My teenage son wasn’t always a teenager, surprisingly enough. When he was born he was tiny, a mop of dark brown hair and the largest pair of big blue eyes I had ever seen on an infant.
When he wasn’t a teenager, he would do things like hide dog chews under buckets in the backyard, and then he would lead the dog around them, pretending that he was a sniffer dog trainer.
Now that he is a teenager, however, he merely looks at the dog occasionally. He glances toward his old best friend and crime solving partner from over the top of his phone, and he offers the dog a pat with his foot. Sometimes I hear him quietly whisper to the dog “Who’s a dickhead? Huh? You are.. You are”.
My baby boy’s eyes, the same I gazed into through the clear plastic of his hospital crib of his first night ever. The same eyes I looked into during night feeds and wiped endless tears from, are now hidden underneath what his father and I refer to as the immovable hair veranda, the artist formerly known as Fringe.
Before my baby turned into a teenager, he used to spend hours building great big elaborate structures out of Lego. Now there is a big barren void under his bed where the Lego tub used to be. That empty space now gets filled with empty snack refuse and screwed up bits of paper.
The teenager used to jump on the trampoline, but now he simply lounges on it, whilst chatting on his phone.
Life annoyed my teenager and he had an attitude, a MASSIVE attitude. I know this was normal, but it made me angry. How did my little boy become so entitled? How does he perceive everything as unfair? What is his basis of comparison? I got angry, then he would get angry back.
He was angry a lot.
I’m not proud, but I have screamed at him.
I have used the phrase, “I AM YOUR MOTHER!!” right in his bum fluff covered little face.
My little boy didn’t find many things exciting anymore once he became a teenager. Trips to the basketball, Macca’s, the beach, Easter egg hunts… they used to be met with excited squeals and on the spot jumping. Now? Nothing!! The kid reacts to NOTHING!!!
It’s a stage, his father reassures me. The not giving a single cup of care regarding anything stage. It will pass.
My little blue eyed boy was once filled with excited chatter and a thousand questions, all of which he expected me to know the answers to. I once knew everything. Then my teenaged blue eyed boy stopped chatting so much, not to me anyway, unless he was back chatting.
The endless questions and excited chatter about bugs and dinosaurs are silent. He stopped asking me the answers to anything, because firstly, he already knew everything, and secondly, what would I know?
Whilst he didn’t chat much to me, I saw glimpses of that excited chatter that once filled my little boy, only that chatter seemed to be reserved only for his friends. I couldn’t help but feel a little bit jealous of them, especially when I hear him erupt in laughter from his room, or when I would hear muffled conversation from the Xbox that make him happy.
This happy conversation my teenager was capable of having, however, disappeared when he emerged from his room. His smile had gone and was replaced with a look of modest disdain.
The conversations we did have consist of me asking questions and him mumbling monosyllabic answers. When he did initiate conversation, it is often while his head is buried deep in the fridge, and difficult to decipher, “Wsssfrtea”.
Which I think translates to “what’s for tea?”.
Other times he begins conversations accusingly, like “Where is my..?” or “who’s been touching my stuff?” or ” Why can’t I..?”.
My little blue eyed boy with his mop of dark hair. Where did he go? He was never any trouble as a little kid. He would very occasionally get a time out, and he would go to his time out willingly and simply sit there. He would just accept his punishment and sit there till time out was up. I wanted to run to him and scoop him up, I would feel sorry for him, that he was so good.
That little boy had disappeared, he had been stolen by this teenager and sometimes, instead of wanting to scoop this teenager up, I want to punch him square in the nose. Like punch him, punch him.
I would never, of course, but sometimes I want to. Man, they don’t tell you that in the parenting books. They don’t tell you that one day, you might REALLY feel like punching that face that you once stared at for hours through the clear plastic of the hospital crib.
How did this happen? I mean, sometimes, those huge blue eyes glare at me and I found myself glaring back, I AM HIS MOTHER!! A mother who glares at him.
We had an argument. I was standing in the kitchen, making dinner and he stomped out of his room and into the kitchen to call me a liar.
Apparently I had said I would make an appointment for him to get a hair cut that afternoon and I didn’t, therefore, I was a liar. He yelled those words to me in my lying face.
I told him to “come off it, I am sorry ok, I forgot”.
Then I angrily told him to make his own appointment if it was that important to him. I marched over to the phone and prodded him with it. I said, “Here’s the phone, here, take it. TAKE IT!!”.
I reminded him that he had his own phone even, the same phone that I bought the credit for, despite him not doing his chores twice in the previous week and won’t somebody think of all the starving children in the world without their own phone. Why was my baby boy so entitled?
He was so angry with me, I was now angry with him. I told him that he didn’t even know what he was angry about and to get outside and blow off some steam. In my mind I screamed, “NOW!! Before I punch you in the nose”.
He did go outside and I watched him through the kitchen window. He pushed the excited dog away in disgust and I sent silent messages of ‘wait until your father gets home’ to him.
I thought about him, the little him in time out, the boy whom I wanted to scoop up, and I wanted to cry. Where did he go?
And then I looked out the kitchen window again. He was sitting in a chair outside, in his time out, like he was told, just like when he was little. He just sat there.
I found that right away I still wanted to scoop him up, I think I may never stop wanting to scoop him up.
I gave him a minute and I went to him. I told him it wasn’t okay to talk to me like you hate me.
He looked at me shocked and said “I don’t hate you mum”.
It was then I realised it wasn’t about me. It was about him. Everything was about him, he was fourteen at the time. Of course it was.
I was taking all of these things so personally, when really it had nothing to do with me. Meeting his anger with anger was never going to work. I told him how I felt, I used ‘me’ words, I felt like “I thought you”.
To my surprise, he grunted back his own ‘me’ words. Soon, like a bird taking flight, those grunts became words and sentences, sentences that started with words like, “He felt, He wanted, He thought”.
He agreed to make his own hair appointment, because he was old enough to do that, and it was then that it came out.
My big blue eyed baby boy was now old enough to do a lot of things, like make hair appointments, but too young to do many more things. He was in between. Being fourteen is in between, and sucks sometimes. I told him I remembered how much it sucked.
My little boy was still my boy, but he is no longer an extension of myself. He was his own person, an almost man.
He still relied on me for so many things, I was the bringer of meals, the keeper away-er of younger siblings from his stuff, the buyer of sports shoes, the maker of appointments. He so desperately wants to be a separate person from me, he wants to control his own world. The world that was really only just beginning for him.
I promised that I would try my best to remember that he was his own person. He promised he would try to put his feelings into words.
I had to trust him, and to trust him I had to trust that I have done okay as his mum so far. I had to know that he knew right from wrong, good from bad. That he was no longer an extension of me, or a reflection of me even. He was his very own.
Now as much as I would like to tell you that this was the end of all attitude and anger, of back chat and swears and we all lived happily ever after, it’s not.
It was the end of meeting his anger with anger. It was the beginning of not seeing the teenager as someone who stole my little boy. It was the beginning of parenting him as a young man. It was the realisation that my little baby boy with his big blue eyes and mop of brown hair didn’t need me to parent him as a baby boy anymore, because he wasn’t one. That didn’t mean he didn’t need parenting. It just meant that I had to learn a new way to do it and in order to do that I had to let my baby boy go a little, and become the mother of a teenager. Boundaries were still very much needed, perhaps now more than ever. I just had to learn to change those boundaries with him.
Mothering a teenager, I have found, is a process of widening boundaries. Little by little, making the boundaries bigger, until one day, the whole world is theirs.