Life with Teenagers

Posts Tagged ‘guilt

the hard way

with one comment

It’s Sunday morning and I’m still in pajamas at my girlfriend’s kitchen table, flipping through the Sunday paper. I take a last sip from my oversized pottery coffee mug and watch my cellphone vibrate itself across the glass-top surface of the table.
“Morning hon,” I say as I flip it open against my ear. It’s my 16-yr-old calling from his dad’s house.
“Mom, we have to go to the mall today. I have money. I want to get this before Saturday,” he says.
“But you have all week. And I don’t want to go to the mall. Can’t we just go to TJ Maxx later? I ask.
“I already picked the locket out!” he says, his voice rising now. It has to be Zales, mom.”
And now the stream of consciousness ranting starts.
“Hey wait a minute, hold on, slow down. What do you mean you don’t want to screw up with her anymore? Is she being demanding with you? Did you have a fight about something?” I ask.
“Forget it mom, I’m sorry I’m ruining your day. I’ll figure something else out. Go back to reading the paper,” he says.

And there it is. A heaping dose of guilt to go with my second cup of morning coffee.

“So what’s up?” my girlfriend asks from the sink, her hands gloved in yellow rubber and holding the coffee pot upside down over the kitchen compost pail. She has been methodically scraping used grounds from the bottom for the past few minutes and stealing a look at me, now frowning and sliding the closed cellphone back and forth on the kitchen table.
“Which creature was it?
“Teen number one,” I reply. “Demanding his turn at the mall this time so he can spend all his hard-earned money on his girlfriend for their one-year anniversary present. And mind you, this is all on top of the play tickets, the commuter rail fare into Boston, dinner.”
“Kris, just the Boston part alone could cost him around a hundred dollars,” she says over the sound of the water spray she is aiming into the upturned pot in the sink.
“I know this. I think it’s too much. And what’s worse is that he seems to be taking it all on himself like its something he is expected to do. Like it is some penance he needs to pay for being a bad boyfriend.”
“Hold on,” she says while grinding the beans.

I gaze out the window to watch a cardinal hop around under the japanese cousa tree just starting to change color. The morning dew on the grass is evaporating, a glint or two of wet still rim the edges of curling leaves on the ground, and the sun is beginning to shine from behind white puffy clouds in a bright blue sky. The morning is just now threatening to burst into one of those gloriously crisp fall days.
“Great and I’m going to be at the mall,” I say outloud.

My girlfriend walks over to the table holding a small white plate displaying two square bites of raspberry apple strudle. She places it in front of me and sits in the chair beside me, picking up up both of my feet to rest them on her lap.
“Don’t let him guilt you, Kris,” she says.
“I know. It’s not that. It’s just that… Well, he knows what I did for your birthday. He knows about the plane tickets, the costume, the special breakfast. How can I tell him he is doing too much, he is going overboard, when his mother pulls out all the stops for birthdays and anniversaries? I ask.
“He’s only sixteen. I don’t think it is the same thing,” she says.

And it’s not the same thing, but it might be worse. It has taken me years to finally grasp what constitutes giving yourself away and what is staying true to yourself in a relationship. I worry about this teen because he never hurts anyone’s feelings except his own. And I worry about him feeling obligated to do more and be more to please someone else. I want to tell him how I know all about this, how I’ve lived it, how I’ve suffered with it. And yet I’m also almost certain it’s not the kind of wisdom you can impart to a 16-yr-old during a 15-minute drive on the highway. I think it has to be experienced. It has to be learned over time and maybe over painful mistakes. I think it has to be learned the hard way.

“You need to go to the mall, don’t you?” my girlfriend asks while getting up to pour the second cup of coffee.
“I just think I’ll be able to get more information, maybe he’ll hear something I say if I share my own stories, and I can hopefully talk his jewelry purchase down to something more reasonably priced. You’ll be ok with this, right?
“You know I will,” she says while handing me my mug. “I have things I can do today and I’ll see you for Sunday dinner later. Go take your son to the mall.”


Written by kmguay

October 8, 2009 at 1:37 am