The road seemed to fade off into the distance like it would never end. We travelled this road everyday, sometimes 3 or 4 times… for half hour lots. This particular journey was the type that caused speeding fines as I tried to escape the back seat.
I ignored it and turned the music up louder.
"Oh, I hate this song!!"
"Shut up, I LOVE this song!" and a punch followed.
"I heard that" I yelled, "Don't tell your brother to shut up! That's not nice!"
Drat, they now knew that I "could" hear and it started again.
"What?" (Not my best parenting reply.)
"Zach's looking at me."
"Zach, stop looking at your brother. Look out your own window." I shout, while trying to catch his eye in the rear view mirror and watch the road at the same time.
Someone's crying now. I see arms and legs out of the corner of my eye.
"Stop crying Thomas, you're such a sook" yells Zach.
"Mum, Zach's looking at me again!"
My face suddenly feels flushed and my patience is slowly fading.
"Mum, Zach's still looking at me, tell him to stop!"
To which Zach loudly calls out:
"Mum, Thomas is breathing!"
In spite of myself, I HAD to laugh. It was very funny. Someone, besides
me, had realised how ridiculous the situation was and had released the
safety valve known as humour.
I don't know when it happened. He's my first and I was totally unprepared! I had observed other families mentioning the fact that they had teenagers in the house and seen the exchange of sympathy and "knowing" looks, but I thought our family was different, so I didn't pay enough attention. If I had, maybe it wouldn't have been such a shock when my 6 foot son emerged from his room at midday one day with an ATTITUDE ready to ignite world war 3!!
It's been two years of living with a teenager and I think I am starting to get the hang of it. Although some days I have to wonder how we will survive until he becomes an adult! Mostly, I think for me, it is grief, over the loss of my baby boy, who was always eager to please, was happy and carefree and rarely had a cross word for anyone.
Thinking back, to toddler days, I can't help but see the parallels, between the attitude of "now" and the "tantrums" back then. The only difference is that now, he's much bigger than I am and he is more willing to spend time in his room away from me, so sending him there is little or no punishment. A further challenge is that he now has an opinion on matters. Sometimes it even differs to mine and I have had to make a huge adjustment in my "parenting" to accommodate that, especially when he is right!
So far have I mentioned "attitude"? It isn't so much the opinions that he has, however, more the way they are expressed. With tone. A tone that says...
"You don't know "everything" Mum".
(I knew he would have to find THAT out sooner or later!) One that says...
"You are really interrupting my life here, by asking me to co operate with you".
Once I used to tuck him in. It was a lovely ritual, of "bug in a rug" and blessings and special, secret sharings. Now I stand at the door and shout and hope that he is actually in there somewhere amongst the mess.
Ah, and the mess! This has to be one of the biggest challenges of learning to live with a teenager. There is a boundary around the room, made of underpants and socks and back covers of books that have been separated from their text. I used to nag him to clean it … now when I find things around the house that belong to "the teenager" I simply stand outside his room and nonchalantly toss it onto the pile. There is also a pungent odour that seems to go along with the chaos that is a definite scent, somewhat akin to an animal marking its territory.
I have long since forgiven myself for not rescuing him from the mess … and from feeling compelled to clean the area. Who has days to spare anyway, to try to find the floor! And even if I did, I would then have to endure a week of...
"Where did you put my book?"
"Where's my jeans?"
"I can't find anything".
"Why did you touch "my stuff"?"
The teenage body clock seems to work on a whole different planetary system too. When the rest of the house is asleep, he's up, wandering the house, watching TV and reading. Daylight dawns and it is almost impossible to move him from his deep slumber. If some sort of progress IS made, it is only to the couch or the floor, in front of the TV. I often wonder if it does constitute "progress"! At least when he is in his room, he is out of the way of the rest of the family and they can roam the house, relaxed and without fear of stepping on a snarly teenager, hiding under a doonah on the floor! I have discovered the antidote to this horizontal position and that is to mention that a person of the same "age" is on the phone. They are obviously pack animals!
This unwillingness to rise with the rest of us has proved too much at times and reluctantly I have had to leave him at home alone, while the rest of us embark on "family adventures". It just never seems the same, when this occurs.
"When I was his age" I didn't have it so easy. I had chores to do. This teenager is probably asked to do ONE thing for the entire day… and that is to take out the garbage.
"Zach, darling, could you take the garbage out for mum please?"
"Sure Mum, I'll do it next ad". He says, as he throws his head back and laughs loudly at an episode of the Simpsons, with a voice that sounds like a man.
"Thank you" I call out.
Five minutes later, he is still laying on the couch. Garbage sits resplendently in the middle of the kitchen floor.
"Zach, the garbage".
"Ok Mum, I'm going".
Every time I walk past the kitchen, the garbage appears to grin at me
"OKAAAAY, I said I'd do it!"
"In a minute!"
"Ok, thank you!"
Half an hour later, having made NO effort to move, it's all too much!
"ZACH, TAKE THE GARBAGE OUT NOW!!"
"OKAAAAAAY, gee, Mum, you don't have to yell!!"
And then I hear it, as he walks past me to snatch up the little green
It really would have been so much easier to put the garbage out myself!!
I'm learning not to react in front of him, although I still run up the
paddock, to escape, where nobody can hear me scream…. when he rolls
his eyes at everything I say - shrugs - kicks the ground and gives me
I assume that these are used in some strange ritual during the endless
hours that are spent in the bathroom, grooming and spraying potions. While
speaking about the bathroom, I have to mention the hot water, or lack
of it!! I have learnt that for Zach, it is time to get out of the shower
when the water goes cold and not a second before!
"I've got NOTHING to wear".
Of course, this has little to do with the fact that most of the clothing is lost on the bedroom floor, or that the fashion is to wear layer upon layer of loose fitting clothing so that one's entire wardrobe is worn and dirtied in one "session". I tolerate the clothing. It saves so much time in arguments and after all, he doesn't want to be seen walking in public too close to "Mum" anyway, so it isn't as if we are "seen" together!
It's time to face the facts. He's growing up. All too quickly, I might add! I keep telling myself that this is just a "phase" and we will live through it, like all the others that we have seen. This one, "the teenage years" just seems to be a little bit more demanding than all the others!
There is never a day, however, without hope or joy. Where the lovely young man he is attempting to become strains forth, with sensitivity and a big heart. I gather those moments, like wildflowers, to make a bouquet… symbols and promises of what is to come and assurances that it is all worthwhile. Who knows what more surprises the future holds for us? We have a long way to go yet! There are still the raging hormones to encounter; girls; licences and cars; decisions to be made under peer pressure…. the list is endless. How do I protect him?
This morning on his way out the door, I asked him why he had left his blazer scrunched in his bag all weekend.
"Don't start Mum" was all he could say.
It was then I realized that he just didn't get it!
I feel as if I haven't even begun yet … and I'll never stop … He's such a good kid and he deserves all the love in the world.
Jo Shears is a writer, web developer and one of the original gang from the CathNews discussion board which became a close-knit cyber community. She will be writing a regular column for Catholica Australia on things like family life, being a mother, and anything that takes her fancy that might be of interest to readers here.
Photo Credits: The images used to illustrate this reflection have been provided by Jo.
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Jo Shears can be contacted at: email@example.com