There is no relief in sight. No break except Wednesday night sushi and Sunday night Mexican dinner date nights.
Is it me? Is it over? Are we there yet? Is he in college? Are we free? It’s too fast, he’s too old, only three-and-a-half more years. Either way he’ll be gone, we’ll be alone. Sweet Jesus, quiet.
No more being forced to listen to misogynistic rap, watching TikTok, blaring NBA2K and Madden. No late-night ride requests, no school Open Houses and parent conferences, no checking or enforcing homework. I won’t have to email teachers or the attendance office. There will be no slammed doors, or I hate you, yelled with vitriol. No mortally wounded mama with each spit out insult from a know-it-all teen.
But then what? My husband I will move to western Massachusetts, back to where I went to college, my dream. No empty nesting but nesting as a later-in-life romance, our first time together as husband and wife alone. New jobs, new lives, new identities, a 300-year-old house.
Parenting forever but from afar, hands on but virtually. What will it be like to sleep naked with my love on a Wednesday night, no fear of being walked in on? Watch a show all the way through without umpteen knocks on the door with inane requests or teenager-y things like just telling us how annoying we are even though we are in the confines of our bedroom. Sweet relief. I can’t fucking wait.
And yet…my baby. Fourteen. He still sometimes wants to cuddle under a blanket and watch a movie or hold hands as we walk, as long as we’re far enough out of town that he knows nobody will see us, like we’re having an adult affair. He relishes a “Mom and Me Day,” just us. But as a 47-year-old newlywed, I also relish “Husband and Wife Day,” also just us and so very difficult to come by. I’m caught.
Where does the medium fall here? The teen, self-proclaimed Most Impatient Person, is beyond demanding of my time and jealous of that I spend with my husband. I don’t do well under the thumb of a 9th grader and crave proximity of my partner.
Activities the teen and I enjoy together are harder to come by as he grows. No longer am I the picker of the activity but the negotiator. Usually, we end up at the arcade or pier for a million dollars, eating out or me watching him video game in 15-minute increments because I don’t want to learn how to play. He can be sweet, endearing even, but as a teen he’s also highly critical which makes him unpleasant to spend time with and leaves me feeling bad about myself because I eventually snap when he berates me: “Can you not scuff your shoes like that when you walk?” “You should dress like the other moms,” “Mom, drink like a lady.” STOP! ENOUGH! “Why do you even want to spend time with me? All you do is complain about me and then ask me for more money. That’s not how this works. That’s not how I raised you.” Right?! Right, I ask myself? Is this teenage or a horrific, decades-long parenting fail? I did The Classes, read The Books, Did The Things, put him in The Right Schools. Is this my fault? A significant part of it is his diagnosis of Oppositional Defiance Disorder, in which a child is unusually uncooperative, vindictive, defiant, won’t listen to adults and is hostile, also exacerbated by his severe ADHD.
In contrast, my husband adores me. Where the teen drills holes, the husband fills them. We complete each other, good and bad. It’s not all hunky dory but most of it is. We do fight, but it’s short-lived and usually because I have misinterpreted a passing glance or a tone, nothing big. My feelings get hurt but I know he loves me, and everything will quickly be okay, and our love is never in danger. We do almost everything together, flea markets, photography, and restaurants, to the point we discuss how we need to make more friends, branch out. But there’s no one we’d rather spend time with than each other. There’s been more than one time we’ve dressed alike, to our horror. I’ve picked up his facial expressions, and we’ve picked up each other’s phrases and can finish each other’s sentences.
Walking to date night recently he looked up at the sky and said “That looks like a Magritte cloud." "It looks like it should have an 'apple' under it" we both said. Yet we’re not 90, barely 50. We’re in a rented home, not a nursing home. I want more of that, less of mothering. Is that awful, my dream? Accountable only to each other and ourselves. Of course, this dream is on the worst days, moments.
Still, I dream of running away. What if I just left? What if I just left as the teen raged? Took some thrift store cashmere, jeans and flip flops, drove as far and fast as my midlife crisis red MINI would take me? Turned off my phone so his belligerent texts wouldn’t reach me: “Such a little bitch. Of course you run away like you always do. I fucking hate you. You’re a horrible parent.” I’d pay in cash so I couldn’t be traced. But I wouldn’t do that to my husband. Probably. I’ve been on the brink with a bag packed and a destination scouted way more than once however. But then I get a fleeting moment with the loving side of my kid. An “I love you” or a hug. It’s just enough to make me rethink throwing up my hands entirely.
At home, I steel myself weekly or more with adult beverages and try to enforce him cleaning his pigsty and doing his laundry, both of which he should be doing himself at 14, but I end up doing because it’s easier than fighting with him. He resists and yells at me and slams his door. When he doesn’t have clothes to wear he tantrums from his ODD, screaming so loud the neighbors surely can hear. I should teach him to cook and stop listening to him complain he doesn’t like what we prepare, that we’re the worst cooks ever, that we’re not feeding him properly, and let him figure it out. But I don’t. Even though he’s generally an asshole, he’s also a teen with mental health issues, and I can’t just quit him because my mom instinct is ultimately stronger than my desire to abandon him and save myself.
The days are long, but the years are short. I hated that expression when my son was young because both parts of it are true. The days are longer now because he stays up until midnight instead of six p.m. and we get no relief. The years are shorter because the college countdown is on, but they still seem to last forever, whereas seven years of courtship with my new husband flew by. Two sets of time seem to exist. Seven months of newlywed life? Gone in a snap. The first seven months of high school? Forever.
Weekday mornings of getting him up and getting him out the door takes years. Battle-scarred from it, I collapse on my sofa with another cup of coffee at 7:40 a.m., having just been through the Five Stages of Teenager School Wake Up: Denial, Anger, Screaming, Fighting, and Door Slamming.
Weekend mornings with my husband involve lingering in bed with a second cup and some The New York Times puzzles and Wordle, scrolling Facebook, small talk and planning which flea markets and Goodwills to hit up. I wish these mornings could last forever. Child-free weekends when he is with his dad are what we live for. Breweries and every meal out are a budget-busting luxury but a sanity-saving one. Soon it will end too quickly. We will go back to parenting. But until then we feel like adults: carefree, living an imaginary life of no responsibilities, day drinking and eating cheese and bread in bed and having loud sex without worry of traumatizing the kid who doesn’t even want us to kiss.
Whereas my immature teen craves “surprises” every time I go out, junk that entertains him for minutes, my husband enjoys permanence. He shopped for his wedding ring a of couple months before we got married, put it on in the store and has never taken it off. My kid constantly has demands, my husband has none. My son drives me to the brink, raising my pulse, my husband is my safe haven, raising it for a different reason. I want to run away from my teen. I want to run away with my husband.
Quickly, the kid is back Sunday and we’re back to reality for two weeks until he goes to dad again. There is no relief in sight. No break except Wednesday night sushi and Sunday night Mexican dinner date nights. Sometimes we’ll go out on weekends alone but even then, the teen constantly calls with anxiety, another disorder he has, about how soon we’ll be home. And then he abuses us. Oppositional Defiance Disorder is no joke.
My husband is the better parent naturally but maybe because he’s been at it less time. I don’t think he wants to run away but he has also asked me to get a door handle with a lock for his office the next time I’m at the hardware store. I feel like my heart sometimes is locked down to protect myself from further hurt. I have breakthrough anxiety chest pains, despite medication, from having to deal with my son. Go to college. Never leave.
Is it me? Is it him? I think it’s us. We’re in a weird relationship in which we both need help. I want to flee half the time. The other half I just want to be with my beloved, not with my son. He just went from the sweetest boy in the world, golden curls and soft baby rolls, to not and I feel it’s me. Maybe it’s just teen? No. “It makes me feel good when you get upset. I do things to upset you like say no to trips and activities so you keep asking me to go. It makes me feel good,” he says. I try to remember the mental illness component but in the moment I’m a failure.
I’m naturally attracted to the word “grit” because I don’t have any. I need to learn some and apply it because it’s all going by slow and fast. When he’s hurling obscenities at me, I’m so paralyzed I can barely move, like I’m sinking in quicksand. But yesterday I was in the hospital holding him for the first time, thinking about how glad I was to have a boy because they always love their mothers. I’m in the last years and I don’t want to regret them. He often says he doesn’t feel I love him anymore. I do. Mostly. But I need to dig my heels in until I truly do and that will take work on my part because I know I can’t expect him to change without the treatment he so desperately needs but refuses. Because all too soon it will be over and too late. And I need to send him out into the world knowing I loved him most of all.
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