It starts with the kitchen trash, of course. You know you’re supposed to take it out. It’s Tuesday. Why do I have to tell you every week? I asked you twice. I left you a Post-it. It’s overflowing. You’re part of this little family of you and me, and you need to show some responsibility.
OTHER MOM ESSAYS IN THIS SERIES:
- My Mom Had Me at 18 and When My Daughter Was 18, I Got It
- Why My Old Journals Make Me a Better Mom
- A Big Shout-Out to the Working Moms, Mine Especially
- Notes from a Proud Mom and Her Teen Drag Queen
- Here Is a List of All the Ways I’ve Turned into My Mom
- Confessions of a Hypocrite Mom
- Mom to College Kid: Text Me, Maybe
- My Mom Was a Sex Therapist But Don’t Ask Me to Have the Talk
- What Mom Got Right—Even When She Messed Up
- And Now My Kids Are Moms
Seconds later, we are both yelling, and then there is stomping and a big, loud, dramatic slamming of a bedroom door.
I stand in my room, bent at the waist, head hanging down, hands on my knees, as the blood roars in my ears. Someone in the back of my mind turns on the Wisdom Jukebox, and I hear Michael Stipe singing, “Oh no, I’ve said too much.”
I don’t want to be here, physically or emotionally. I want to be a “good example” for my son.
But dammit, they’re called teenagers because they age you. And not just the white hair and the white knuckles, but the moments in which, looking at them, your own teenage life flashes on the movie screen in your mind (it’s a total entertainment center up there, apparently)—and those years are so far away. And yet here they are, those years, standing right in front of you, blinking blankly, wondering what TH is up with you.
What is up with me?
In the safety of my room, I suddenly see it: It’s not that my son cannot grasp that the trash matters. That’s not what’s killing me. It’s that he is living in this profound in-between, and the sheer poignancy of these years is crushing. He looks like a grown-up, but he isn’t: He’s a lumbering beast at 6'1", with questionable habits of hygiene, really excellent manners, no real sense of direction in his life yet and a big, wide-open heart that’s still forming. And it’s going by so fast.
I have come to understand that these moments when I lose control—when I am forced to surrender my front that adult life is made of simple rules you follow (like, say, taking out the kitchen trash)—what is really making me angry is what he doesn’t know. What he can’t know. And what I do not want him to know, until he absolutely has to. Hopefully years from now.
Sh*t gets hard, Zack. Like, whoa hard.
How will I know you are ready if you can’t remember to take out the kitchen trash?
Big exhale. And Michael Stipe is singing to me again, this time telling me that I haven’t said enough.
I head down the hallway, padding in bare feet. I knock on his door and open it a crack.
He stands up with his arms extended to invite me into a hug. I put up my hand to block him and say, “No.”
Then I say I’m sorry. And that it is not OK for me to scream like that—even if I am his mom. And that I feel humiliated, but that’s what life is like sometimes, and that feeling of humiliation is a cue. All you can do when it happens is own up to your anger and take responsibility for it. Clean it up as if you made a spill. End the argument. Take deep breaths. Hug someone you love.
I open my arms and we embrace. “It’s no big deal, Mom,” he says.
But it is a big deal. All of it.