I got longer than most Moms. More hugs, more “I love you’s”, more devotion from my son than any other Mom I know. That was, until he turned 14 years and two months old. In one overnight sleep from Tuesday to Wednesday, an uneventful week by anyone’s standards, my son woke up one day…a teenager.
On paper he’d been a teen for over a year, but he was still in my arms, or hanging by my side, and filled the house daily-often hourly-with professions of love. He would literally yell from another room, “Mom!” “What?” “I love you!” Apparently, if you’ve experienced this type of sensitive, loving boy at all in your home, it usually only lasts until about age twelve.
So, as I said, I got longer than most. Instead of being grateful, I was appalled. At his scoffs at dinner food, at his rolling of eyes, and barely-there embraces before going to sleep at night. The grunts which replaced the words ‘yes’ and ‘no’ were maddening! Usually one to laugh easily and often, he began purposely moving his mouth around in contorted ways to avoid any expression of having fun with his family. He would leave the room rather than let us see him smile. If you asked me then, the friends who said that his behavior was “normal” should have be put into therapy. “This is not normal!” I would wail.
Approximately 14 years and three months into my new son’s existence, we traveled to Florida for spring break. I only had one rule: no texting. This vacation was for us as a family. Guess who broke the rule the first day and every day until the phone died? Guess who forgot that I have access to verizonwireless.com and can see all texts? After revoking the beloved phone privileges, I fully expected instant remorse on my son’s face. After all, this was a child whose heart-on-the-sleeve sweetness was the envy of my girlfriends. This time, all I saw was pure anger. He was angry? Who broke the rule here? Again, my friend reminded me, “This is perfectly normal.”
For weeks following the consequence, my son schlepped around without picking up his feet. He barely spoke to any of us in the house. He complained about everything. At nausea. He needed a new folder and asked if I would go out and pick it up – that night. I said we could both jump in the car and go get one. “Ugh. Can’t you just go get it?!” I laughed. Loud. He opted to search out a munched, crunched, written-all-over, used folder from the mountain of “teaching supplies” my younger daughter keeps in her playroom.
Alien-like behavior ensued for a really –l–o–n–g– 18 months. Our entire family was tortured by his nasal grunting, shuffling feet, excessively loud exhales accompanied by eye rolls, and a daily “who-gives-a-poop” attitude (this was the most irritating). He made his sisters cry. There were cyclical periods of disobedience followed by the exhausting task of disciplining. I experienced floods of anger right back at him. Other days, I would remain eerily calm in spite of his nastiness. Many mornings, I wept on my knees upon his departure for school. Throughout the 18 months I still said, “I love you” when he left for school, but he said nothing in response. I murmured, cried, and sometimes yelled countless prayers to God, filled with unease that he was “on the wrong path”. Anxiety plagued me: Had I babied him? Should I have made him do his own laundry? Make his own sandwiches? Should I have prayed more since his birth? Was I to blame?
Then, as suddenly as the foreigner entered our home, he just as swiftly exited. Inexplicably, without warning, another regular day by anyone’s standards, my son said, “I love you” in response to my “I love you” when he was leaving for school. He climbed into my husband’s car and I shut the door.
Only a Mom can understand the overwhelming flood of emotion that instantly rose up from my stomach to my throat, forcing me to turn around, choking out a cheerful “goodbye!”, as if nothing out-of-the-ordinary had occurred. Walking into the house, my face contorted. I covered my mouth with my hand, and water poured down my cheeks. Emotion ensued for a good, long time that morning, thankfulness to God overwhelming me.
My son wouldn’t become an empty, hardened criminal after all. The casual “I love you” expanded nearly overnight, into doing chores without complaint, picking up his feet, laughing again with his sisters….
As I finish typing this, my now 16-year old son yelled from the basement, “Mom!” “What?” “I love you!” Ugh, the joy and the pain.