Explorations of mind, paths, and life

Twixt Teen

Posted on September 28, 2009 - Filed Under self reflect

High school has finally crept upon me like a pesky roach in the depths of a tender meditation. My son, at 14, has started High school, and with it all the fussing I have engaged in over the last 9 years is put to the test. This is the place from which he eventually launches his life forward, making decisions about who he is, what he wants to do, and yet juggles the crossroads between “Teen” and “Kid”. Additionally, part of my trauma this year has been recognizing that I am not 20 something, or even 30-something anymore… at 40, with a Teen, I am one of “THOSE” moms. The battle stories still ring in my ears, countless moms talking about the creatures their teens turn into before they settle into being human. I am the mother of a TEENAGER! I know, when staring at the popcorn ceiling some nights, I toss and wonder whether at midnight my kid twists and stretches into some hairy werewolf, only to return to teenage form before breakfast. He is already so different than he was early last year. He lumbers home exhausted, sometimes napping mid-day. His legs, hairier than grass and longer than the trees we have been growing in pots the last two years, don’t look like they fit the child I gawked over 10 years ago. His face sports a rogue whisker here and there, and his humor dances circles around me as I marvel at how funny and friendly he is. Could it be that in just a few blinks my kid disappears before my eyes and I stare into the face of a young man? Really? I think there should be laws against that happening, if anything, just to preserve the sanity of parents who finally figure out how to handle a stage and are thrown into all new territory. We struggle to be patient with our toddler then they become a kid; then that kid, once finally figured out, adolescent-izes into a pimply, awkward, moody being, and when we’ve finally taken a breath from the strain, he morphs into a teenage ninja turtle (or something like that) and we are left recalculating how to manage their new found independence and individuation… Just when being a normal contented parent is within our reach, yet another milestone invades our sense of parenting, and we stumble along at the next set of challenges. That new set has crept in, like a pesky roach in the depths of a tender, contented, meditation.

Just as the weekend shared it’s happy gleaming face we got a call from the High School, informing us that Progress Notes had been disseminated into the world by our teens, and that “hopefully, you have already reviewed and discussed this first report with your High-schooler.” So I am thinking, “OMG, I have already failed the first test… I haven’t discussed this critical artifact of high school progress with my kid!” Granted, the kid hasn’t brought me any papers or notices, and I have been working most afternoons and nights this term, but still! So, I head upstairs to change my clothes (this is critical because anything restrictive might suffocate me if I panic) and then return to the ground floor to step lightly into the dark cave that is my son’s bedroom.

He, in his new teenage-ninja-ness is out bouncing around with new “high-school-friends,” a whole new breed of acquaintance that I am still sizing up. But there, sitting in the middle of his blue rug like a dark and ominous island, is my son’s backpack. I tense for a moment, tentative, as I determine if the bag is snoozing or awake. I’ve had battles in the past with this creature before, but THIS bag is a whole new breed. Just a few weeks old, it already bears the scars of teenage travels. It smells like sweat and young-adult armpit, and it growls when any adult gets near. However, I tell myself, “This is the job of a parent… be brave… THAT Jansport bag holds answers!!” I slide into the room (I used to have some of those teenage-ninja skills once) and gently pull at the zipper of his bag. As the zipper slides and the flaps unhinge like a gaping mouth I am faced with evidence of teenage barbarity almost too difficult to describe. Within the bowls of that backpack are all kinds of unfathomable artifacts and instruments crushed and scattered like bones in the depths of a crypt. Small piles of sand mixed with gum wrappers, rampant slivers of lead from broken mechanical pencils, shards of broken colored pencils, shredded erasers, and half eaten granola parts cradle thick books with ominous titles such as “World Geography” and “Anthology of Literature.” The most bizarre, an empty water bottle, with about a thimble worth of sand and a whole pencil inside, perhaps part of some teenage werewolf ritual. Mounds of crumpled and crispy papers begin lumbering out like zombies, dropping at my feet like mortally wounded souls desperate to escape the tightly packed Jansport, and as I try to hold back the stream of papers the bag grows to twice its size, growling and rolling under my hands in protest. Desperate to find the information I need I start to rapidly open and inspect the pieces I can catch, while fending off a zippered grimacing mouth with a dictionary and cap-less pen.
This Jansport looks so eager to swallow me whole for simply being curious, I am unsure I will endure yet another test of my parent-ness. Gasping for breath, I crawl out of the room, my hair looking frayed and misplaced, my eyes watering from the smell, my limbs quivering from the battle, and I call for my son over the phone.

“Justin,” I bellow, “I need you to come home and get control of your backpack, THEN we have some THINGS to discuss!”

Within 15 minutes he arrives, like a gallant knight, taming the raging bag until it is purring like a cat at his feet. Evidence of my battle lies in decrumpled white patches on the floor along with a few stray hairs – which likely jumped off my scalp in distress – and from whence I can expect a few more gray hairs to emerge.
“I was informed your progress report came home today?”
He looks at me, and I can see little cranks and wheels behind his eyes, determining whether at this moment he should look mystified, forgetful, or distressed.
“Oh, yeah,” he states, “I have it.”
He looks at me longer, unsure of how far I will expect this matter to go.
“Wellllll… can I see it?”
“Oh,” he says, switching from nonchalant to slightly distressed, “okay?”
He rummages in his pocket, looking as if the compartment in his jeans was infinitely deeper than he could reach, and with a moment of suspenseful hesitation, a folded paper emerges from the depths. He whisks away a speck of kleenex and gray lint and cautiously offers it in my direction.
“Great,” I say with wavering confidence… something about this doesn’t feel quite right; is it a trap?
As I open the folds and begin to analyze the paper, letters emerge that are not what I was hoping for: C, F, C, C, D, C, C. I am stunned, both at his dishonesty and his grades. I don’t want to ask, as he has gotten good at having external influences for his lack of good grades, and the explanation starts with, “…well, I knew you wouldn’t understand…”
And there, we have it! Where once I stared at my parents and bellowed that they “didn’t understand” I now am beaten down with the same carousel of reason. Like any good parent, out spills the rational, respectable, unwavering lecture about the importance of High School grades, the opportunity for scholarships, the importance of following directions… the start of his LIFE as something more than just a kid!!! I hear myself… and I am dissolved into ether beside myself, watching…watching as a 40-year-old mom deals with her teenager… that’s not me, he can’t possibly be a werewolf by night, is that a wrinkle on my forehead??? OMG when the hell did I grow up into 40??
And he pleads, “This is just a progress note, mom… That really isn’t an F there… she changed it to a C today, mom… yes, I will do better… I know, I know… I have to get good grades… I just forgot it… I just didn’t understand the directions… I was just didn’t write my name… I was just… I just…”

You see, my challenge is balancing what I know he is capable of with what he is actually inspired to do. But school isn’t an inspiration to him, and his love of learning often gets smothered by drab monotonous classes that don’t challenge him enough to want to PROVE what he has learned. He gets it, he goes on. I struggle to understand his lack of organization, coming from a mind whose only relief is knowing there is order in the universe and if it doesn’t exist, it is created. Yet, he is as contrary as a piece of silly putty. I can put order into some form, some structure, but the minute I walk away it melts down into another disorganized puddle. I just don’t play nice with silly putty. I don’t play nice with Jansport backpacks, and I DON’T play nice with the letters C, D, or F.

We spend the next two hours organizing the backpack, papers, books, notebooks, syllabi, and assignments. Out comes my label maker, titles are made, notebooks branded like little sheep, and everything gets jammed back into the bowls of the ominous groaning Jansport.

So, I am again staring at the face of change. New friends, new learning environment, new behaviors, new SMELLS, and wondering when I get to retire as a parent and be something else for a while. I smooth down my hair, catch my breath, and look at my son, laying on his bed with an open book and his ipod pounding insufferable rhythms into his skull. Somehow I know I won’t have this forever… it might just be tomorrow that this bed will be empty, and the bag gone, and the kid out exploring the world without my help… and I recognize just how deeply I love him.

As a POST note: Today is Monday – the first school day after our gleaming weekend… I stay late at the college so Gary can sub a class, and call Justin to let him know we won’t be back until late. “How late?” he asks. “Between 10 and 11pm,” I say.

We drive home late. We are listening to “This American Life” a podcast by NPR in Chicago. The edition is “Go Ask Your Father” a story full of the trials of parents & children. I walk in to find a note on my son’s door… it says, “Come in, Turn the monitor on, Push PLAY.” Gary drags himself to bed, but I chance the dark cave and follow directions. Justin’s first independent animation short flashes before me, about 45 seconds long. It is brilliant, it is creative, it is breath-taking. I am filled with pride, and awe, and pure joy. I giggle in the dark room, my son’s long body half hanging off the edges of what is quickly becoming TOO SHORT a bed, shuffles under the covers. I wish he was small, and yet I am so stunned by who he is becoming. I tear up.
This is the gift of parenthood. Although I wanted to post it here, I really need to let him work it the way he wants… but JUST WAIT! IT IS BRILLIANT!

One MORE Note – to those who have been following and my wonderful family…I spent 4 horus this weekend fixing approximately 69 blog posts and their broken images (I moved my blog 3 times…) I didn’t realize that republishing a blog from the past would resend it to EVERYONE who follows… so bear with the 69 posts, read, or don’t read… I know you still love me!


One Response to “Twixt Teen”

  1. Monica on September 29th, 2009 12:29 pm

    I LOVE IT! I love the imagery and the little drawing of "Mom vs. the Jansport Monster."

    I remember the tender little boy with the cookie-face eyes and now he's a teenage mutant ninja turtle obsessed with learning ASL and claymation. So very cool. In spite of the mutant morphing, he'll be a fabulous adult. He's always been a fabulous kid.

    P.S. I think you meant "bowels" instead of "bowls"…