Life with Teenagers

Archive for September 2009

gauge this

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“Mom can we go to the mall now?” My youngest teen has been home only moments and he sits typing away at the computer still wearing his jacket. It’s Sunday. It’s raining. And I’m in my polar bear lime green pajamas with my bowl of popcorn between my legs, lounging on the teen couch, and zoning out into a lifetime channel on-demand movie about Georgia O’Keeffe. Damn, she just left Steiglitz and is on her way to Taos. I sit up on the edge of the couch pretending to unwrap myself from the blankets and start shouting out orders to “Check the website,” “Oh, and make sure you get the hours of the store,” Find out how much this is going to cost” “and if they can do it today” He’s sending her letters- the bastard- and this is where she discovers the desert and the white animal bones. The list of directives would buy me more time with my older teen. I might even be able to finish another half hour of the movie before he would wander back in the darkened room and chastise me about the time. Not with this teen.
“Mom are you dressed? he asks. “They are open until six. It will cost about $25 for both ears. Want me to mapquest the way?”

The last place I want to be, other than the dreaded grocery store, is the mall. But I promised.

He has been texting me pleas for weeks. “This is the only thing I want, mom.” I don’t remind him that the third skateboard is the only thing he wanted. And that was after a bmx bike he is still paying me back for, and that was after two concert tickets to hear death metal bands. And that was after the dew tour. But ok, this is the same kid who mows my girlfriend’s lawn weekly with expert precision, parking the John Deere only inches from the wall in the garage, leaving plenty of room to spare on the side of the jeep. It’s the same kid who scored in the advanced level on his MCAS test for english and math with 100% in algebra, who agreed to stay in the honors math class even though he hates it, who is going to try the leaders group for his brother, even though it could tarnish his dark and brooding skater reputation.
“I’m agreeing to pierced ears only.”
“But mom, I really want the gauges.”

“Why can’t he just dye his hair blue, or pierce his nose, or his eyebrow, or wear all black with studded sneakers? I can deal with that,” I said to my girlfriend on our way out the door of the tattoo parlor only weeks before.
“I think gauges are a pretty cool look actually. But I can understand why you might want him to be a little older first,” she replied smiling.
“You know, your tattoo artist had the best book,” I said, while wrapping my arm around her waist on our walk to the car. “In the other book, I saw pictures of a grown man with a life-size color tattoo of his mother on his torso with the words ‘First my mother, now my friend.’ Now why on earth would anybody want to to do that?”
“Don’t tell your mother that,” she smiled.
“I’m serious. God. And it’s so permanent. Which brings me back to my son. If it just wasn’t so permanent. Do you realize he could have a giant hole in his earlobes and really regret that some day? Do you think I’m overreacting?” I asked her.
“Well, why don’t you let him get his ears pierced first and then see.”

I look over now at my son printing out the mapquest directions to the mall as I walk through the room in search of my shoes. My girlfriend’s moderate sentiments, and my own about the permanence of body disfigurement, are ringing in my ears.

Who am I kidding? I’m never going to get the deep rivulets of purple out of my inner thighs, or the silvery etchings of lines off of my lower belly. I can twist my body in a yoga pose, sweat and strain uphill on a power walk, maybe even eventually sculpt shapely arms and burn off some excess jiggle. But without surgery, I’m also never going to get the girls to stand upright again. No, the lines on my breasts from nursing two babies are indelibly marked. And what of it?

This is my body art. My girlfriend will soon have her black tribal back markings with their special significance only to her. My son may very well stretch his earlobes beyond a respectable pin prick size as a constant reminder of his skateboarding days. And when I pull on a pair of jeans, I will pause for a moment to let my fingertips trace the outline of the deep scars that childbirth left on my body as a permanent gauge of who I am and what is forever important to me.

And with that I pull on my sweatshirt, grab my keys, and look at my son. “Ok, I’m ready now if you are.”


Written by kmguay

September 28, 2009 at 1:54 am

Posted in body art, teenagers

Tagged with , , ,

statistically speaking

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n541933000_820157_846My 16-yr-old and his girlfriend sit side by side at the computer desk. She holds a paperback book in front of her face and he leans in front of her to grab and click around with the mouse on the opposite side. “Facebook isn’t homework,” I say on my way by, passing through the dining room still dragging the vacuum cleaner by the handle behind me. He flips the screen off and opens up a word doc. In the top right hand corner he has typed his name, the date, and the words “statistics paper”.

“I see you have made great progress in the last hour,” I say, pausing to grab the pile of paperwork on the dining table with my free hand.
The screen flips off and on again showcasing the drivers ed website.
“We’ve finished the schedule you wanted me to make,” he says, motioning to the papers on the desk “Take a look, mom.”

“The schedule?” I try not to sound as amazed and tense as I feel. Only days earlier, my girlfriend put her hand on my knee under the table in one of her “easy now” gestures as mom and teen both started to raise their voices. “No drivers ed until I see a detailed schedule of all of your commitments!” was my decree to a scowling overwrought teen sitting in front of a half eaten plate of food.

And then again the next night, I wailed in the darkness of the bedroom “He is overextended, It’s going to be like last year, He won’t finish homework, He will fail out of high school.”
“Shhhhh okay, okay,” she said. “But Kris, you are going to have to help him with this schedule, you know that right? He is going to need your help.”

“Mom, can you look at the schedule?” he asks again and from across the room I start firing questions.
“Did you fit in the three nights I need you home for dinner?
“How about your leaders meetings?”
“Thursday nights.”
“And your job?”
“Three afternoons from three to six.”
“And is there time for homework?”
“And what about your girlfriend, did you save some time for her?” His girlfriend gives him a playful nudge on his arm and he smiles back at me.
“Yeah she’s in there too.”

I don’t have a comeback for all this forethought and organization.
“Just get that paper done and I’ll look closely at it later,” I call out from the kitchen now while starting to clear off the cutting board. The front door opens and closes and I hear my girlfriend adressing the teens in the other room. I lean over to search under the cabinet for the metal mixing bowl as she turns the corner ranting about her exasperating day.
“And I get all the way there and I realize that I forgot the cleaning so I have to turn back again. Oh and then!”
I pull out the container of olives from the fridge, the block of parmesan cheese, a lemon, and the container of mesclun greens and start piling them on the counter. She stands directly in front of me for a moment, catching my eyes. “Enough about me, how was your day?”
“My son did his schedule” I whisper.
“What!? Oh my god, that’s great!” she whispers back. “God damn!”
I dump the greens into the bowl and douse them with a squeeze of the lemon and juice runs down my hand and arm.
“Wow! I’m really proud of that boy. Kris, that is great,” she says again handing me a towel.
“I know I know, but…” I say and the “I know buts” start to pour out of my mouth as easily as the olive oil that slides out of the overturned bottle I shake onto the greens.
“Kris,” she says again, “Really, it is great.”

And it IS great. So why am I so skeptical? Why is my first reaction so often a critical doubting one? I’m not like this with his brother.
“That’s because you have no faith in me, mom!” These words have often assaulted me, spraying forth from my oldest son’s mouth in the kitchen while both of us yell back and forth at each other. And he is right. I have a very hard time having faith in him.

He is a lot like his father and not much like his brother. He has his father’s easy loving way, his fast-talking storytelling ease, his humor. They both can light up a room, shine in the spotlight at a party, go out of their way to help a stranger. But I didn’t have any faith in his father either. For reasons I couldn’t even explain at the time, I wanted more from my marriage and I was sure he couldn’t give it to me. I wanted out.

We carry the plates of salad through the dining room and over to the living room couch, passing by the teen who is now rapidly typing away at his paper.
“So why are you writing a paper on statistics anyway?” my girlfriend asks taking a stab at the lettuce on her plate with a fork, “I thought this class was more about numbers and word problems?”

“Mr Fahazad wants us to write about why statistics matter, how they make a difference in the world, how they relate to me, “he says. He rattles off talk of how they are important to coaches, how you rely on them when you check the weather, etc…. and my girlfriend listens and nods in approval back at him while eating her salad. And as they talk, my mind starts to wander. What do I know about statistics that I can add to the conversation except that I am one? A divorced woman who just left another long term relationship only a year ago. I have read the statistics that say that pretty much half of all marriages end in divorce. And if you are foolish enough to even attempt to test fate again and choose to get remarried, according to the statistics, almost 70% of us hopeless humans will file for divorce again.

But in love and parenting, should you follow the statistical evidence? Or should you just follow your heart? What do I really care about what the statistics say when I look over and see my girlfriend patting my slacker teen on the back for his great job of thinking through the assignment and doing the work? No, my odds are on my third and last attempt to find the right partner. And I’d put all my money on my teen’s ability to surprise me despite what appears to be an overwhelming mountain of evidence to the contrary.

Now, just don’t anybody tell Mr. Fahazad.

Written by kmguay

September 16, 2009 at 1:26 am

mamas got a big butt

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“What’s for dinner mom?” says one of the teens passing me on his way through the kitchen.

I’m standing at the cutting board chopping lettuce, tomatoes, and yellow pepper and tossing them in my big metal mixing bowl. I motion to the bowl of pasta I just removed from the microwave and slid over to the side on the counter.

“Sweet! mac and cheese,” he says.

“Yep,” I answer back, “Just a little. And you and I can split this small piece of meatball calzone.”

I lean over to the oven and open the door to reveal two bread wrapped meat, cheese, and sauce wedges bubbling at the edges. I grab one and slice it in half into two tiny squares. I fill up more than half of our two plates with salad, the rest with two small spoonfuls of pasta and a postage-size piece of calzone. I fill the 16-yr-old’s plate full with a huge wedge, a pile of macaroni and not so much as a hint of a lettuce leaf and place all three plates on the table.

“Mom this is awesome,” says the 16-yr-old barely sitting and already with his mouth full of meat. “Hey listen.”

He motions to his brother and starts to rap.

I like big butts and I cannot lie”

The other teen chimes right in and they both sing in unison.

“You other brothers can’t deny”

Now they tap their hands together on the side of the table.

“When a girl walks in with that itty bitty waist, and that round thing all up in your face. You get sprung.”

The two of them break into laughter.

“That’s nice guys,” I say while taking a sip from my wine glass and shaking my head.

But ironically, my own butt has been on my mind all day. I have a wedding to attend on the weekend and a limited wardrobe these days. I take another sip of my wine and start contemplating my clothing options.

“So mom,” says the 16-yr-old sitting directly across from me, “I don’t understand why you don’t go for those really hot girly girl types.”

He stabs a forkful of noodles and jams them in his mouth. I’m way too weary for this tonight and so I try to change the subject.

“Are you wearing your brother’s shirt?” I say.

The other teen speaks up, “You bought him that shirt remember? And it had a long sleeve one too that went-”

“Yeah but I like it alone just as a t-shirt” his brother interrupts.

“And you bought him those skinny jeans. I like my skinny jeans too.” He stands up and backs away from the table to show me the full length of his jean-clad lower body.

“I think they look good on you,” I say back offering encouragement where its needed. And then I add, “Ugh. I don’t know when I’m going to feel good in a pair of jeans again.”

“You are not fat, mom,” says the 14-yr-old.

“Oh my god, I just let out the biggest fart,” says the 16-yr-old.

Ok, now the meal is officially over. I get up and take my wine glass with me into the other room. One teen heads straight for the bathroom, flipping on the fan and closing the door. The other teen sits himself down at the computer and starts instantly clicking away at the keyboard. And I catch a glimpse of myself in the wall-sized mirror on my way through the dining room to the living room. Even though I know better, I can’t resist the urge to turn my body sideways and try to look over one shoulder to get a good view of my backside.

“Does my butt look big?” I ask.

“Mom! that is like, so wrong on eight different levels, he says shaking his head at me now.

And I have to laugh because of course it is. It is so wrong. There is absolutely no right way to answer that question. My ex-husband doesn’t even try anymore and instead will look directly at me and say, “Oh no. I’m not touching that.” And my patient, thoughtful girlfriend will listen to me endlessly bemoan the the state of my body with its extra pounds of late and when I’m finally finished will pause and say something wonderful such as: “You are beautiful and I love your body and you know that I will support you with whatever you need.”



You know that I will support you with whatever you need?

Oh my god she thinks I AM fat. This is the thought that storms through my mind in a rush of panic. But I would never say anything back. I wouldn’t set her up for a game she can’t win.

No, there is no right way to answer the, “Does my butt look fat?” question. Unless, of course, you live with two teenage boys who honestly don’t have an opinion about the size of their mother’s behind. I contemplate all this while I turn my body in the other direction in front of the mirror, craning my neck to get another glimpse.

“Mom! for the last time you are not fat. You do not have a big butt,” says the teen at the computer who sees me do this a second time.

And he actually means it.

Ok, I’ll stop now. I’ll take it. I’ll take it and let up on myself for the rest of the night. I’ll consider it my reward. My reward and retribution for what just happened in the bathroom.

Written by kmguay

September 10, 2009 at 3:55 am

Posted in family, mothers, teenagers

Tagged with , , ,

first day

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may visit 2008 016“I’m not hungry anymore and I’m not going to eat.” This is the text from my 14-yr-old flashing across my cellphone screen. I’ve been at home exactly ten minutes. Just long enough to pour the olive oil in the pan, dredge the chicken pieces through the breadcrumb mixture, and scatter a few frozen fries across a cold cookie sheet.
“Get your butt home right now,” I text back with one hand while flopping down three placemats with the other. My 16-yr-old saunters through the kitchen wearing his baseball hat on backwards -his jeans hanging on for dear life to his jutting hipbones while flashing a generous swath of plaid boxer shorts to the world.
“Whats up mutha,” he says, fully wired up and fiddling with his ipod and his cellphone at the same time. “What’s for dinner?”
“Chicken,” I answer back, but he is already breezing past not bothering to look at anything around him. I hear the backpack hit the floor in the TV room and thud against the wall. And almost as counterpoint, there is the front door now, opening and closing, another backpack lands in the hallway with another thud against the wall. Teen number two is home quicker than I expected and already at the computer angrily banging on the keypad.
“Hey, how was your first day? I call out loudly with my head in the oven checking on the fries.
“Ok” he answers back.
“So come talk to me, I want to hear about it. Did you find your classrooms ok?”
“Did you get to school on time with dad?”
“Do you like your teachers?”
“Do you like your classes?”
“Do you like anything?” I think better about letting the actual spoken words leave my lips. Instead I call out “Dinner!” and start placing a platter of chicken, fries, and grilled zuchinni spears in the middle of the table.
My 14-yr-old sits in his spot brooding over an empty plate while his brother and I stab at the chicken with a fork and squirt ourselves puddles of ketchup.

“So tell me about your day,” I say to them both and the 16-yr-old fills the silence with stream of consciousness chatter between bites. “I hate statistics. I don’t need a tutor. I want to start drivers ed now.” I’m thankful someone is talking, but I only half listen because the 14-yr-old now is antsy in his seat with his face glowering down looking at his empty plate. I try to direct the conversation. “Hey look,” I say and point to the hummingbird now darting from the pot of red geraniums to the green bush and back again in my neighbors yard just outside my kitchen window. But there is no distracting this kid when he is in a mood. I know this because its a mood I’m used to feeling myself.

We listen as the 16-yr-old goes on and on about his license, his girlfriend, his next leaders meeting, and the upcoming weekend until he chews his last bite and deposits the plate into the sink on his way back to the TV room. Mr. gloom and I are left to stare at the remaining scraps of uneaten food on the platter and his still gleaming untouched plate.
“So what’s up? Is it your girlfriend?”
“Do you not have any friends in class?”
“I have some.”
“Is it too hard? Too much homework? Don’t like the honors math class?” We sit in silence for a few minutes as he shakes his head no in answer to all my questions. I know what the real problem is now and I have for some time but I don’t want to ask it. The unasked question looms heavy in the air, swirling around us like the heady aroma of cinnamon and butter wafting from an oven on a chilly Sunday morning. Both of us look out the window at the robin perched on a branch of the bush in my neighbor’s yard.

“Are you upset about your weight again?” I say at last. And there it is. His eyes fill up with tears. And here is the pivotal parenting moment that I have been avoiding. It means its all up to me now and I want nothing more than to sit here and cry too. My older teen doesn’t have our problem. He isn’t a fan of sweets, forgets to eat meals often, and his metabolism is freight-train fast. Not his mother and his brother. We have never met a meal we can do without, and life just doesn’t seem worth the bother if you can’t punctuate every event both good and bad with a slice of chocolate cake and a mountain of sugar frosting. Weight gain comes to us easy. And it wouldn’t even be so bad if it was just the weight. But the weight gain gives way to the dark mood, and the dark mood gives way to a feeling of hopelessness, and a feeling of hopelessness is erased all too easily by a slather of butter on a warm slice of toast.

It is now up to me to come up with an instant action plan because that’s the only thing that will help.

“Ok this is what we are going to do.” I say. “Go get a sheet of paper and post it to the refrigerator door and go weigh yourself and write down your weight. I’ll do it too. I’ll do it with you. And then don’t weigh yourself again for three more weeks. I’ll go to the grocery store and get you some things for your lunches now. You can pack a brown bag every day and skip the school lunch. ”
“Can you buy fruit?”
“Yes I can.”
“And can you buy snacks in little packages and stuff for salad?”
He knows how to do this because he’s done it before. And the knowledge of his past success is enough for his mood to lift. I watch him as he gets up and starts to clear the table and stack dishes in the dishwasher. I’m thankful that he seems more at ease, that he seems more hopeful, and I work hard to choke back my own fears about this being just another first day in a lifetime of first days. In 43 years, I have yet to find an end to this pattern of emotional eating and starting over again. One first day after another after another.

But this isn’t about me. This is my about my son on his first day of high school. On his first day of his new resolve to take care of his weight and take care of his emotions. “Ok I’m leaving now. I’ll be back in a half hour or so,” I call to him from the dining room doorway, standing with my car keys in my hand. He’s at the refrigerator door now, carefully taping a blank sheet of paper to the side and writing down his weight and the days of the week. He flashes me a quick smile, relief all over his face. “Thanks mom.”

Written by kmguay

September 7, 2009 at 6:48 pm

Posted in family, mothers

Tagged with , , ,