Year after year, the relationship between my son and me, his loving mother, grew stronger, deeper and kinder – until he turned eleven. That’s when the previously solid, almost sublime nature of our bond began to show signs of stress fractures. It used to be I could look at him, tilt my head a fraction of an inch, adjust the appearance of my eyes by barely lowering or raising my eyebrows and know what the trouble was. Instantaneously, he would have the answer he needed to whatever dilemma he currently faced. We communicated without words. Not all the time, of course, but when it happened, it was gold.
It works a little differently now. Now, he’s twelve.
Instead of non-verbal cues, I’m barraged with not only too many words, but too many of the wrong kind: pronouns. Our exchanges are anything but silent, thanks to my son’s knack for slaughtering the English language like a blind butcher with a dull knife and a rib roast.
I pepper my responses carefully with mental cusswords before I speak, and then quickly edit out the foul language. Recently, I could not withstand the urge. I knew I was seconds from experiencing my own head popping off and rolling across the kitchen floor with its eyes still blinking, so I said it: “F-word!” No, I mean I really did say the letter “F”, followed by “WORD!”
The feeling was dually satisfying: Great not only because I “cussed”, but because I didn’t actually say the word “fuck.” Had I gone that far, a new era would have dawned. Like the old college adage, “Hold off peeing as long as you can when you’re out drinking, because once you go you’ll have to go all the time,” allowing myself to drop F’ers is a slippery slope I’m not ready to experience. Hell, I just allowed “crap” into the household lexicon, even for my three girls, ages 9, 9, and 11. “Have at it!” I cheered the first time I heard one use it correctly: “Crap! I forgot my backpack at school!” (as opposed to the incorrect use of the word: “What’s this crap on my plate?”) While they seem to have a firm hold on usage, it isn’t necessarily the case with brother.
My son can no longer answer even a yes or no question without mentally straight-jacketing me.
“Do you like this?” I asked while we recently shopped for back-to-school clothes.
“Yeah, but no, yeah, I don’t know,” was his double oxymoronic reply.
“Um, so, you like it, or you don’t. Want me to buy it for you?” I queried calmly.
“I like it,” he said. Not exactly an answer to my question, but in the ballpark. I continued.
“So, I’ll buy it for you?” I said, hopeful we were really getting somewhere.
“Well, it’s just that I don’t know if I’ll wear it,” my son said, as I heard the hiss of the air
escaping from my rainbow balloon.
“I don’t understand. If you like it, why wouldn’t you wear it?” I said, still calm and
carefully obscuring what I was feeling on the inside: utter terror at the direction we were headed, yet again. It’s always the same – I’m on bad acid, he’s on some kind of turbo crack, yielding a complete absence of common ground.
“Mom!” he spat, followed by, “I just can’t know so many things! Your holding stuff up, and I don’t have green shorts!!”
Wow, I thought to myself. I have not felt this weird in twenty-five years. I think I’ll take my lungs out of my body for a second, massage them, and put them back in so I can breathe. There we go. Much better now.
Sometimes, it’s more surreal than terrifying, other times, it’s the opposite. In either case, I remind myself to relax, and enjoy the long, strange trip it is.