I am a firm believer that you can’t nickname yourself. It’s too self-important. However, I think it’s fair game to reference yourself in your own mind however you like, and I will admit to thinking of myself on occasion as “the teen queen.”
I absolutely love teenagers. I find them to be interesting, open and full of promise. For me, connecting with them has almost always been second nature. (It also helps that I seriously lack the level of maturity often associated with the average whatever-I-am-year-old.) It is rare that I struggle to connect with a teenager. However, I have met my match.
This tween kid is not interested in my company. He doesn’t want to share with me. He does not think I am cool. He does not confide that he wishes his mom was more like me. No of course he doesn’t, because I’m his mom, and apparently, I suck.
It wasn’t always like this. I have enjoyed many years of looking pretty good to my kids. And I can mark the transition, (to the day!) when I went from “awesome mom” to “donkey dung” in the eyes of my tween.
It started like any other semi-normal day in our house: breakfast, the last-minute signing of school reading logs, assembling lunches, massive amounts of hair gel shaping the trademark mohawks, hurried goodbyes and I love yous and crazed barking as the bus patiently idling outside. It was nothing out of the ordinary, simply the typical chaos that follows a family of four kids and three dogs. But after school, therein began a new story …
Tween: “Can I hang out with someone today?”
Me: “Sure. Who do you want to play with?”
Tween: “PLAY?” voice dripping with distain, eyes rolling dramatically to the back of his head. “Mom, you don’t PLAY. You HANG OUT! Gee-ze!”
In this moment, I had an involuntary flashback to my own childhood. My mother was doing something wrong/saying something wrong/breathing too loudly and I was rolling my eyes to the back of my head like nobody’s business. Uh-oh.
I tried to recover. “OK. Hang out. Got it.” I nodded my head enthusiastically. “Sounds good.” He disappeared wordlessly into the bowels of his bedroom, preferring the company of his unmade bed, his overflowing dirty laundry basket and his Instagram followers to me.
The following day he stayed home sick from school. I felt bad he wasn’t up to snuff, but at the same time, this was my chance! I would be able to prove to my kid that I was worthy of the admiration and affection he had all but recently given me. But the enormity of it made me nervous, and when I get nervous, well – sometimes I overdo it.
We found ourselves in the minivan with little sister in tow, so naturally we were listening to the Frozensoundtrack. It was (finally!) a warm Chicago day and I had all the windows down. Things were good and kid was feeling better with his eyes in a normal, unrolled position. But then …
I will defend myself by stating there is no way I’m the first person to spontaneously belt out “Let It Go” regardless of singing ability. So before I could contemplate the massive repercussions, I began singing my heart out. My son was a sport at first. So I sang louder, interjecting little riffs of goofiness here and there. Slowly, my kid began to shrink down in his seat.
Tween: “Mom! Seriously, stop! You’re embarrassing me!”
We came to a red light. Next to us was an attractive young woman in a convertible, top open, blasting rap music. When my kid spotted her, he basically melted into the floor mats while furiously attempting to close all the windows at once, the tears in his eyes being swished around by some frighteningly furious eyeball rolling. I thought we might have to beeline to the nearest hospital – or eye doctor.
Tween: “MOM!!! You’re THE worst! THE most embarrassing mom EVER!”
We were home now and he was letting me have it.
Tween: “What is wrong with you? Seriously!?”
Me: “Um, nothing…” I replied weakly. “I was just joking around. I thought it was funny.”
(Now red-faced) Tween: “Well, you’re NOT funny! You’re embarrassing!”
He began stomping full force up the stairs and then turned to generously add, “And I HATE your fake laugh!” Door slam. Then silence.
Fake laugh? What the heck is he talking about? I don’t “fake laugh” – what does that even mean? Ask daddy! I NEVER fake laugh at his jokes. I perseverated for the next hour as my child undoubtedly contemplated life with a cooler, less embarrassing mother who could sing like Celine Dion. Or would it be Pink? What do I know being so decidedly uncool and embarrassing?
Our next car ride together was much more traumatizing, but not to my tween – to me. I was wearing a short sleeve shirt, tween sitting shotgun. At a red light I felt his eyes on me. I looked at him. “Whatcha lookin’ at?” I asked in my most totally coolest mom voice ever! He didn’t answer and he wasn’t meeting my gaze. To my horror, I realized he was fixating on my lunch lady arm squish. I tensed my arm muscles. Arm muscles refused to cooperate. Under normal circumstances I would have waved my hand in his face to break the stare, but that would have only given my squish the opportunity to demonstrate an uncontrollable interpretive wiggle dance, so instead I cocked my head. “Helloooooo…?” As my mouth lingered on the extra “O’s,” his gaze shifted from my arm fat to the hole in the back of my mouth where I haven’t found the courage to yet get a dental implant. I snapped my mouth shut. “What are you looking at?” I demanded. Tween said nothing. His eyes cased me up and down taking in my greying hair, my desperate need for a lip wax, the pimple on my chin, my sagging… well, my sagging everything. He slowly turned his attention to the road in front of us, a small, sly smile on his face. Is it “cool” to call your kid an asshole?
It’s a stage. And I know it’s completely normal. But it caught me by surprise. I must admit, I naively thought that because of all of my years working with teens, I’d get a hall pass with my own. But I know it doesn’t work that way. Teens rebel. And even though he’s my firstborn – the one I actually made people wash their hands for if they wanted to hold him; the one I carried an appropriately stocked diaper bag for; the one I gave perfect brain development to by delaying television viewing until after two years of age just like the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends – he’s allowed. Even more than that, he needs to. He’s a good kid – an objectively wonderful kid. I’m proud of him. (Not to mention, he has totally perfected my teenage eye roll …)