Thursday, June 16, 2011

Fighting with the kids is more satisfying in person

This is the first summer I have truly been away from my kids for long stretches of time. It's difficult, though they really are (or should be) self-sufficient by now, having attained the grand old ages of 17 and 15. However, since they have been my personal projects for so long, it is tough saying goodbye to that phase of my life. Bittersweet, with a heavy emphasis on the bitter part at times.

It is a strange feeling, not knowing just what they are doing all day long, trying to keep them busy with errands and housework but not so overloaded that they are resentful. Complicating efforts is that Austin is the new greaseboy at Sonic and is working 5 days a week, with nearly all his shifts starting at 5 pm, right around the time we get home. So we hardly see him. He's certainly not up when I leave to go to work at 6:30 am. However, he is home during the day to keep Andrew entertained/in mischief!

This is a good thing. Andrew has hermitlike tendencies and I envision him in bed, in his underwear, with his iPod, all day long if he were left to his own devices. (Or, possibly, curled up with a good book and his trusty dog, Mimi, sleeping at his side.) He would forget to eat, lose all track of time, abandon personal hygiene, and generally be an unproductive (not to mention stinky), wild-haired and wild-eyed drag on society. He might actually completely withdraw from human society, lose his ability to communicate except with grunts and hand signals, and so on, if allowed to continue this way. Oh yeah, I forgot -- that's pretty much how he communicates right now. This is Andrew's shadow self, which we get to see at home from time to time. In public, he is always quite presentable and fussy about his appearance.

OK, so 1) Andrew and I are two peas in a pod in this respect (my secret desire is to be a hermit too), and 2) I greatly exaggerate (or, well, a little bit anyhow). I'm really not trying to embarrass my son! So now you can imagine us both, in bed and in our underwear all day long. I'd be reading books and blogging, two activities that don't require dressing up, or even brushing of the hair or teeth. So long, makeup, panty hose, skirts and blouses and uncomfortable shoes!

I was shocked, stunned, amazed and confused to learn that my sons had not done as I instructed them, had not gone together yesterday and gotten Father's Day cards and water shoes for a tubing trip tomorrow. I had left a detailed note yesterday morning about running these errands. I had called and reviewed the plan of action with Austin, who sounded like he was completely on board with it. (Yes, my 17-year-old fooled me with a display of interest in something he had no intention of actually doing! That only happens every day.) Despite my note and phone call, something happened to derail the plan. Or maybe, more accurately, nothing happened and inertia prevailed. The mission was unaccomplished, aborted in favor of something more exciting or easier -- perhaps the Wii or Xbox, or a nap.

So I called Austin today around noon to talk about how the plan could have gone so badly awry -- noon being the earliest time of day that he is likely to be awake and fully alert. Here's the problem when you hardly ever see your teenager. Chances are, there are some areas of friction in your relationship already, and it isn't a pleasant feeling to be calling with the express purpose of getting after him about something. Austin would say all my calls are of this nature -- to check up on him, remind him to do this or that, "have you taken your calcium pill today?," "How about those chores?," nag nag nag -- in fact, the regular Jewish mother, I guess!

What I learned was not reassuring. Austin had stopped after his shift ended (at approximately midnight last night) and bought Dad's Day cards to Dad and Grandpa for both him and his brother. And this was supposed to be superior to my plan? I took great offense to this. His brother should have picked out his own cards! I just don't understand Austin's priorities right now at all. The conversation ended with him saying abruptly, "I have to get off the phone, Mom. I'm driving." (I imagined the conversation continuing: "So then why are you answering your phone?" "Because then you'd really be mad, if I was ignoring you!")

I should have gotten into an actual fight with Austin -- we had all the right ingredients -- but he has learned that the best approach to an upset parent is to just say, "uh-huh," in varying tones of sullenness, until we get distracted or run out of time, whichever comes first. Then he goes on and does whatever he wants anyhow. Why? He's 17, that's why. One foot is out the door, and his head is up in the clouds somewhere.

So then I got into a texting argument with Andrew, who started complaining about how he and Austin have no money. (This was all taking place during my lunch break.) By this time I was just itching to get into a fight, and apparently, so was he. That's a 15-year-old for you. At the precise moment Andrew was complaining about being poverty-stricken, the kids were at a restaurant getting ready to eat -- one of their favorite ways of spending money. The irony was rich. Then I called Austin once more to tell him they'd better get those water shoes today, by golly, or else. Then I added, "And tell Andrew that if he's so concerned about his money, he shouldn't be eating out!" So there. Humph.

I hung up and burst into tears, because it sucks that the one time you can talk to your kids, over the phone, it's to argue. So I got it out of my system, expressed my inner drama queen for a moment before morphing back into my better-known self -- the utterly composed, cool as a cucumber Julie Smith, CPA. Fortunately, my office is quite private and no one was around to wonder about my little tantrum except my plant, Maxwell, who wasn't offended at all.

As far as the rest of the summer ... Austin is busy with his new job, and Andrew will be busy in a few weeks with the usual culprits -- VBS helper, mission tripper, zoo naturalist (just two weeks scheduled for now), and as my travelling companion to go visit my sister in Virginia the end of July. So right now, they can sleep late and laze around the house -- but just a bit! Otherwise, my Puritan work ethic gets offended.

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