Tuesday, April 8, 2014

**The Son Also Rises

["Let Inga Tell You," La Jolla Light, published April 10, 2014] © 2014 

I get that sons need to separate from their mothers. But do they have to be so mean about it?

I’m a nice person.  So I wasn’t prepared for the fact that as my sons approached their senior years of high school they would suddenly turn on me.

My younger son, especially, became positively surly.  My mere presence annoyed him.  I think Henri saw me as the embodiment of all that stood between him and a future of happy mother-free manhood.  His spirit had already left home but his body had been forced to stay behind.  I don’t know who suffered more.

My husband, Olof, said that this was all part of the natural order of things.  It’s far less traumatic to let your kids go off to college if you hate them. 

But as they made their bumpy way to self-supporting non-mother-needing maturity, they were regularly sticking it to Mom.  Now, I realize that if you’re looking for gratitude, parenthood is the wrong business for you.  Still, when my younger son was a high school senior, he was awarded a prestigious national honor for which the local media came to interview him.  The kids had always referred to their Dad’s house (my ex) as “the fun house” (it was) and my house as “the boring house” (it was).  I had done every library run (pre-internet) even when it meant schlepping the kids to the downtown San Diego Library in rush hour traffic after work, driven every carpool (even on my ex-husband’s custody days), used up a year’s vacation time one year taking one of them to physical therapy after a serious sports injury, managed countless youth sports teams, ran cub scout dens, consulted on term papers – all while working.  So the interviewer asks Henri, is there anyone he wants to thank?  Yes, he says, his Dad for teaching him how to have fun.  Anyone else?  They’re practically begging him.  No, no one that he can think of.  (OK, you miserable runt, kill your mother.)

But another newspaper sees this story and he gets interviewed again.  Anyone he wants to thank?  Two people, he says.  “My Dad, for teaching me how to have fun.”  I modestly lower my eyes.   “And Mr. Litchfield, my English teacher.”   For days afterwards, I had to fight impulses to poison his lunches.

I was crushed.  And more than a little annoyed.  I didn’t say anything for a week as I contemplated the situation.  Demanding that someone express thanks is no thanks at all.  But finally one night at dinner, I thought I’d bring it up casually.  “WOULD IT HAVE KILLED YOU TO THANK ME?????” I said.

Apparently yes.  But more recently, giving a genuinely touching toast to Olof and me on a milestone occasion, Henri’s voice actually cracked with emotion as he thanked us for all we had done for him.  But not happening at 17.

Meanwhile, my older son, Rory, wrote his college abnormal psychology term paper about me, 17 pages worth of Mom-analysis.  That one actually had a surprisingly positive outcome when, after interviewing me at length for the paper, Rory concluded that there were extenuating circumstances as to why I was the worst mother in the history of the world. 

When Henri graduated from college and got his first job, he invited Olof and me to dinner. Historically, that would have been a cheap ploy for a free meal. But the bill comes, kid goes to get it.  I knew money was really tight for him with all the housing start-up costs so I immediately grabbed it and handed it to Olof.  Olof, to my surprise, whispered “Let him pay.” I did.

When we got home, Olof said, “You almost deprived your son of one of the greatest moments a guy can have – finally being able to take his parents to dinner.  He’s telling you he’s an adult who can take care of himself – and in this case, us.  Sometimes moms just miss this stuff completely.”   

How did Olof know?  Y chromosome communication?  (Is there, in fact, any?) 

So for all you moms out there with surly high school seniors, remember this:  you’ll like them again some day.  They’ll like you too.  Sometimes you just have to live long enough.

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