I recently went for coffee with a younger friend who had teenagers, and it was with a sense of déjà vous that I listened to her rants about the trials she was suffering. It hadn’t been that long ago that I too suffered what she was going through, the poor soul. It was all I could do not to snicker. Instead, and completely against character, I pasted on a sympathetic face.
We all go through it, and it starts early. You say it when they are six years old. You say it when your older friends went through it with their kids. And you say it when you witness the rolling eyes, the derogatory comments other teens fling at their parents and the stomping off into the cavernous holes they call their rooms where, I suspect, they sacrifice goats or other sundry farm animals. But you are loudest when they tell you, “Just wait! It will happen to you.”
“It will never happen to me. My boys and I understand each other,” I replied confidently.
All those years, they have been setting you up for this moment. They know you have become vulnerable and complacent. It is a plot, a scheme, waiting to implement just when your life looks like it’s going smooth as fine-sanded wood. Slowly, insidiously, they start to mutate into swellheaded, selfish, gum-snapping, droopy trousered, argumentative creatures from another world. It’s subtle at first and you hardly notice anything, especially if you are a self-absorbed freelance writer. But slowly, the “Duh”s and the “No, Mom, you don’t understand” and eyeballs reaching for the sky are slowly sinking into your preoccupied brain. Then, the smugness emerges.
That is the ugliest part of this whole transformation. They have realized you are not the all-knowing, omniscient, God-like persona by whom they have been raised. Now you are the moronic, antiquated, attitudinal dictator who is totally clueless on what it takes to survive. If there really was a Jekyll and Hyde person, I’m sure he used teenage hormones as the main ingredient for his formula.
As a writer who had written her share of human interest essays and some psychological pieces, I was confident I could overcome this horrible disease my children had contracted. I researched, I conversed with them patiently and discerningly on the subjects that I knew concerned their undeveloped sense of self. I tried to show them that clothes, money and learning to drive are not the essentials to life.
That’s when I got the first sneer directed at me. They wiped it off as quick as they could, since I still have the frightening reputation as “The Mother from Hell”, but it was there, unmistakable and overt.
I was wretched. And to make it worse, my older friends nodded knowingly and exchanged sage looks.
You know deep down that these alien beings, that have replaced your beloved offspring, have been injected with a permanent dose of attitude and there is no antidote. All your suggestions, patient explanations and adamant curfews are greeted with apathy.
So, I tried to buy an attitude adjustment. Yes, I indulged in blatant bribery. I took my beloved boys on a shopping trip.
As we wandered the aisles, I picked up a pair of jeans. You know the ones. They are blue, have two tubes for legs, pockets in the back, belt loops and a fly and snap closure.
“These are nice, aren’t they?” I asked with confidence.
“What’s wrong with them?” I asked.
“They’re geeky,” he replied, looking at some by his arm, hanging on a rack and were a horror of red dragons embroidered with skulls and death scenes running down the leg.
I quickly steered them to another aisle. When I turned around, they were out of sight. I found them in the skateboard section of teen fashions, the one with chains and satanic phrases on clothing that suggested to my angels where normal, law abiding people could go.
I cajoled them to the shirt section and held up a black, velvety soft suede-like garment and held it up to my second son’s chest as my eyes filled with love. How handsome he would look in this. “Do you like it?” I asked, foolishly.
“Uh,” he grunted and shrugged. Somewhere between the jeans and the shirt section, he had turned into a monosyllabic caveman. I could have sworn he could speak complete sentences only five minutes ago.
Strangely enough, the malady seemed to be viral, since my younger son, who adored his warped older brother, suddenly lost all ability to communicate as well.
We left with jeans that had chains but no devil worship symbols and a t-shirt with no obscenities but a slightly derogatory message on it. I had won a hard-earned compromise.
I had learned my lesson. No one is immune to this transformation of their children. When I met with my best friend a few days after this attempt at connecting with an alien species, a friend who had a child the same age as my oldest, I informed her, “I took the boys shopping and guess what we ended up with?”
She stared at me sympathetically and answered, “Nothing humans would wear.”
I nodded and slurped my coffee. She understood.