When my oldest child was in preschool testing the theory of gravity and making me insane with worry that he’d break all his bones, and my twins were babies who I lugged around in those car carrying seats, building biceps to rival Linda Hamilton’s, one of my friends – whose children are older than mine – used to tell me with a snide expression, “Just wait. It doesn’t get easier. It gets harder!”
My reaction to her was always the same. I plugged my ears and alternated between humming show tunes and reciting my then-mantra, “I don’t want to know. I’m barely surviving now. I don’t want to know. I don’t hear you.”
Now I know. And would I were still ignorant, sticky in baby mush, stepping on Cheerios.
My oldest son, light years away from preschool, is on a mission to age me, and he’s succeeding. First of all, he’s girl crazy, and I don’t know about you, but 10 seems mighty young for such ridiculousness. Second of all, he’s become this disrespectful, uncommunicative … thing … almost overnight. I was sure I had at least another year before pre-pubescence plucked me from the field of innocence and clunked me down into that of teenage-hood, but – again, my friend warned me and I didn’t listen – the teenage years start earlier these days … with the addition of that double digit, and it doesn’t matter one iota whether I’m ready for it or not.
Thankfully, our twins – who just turned seven – and our youngest, who is four and a half – are still recognizable to me. So far, I have only to deal with the hot and cold attitude of the 10 year old. He who can’t be bothered to say hello to me at his gymnastics meet until he wants me to buy something. He who may or may not give me a hug/kiss goodnight and who is just as likely to tell me I’ve got bad breath, go away, as he is to ask me the next morning if he can use my hair gel.
Compounded by these perhaps premature but normal signs of adolescence is the fact of his adoption. My husband and I are never entirely sure how much of what he does is the apple not falling far from our tree –vs—some genetic predisposition we lay no claim to, or some early trauma in his first two and half years of life in a Russian orphanage.
We do know that, as a baby, he was given sugar water and sweetened iced tea to sate his hunger because there wasn’t enough food.
We do know that it took him months after we brought him home to stop hording the food and trinkets we gave him.
We know that some people have a hard time pronouncing his name, and we wonder if we should have renamed him something American sounding.
We know that in spite of his muscular physique, he feels self-conscious about being small.
I imagine he tires of hearing how much his younger brother looks like Dad and of hearing for the umpteenth time some twins’ in utero story.
I imagine he wonders who his birth parents are and why they abandoned him.
I myself was raised by my mother’s parents, as she was only seventeen when she had me. My own birth father – nineteen and entirely self-absorbed as young people tend to be – married my mother but the only thing he gave her was his last name so I wouldn’t be a bastard. After their civil ceremony, he made tracks for the West Coast, became a cowboy, and left me to the dysfunctions of my mother’s side of the family. I didn’t meet him until I was 16 years old, but as I grew up, he sent colorful letters of cougars coming down mountainsides and shotguns standing ready at the cabin door (a cabin he made with his bare hands, hewing logs and sliding them down the hillside, chinking the spaces in between with mud and water from the British Columbian creekbed.)
I didn’t have a father. I had a hero, a god, a myth. When I was 14 and read Edith Hamilton’s mythology book for freshman English, I related to those children whose fathers had come down from the heavens for a roll in the hay, leaving a fatherless baby behind – a baby who’d wonder about her heritage, a baby who’d wish to be normal like everyone else.
So I sort of get it when our oldest son wonders who he is and where he came from. But it doesn’t mean I know what to do when he acts out as he’s doing now. I was too much of a people pleaser in my younger days for the antics he’s pulling.
Every day, it’s something.
Either he lied to us about his homework, became too wild on the playground, snooped around in the house and took something that didn’t belong to him.
Our friends and the experts tell us to spend more time with him, to pay him more attention, to make sure he’s secure in our love for him.
But since he’s pushing our buttons, that’s not what his father and I want to do. We want to give him a swift kick in the pants. We want to send him to his room. We want him to control his impulsive behavior so we’re not embarrassed. We want him to self-regulate so we don’t have to constantly check our own anger at the door before confronting him.
We want, gulp, all of this to be easier.
I no longer boast biceps from curling infant carrier seats, and I no longer wake up at 6:00 a.m. to the persistent squeak of crib coils under jumping baby feet, but I am strong and tired for other reasons … inextricable reasons that promise to keep me fettered for far more than 18 years … yes, now I know what my friend meant when she said it got harder. The older they get, the less control you have over what they do. Our kids need us as much – or more – when they’re older than they did when they were younger. It’s just that the old bag of tricks doesn’t work anymore.
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Category: Busy in Bristow