Weaning from the bottle or binky, sleep training and potty training; pffffth….simple! Fielding questions about vaginas, boobs and wieners, how babies are made and whether or not Santa and the Easter Bunny are real; these are just a few of the things that are easier than the dreaded yet inevitable discussion I had with my son a week ago. If you have a teenager, you probably know what I’m talking about, the “I FEEL different” talk. I was dreading it.
For reasons personal and unique to every child going through this phase of development, they FEEL different and can’t wrap their brains around the idea that pretty much everyone else their age is feeling the same way and struggling to understand the changes they are experiencing. The fact that my 11 year old son and I spent a few difficult and tearful hours talking about growing up, making friends, fitting in and figuring out what all that shit even means makes him the opposite of different. This shocked him. Other people feel this way? Yeah, Kiddo, pretty much EVERYBODY!
This kind of conversation is a common, normal and important for a kid in the process of growing up. Although it is common and normal for a tween-teen to FEEL as if they are completely unique and that nobody could possibly understand their struggles, it can be a difficult for them to initiate conversation about this kind of thing. The conversation is often the result of a frustrating and negative experience such as bullying, educational problems, sexual identity issues or even some good natured ribbing from a peer that is taken the wrong way by a hormonal tweeny-bopper when the kid is already overcome with emotion. DAMMIT!
Unless there is a precipitating event, kids often struggle through this time quietly and without emotional support. Not that we parents aren’t always trying get our kids to talk about their lives, but sometimes they make it really fucking difficult, right? I am always asking a zillion questions, trying to pry even the most basic information out of our loin fruit. “What did you do at school?” I ask.
“Nothing,” they answer, or “I don’t know.”
BOOM! Don’t know about you, but those answers trigger the smart ass in me and I start in…….
“Wow! If you are doing NOTHING at school, I need to get in touch with the principal to tell him that your teacher sucks and lets you do nothing all day. That bitch is going to be SOOOOO fired. It's sick that our tax dollars are going to waste paying these incompetent jackwagons. I got your back. Big time. From here on out you are going to learn and learn big. ”
“You don’t know? Maybe you have a brain disorder and I need to take you to the doctor because if you don’t KNOW what you did today, you could have a flesh eating brain virus or even tumor. GOD I HOPE IT’S NOT A FLESH EATING BACTERIA! But maybe it’s not too late, I mean you can still walk and talk so if we get you to the doctor fast you might be ok and not end up jabbering nonsense, shitting your pants and drooling for the rest of your life. I don’t know. Get your shoes; we are going to the ER. “
That kind of manipulative gibberish usually gets me a few sentences of fake enthusiasm sprinkled with paltry details about whatever No Child Left Behind standardized stuff being rammed into their grey matter that day. But most of the time what I’m really wanting to know when I ask my kids about their day is just simply whether or not they are safe, relatively happy and comfortable - physically and emotionally. My gut instinct has guided me as the mother of little ones, but that’s because I was heavily present and so involved in every aspect of their lives. Now it’s a crap shoot. I have to pay much closer attention now, which sucks because it really cuts into my leisure time. Kidding, sort of, because really doesn’t every parent WANT their kids to gain confidence and increased independence as they grow up? DAMMIT AGAIN!
The good news at this point is that all my smart ass responses to my son actually paid off. My gut told me he was struggling and I asked him directly. He knew that if he didn’t answer, the snark would descend in a major way. Boy did he answer and I realized just how much I missed the days when a clean diaper, Band-Aid, snuggle or making up funny songs about mythical creatures or genitals made everything better. It was just so much simpler. A couple hours and a couple tears later, I can’t be sure that I really helped him at all because I can’t see into his mind. He is becoming a complex emotional creature. He needs me less in a physical way, but he needs me MORE in a spiritual and emotional way and that shit is way harder…….WAY HARDER than making sure his pants aren’t on backwards or crafting elaborate lies about Santa Claus so that his childhood innocence can survive one more Christmas. I don’t know if I’m helping. DAMMIT THIS IS DIFFICULT.
Now I’m the one wondering if I am different than other parents. Do they feel this way too? Do they feel constantly challenged and frequently heartbroken at the powerlessness that comes with letting go and learning to help heal a completely different kind of boo-boo? DAMMIT I NEED FEEDBACK!
And like I said before, it’s really cutting into my leisure time and making me grow and learn which I think is total bullshit. I was hoping I’d have things figured out by now like everyone else. DAMMIT.