Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Going mental

As a co-worker recently pointed out, being a parent of little kids is a physical game. But being a parent of teenagers is a mental game.
Don’t I know it. At one point, we  had three girls all under the age of 6. I’m still recovering from that parental triathlon. If you think one is hard, try three. As I tell people without kids, it’s not twice as much work to have two kids, or three times as much work to have three. It’s exponentially harder, like earthquakes.
I’m not even talking about childbirth. They give you drugs for that. They don’t give you drugs while you’re actually raising the kids. If it were that simple, I’d be ordering my daily epidural about 7:30 p.m. each night. I’d be feeling good, people. Homework, fighting, drama — nothing would bother me. Wake me up in the morning, I’m all good here.
And babies have crazy little internal alarm clocks. They don’t realize that the hours of 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. are meant for sleep, or at the very least, quiet time in a nice dark room. Nothing good ever happened at
2 a.m., and that includes a sleep-deprived mom stumbling to find the baby in the dark.
As parents of little kids, we end up chasing them around parks, parking lots, down the street and down sidewalks. When they’re tired, we pick them up.
We push them on swings, we lift them on our shoulders. We push them in strollers, carry them in backpacks and tote them on our hips. No wonder my pants were always baggy when our girls were younger. The kids were like my personal elliptical system. Have you ever noticed that moms with a baby usually have great-looking arms? That’s because she’s lifting that kid like a 20-pound barbell all day long.
Now that our kids are older, we’re not chasing them down anymore. We’re not picking them up. They’re teenagers. The game has changed and whoooheeee, it is so ON.
Your baby, who once ran to you after school, now runs from you once you get home — into her room, with the door shut.
And when they do come out, or deign to talk to you at all, it’s because they want something. It usually involves money or a ride somewhere. But don’t you dare try and figure out their plans. The life of a teenager is strictly on a need-to-know basis, and what that means to the teen is that you don’t need to know.
Luckily at our house, they haven’t figured out that mom and dad are outnumbered. If our three kids ever got their act together and decided to stage a revolution, we’d be out of luck. They could literally take over if they weren’t so insistent on sleeping in until all hours of the morning.
Teens are persistent little buggers. If you don’t give in to what they want the first time, watch out. They don’t like it when we say no. It’s like hearing something in a foreign language.
“Hmmmm,” thinks the teen. “That ‘no’ word sounds familiar, but if I just keep asking, surely I will get a different answer, and one that sounds more like ‘nnnnnyes.’”
Like some kind of hormonal interrogator, they want you to surrender, to give up. They want to break you, Marine-drill-sergeant-style. It is war, man, and you are the enemy. This makes for some very interesting family mealtimes. A simple request to pass the ketchup can lead to verbal atomic bombs, or at the very least, snarky comments about why that person even needs the condiment to begin with. The North and South Koreans probably get along better than our teenagers. At least they keep one eye on each other across the border. Ours avoid eye contact most of the time.
Give a teenager an inch and they will take 100 miles. They will look for any “out” to whatever you have asked them to do. They will drag their heels, hide in the bathroom when it’s time to rake the leaves, and pretend like they didn’t hear you from 5 feet away.
But of course, we parents can’t give up. No matter how many times we say “no,” or insist on knowing about their plans, or repeat the phrase “don’t talk to me that way,” we must say it again and again and again like some parental robot.
It’s a battle of the wills.
They won’t stop being teens. And I won’t stop being the mom. Get used to it, kids, because moms don’t lose.

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