The rites of passage in America are way too simple for our kids. Instead of participating in barbaric ceremonies, our children enjoy parties that send them into adulthood. Sweet sixteen, bar and bat mitzvahs, quinceaneras, secret keg parties, the list goes on. Most of these celebrations happen at some point in the teen years. As my kids have recently moved into their teens, the last thing I want to do is have a party for them, my son especially. I don’t mean to pick on him. I would die for him but he has become an enormous prick and I’m told to expect several years of this. Say what?? This last year has surely been in dog years and I’m not up for many more.
I understand it’s a phase. I really do. His brain is still growing and connecting. His identity is morphing and redefined on a daily basis. His hormones are raging and I understand he doesn’t have control of most of the things going on inside of his growing body. I understand he is still the sweet person I’ve known for 14 years (or I’m in denial). I have not lost the boy who loves reptiles and has a gentle disposition (but this cocky teenager ate him). I still believe he’ll do much good in the world and I know he makes his friends really happy by being nice and funny. The other parents love him. I still love him very much but he reserves a special, secret part of himself for only me. It’s the satanic, lunatic self he saves just for me. Yaay.
Of course I’m really dumb in his eyes as is his dad (but I’m the dumbest). I can’t understand the challenges and social pressure he deals with on a daily basis. I was never fourteen so I have no clue. It’s true I was never a boy. Beyond this difference, I recall adolescence quite well. I wouldn’t do it again. I try to refrain from telling him that he’s got it pretty good and at least his parents are around to blame for everything though I often secretly think these sorts of things. I love thinking because it can be secret every single time.
My son, once a rational, sympathetic and kind soul now transits into a seething, over reactive, manipulative organism. He cherry picks sentences from my lectures and swears that I habitually target him. If I tell him he’s acting like a jerk, then I think he’s a jerk. If I tell him he needs to work harder, then I called him dumb. If I use sarcasm and irony, two things he understands, to prove my point, then I was completely serious in his version. Though I know he knows better, he simply loves to argue and be the victim.
Even when I’m nice to him he is a jerk. Just this weekend I said, “Next year if you can get the homecoming list of events to me the weekend beforehand, maybe we can get everything you need to participate in the daily activities.” (This year we were unable to get everything he needed due to a lack of timely information.) He replied, “Well, I knew everything that was going on you just didn’t listen” in a tone that suggested I was quite stupid. I imagined grabbing the iron pole we passed and mashing him in the head with it. Is that wrong?
He can still be really nice and enjoyable which makes it hard for me to commit to my plan of burning his things and renting his room. His mood swings are unpredictable. If the moods would mimic the California ocean mist and hover in the morning, drifting off in the evening to reveal a lovely sunset, I could handle it. But there is no preparation for the change. Like the earth’s constantly shifting plates that most cannot see or feel, my son’s moods and driving factors are always moving and an earthquake (or slight tremor, who knows?) may occur at any time. Isn’t there some sort of infrared scope I can buy to detect the activity and prepare me for the coming maelstrom?
It doesn’t matter how many childhood development books I read or websites I query, I still dislike him when he’s being the cool version of himself. He’s so condescending. Condescending to me? What is that about? And it’s always about something of which he truly cannot have knowledge like when to get an oil change. I try to remember times I was condescending to him but I still can’t recall taking that tone with him. I guess it’s an art all his own. He’s really good at it.
It takes a while for me to become a nonsensical, enraged, screaming, unhinged maniac. Typically I sit back and practice staying calm. I try to understand and make sense of the situation. I call upon empathy in an attempt to help diffuse the angst he feels. The next phase is still calm but it involves my wondering what I did in his toddler years to produce the recent results. I waste my time troubleshooting because I know it’s impossible to go back in time and fix that one mistake I must have made which set us on this course. I’d like to at least apologize.
Sarcasm is my weapon in the third phase because I’ve lost my patience. He throws up erroneous and specific but misplaced “facts” to support his ideas such as his sister is the favorite, I wish he’d play sports, I don’t support anything he wants to do or be, I never want to go to reptile shows, I ignore him (oh if only I could!), that I don’t understand what he deals with at school, that I favor the wrong dog and I simply agree with the claim. I sometimes embellish his point with contradicting facts hoping he’ll see the idiocy in his claims; hoping he’ll see all that I do for him and how much I truly care. I sometimes think I’ll make it through my sarcasm to a point of true communication or at least comic relief. Oh silly me.
My fourth phase of dealing with his incessant, maddening attitude is a complete breakdown and temper tantrum. When I was a child I threw terrible fits. I would become enraged and scream and cry and the neighbors heard me. They confronted me about my volume and I was filled with shame and embarrassment so I stopped for about 37 years. But here I am again, screaming and incoherent. Luckily we live out in the middle of the desert. Our neighbors recently built walls around their homes for privacy (that’s what they said). They can’t hear me when I snap and become the raging idiot, spewing obscenities and listing all of my good deeds and generosities. They don’t hear the emotional “whoosh” as I slip into the insanity toilet. They don’t hear me recount my own adolescent struggles, noting how spoiled my son is; how comparatively easy he has it. I know he’s happy when he breaks me down and I go berserk. I know he’s satisfied when my inner demons emerge and I become the true lunatic I am.
You may say, “Don’t engage.” That’s great advice. I do walk away a lot. But walking away isn’t always the answer, especially when he tears into his sister who truly has done nothing at all. You may think, “Use consistency.” To that I say, “HAHAHAHAHAHA, you so funny!” I think the parents who deal with teenagers evenly and consistently are emotionally detached if not a bit cold and maybe even sociopathic. Maybe I’m immature and emotionally deranged and that’s why my teenager can send me to Looney town. But I want to stress that my trip to Looney town takes time. I don’t simply catch the bus. I look for other routes every time. Instead of my trip to Looney town, I need to send him somewhere.
So let’s go back to this rites of passage thing with which I began my essay. I think the current celebrations are too easy and fail to leave the RITE impression (clever me). Parties that cost too much, money given, fancy clothing, some blessings and what has the kid learned? Nothing!! He hasn’t changed. He only made money for doing nothing at all!!! He’ll still argue the next day. I know it. I have seen it. He’ll still tell his mom she neglected to get him to an important function because she hates him, not because she had no idea it was going on. In other words, these rituals don’t stop the kid from being a temporary but manipulative prick.
I’ve researched many ancient traditions which mark the passage into manhood. Most are now considered criminal and medieval. I do like the idea of the non-invasive, ancient Aboriginal Walkabout that involves a six month, solo trek into nature. Through this experience, the boy becomes a man. Six months seems too short so I propose a year. Six months is ample time for the kid (my kid) to build an arsenal of false evidence based on past experience to attack his mother (me) with upon return. But an entire year allows time for fear and starvation to put this sort of “fact finding” exercise in the rightful place of meaninglessness. After a year in a loin cloth facing wild animals, storms and spiders I am almost positive my son will return as the person I know and love; the person who isn’t a prick. If he won’t go, I think I will.