Approach With Caution. This unspoken warning is implicit in every glance you are lucky to get from your teenager. Forget that amazing closeness you once felt. My teenager, and he’s only fourteen, informed me the other day that the only memory he had retained from his “childhood” was that I had once closed his finger in his bedroom window.
I have learned the hard way how impossible it can be to negotiate with your teenager. It can be less of an exercise in parenting and more like a hostage situation. But sometimes, your message gets through, even by accident.
Take the start of seventh grade, at that time, I was instructed not to make eye contact when approaching my teen on the school premises. Doing my best to walk with my eyes cast downward was difficult enough, but I once made the horrible, unforgivable mistake of waving, a gesture that was deemed way too enthusiastic, I didn’t get a hug for weeks.
Now that he’s in eighth grade, I have been ordered not to leave my car, instead, I am to text him when within walking range and stay in the car. All of this system comes to a grinding halt, of course, on the rare occasion when my son forgets his cell phone. And by rare, I mean daily. The frustration of not being able to reach him led to probably the most serious transgression I have made to date. After failing to get a response from my texts, I committed the mortal sin of speaking to my son in front of a girl, who may or may not have been his girlfriend, and mentioned his (adorable) freckles. Note: never mention a preponderance of freckles or lack there of; it is a very, very, bad and inappropriate topic. Really, there is a zero tolerance policy amongst teenagers on this subject. Actually, all notations of the physical appearance of your teenager are really just asking for trouble. So never let it slip how handsome they look, as they may not be going for a handsome look. The same applies for cute, hip, and grown up.
Furthermore, entering the immediate space of a teenager subjects you to a scrutiny I doubt Coco Chanel could withstand. Apparently, the rules, which vary from day to day, include: do not wear any outfit that could be construed as either trying too hard, not trying hard enough, or could be classified simply as “trying.” A burqa is starting to make sense to me.
This isn’t limited to contact outside the home, no, sometimes I have to text him from one room to the other in order to get a response. He’s so enured to the sound of my voice. Posting “dinner is ready” on your teen’s Facebook wall is a last resort, but will garner an immediate response. A loud one.
I can admit that many, if not most, of my maternal machinations have fallen by the wayside…
Game night: Once a week we were going to play board games. We did manage to play a fair amount of Chinese checkers and Apples to Apples, but after sending me to the poor house maybe a dozen times, our monopoly board started to collect dust.
Reading to my child: I had a friend who read aloud to her kid well into his teens, it was a ritual they kept, I aspired to keep this tradition as long as possible. By age twelve we were reading separately side‐by‐ side, and now, I’m often already in my bed reading before he goes to bed.
Dinner: Our nightly dinner is a much more informal affair than I had hoped. I wanted dinner to be a nightly Socratic exploration of politics, pending legislation, and trends in the art world. Big surprise that hasn’t quite panned out. Our number one discussions are of the projects and reports that are due the next day that are only being started that evening.
But I’ve developed a strategy. Ok, I discovered it by accident. In the morning on our way to school, if I ask just enough annoying mom questions, you know the kind… “ What class do you have for first period again?” “Are you sure you don’t need a sweater?” or “What kind of snack do you want today for the ride home?,” it just drives him bananas. At that moment he begs me to turn up the radio, which I have tuned to the morning news. For the length of our ride, if even try to speak, I am instructed he must not be disturbed as he is busy learning about politics, pending legislation, and trends in the art world.
Now if I announced, “I want you to listen to the news every day,” I am one hundred percent certain that he would balk at this. I am proud to say that I might have the only teenager on my block who knows the vacation schedule of our morning NPR host. Yes, through annoyance I am succeeding in one of many mom initiatives. It’s a shaky, slippery slope with which to measure success, but I’ll take it.