Raising a teenager, so far, can be summed up with two words: emotional whiplash.
My relationship with my 14-year-old is a sweet one. He still talks to me, confides in me, and wants my opinion on his myriad interests. He still hugs me goodnight and, come morning, asks if I slept well. Our relationship is most enjoyable one-on-one.
Yet, we are in the throes of hormonal roller coasters, and with that comes unpredictability. One minute, my teen is witty, intuitive, and putting away laundry that he cleaned himself without prompting. The next minute he’s arguing a moot point, pestering his little brother for kicks, and dragging his feet on everything I need him to do with audible groans to boot.
One minute I get a glimpse of him as an adult; the next minute, we’ve time-traveled back to toddlerhood. One day, he’s a dream; the next, aliens ate his brain.
This is normal, I’m told, and if memory serves, I remember the unexpected — and unforgiving — shifts in mood and tone during my own middle and early high school years. Fluctuating hormones create a cruel little elixir that prompt us parents to pick our battles, stand our ground, and love our teens when they’re the most unlovable.
I am under no illusion that it will get easier. In fact, I expect it to get harder. We’re still at the start line, as far as I’m concerned, which is why I look for moments to savor.
They aren’t so sparse that I have to search my memory bank for that last tender moment, but we’ve had days of tension, weeks of removed privileges and accompanying bad attitudes, and long, sufferable stretches of wondering what in the world got under his skin.
That’s why, over the weekend, when a moment came upon me, I paused. It was Saturday morning and he came in our bedroom, where I was reading, to retrieve his iPod from the small table in the corner where it charges overnight. Instead of going into the living room or another public space in the house, he sprawled out on our bed next to the cat and, subsequently, next to me. He asked if I slept well. I said yes and returned the same question. Then he went on to play a game and I pretended to return to my book.
Instead, my attention was on him.
At fourteen, he looked huge. Immediately I considered that he could be driving with a permit in less than a year.
Did his voice sound deeper? Yes, I think it did.
He needs new jeans, I remembered, because he’d outgrown the one last pair that still fit.
Did he actually need something from me this morning? Or did he just want a place to rest?
I recalled something my older sister told me — that sons tend to argue with their moms more often because they feel safe. Perhaps that’s true. Perhaps that answers the previous question.
I consider it a triumph to be mindful of these things in the heat of an argument or when I’m otherwise distracted. Depending upon his elevated argument or my immature reply, it can be hard to remember that he is the child and I am the adult. In the midst of our most challenging moments, when emotions are high on both ends, I effort to remember this line from Masterminds & Wingmen: “All of the reasons you love him are still right there alongside whatever else made him do this thing you’re now dealing with.”
Sure enough, the sweet Saturday morning moment did not last. We quarreled briefly that afternoon and again on Monday morning. Thankfully, the spats were insignificant and didn’t last. We will have countless more points of tension between now and eternity, and soon, my second son will step into the role of the hormonal teen who crawls onto Mom’s bed for a moment of peace.