Thursday, March 3, 2011

It's Probably Time to Talk About the Alien

"Confidence is fleeting," Ryan said to me one day. He was quoting Joe Montana or Joe Namath or somebody who never had any business being un-confident.

It hit me like a football to the back of the head. Confidence is fleeting, I thought. I used to have some, but where has it gone? It's a haunting feeling, knowing it was there one minute and gone the next, like that favorite pair of sunglasses that grew legs and walked away unannounced. Apparently I had been storing my confidence supply in the claw-footed bathtub of my psyche. The one with an apparent leak. 'Cause it's gone, baby, gone.

The timing is wretched. First, I lost (most of) my job. But then (and more upsetting, it seems) my son's voice dropped an octave and he started giving off strange vibes. My vibe-reading told me that he suddenly had no interest in carrying on a conversation with me and that my opinion on anything and everything was completely irrelevant. Pesky, even. There were stronger vibes, ones that invited me to cease from interacting with his friends, teachers, coaches, and any other acquaintances that met him first. He would, I surmised, admit our relationship to others strictly on a need-to-know basis.

It's not just me, either (which helps my confidence a smidge). Ryan took him to school one morning after a dentist appointment. He walked in the building with our son, only to find himself suddenly several paces behind. He started to say something to him in the crowded hallway and was met with a quick "We don't know each other" glance, followed by a bionic stride to distance the two of them by at least two zip codes. Guilt by disassociation.

"It was the strangest thing," Ryan said to me afterward. He confronted Christian about it later that same night, who plead innocent.

"What was that all about?" Ryan asked him. "I work with kids your age all the time. I'm young and cool. Why would you be embarrassed of me?"

I hated to break it to him, but stating that you're young and cool sort of immediately invalidates the claim. Christian whatevered us both with a shrug and went downstairs in the basement to obliterate rival villains/sports teams/spy networks with his Playstation controller.

"I feel like he's lost to me," I said. The words tumbled out of my mouth before I'd even had time to think about them. But that's how it feels a lot of the time. Sure, there are moments of lucidity, when his pre-teen self bobs to the surface to mingle with us---he might laugh at one of our jokes or voluntarily remain in the same room---but they are bittersweet moments that never last for long. Sooner or later, a text comes through on his cell phone, and he dives back down into the deep blue new world of his adolescence.

I find that every time I talk to him, I'm telling him what to do, what to straighten, what to pick up, what to tuck in, what to comb, what to read, and what to take his feet off of. It's like an involuntary act, a form of Parenting Turrets Syndrome, which has so much less to do with his need for regulation and so much more to do with my need to remind myself that I'm his mom.

I had confidence before Christian was born, right up until the moment they put him in my arms to send us home from the hospital together. Any confidence I gained after that point was hard earned, but eventually it came. I got comfortable in our routines, and for a long while I sort of knew what I was doing. I should know by now that those feelings of self-assurance (particularly in the realm of parenting) are the quiet before the scream, the calm before the storm, the smooth side of Life's sandpaper.

My friend once said that her children were taken over at age 12 by alien life forms, only to be returned mostly unscathed at age 20. She came to accept it, expect it, and eventually laugh about it. It seemed like a sweet anecdote to me at the time. You know, when my kid was six and liked to snuggle before bedtime. (Waaaaaaaaaaa!)

This afternoon I ran an errand, heading to a place I hadn't been before. I plugged the address into the GPS in my car and put the car in drive. I pulled out of my driveway, and was flooded with memories of using that GPS every time I stepped outside my door when we first moved here. I practically needed it to find the mailbox. Back then I couldn't imagine the day would ever arrive that I would drive out on my own, knowing exactly where I was going and precisely how to get there. I honestly don't remember when I stopped needing it every day; it's been quite a while now. I guess it's just the way things go. The unimaginable slowly becomes the norm. The days we think will never come arrive without announcement.

I'm going to remind myself that it's a good thing.

18 comments:

Dede said...

You're such a talented writer, Tiff. You should write a book :)

CSIowa said...

Yes.

Christy said...

Don't worry, they come back to you when they start dating.

You speak girl language you see which will become vitally important to him very, very soon.

Suddenly your opinion will matter,he will seek your advice & you my friend will be back in the loop!

Lindy-Lou said...

I'm so glad I had last October with him. I hope he will walk beside me in June, maybe help me across a busy street.

Soul-Fusion said...

Christian made me a promise that he'd still talk to me when he morphed into a teenager a couple of years ago . . . I'm going to hold him to it. Because I'm cool, right?

Artax said...

Wonderful writing. Now I need to go wake up my 6 year old for a snuggle.

Bri said...

Oh no. Oh no...... Oh. No. Don't tell me these things. My baby is only two and I can't imagine not wanting bed time snuggles. I almost cried at the thought. Can we obliterate the aliens? Is it too late? I will hate it when I'm in your shoes... (please tell me your a size ten...) Ugh to teenagers and poo on the once-loved-above-all-else moms becoming the enemy.

Kate said...

So... is the title a reference to "The Only Alien on the Planet"? Teenagers are fun. I don't know what you are talking about. Oh, wait. I'm still a teenager and therefore think that I never cause my parents any anguish. Please ignore everything I say. It all stems from a subconscious narcissist belief that I can do no wrong.

Becky said...

Oh my heart. I can't believe how old he is getting! And my boy is following him right around the corner! I hadn't really thought about how our relationship might change in the very near future. You have given me something to think about, that's for sure. Nicole and I have always been so close and so I always assumed that Isaac would be the same way. I'm not ready for this!

Thank you for sharing your thoughts so beautifully with us!

kami @ nobiggie.net said...

I'm sad for you two. I'm sooo not ready for that phase. I do think it's a phase, and I do think you have to make a big effort as a parent at this time.

Excellent writing.

buddens said...

I'm still in the wonderfully naive stage of parenting where my kids love snuggling every day. My daughter even loves to call the two of us "twinner girls." I keep telling myself my kids will be the exceptions and want to snuggle forever. (yeah right!) I don't know what I'll do when we arrive at that stage! I so feel for you! stupid independence.

And I'm in love with the line "Parenting Turrets Syndrome" ha! Genius.

lizzie said...

oh, i am scared for anna and me. just do what shawn and i did, tiff. have yourself another baby or two. they will still want snuggles when anna and mikey are aliens, right?

Ali said...

I have made mine swear not to turn into smelly, grunting teenagers. But somehow I think it's out of our hands (mine and theirs). Already the school brush off is in evidence. Though their friends still run up to chat with me!

alex dumas said...

Well, here's a boost for you, Tiffany: you can still write a stinking good essay.

Angie said...

I'm a little late commenting! I'm sorry this day has come. Does it sounds dumb to say, "Don't take it personally"? As you may know I don't have kids, but I have for a while now felt like I'm not really part of the girls' world anymore. It's no fun. I'm sure that deep down he still loves you as much as he ever did, and probably needs you even more.

John said...

Ah I wish I had some "experienced older brother"words of wisdom. But the truth is you just kind of muddle through. But your instincts are right about calling out your teens when they act so ... Teen-like. You'll do just fine. Great post.

Mia said...

The paragraph about saying all those things to remind yourself that you are still his mother made so much sense to me! This was beautiful and so heartfelt. I can see all this coming down the road and I have to remind myself not to be afraid of it, but to enjoy where they are now. Because they still like to snuggle and hold my hand and I need to soak up every minute of it.

Omgirl said...

I have had at least two friends talk about the same thing with their first budding teenager this week. AND IT SCARES THE LIVING CRAP OUT OF ME. Seriously. My 5 year old is already an aloof, independent, un-cuddley type. I cannot imagine how my life will be when she is a teenager. But it breaks my heart more to think that my ultra-cuddly, ultra-lovey Momma's boy will also someday be a teenager and won't want me to put his socks on or tickle his ribs or carry him to bed sometimes. Or talk to him, ever. Or be in the same room with him...AGH!!!!

I will be watching you carefully to see how you survive this!

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