor to sail into, rest up, talk or just be silent, fuel up with food, sleep, quiet, love and acceptance and get ready to sail off and face the stormy seas of adolescence once more.
I never did find out why my son was feeling so blue that day, just as there are many other days when he does not want to talk, or cannot find the words, or is perhaps afraid of how I will react. I keep on gently asking though, because I want him to know I am here anyway, with open ears and an open mind and a hold on the advice unless requested.
Photo credit: (above) Yusef Silver
Nerys Copelovitz is an ex-PR professional and teacher, turned stay-at-home mom to two teenagers and one second-grader, who teach me daily that I need to upgrade and reboot my system in order to be the best parent that I can. I write to connect, with you and myself on Momificient and on Facebook.