Friday, January 12, 2007

Trying to Figure It All Out

I have wanted to sit down at this computer and write a column for over a week now. Yet every attempt failed. My brain simply feels overloaded, my sensory perception on cruise control. Whereas usually life feels like a road trip, with stops and adventures along the way, lately it feels like abstract art, with fragments of events and even thoughts thrown together randomly, often overlapping and eclipsing each other.

I turned 42 this past Monday. I love birthdays, even though (because?) they mean I'm older. I just don't care much about age. I woke up feeling good, checked for new wrinkles and found only the same old familiar ones. Still have all my real teeth, and my hair hasn't begun to fall out, though underneath, I've got a nice little nest of gray which I have no intention of hiding. So really, all was right with the world.

But by the end of the day, I was in tears, which is not like me. I was hit by the revelation (and yes, I should have realized this already) that as I age, so too are my kids. And one in particular is pulling away from me. And it hurts, even though I know it's necessary. Here and there since the summer, I've encountered those small but intense moments of clarity to acknowledge that Max no longer prefers his family to his friends. He practically lives in the basement and believes that a day spent down there is still a day spent with family, though he speaks to no one.

And while I know this is what is supposed to happen in a healthy family, it still sucks. I use that juvenile word because sometimes, I find myself reverting to juvenile reactions to his growth. I get mad. I pout. I feel like making him suffer. Thankfully, I haven't lived for 15,288-plus days for nothing, and my actual reaction and response are more mature. Most of the time.

I suppose the most difficult facet of this step toward independence is that Max and I have always been particularly close. And I don't really have a standard against which to measure what is usual behavior. My brother was the eldest of the three siblings, and a wild child. He hit my mom, punched holes in the walls, rebelled against parental authority in every way imaginable. And had a mouth on him that was more lethal than any weapon. That has been my experience with teen boys and their mothers. So I read a lot...books that help you understand kids at all stages of development. I talk to other moms who have grown sons and listen to their stories. And I pray each night for strength and wisdom to figure out how to be the mom my kids need me to be. But holy cow, these days of grunts-for-answers and rolling eyeballs seem endless.

On top of that, it often feels to me that I'm raising kids in a world that has lost its way. We have a serious drug problem at the high school, and that's where one of my children spends the bulk of his weekdays. That doesn't sit well with me. In one of Max's classes, an activity revealed that about half the students in class are allowed to drink alcohol. Their parents have no problem with it. They allow it. Condone it. Does it not matter to anyone that these kids are underage, that the earlier one starts drinking, the more likely s/he is to develop a drinking problem? We ask ourselves "How can we reach these kids?" But it's not the kids who need educating, it's the parents. And they simply don't care. And here I am, holding on to the hope and expectation that my kid won't lose his common sense and join the party.

But even smaller issues play a major role in influencing our kids. Max has a good friend (who, for the record, I like) who is incredibly disrespectful in the way he talks to his mom. I've even told this kid that the way he speaks to her is not only unkind, but ugly. She and I have talked about it. Her take on it? Well, if that's the worst thing he does, I consider myself lucky. I thought about this, and while I understand what she's saying, I can't say I agree. I don't believe a parent must accept a lesser evil in the hopes of warding off a greater one. If Max talked to me like this kid does on a consistent basis, there would surely be consequences. I get that shooting off one's mouth is a normal part of adolescence, and I make room for that, but it could never become a usual means of communication between my kids and me. And I hold them to that expectation at school and everywhere else as well.

So on top of being pushed aside in Max's quest for independence, I feel the daily struggle of trying to instill values in my children that seem to be losing ground in this society. Respect. Decency. Honesty. A sense of right and wrong. I sometimes recall that when I decided to become a parent, my picture of what a parent is and does was vastly different from the reality of parenting. Call it naiveté, ignorance, whatever. All I know is that when I thought about my own mom and what she filled her days with, I was sure I could do the same, no problem. Of course, that was from the perspective of a daughter, which limited my insight and understanding.

But truly, I think being a parent today is much harder than it was even three decades ago. I suppose every generation thinks that. But if Max's classroom activity is indicative of society in general, we now live in a world where a significant portion of parents have given up their right to hold their kids to higher standards. Teachers are now held accountable for students' behavior and lack of, well, anything.

As I read what I've written here, I realize that even my writing feels disjointed. My thoughts jump from one thing to another, and while I can see how everything is related, I don't know if I can explain it coherently. What I know is this: I miss my kid and he lives right here in the house with me. I hate that he spends so much time in a place that is really just a microcosm of the world at large, from which I cannot protect him but against which I hope I've given him the tools to make good decisions. And when he doesn't, I hope I've instilled in him a sense of self-worth that allows him to pick himself up and move on, bruised but not beaten.

But I don't know if I've done this. And if I survive my first child's adolescence, I've got three more to navigate down the road. And absolutely no idea what to expect, because two of those adolescents will be girls.

And one of them will be Bella.


Anonymous said...

Yes, this is a rough time as a parent (especially in this town), but I know that our kids will turn out alright because we are concerned and fair parents; a minority in this town!
- A fellow Capricorn

april t said...

wow. this is particularly interesting to me becky as i am going thru the same thing w/ kale. my daughter?

how very curious. evidently, tiz not a gender specific phase. i say the word phase as i hope it will soon pass.

the borderline disrespect. the eye rolling. spending more and more time alone. in her room w/ the door shut. i actually told her the other day, that i remembered her being much more fun to be with when she was younger. ouch.

sigh. it's a phase right?

Carrie said...

Ahhh Beck- Hang in there. You and Max will make it through!! You HAVE given him the tools he needs even if you are not sure that you did. I did the same thing!! Keep praying for his protection and for him to use HIS mind, then back off a little and give him some space. Just be close enough to catch him WHEN he falls!! Because he will fall, and then guess what!?! He will want his MOMMY.

Trust me. I have been there many times.