My teenage son is leaving for Brazil on an exchange in a few months. This weekend he’s gone on a preparatory retreat locally for a few days. A few hours before he left, we had a blow-up. He was trying to finish a movie that was required watching for the retreat (this was assigned months in advance, of course). He was watching it in the family room and his 4 year old twin brothers were in the room. The movie shifted to a scene that was inappropriate for his brothers, so I asked him to finish in his room.
I asked nicely again.
He refused again.
I stated that this was not a choice.
He heatedly refused.
I removed the movie and stood by my request.
I try to remain calm and explain his options while he follows me screaming about my evil, unreasonable ways.
This goes on for 30 minutes. He push, push, pushes while I try to calmly stand my ground without losing my temper or showing that I’m really not so sure all this is worth it and maybe I should have kept my mouth shut and let him just finish the movie in the family room and asked the younger boys to leave the room even though he has the nicest room in the house and could easily move.
He begins to call me names an tell me how rotten I am. I see the shock on the faces of my little ones and I do the wrong thing:
I lose it, too.
I tell my oldest baby that this is the exact behavior that I will not miss when he leaves us for 10 months. I say that maybe it is time for him to go. It is one of those times where the words come out of your mouth and, even as you are saying them, you know a good mother should never say such things.
I do it anyway. I cannot stop myself.
All of the fear about this exchange comes tumbling out of both of us. In a few months, my baby will get on a plane and travel to a foreign country where he does not know a soul and does not speak the language. He will leave the comfort of his home, his family and friends and live in a house with complete strangers for close to a year.
Right there in front of me is the little boy he used to be. He, too, was once 4 years old and his only concern was what imaginary game to play next. When he bumped his knee, I was the one he ran to for comfort. He crawled on my lap when he was sleepy or scared. He sang his A-B-C’s while we cheered him on and hid our smiles as he said the k twice. He was the baby that curled his body into mine as he nursed while we both drifted off into a blissful sleep. He was once an adorable little boy that loved his mama like no one else.
That same boy is now taller than me with high cheekbones and whiskers and big muscles. That same boy now needs to find his own life. To do that he has to release parts of his old life. To find out who he is, he has to push Mama out of the picture a bit. This is not a conscious push, it’s done gradually over time throughout the teenage years with occasional, unexpected, heated explosions.
At least, that’s what I think is happening. This process of growth can be so painful at times, I look at all of my younger children and think, what the *bleep* did I do?! How am I going to survive this four more times?. It never, ever occurred to me that my little baby that I just wanted to inhale would someday turn into a man that I would actually, genuinely, dislike at times. I never stopped to think that I was churning out a bunch of creatures that would eat all my food, complain about it not being any good, leave their dishes on the table and then roll their eyes at me when asked to pick up their possessions (that I paid for!).
The teenage years are not a constant stream of pain. They have peaks and valley’s. They ebb and flow. There has to be some bright spots in there or our species would not survive. If it were all constant pain, we, as a species, would eventually figure out that these cute, sweet smelling babies eventually turn into large, foul smelling, shrieking monsters and we would just choose not to go through with this whole child raising nonsense.
The larger versions of these sweet babies, however, can do some pretty amazing things when they are not in the unconscious “I need to find out who I am so I’m going to be cruel to my mother” stage. They can be incredibly smart, strong, funny, creative and kind (to others, that is) and that in turn can make us very proud. When we are on the peak, celebrating with our dazzling star of a child, we have to store some of that light away for the next time we visit the dark, dry, harsh valley. In the end, hopefully it will all balance out into a nice, calm, lovely straight line.
So, for now I guess I’ll just try to do my best and love my teenager no matter what. I will try to explain to him that when it sounds like I want him to leave, what I am really saying is that I just want him to love me like that little four year old boy did.