This is kind of apropos of nothing, except that I’ve been having a few more conversations about the topic lately as the kids get older and have older friends.
As my son enters his 13th year this month and starts to act more and more like a jaded teen and less and less like an innocent rube, I have flashbacks to something my mother told me pretty much every year on my birthday once I turned 21. When she was feeling sentimental and nostalgic—telling me how I peed all over the room when I was born, for example, making the doctor duck out of the way—she would also tell me what a great son I always was to her throughout her life…. EXCEPT for one year.
When I was 14.
She would never go into specific detail about what I did that was so horrid, but I could tell by her body language and sinking vocal tone what a hardship it must have been for her.
She was usually in good spirits when she talked about it (all the years since taking away some of the pain) but I guess part of me keeps waiting to see what dreadful, awful, horrible things my kids will do when they reach that magical, terrible milestone.
Here are the two main things I actually remember doing when I was 14 to cause my mother such heartache:
- I let my penmanship go down the toilet
- I actively ignored her when we were in public
It’s that first one that I have the strongest memories of, and it’s what I always suspect my mother is referring to when she considers me as a 14-year-old. I had the most epic argument I ever had with her at the dining room table. I was supposed to sign my name on something: an official document or a note or a letter. And after I signed my name she was aghast, telling me that it was no way to represent myself. She insisted that I sign again (or possibly write the entire note over) to get it right. And wondered how on earth I’d lost the gift I had for good handwriting I’d cultivated during elementary school.
I objected but tried signing my name again.
Still not good enough.
Then I got obstinate and explained that baseball players have the worst signatures ever, and they’re celebrated for it. They’re cool because of it.
And doctors? I mean come on!
But she’d have none of it. The New England proprietor in her demanded that I stay at the table and get every single letter right or I wouldn’t be able to leave and hang out with my friends.
And my friends were already outside waiting for me.
I hated her in that moment (in the way that teens do). And I resented her too. But I gave in and did what she wanted, all the curves and slopes of my letters at the right height, width and angles. And then I left in a huff.
And maybe that was the moment that ended up leading to #2, the ignoring. I’m not sure.
Whenever she and I would go out in public I would try to pretend that she wasn’t with me, that I had no idea who she was at all. If we went to a movie together (and it is a little weird to go to the movies with your mom at that age) I would sit a couple of rows back and act like I was on my own.
And if we were on the street I would look away like she wasn’t even there.
And that led to the cruelest thing I can remember I did.
One day when we were going shopping somewhere downtown she tripped on a curb and fell, ungracefully, to the ground. And she wasn’t able to catch her fall with her hands or anything, so she basically just face-planted to the concrete, injuring her cheek and her nose.
I let embarrassment get the best of me at that moment and pretended that I hadn’t seen her. I looked off like I had no idea who she was at all. Someone else nearby eventually asked her if she was all right and helped her up, and that’s when I turned and acted like I’d finally recognized her.
It was a sh*tty thing to do (or not do) and I remember the feeling of turmoil I had then. It’s likely that once I got older and turned into a mature 15-year-old I was relatively nice again. OR maybe she just got used to my more stand-offish self. Either way, I know that I went from being an enthusiastic, mostly upbeat kid to kind of a broody twerp during that year. And it must have hurt her.
SO…. I’m trying to get ready for it from my currently mostly upbeat kid. Surely knowing that it’s coming will help, right? Preparation is half the battle. Or a quarter. Or an eighth. Or a sixteenth?
Anyway, I’m girding. Slowly.
Bring it on…