“You don’t care about me, and you never have.”
Today, I took a slapshot – a hockey puck of disdain and contempt delivered squarely to my face by my 9 year-old son.
All the heavy emotional padding I put on as a mother, all the various masks of patience and steely resolve I don to get through this Job of Parenting, was not enough to absorb the sting of his words.
I’d like to return the shot. That is my instinct, the first responder to my hurt. Maybe I have even taught him how to do this.
Instead, I breathe, and opt for a terse and logical speech outlining just some of all that I do – and have done for him - that proves I care.
The words that once would have stirred up remorse in him now sound tinny and lame, like something from a bad soap opera. He no longer buys it. His anger toward me eclipses my logic.
I watch him as he looks down at the floor and thinks.
I feel it.
This is not him having A Bad Day. The tectonic plates that are our life, our relationship together, have somehow permanently shifted underneath me today, an otherwise ordinary Thursday morning.
He has not delivered the slapshot to manipulate me into getting what he wants. He delivered it because he might actually believe it – that I don’t always have his best interests in mind.
This is the beginning of our new normal. What life is like with a tween, then teen.
It is time to leave for school. When we arrive, he walks ahead of us.
Little CEO says, “I can erase minds, Mom. What words would you like me to erase for you?”
I say, “I’d like for you to erase your brother saying I don’t care about him.”
It’s a passive-aggressive move on my part, but I want him to know: you hurt me.
Because my skin is not yet thick enough for this, this doubt he feels toward me, this momentary flash of contempt. I have not yet donned the mask of steely resolve needed to be a parent of an adolescent. I am an open target.
He stutter-steps, for just a moment, then keeps walking.
We arrive at the schoolyard and he stops and turns to me. He barely has to lift his chin skyward to meet my gaze, he’s so tall.
With my sunglasses on, I look into his eyes – two impossibly beautiful black olives that have been with him since the day he was born.
This is his peace offering. I think back to all the nights I’ve tucked him into bed and whispered, “Please don’t ever change. You’re such a good kid.”
“Bye, buddy. Have a good day, okay?”
I hug him and he hugs me back.
I turn my face into his hair and whisper, “Please don’t be mad at me, buddy. I can’t bear you being mad at me.”
“Mom? Take your sunglasses off.”
“I can’t, buddy. I’m crying.”
“It’ll be okay, Mom, okay? Don’t cry.”
“Okay. Go play now and have a great day. I’ll see you afterschool.”
He walks away from me and joins his friends.
I wistfully smile at no one but myself, as the plates continue to shift underneath me.